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Sponsored by the Catherine of Siena Institute --- www.siena.org.
The numbers are designed to get your attention. The only problem is that 1) the numbers are wrong and 2) in any case, the numbers don’t mean what VI apparently thinks they mean. Because there are tens of thousands more Catholics every day but it still isn't good news.
Ah globalization. VI identified a mysterious source, Analisis Digirtal (!), as the source of the report. Analisis Digital turns out to be an online news source from Uruguay. But the Status of Global Mission is in fact, published in English by the evangelical Protestant Center for Global Christianity headquartered at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in the US. This report has been issued annually for at least 20 years. At least that is how long I’ve been consulting it.
So apparently, the 2011 SGM was translated from English into Spanish, picked up by Analisis Digital and then VI, translated into Italian and then back into somewhat quixotic English and a few things got lost in translation. Since there’s nothing like going directly to the source, here’s the link to the original.
Now for the Errata:
As you can see, the number of Catholics added to our rank every day is estimated to be 31,000, not 34 thousand as reported by VI. Just to be clear, the overwhelming majority of this group of new Catholics has joined us through natural biological growth, not conversion.
Here’s the information you need to grasp the significance of these numbers.
The SGM estimates that 234,000 additional human beings are added to our planet every 24 hours. The Catholic contribution of 31,000 is just 13.25% of the total which is significantly lower than our 16.5% “cut” of the human population. In other words, our slice of the global human pie is shrinking, not growing.
83,000 additional Christians are added every 24 hours. Catholics make up almost exactly half of the Christians on this planet in 2011 but our portion of the growth is only 37.3% - far below what it would need to be to sustain us at 50%. 56.6% of all Christian growth comes from the heirs of the Reformation. Our share of the global Christian pie is shrinking, not growing.
The Atlas of Global Christianity (produced by the same group that maintains the Status of Global Mission) estimates that the global Catholic population will only make up 45.5% of all Christians by 2050.
Catholic per annum growth is only 0.98% while that of historic Protestant groups is 1.68% and that of Independent Christians is 2.33%. Independent Christians have the fastest growth of any religious group on earth and are the only religious group growing faster than Islam. The majority of Independent growth is through conversion rather than birth.
As you can see from my comment below, Independent Christians are wildly diverse. We have got to get over our easy assumptions that they are all stupid and venial (while patting ourselves on the back about how smart and noble we are to have the good taste to be born Catholic or to have converted.) Some of these people are very impressive by any standards. Take a look at this post which I did last Easter about one of the impressive ones.
The Pope is traveling to Benin this weekend so I thought a little background would be useful. Benin is the site of the former kingdom of Dahomey, which was one of the centers of the African slave trade.
First of all Benin is in west Africa. In 1910, only 1.7% of the residents of west Africa were Christians. Today, nearly 36% are Christians.
Benin is one of the centers of Vodun (Voodoo) which is followed by 17% of the population. Vodun traveled with African slaves to the new world, especially New Orleans. Possession is an important element of Vodun. (Marie Laveau, the famous "Voodoo Queen" of New Orleans was a free woman of color who was a placee - long term mistress - of a white man. The most devout Catholics in the city at the time were free women of color. Marie is said to have abandoned vodoo at the end of her long life and devoted herself to her Catholic faith.)
Today, roughly a quarter of west Africa's Christians are Catholic (35.5 million). Another quarter of Christians are members of historical Protestant groups and yet another quarter are members of the new Independent church movement which grew out of Protestantism.
Benin has seen the same staggering growth in Christianity over the past century. In 1910, a little over 1% of Benin's population was Christian. Today, nearly 40% are Christians: 2/3 of which are Catholic. Catholics are the largest religious group in the country, closely followed by Muslims.
Benin's President is an evangelical Protestant and a convert from Islam.
EWTN will be covering the Pope's trip November 18 - 20.
I interviewed Tom Peterson, the founder of Catholics Come Home for my book a few months ago. One of the questions I asked was "what do you know about what happens to people after they return? Do we know many returnees are there a year later?"
