Here's a truly unusual group: the Family MIssions Company. A small group of lay missionaries (with their Bishop's blessing) founded 3o years ago by a married couple with 7 children. FMC works in Mexico, Spain, the Phillipines, and other places and provides missionary training for young adults at their home base in Louisiana.
This sort of (literally) mom-and-pop apostolic initiative is rare among Catholics in my experience. What is more impressive is that they have persevered for over 30 years, raising their own support, and still passionate about their mission. Take a look at their latest newsletter which has some very moving reflections by their young missionaries and check out some of their blogs. 20 year old disciples living among the poor to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Faithful little groups like FMC are worthy of our attention, our gratitude, our prayers, and our support. This kind of apostolic initiative by the laity is really, genuinely Catholic. After all, one of our rights as lay men and women guaranteed in canon law is "the right to evangelize the nations".
As I have written here before:
Of course, the assumption among so many Catholics is that evangelism is an "invention" of Protestants. But the fact is that historically, Protestants didn't evangelize hardly at all for the first 300 years of their existence.
For the first 18 centuries of Christianity, it was Catholics who did almost all the proclamation and frontier evangelization - including during the 17th century Catholic revival. Which is why it did not occur to people like Frances de Sales and Vincent de Paul to worry about whether or not they were being sufficiently "Catholic" when they set out on their evangelizing preaching tours of rural areas, little villages, etc. In those days, they knew that they were simply following in a long and venerable Catholic tradition, in the footsteps of innumerable Catholic missionaries and saints. We have almost completely lost touch with our own tradition in this area.
The Protestant missionary/revival movement as we know it didn't take off until the early 19th century - when the fore-fathers of evangelicalism began their fledging efforts and it was only in the last half of the 20th century that Catholic evangelism efforts, traditionally led by religious orders, collapsed - while evangelicalism revved up into a truly global movement.
Our current situation is a complete aberration historically. Talk about returning to the sources and a hermeneutic of continuity! It's time our discussion of continuity encompassed more than the early 20th century and dealt with critical areas of the Church's life and mission beside the liturgy!
As FMC notes on their homepage:
“God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense the moment has come to commit all the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and mission to the nations. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church, can avoid this supreme duty; to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” - Pope John Paul II
David Curp, historian extraordinaire of eastern Europe - and of 20th century Poland in particular - is a dear friend and husband of occasional ID blogger and long time CSI collaborator Sherry Curp (AKA "the other Sherry"). A couple years ago, Dave wrote an illuminating article about the Church's involvement in slavery for the old Crisis magazine which is being featured as Inside Catholic's lead post today.
Dave is really good example of a lay Catholic who understands excellence in his secular vocation to be a call from God and an outgrowth of his faith. Dave has spent many an evening explaining the fine points of post World War II ethnic cleansing, the struggle of the Catholic laity of Poland to deal effectively with their communist rulers, or the relationship of the future John Paul II to other Polish prelates. Dave generously gave me a week of his time last fall to facilitate my research into the French Catholic revival of the 17th century.
As you can see from his article, Dave is very clear that real Catholic history is not apologetics. He is convinced that by helping his students develop the intellectual disciplines and mojo necessary to wrestle with issues of historical truth, he is fostering habits of mind that will also help prepare them to pursue larger Truths as well.
As Dave sums up his brief summary of Catholic involvement with slavery:
. . . tragically, slavery was part of the dirty war that Islam and Christianity waged against one another for centuries throughout the Mediterranean. In the 15th century it appeared that Islam, led by the Ottomans, was on the verge of final victory.
But even if the circumstances mitigate some of the guilt of Rome's involvement in slavery, it's a scandal nonetheless. And while the fear -- perhaps even the necessity -- for Christians to fight this war was real, its sad legacy remains with us.
History demonstrates that our earthly pilgrimage is rarely a straight line to a happier, progressive future; moral advancement is hard-won and easily lost. That the world finds it difficult to see Christ in the Church isn't simply a result of sin's blinders. Too often our own grievous faults and failures have become obstacles themselves. We do no service to Christ or His Church by refusing to acknowledge it."
Father Gregory over at Koinonia has an interesting public letter to Frank Schaeffer.
Evangelicals will recognize the name "Schaeffer" since Frank is the very controversial son of the late Francis Schaeffer, the founder of L'Abri, the famous Christian community in the Swiss Alps, who had a huge impact on the evangelical world in the 60's and 70's.