I asked because while dioceses that have done Catholics Come Home have clearly experienced a significant rise in attendance (this is measured by a diocesan wide head count shortly after the campaign ends), I could find no information on the long term impact of CCH's campaigns. Tom told me that it was CCH's job to bring people back to the local parish and the parish's job to deal with them after that.
I was told by staff members of one diocese that did CCH that their numbers went up and then were exactly the same 1 year later. It is impossible to tell if all those who returned due to CCH left again (unlikely) or that some who returned left again while some practicing Catholics, untouched by the campaign, also left. But overall, it was a wash.
So much of the long term fruit of CCH depends upon local parish responses and there's the problem. Very few parishes are geared up to even notice, much less really meet those returning, find out where they are and help them make the rest of the journey. Especially at Christmas time when we are used to being flooded with Catholics whose practice is marginal at best. (And of course, how do you measure which of the holiday returnees are impacted by the television ads?)
What CCH's campaign will do is bring additional spiritual seekers at various thresholds (trust, curiosity, openness, etc.) back into the same parish culture that didn't know how to reach them in the first place.
At least we have two months warning. Knowing that many hundreds of thousands of people may well stick their toe in the Catholic ocean this Advent/Christmas, how could we handle this better?
What can we do now, how can we organize to recognize and reach out to returning Catholics and other searching men and women when they walk hesitantly through that door? What could you do personally? What could your parish do?
Take a moment to read Fr. Mike's moving All Saints homily (originally given at St. Albert's Priory in Oakland):
“Oh Father, you’re so holy.”
It’s not unusual to hear lay people say that.
They’re always people who don’t know me, but simply see the habit and make an assumption.
In the future, I hope to have the presence of mind to take a cue from Jesus, and respond differently than my usual, “aw shucks, I bet you say that to every Dominican” shtick.
When Jesus was asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?” He responded, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
I hope I have the wits to ask, “Why do you presume I’m holy?”
I honestly don’t know why an individual would presume I’m holy. (or that you're holy, for that matter!)
Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on their part.
It could be because they presume I pray a lot.
Or they think “poor Fr. Mike’s given up so much to be a Dominican” – meaning primarily sex and a family of my own.
Or maybe they presume that I was already holy before I became a Dominican, and that religious life and priesthood is the sad fate of those unfortunately pre-disposed to holiness.
I really need to ask why someone would marvel at my level of holiness because I suspect the unspoken thought is, “I, a mere lay person, can’t be holy. Not really.”
But of course, that’s wrong.
Of the over 450 saints canonized by Pope John Paul II, more than half of them were lay people.
St. Francis de Sale’s classic, “The Devout Life” is all about the path to holiness through the ordinary.
In the Apostolic Letter “at the Dawn of the New Millennium,”Pope John Paul noted: "The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life" (n. 31).
It should be noted in this context that the Beatitudes in the Gospel today are given to the disciples and the crowds.
They’re meant to be lived by us all.
They’re not a new set of commandments, but a description of those who are blessed, or “happy,” as another translation of the Greek word makarios allows.
But what he describes as happy people sounds strange.
They’re poor in spirit - people who are dependent upon God, who are willing to receive from Him, who trust Him to give what is sufficient for today.
They’re like Simon the fisherman, who lets Jesus get in his boat after he’s fished all night and caught nothing, who lets Jesus direct him – “put out into deep water; lower your nets for a catch.”
Even though he’s tired, he does it, and with Jesus hauls in a huge catch of fish.
People who trust God so completely don’t worry – and so are already entering the Kingdom.
And they will see God at work in their life.
How can mourners be happy? Because they’re not addicted to feeling good.
They fail a metaphysics exam and don’t have to drop $50 at the Gap to start feeling good again.
They can accept unhappiness as a part of the human condition.
One way God comforts them is by turning their attention from what’s missing in their life to all the good that He’s giving them.
And the meek? They’re happy because they aren’t trying to control the behaviors of other people.
Ever try to get your brother to cooperate with your plans?
If that made you happy, then you must also enjoy herding cats.
The merciful are like God; they are good to those who haven’t earned that goodness.
Their happiness lies in the fact that they aren’t keeping score – how many good things have I done for you versus how many good things you’ve done for me.
The peacemakers are happy and will be called children of God because, like God, they seek to gather people together – especially people who have become estranged.
So these meek, poor, peaceful, mourners are different from most folks.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said the saints “express the divine in the human, and the eternal in time.”
They’re not addicted to power, pleasure, honor or wealth – and there’s tremendous freedom there.
They aren’t caught up in comparing themselves with others, or needing the approval of others.
It’s a freedom that is a foretaste of the joy and freedom of heaven.
As a consequence of that freedom, the holy ones among us, are stunning in their individuality.
It’s like they’re lit up from within by God himself, like the burning bush that is on fire, but not consumed, or a disciple at Pentecost, flames – or halo - hovering overhead.
The holy one is a person who is free to be the unique person that God created them to be.
Out of all the problems in the world around them, they discover a set of problems – or even one - to which they are uniquely suited to respond.
The problem is a locked cell that imprisons others – perhaps in ignorance, or in hunger, doubt, hatred, loneliness, poverty, lust, or any of the other plagues that beset humanity.
The saint is a key fitted perfectly for that lock, and through their love and service, lives are set free so that they can fulfill their potential.
We struggle to fit the saintly into neat conventional categories, or dismiss them with labels like, insane, or heretic, or – sometimes - saint.
Dorothy Day wouldn’t accept that last label precisely because she didn’t want to be dismissed that easily.
Every one of us has been created for a purpose, for a special way of being-for-others.
Discovering that purpose, that unique way to use our spiritual gifts, natural talents, skills and experience to help others is the surest way to personal satisfaction and meaning.
Living as God intends you to live, to the fullest of the abilities He’s given you, is the way you glorify God.
I would say the more we foster one another’s holiness, the more unique we will become.
Although we friars may dress alike, if we are becoming more holy, no one will ever mistake one brother for another.
The true Christian community is not composed of people who act and think the same, but who are passionate about and responsive to many different challenges in our world.
Thus, even in the shadow of Auschwitz St. Maximillian Kolbe could observe, “Only Love is creative.”
That creativity of God is witnessed in the lives of the saints.
May we allow that divine creativity to be made flesh in each other, as we draw our inspiration from the saints, and hope to become one with them.
Transmitting the faith means to create in every place and time the conditions for this personal encounter of individuals with Jesus Christ. . . . This personal encounter allows individuals to share in the Son's relationship with his Father and to experience the power of the Spirit.
You may have wondered why I stopped blogging so suddenly a few months ago. Well, it is like this:
For several years, an editor had been asking me to write a book on discerning charisms. On July 27, she contacted me once again.
I wrote back that while I sensed that now was indeed God’s time for me to focus on writing, I had just begun a book on an critical topic: parish-based evangelization. I explained that we (CSI) had been asked to give presentations in Rome during the Bishop’s Synod on the New Evangelization in October, 2012, and wanted the book to be available by then. But after that, I could begin a book for Our Sunday Visitor on discerning charisms.
At 6:30 am the very next morning, I received an urgent e-mail inquiry: “Do you have a publisher for the book on evangelization?” If not, OSV was very interested in publishing such a book and could get important projects out in a hurry. And by the way, the acquisitions team was meeting in a few hours, so could I get an outline to her in an hour? Needless to say, I spent the morning scrambling to refine the book outline and send it to the editor!
By 2pm, my editor called to tell me that the team was very enthusiastic, wanted to publish the book, and could have it out by June, 2012. All I had to do was get the manuscript in by January 10! I’ve been told by people in the industry that having such a major publisher make a decision this quickly is unheard of! This was one of those times when God so obviously opens a door that all you can do is say “yes” and walk right through.
My whole world revolved on its axis. There went the rest of my summer and my fall. As of today, I only have a little over 11 weeks left to finish a major book covering everything the Institute has learned over the past 14 years in calling Catholics to intentional discipleship!