Here's a clip from the file series that Frank made with his father in the 70's. It's a section on Thomas Aquinas which is painfully shallow and misconceived but had a big influence on an evangelical world which had barely heard of St. Thomas. Francis Schaeffer was a remarkable evangelist and catalytic figure but lacked the sort of education that would have enable him to better understand Thomas and his thought.
Frank, who is Francis Schaeffer's youngest child, has always been an very angry figure.
He was the his father's closet collaborator in the late 70's when the his parents led the charge to make evangelicals aware of the issues involved in the fight against abortion. Then Frank became Orthodox - very pugnaciously so - and wrote a series of funny, thinly veiled novels about his experience of growing up in an evangelical mecca. His most recent tell-all book about his family - Crazy for God - is not veiled at all and has been publicly rebutted by close friends of his family.
I had hopes that leaving the evangelical world where his family were royalty for the large and ancient world of Orthodoxy where he wasn't known would mellow Frank and enable him to achieve some peace and serenity but it hasn't happened. Schaeffer quickly became a trophy convert and a very public apologist and popular speaker about Orthodoxy while repudiating his family's evangelical roots in a particularly ungracious way. Schaeffer's recent language about Orthodoxy and Christianity as a whole, has grown increasingly vague and it is hard to tell where he is in his journey with God right now.
"What I find more is disturbing than intellectual poverty of your moral analysis is your cynical willingness call yourself pro-life while expressing a willingness to sacrifice the lives of the unborn for the sake of national harmony and an end to the culture wars. You contend that, if your advice is followed, the President "will have taken a giant step towards bringing this country together." Whether this is true or not, I cannot say. What I can say is that the willingness to sacrifice innocent lives for the sake of national unity is not the words of someone I can reasonably call pro-life. Your position is morally unacceptable both in light of natural law and the biblical tradition that informs the pro-life opposition to legal abortion."
It is encouraging to witness this discussion within the Orthodox world.
Going through my e-mail after returning from this last trip is a story in itself. Here are a few of the highlights from the last 24 hours:
1) E-mail from one of our Called & Gifted teachers currently stationed in Baghdad who has been talking up the workshop and now want to see if he can offer one to Americans stationed there.
2) E-mails from two members of our emerging Singapore Called & Gifted team who are all going to be in the US this summer at various points and want to be trained as teachers.
3) E-mail from Clara, our Australian director with links to various on-line articles about how expression of the Christian faith is steadily becoming more difficult in the west. Note: Must blog about that.
4) Two exchanges with CSI fans looking for ministry jobs in parishes or Newman centers who are dedicated to evangelization and forming lay apostles.
5) Several e-mails regarding getting legal help to respond to an individual who is blatantly copying the Called & Gifted and trying to pass it off as his/her own original work.
6) E-mail from national organization because individual in #5 above has proposed to put the plagiarized material available online for a price. 4 phone calls and several e-mail responses later, national organization recognizes the material is a rip-off and tells me they will turn down individual's proposal. Hallelujah!
7) Two e-mail from long time friend in middle east. She enclosing a really moving e-mail from her daughter who is in Africa ransoming child soldiers. Wow! Heart-breaking but God is truly at work.
8) E-mail from more or less lapsed Catholic who was involved with the C & G in her old Catholic parish but is now attending an Episcopalian church and wants to bring the process there. Worried that it is too Catholic. (This, alas, is not the first such request I have received from "roamin' Catholics". Hhmmm. Episcopalian parishes have been using our stuff for years cause they like the sacramental context. No, we don't have a less Catholic version.)
9) E-mail from a long time Called & Gifted team leader who want to bring Making Disciples to her diocese. She doesn't know why but has a sense of urgency about it so we'll try to see what we can do in May.
10) Flight and media arrangements for my upcoming presentations at the Pauline Convocation in Detroit in March.
11) Fr. Anthony, co-Director of our Australian team writes, offering to send me a prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit that he has found in the Armenian rite. Sounds great.
12) E-mail from a local champion in large archdiocese who tells us that a group who attended the last Called & Gifted workshop there wants one of their own and that his local auxiliary bishop wants to talk about C & G implementation. He wants to talk before he meets with the bishop.
13) E-mail exchange about possible opportunity for Fr. Mike to talk about our work at a major seminary on St. Catherine's feast day.
14) Photos of my father's funeral from my sister.