Here’s where we could use your help. I was already scheduled to teach the usual deluge of workshops between Labor Day and Thanksgiving! I am often on the road 70% of the time in the fall, but that sort of schedule would have made it impossible to finish the book on time. So except for absolutely necessary trips, I have had to drop everything from my schedule. That has included events that would have brought in much-needed income for the Institute.
We need your generous financial help to make up the income that we will not earn through events because I’m chained to my computer. This is a huge opportunity for the Institute, one that will give our work a whole new level of visibility and credibility in the minds of pastoral leaders throughout the English speaking world—and with the Bishops attending the Synod in 2012.
Your year-end, tax deductable donation will ensure that we get through the crucial January 10 manuscript deadline ready and able to respond to all the amazing new opportunities that will open up because of the book.
If you have benefited from what you have read here on the blog or from one of our live events or formation resources, please consider prayerfully helping us at this critical time. All you have to do is click on the bright yellow button at the top right of our webpage that says Donate Now.
St. Catherine and St. Dominic will be very pleased and we will be most grateful!
Hey evangelizers! Here is a chance to check out a great new parish website for Queen of the Rosary Parish in Elk Grove, IL. It has been boldly re-designed from the ground up with evangelization as the primary purpose. If you'd like to be inspired, be sure and take a look and then meditate on webmaster Keith's rationale for the changes. (Keith notes that the site is still somewhat of a work in progress.)
The current state of affairs in new media and digital communication presents the Church with both a call to service and an opportunity for evangelization. In the midst of growing technological advancement and cultural change, Pope Benedict XVI says that the Church must live out a “diakonia of culture in the present "digital continent," traversing its paths to proclaim the Gospel, the only Word that can save man.” In following the Great Commission of Jesus, found in Matthew 28:18, the Church must therefore use technology to proclaim the Gospel to the digital nations while simultaneously illuminating various forms of digital communication with the light of the Gospel itself. It is an interesting twist on the old adage that “the medium is the message.”
At the parish level, new media and digital technology offer tremendous opportunities for evangelization and the formation and equipping of disciples for their particular mission. On a technological front, the interactivity of Web 2.0 tools allows for more than just passive “reading” of information. Rather, technological innovation currently supports the possibility of participation and dialogue while users engage with the tools, media, and content of a parish website. This allows for an online component to broaden a parish’s reach in terms of both evangelization and formation (including the recruitment of students and parent involvement related to a parish school).
Sociologically, an interactive, new-media-enriched online presence will become increasingly necessary as more of the Millennials (roughly, those born between 1980 and 2000) and the following group, the D-Gens (Digital Generation) come of age. These young men and women are what educational writer Marc Prensky calls Digital Natives, and they have a fundamentally different approach to learning and life because:
They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. Today's average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading*, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV). Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives.
Due to their developmental experience with this technology, Digital Natives not only prefer digital over more traditional forms of media, but they think and process information differently than their predecessors. Communicating effectively—whether it is marketing a particular program or the value of a parish school, or sharing the fundamentals of the gospel—requires a radically more interactive approach. This is also somewhat true for many members of Generation X, who bridge the gap between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants (those who are not fundamentally at home in a digital culture), most of whom come from the Baby Boomer Generation.
In the current life of the Church, most Gen X’ers and Millennials represent “Lost Generations,” a demographic gap in the makeup of our parishes. According to recent CARA studies, 13% of those Gen X’ers who self-identified as Catholic attend Mass at least once a week, and only 10% of Millennials who self identified as Catholic attend at least once a week. The urgency here is that in 2009, 50% of Catholic adults are either Gen X’ers or Millennials, and that number will only continue to grow. And yet, these groups have the lowest engagement with religious practice of all the generations currently alive. In order to reach them, we will have to preach the Gospel in a familiar idiom, utilizing the social communication tools of the day. God, it turns out, is a God of bytes, as well!
 Benedict XVI. Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, October 2009.
 Prensky, Marc. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” On the Horizon(MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001) Page 1.