15) E-mails with 40 mysterious Chinese language links (porn??) placed on old ID posts. Must search out and destroy one by one.
16) Request for radio interview about my post of today about Sacraments and Sacramental Grace. (I tell the inquirer that I think it is too complicated to do the topic justice in a 10 minute radio interview. Fortunately, Inquirer is theologically literate and readily agrees.)
The Archdiocese of Edmonton is sponsoring an interesting series of talks called "Nothing More Beautiful". It is the beginning of a 5 year process of reflection and renewal in the Archdiocese lead by Archbishop Richard Smith.
These once a month sessions combine a catechetical talk and a witness talk in a single evening, are available in video and print format online, include reflection questions and prayer.
This coming Thursday evening, the topic is The Human Body in God's Design.
I love the prayer (available in English and French)
Heavenly Father, we come before you in praise and thanksgiving for you have called us to be your own.
You sent your Word to bring us truth and your Spirit to make us holy. Through them we come to know the Beauty that is You.
Draw us to a new encounter with Jesus, your Son. Deepen our love for His Church. Help us to embrace anew the beauty of our faith in all of its richness.
Empower us to see there is nothing more beautiful than our relationship with You, so that we may reflect to others your image, in which we have been created.
We pray that, rooted and grounded in your love, and through the healing power of the Cross of your Son, we may be strengthened for mission by your Holy Spirit.
Twice lately. I have gotten up in the morning and found dozens of odd Chinese languages messages distributed randomly in the comment boxes of old posts. The message seems to be the same and is (I think - I don't read Chinese) a invitation and link to porn sites. The source is in Taiwan and seems to be some kind of automated spider.
Some of the messages are actually not visible when you first view the post itself (the comment box may seem empty) and aren't seen until you actually go into the comment box itself.
I know because any comments of any kind posted to ID generate an e-mail notification to me with a link. The spider dropped by twice yesterday and I had to delete at least 40 such message by hand - one by one.
Has anyone else had this problem? Is there a way to block this stuff?
From the Commonweal blog comes this beautiful and challenging prayer from St. Thomas Aquinas which poster Robert Imbelli prays before Mass:
O almighty, everlasting God, behold, I draw near to the Sacrament of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
I draw near, as a sick man to the Physician of life, as one defiled to the Fountain of mercy, as one blind to the Light of Eternal Splendor, as one poor and needy to the Lord of Heaven and Earth.
Therefore I implore you, in your infinite goodness, that you would graciously cure my sickness, wash away my defilement, give light to my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness, so that I may receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, with such contrition and devotion, such purity and faith, such purpose and intention, as to attain the welfare and salvation of my soul.
Grant me, I beseech you, to receive not only the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of my Lord, but also the very Reality and Strength of the Sacrament.
O most gracious God, grant me so to receive the Body of your only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ that very body which he took of the Virgin Mary, that I may be truly incorporated into his mystical body, and so numbered among its members.
O most loving Father, grant me at last to behold unveiled and forevermore your beloved Son, whom, in my pilgrimage, I receive now beneath the veil of this blessed Sacrament.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen.
I gotta point out the obvious here because we sometimes get such stunned reactions from pastoral leaders when we mention this during Making Disciples.
This is intentional reception of the Eucharist. Note that St. Thomas distinguishes between the physical reception of the sacrament and the reception of the "reality and strength" of the Sacrament. There is nothing magical or unconscious going on here. When faith and positive disposition (actively disposing oneself toward change in anticipation of receiving the grace to actually change) meets the grace of the sacrament, we begin to experience actual transformation.
St. Thomas understood this principal very well: Here is his classically "Thomistic" evaluation of the question,
Article 9. Whether insincerity hinders the effect of Baptism?
Those of you who have read the Summa know how the drill goes:
A summation of the question, 3 objections to possible responses to the question, then the tell-tale "on the contrary, I answer that . . ." statement of Thomas's own take on the question, then three replies to the preceding three objections. (No gentle Thomistic readers, I don't know the official terms.)
For the sake of brevity, I'll just quote Thomas's "on the contrary" and his reply to the first objection:
"I answer that, As Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii), "God does not compel man to be righteous." Consequently in order that a man be justified by Baptism, his will must needs embrace both Baptism and the baptismal effect. Now, a man is said to be insincere by reason of his will being in contradiction with either Baptism or its effect. For, according to Augustine (De Bapt. cont. Donat. vii), a man is said to be insincere, in four ways: first, because he does not believe, whereas Baptism is the sacrament of Faith; secondly, through scorning the sacrament itself; thirdly, through observing a rite which differs from that prescribed by the Church in conferring the sacrament; fourthly, through approaching the sacrament without devotion. Wherefore it is manifest that insincerity hinders the effect of Baptism.
Reply to Objection 1. "To be baptized in Christ," may be taken in two ways. First, "in Christ," i.e. "in conformity with Christ." And thus whoever is baptized in Christ so as to be conformed to Him by Faith and Charity, puts on Christ by grace. Secondly, a man is said to be baptized in Christ, in so far as he receives Christ's sacrament. And thus all put on Christ, through being configured to Him by the character, but not through being conformed to Him by grace."
The quick and dirty summary: if we receive a sacrament without personal faith as adults, it is possible that we *might* receive the character of a sacrament like baptism or confirmation without receiving the grace.
The implications for our personal spiritual lives (and mine in particular) and for our current pastoral practice in RCIA, confirmation prep, etc. is stunning. And unnerving.
First of all, I have to say that I was stunned and greatly saddened to hear - while on the road - that Amy Welborn's husband Michael died suddenly yesterday. I spent my flight home praying for her and their children and for Michael. It is really good to see the way that the Catholic blogging community has rallied round them.
Amy's note and information about the funeral arrangements are here.
I just came across this, and it reminded me of the discussion of/search for kerygma we've been having here.
It's well worth reading the whole thing, but here is a good taste:
I first realized the gravity of my sentence when I was around 11 years old. One night the thought of death randomly popped to mind, and for the first time I fully internalized the reality that I would one day die. Though of course I already knew that nobody lives forever, this was the first time that that veil that blocks unpleasant truths from our conciousness was pierced and I understood down to my bones that it was only a matter of time before a coffin lid closed on top of my body. The weight of that reality was too much for my intellect to bear; it's like I thought about it more in my racing heart than in my head. My whole being was aware that everything I thought of as "me" -- my body, my feelings, my loves, my thoughts, all my hopes and dreams -- were nothing more than the products of random chemical reactions that would one day cease, and "I" would disappear.
The human psyche is surprisingly good at blocking out these sorts of unbearably heavy realizations, so I managed to get out of the tailspin of despair within a couple of days and not put any more serious thought into death for a few years. But then high school and college rolled around, I became more curious about life and the world, and the reality of death began to swirl around the periphery of my thoughts once again. Most of the time I could keep my mind occupied with school and friends and parties, but every now and then that veil would fall down again and the reality of death would go seeping down into my bones, leaving me too depressed to cry.
The date of our extinction was coming up soon, getting closer by the second. The only difference between a death row inmate and anyone else, in my eyes, was that the prisoner knew the date. I had those same questions that inmate expressed: Why play cards? Why watch TV? Why read a book? Sure, you might have momentary pleasure or gain some knowledge, but it was all fleeting, and it would all disappear -- along with you -- upon your impending extermination. And the clock was ticking. We were all dead men walking.
It felt wrong -- deeply, uncomfortably wrong -- to think about all of this. And upon my conversion to Christianity I realized why:
That crushing despair I experienced when I would absorb the implications of my worldview was the feeling of a precious, eternal soul railing against the injustice of being denied. Somewhere in that part of my mind where primal truths too important for words reside was the knowledge that "I" was something more than just randomly evolved chemical reactions, that "I" was both body and eternal soul, that "I" had the opportunity to spend eternity in a place of perfect peace, and that to believe otherwise was the biggest mistake a person could ever make.
When I first came to believe the truth of Christian doctrine, I didn't think much about the eternal implications. I'd gotten good at distracting myself from thoughts of death and I didn't want to bias my research into Christianity with a desire to believe in eternal life. So it was only slowly, over time, that I became aware that I was freer than I used to be, that life seemed more complete in a certain way than it had been before. But I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was.
Then one day I was driving through an intersection where the stoplights had just lost power, and I barely missed getting into a serious, possibly deadly, accident. It was then that I realized what that new "something" was: fear of death no longer haunted me. I no longer saw the end of my life on earth as an abyss of nothingness; rather, I understood it as an opportunity to finally go home. The sleepless nights, the frantic search for distractions, the restlessness that comes with seeking a constant state of denial were all gone. Though it had happened gradually, when I compared my new state of mind with my old one I felt lighter than air; the foundation of my subconscious was now paved with joy instead of despair.