The website's transformation was spearheaded by Keith Strohm, one of our traveling trainers and a passionate evangelizer. When Keith is not roaming the country for us, he works as Director of Faith Formation and Youth Ministry at Queen of the Rosary Parish in Elk Grove, IL. In his other spare time, Keith is husband of Debbie, father of Siena (Yes! Siena is named after the Institute and winner of CSI's first Incredibly Cute Baby Award), aspirant in the Chicago diaconate formation program, MDiv student, and a published writer. (Ok, I got tired just writing that paragraph.)
What do you think? Do you know of other great parish websites that are designed to be instruments of evangelization? Inquiring minds want to know . . .
*What I want to know is - does reading on a Kindle count as reading?
In August of 2008, thanks to frequent flier miles, I was able to visit my graduate school roommate and his family in Korea.
One steamy Sunday, after Mass at Myundong Cathedral, we went to a section of Seoul that two hundred years ago was outside the city.
We drove up a rocky promontory called Choltu-san that overlooks the majestic Han river, which gives Koreans the name by which they know their country - Hangook.
At the top is a beautiful little Church to Our Lady that commemorates what occurred on that hill; for Choltu-san means Beheading Mountain.
From 1866 to 1872 the last of four periods of persecution of Catholics took place in Korea, and thousands of men, women, and children were tortured and beheaded on that rock; their headless corpses tossed over the cliff into the slow-moving water below.
The story of Catholicism in Korea is remarkable, and is told eloquently in that little shrine.
Since the 7th century, Korea has been profoundly influenced by Confucianism – a worldview based on subordination - sons to father, wife to husband, people to rulers.
It emphasizes proper rituals, ceremonies, conformity to decorum, and standards of correct conduct and the showing of respect, which included worship of ancestors.
My friend, whose name is Yun-kyung, is older than me.
As we got to know each other, he jokingly told me one day that I should refer to him as Yun-kyung-hyung, because “hyung” was the suffix of respect that one would add when addressing an older brother.
The rules of decorum demand formality, if for no other reason than to ensure better social relations.
In the 17th century, Korean Confucian scholars traveling in China brought back to Korea western books written in Chinese to study, including religious works by Matteo Ricci.
By 1783 scholarly debate and interest in the Catholic faith had grown into spiritual curiosity and religious seeking, and Beijing was visited by a couple of Koreans who returned to their country with the Scriptures and Catholic catechetical books.
One year later, Yi Seung-Hun traveled with his father to Beijing where he was baptized Peter.
He returned to Korea, where, as a lay man, he baptized several of the scholars who desired baptism themselves.
Within a year, the new Christians found themselves the victims of persecution.
The radical claim of Jesus, that doing the will of his Father supersedes the will of a husband, or a father, or a king was correctly recognized as destabilizing traditional relationships.
The egalitarian nature of relationships rooted in Jesus, in whom St. Paul said were neither Jew, nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, was astounding and dangerous.
Just as it surely seemed outrageous and destabilizing to the culture of Jesus’ listeners.
The first severe persecution of Catholic Christians began in 1801, yet when the first formal missionary endeavor began in 1836, the priests discovered some 4,000 baptized Catholics praying and worshipping God together every seven days.
Korean families and individuals had chosen to live according to the will of a God revealed in scriptures that although foreign, promised a life they recognized as divinely inspired and redeeming of the human condition.
A persecution in 1846 took the life of 25 year-old Andrew Kim Taegon, just one year after his ordination, and seven years after his father had been martyred for sending him away to become a priest.
The lay catechist Paul Chong Hasang, became one of some 10,000 lay Catholics martyred in Korea.
It is too easy for us, as Westerners, to think of our faith as forming our culture.
Surely it has been influential, but hardly transformative.
Our history of wars, of slavery, of Christian disunity and suspicion should be enough evidence to convince us that we seldom hear the Word of God and even less seldom act on it.
True conversion of heart is, sadly, rare.
It doesn’t happen by accident, or by culture.
In fact, as our Korean brothers and sisters show us, following Jesus – in every culture – means standing radically at odds with culture.
Perhaps we’re fortunate that America is becoming more secular.
It removes the comfort from being nominally Christian, and makes the choice of discipleship a bit more clear.
The exiles from Jerusalem maintained their faith and distinctive lifestyle, and it was that distinction which made it possible for king Darius to return them to Jerusalem as a people.
But let’s be clear – Christian living is more than just a distinctive lifestyle adopted because of tradition, or in reaction to a dominant culture.
Faith is rooted in the encounter with Jesus in grace, and a conscious response to that grace each day.
It leads to a paradoxical life which turns the expression, “blood is thicker than water” on its head.
The bonds forged by discipleship and the waters of baptism are stronger than blood kinship, and thick enough to transcend culture, history, place and time.
May we be worthy of being called mother and brother to Jesus, with the Korean martyrs.
Fr. Mike preached this thought-provoking homily at the Western Province's House of Studies on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Since the summer of 2004, I estimate I’ve taken nearly 1000 flights and gone through airport security around 500 times.
I bought slip-on shoes to ease the ordeal.
My hands and luggage have been swabbed for evidence of explosives, and I have a collection of sample-sized toiletries.
I’ve endured pat-downs more intimate than a celibate should ever expect to receive.
And, usually, I forget why all this is necessary. I’m lucky that way.
For many Americans, it’s not so easy to forget.
Not for the loved ones of the 2,819 people who died ten years ago today.
That’s the official count, so far as I know, which includes 343 firefighters and paramedics, 60 New York and Port Authority police officers, and 658 employees of Cantor Fitzgerald.
It’s not so easy to forget for the 1,717 families who never received remains over which to mourn.
20% of Americans knew someone hurt or killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center towers.
I’m not one of them.
So for many Americans, I might not have any right to speak today, especially when God’s providence offers us readings that do not sit well with us in our remembrance of 9/11.
“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.”
Yet it is so easy to remember with justified anger what happened that awful morning.
“Forgive 77 times?”
How can we, when the perpetrators - and most of the master-minds - are dead?
Why does God ask something of us that is so hard, so contrary to nature?
Why should we do something that many in our country, Catholics included, interpret as weakness, or disrespect for the dead?
The answer Jesus gives to Peter’s question about how much forgiveness is enough tells us why we should struggle to forgive.
Peter’s question springs from a particular, narrow, perspective: himself.
How often should he forgive when he’s been wronged?
It’s another way of asking, “how much dignity can I claim for myself?”
Jesus, as he so often does when someone asks him a question, expands Peter’s horizon and transforms his frame of reference.
A remarkable shift happens when we place God at the center of reality, instead of ourselves!
The question of forgiving another human being must be answered in light of how much you and I have been forgiven by God.
“But,” we might say, “we aren’t that bad! We are in no way like Osama bin Laden, or Adolf Hitler.”
Through the parable, Jesus invites Peter to think of himself as a servant who owes God a debt impossible to pay.
The debt is absolute obedience to an infinitely loving God – and we all owe it.
In the parable, the King, in his compassion, forgives the debt.
In reality, Jesus fulfills Peter’s debt of absolute obedience to the Father.
In response, jealous, self-righteous sinners like us crucified him.
St. Thomas says that it is the humanity of Christ which works our forgiveness.
“Christ’s death is the cause of the remission of our sin,” he says.
To claim that we are ‘not as bad as Osama bin Laden’ means that we do not understand the meaning of his death on the cross.
I do not want to claim that forgiveness comes easily, especially for someone whose loved one died in those horrible moments on 9/11.
Nor do I want to suggest that forgiveness means denying the evil done, or a passivity that concedes victory to those who would do more evil.
Forgiveness is not deliberate forgetfulness, but begins in remembering we have been forgiven by God.
Barbara Minervino is a New Jersey wife whose husband, Louis, died in the World Trade Center.
When bin Laden was killed a few months ago, she was interviewed, and the tension she felt between the Gospel and her experience is real, and heartbreaking.