In that moment I realized that I'd spent my whole life falsely condemned to death row. And now I was finally free.
"Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life."
As I write this I am on a US Airways flight from Burbank to Omaha, via Phoenix. The US Airways in-flight magazine has a regular feature called, Save My Career, and features Donald Asher, a career guidance guru, offering advice to people with job problems. In these harsh economic times, people are worried about job layoffs and downsizing, but one young college senior is fretting about his father’s approach to a job (“it’s simply a way to support a family”). He wants life to be more than work, work, work. To this young man, Mr. Asher offers this advice, “The greatest success, in career terms, is in finding your calling. Among people who work, some have jobs, some have careers, and some have a calling. A calling is something you’d do even if you weren’t paid to do it. A calling is intrinsically satisfying, regardless of compensation. And it turns out that finding your calling leads to more success.”
But how to discover a calling? Is it just a mystery that some lucky people happen upon? Do only a few actually have a calling? Is there some method for figuring it out? For the Catholic, everyone has a calling – a vocation; a unique work of love that is given us by God. The Called & Gifted workshop offers a way to discover some of the clues placed within us by God as to His calling for us. These are our charisms, and discerning them leads to the opportunity to actually search out a job or career that will be our calling – even if we have to invent it! The great thing, too, is not only are the charisms (spiritual gifts) given to us by God at our baptism great clues to our calling, they are also the means that will help to ensure our success and satisfaction.
That’s because when we actually use our charisms, we are energized, satisfied, and feel like we “fit” as we use them. The experience of using them is similar to what some folks call, “flow,” in which time seems to pass quickly and effortlessly. In addition, because the charisms are means by which God works through us, we actually will see supernatural results to our efforts! That means we will see results that might sometimes surprise us, and we’ll receive positive feedback, either directly in the form of praise, or indirectly in the form of people beating the proverbial path to our door.
If you haven’t taken the Called & Gifted workshop yet, do so! You can also get the CD version of the workshop from the Catherine of Siena Institute. In the meanwhile, pay attention to the things you do for others that you really enjoy, especially if you get feedback or results that seem to go beyond the effort you put into the activity. The key to a calling/vocation, though, is that it must always be for others in some way. God has made us in His image, which means that we are made to live for others. That’s the common characteristic of every calling – and that’s where we’ll find our deepest satisfaction.
Off this morning to Omaha to present at their clergy conference with Fr. Mike. I had a whole blog post about Pope Benedict's "hermeneutic of reform" worked out in my head but never managed to write it.
I had a bleg for our readers. I need to find a solid, winsome, relatively short (less than 50 pages) inexpensive summation of the basic kergyma in written form in the next couple of weeks and I am having a hard time doing so.
I need to make it clear - I don't mean apologetics. I have already asked a number of friends and they have sent me books of apologetics. By apologetics I mean closely reasoned arguments for the resurrection or accepting the authority of Church teaching. No more "liar-lunatic- messiah" knock-offs of C. S. Lewis or evangelical stuff or Chesterton or Ronald Knox. That is not what I need. The culture around us has changed profoundly and we are still acting as though classic Catholic apologetics of the 20's and 30's, written for people who lived within a modern mindset which was still familiar with some of the language and concepts of classic Christianity works for average 21st century post-moderns.
I need a solid, winsome, non-evangelical Protestant, proclamation of the basic gospel of Jesus Christ that would be suitable for people of average intelligence and intellectual background who are not yet intentional disciples and who have been steeped in post-modernism since birth (which includes 98% of Catholics under the age of 65 in this country who weren't homeschooled in a traditional Catholic enclave or are already part of one of the movements.) Something for the 98% of Catholics who at least drop into a parish occasionally or at least still self-identify as Catholic,
In some ways, I realize that we need a couple different versions for our work: one version for those with a Catholic background and another for those with no religious background or a non-Christian background, Something written with post-modern rather than modern sensibilities in mind.
But right now, my need is for the Catholic version.
I've asked some very sharp Catholic leaders who are passionate about evangelization and the fact that none of us can come up with something says volumes about our situation.
I'm reading some of Fr. Cantalamessa's books (Life in Christ at present -very, very good - but presumes a good deal of religious background. Would work for pastoral leaders but not the poorly catechized.)
I'll try to blog from the road but don't know if I will have internet access.