She said, "We as Catholics are brought up to believe that God will forgive everyone if they're sorry. As I lay my head down on the pillow last night, I said, 'Lord, are you really going to forgive him?' I don't want to. I don't know that I can ever forgive him.
She went on to unintentionally reveal another reason God, in Christ, tells us to forgive.
"Every day of my life is 9/11," she said. "I close the door to my house, and my husband is not there. I've gone through many medical problems and I need my mate with me and he's not there. I want to tell him about something that happened during the day, and I can't. And the reason I can't is because of this man.”
The wisdom of Sirach asks, “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD?”
When we choose not to forgive, we cannot be healed by God.
When we choose not to forgive, we let our offender live in our head “rent free.”
We give them permission to continue to make us miserable.
Perhaps God commands us to forgive so that we can heal, and embrace the present and its gifts, rather than the past.
I’m not suggesting we “forgive and forget.” That command is nowhere in the Bible.
To simply forget would diminish our humanity and trivialize the suffering of those days.
The issue is not forgetting, but rather how we remember.
Forgiveness is often made possible as we struggle to see the wrongdoer from a wider angle: not as a despicable, immoral person, but as a weak, fragile, and sometimes confused human being, as we ourselves often are.
When we forgive, we no longer reduce the wrongdoers to the deed that has been committed.
We see them from another perspective – one closer to the more expansive vision with which God sees them.
This does not condone the deed or dismiss what they did.
But by remembering in a different way, we do not forget what happened, we just do not allow it to poison the present and the future.
All forgiveness has its origin in God.
While the natural response to an offense is to respond in kind, forgiveness is an act of hope – a supernatural breaking of the cycle of offense-retaliation-offense.
Forgiveness means, “I will not be shaped by the evil I’ve experienced. I will not become like my aggressor.”
It is an embrace of the cross on which Jesus broke the cycle of an eye for an eye.
But to achieve that, we will need God’s help.
And again, Mrs. Minervino, in her sorrow, helps us understand how to respond when we can’t forgive.
"I just pray that however I'm supposed to feel, I'll eventually feel. If God wants to forgive bin Laden, that's God. I can't."
It is God who forgives sin.
In the act of forgiving, we participate in God’s larger act of forgiveness.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ first word on the cross is about forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
I often interpret this as Jesus forgiving his executioners.
But literally, Jesus is calling on God, his Father, to forgive them.
Jesus is still in the midst of his suffering.
He cannot forgive his executioners for something they have not yet completed.
But he can call on his Father to forgive.
This can be a great source of comfort to us when we struggle to forgive.
We can call upon God, who sees all things, to forgive our offender, and to forgive our lack of forgiveness.
But we must never grow comfortable in that lack of forgiveness, for our own sake.
Throughout the Letter to the Romans Paul emphasizes God’s total claim on the believer.
“Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
We have been purchased, and at a price – the precious blood of Jesus.
We have no claim to a right to withhold forgiveness.
It is for good reason Jesus ends the parable with the King handing the unforgiving servant over to torturers.
The isolation, suffering and bitterness that the lack of forgiveness breeds in this life is hellish for good reason.
The cancer that is unforgiveness destroys relationships, including, ultimately, my relationship with God, my Creator and Redeemer.
In a few moments we will pray as Jesus taught us – that includes the request that we be forgiven according to the way we forgive others.
Whether we ask at that moment for a blessing or a curse is up to us.
You can now catch my Awakening Vocations weekend show, which airs Saturdays and Sundays at 3:30 p.m. on 88.3 KBVM-FM (in Portland), in the KBVM website (www.kbvm.fm) Audio Archives in the week following the broadcast.
My 13-week series titled “Awakening Vocations: Vocation discernment for a 21st century world” starts this weekend (August 13-14).
This series is enjoying its third season on KBVM-FM, with some heartwarming response. My new series, “Anointed for a Purpose,” is set to start in mid-November.
Special thanks to my program host, Terry Amato, and to Dina Marie Hale of KBVM!