Sherry was mentioning an abridged version of our four-day seminar, "Making Disciples," that we will be presenting at the Western Dominican Province Pastoral Minister's Conference next week. If you are interested in knowing more about the full-length workshop, which focuses on identifying spiritual thresholds that people typically cross on the way to becoming intentional disciples - and ties that in with the Church's teaching on grace, justification, and proclamation of the Gospel - you can click here to go to our website where you can download a brochure with more information about the seminar, as well as a registration form.
The seminar will be held in Benet Lake, WI (June); Colorado Springs, CO (July) and Spokane, WA (August) this summer. Part of what I enjoy about this workshop is the blend of Catholic theology, practical application, and personal reflection and prayer. Participants find it very challenging, yet accessible, and many have said that is has changed the way they think about ministry. It's very easy for us - and I'm definitely including pastoral ministers here - to forget that the whole point of ministry is to help people encounter the risen Lord Jesus; to help people know his love, hear his call to conversion, and find hope for eternal life.
Having Pippin around has revived the old dog vs. cat debate around here.
Fr. Mike is a cat man whose beloved "Mama Kitty" was his faithful companion for many years. He, like nearly all Dominicans of my acquaintance, is an introvert and not shy about proclaiming the obvious: cats and introverts are smarter, discriminating, fastidious, cool, independent, and just plain superior.
It's no surprise who gets to be the dog (slobbering, overly anxious to please, dumb, and shallow) in this scenario. As an extrovert, I've been dissed by Catholic introverts for years. One of Fr. Michael Sweeney's standard quips during the section of the Called & Gifted workshop where we deal with the impact of personality on discernment went as follows:
"An introvert looks at an extrovert and wonders if there is any intelligent life present". (Add laugh track here - always gracefully acknowledged by yours truly)
As the other Sherry (another introvert) once summed it up "your people have been oppressing my people for generations." Who am I to object to lifetime of personal taunts when I am heir to the collective guilt of the ages?
No wonder organizing Dominicans is so impossible. It is herding cats!
Enjoy this you tube video about dogs and cats which pretty much sums up my experience of 12 years of "collaboration" with OP's. Love the tail action.
And I just have to point out: Pippin likes me best.
Everything was down yesterday: internet, phone, TV for over 5 hours! Thanks goodness for cell phones! . It has been interesting prepping for the Dominican Pastoral gathering next week in California. We are starting off with a 30 minute "here's where we've been and here's where we are going" talk and I begin with a quote from the 1995 Dominican Chapter at Caleruega:
"In many places our commitment to parishes is the main obstacle to our itinerancy and our preaching. Chapter 2, II, 20.9. In parishes we must not be satisfied with preaching to those who come to Mass. We require every province to consider its present commitment to parishes and ask if each one represents the best basis for itinerancy in preaching to the unchurched. Is a particular parish a basis of new evangelization? Can it become so? If not we should probably hand it over to the diocese."
I also began with that quote the very first time I ever spoke to Dominican pastors. It was in November of 1995, before the Institute was a gleam in anyone's eye.
Fr. Michael Sweeney asked me to speak for 30 minutes to the first gathering of western OP's engaged in pastoral work - all priests (the next year, they started the tradition of inviting lay leaders). Me, the blue-eyed baby Baptist and still a quite new Catholic, facing an audience of 35 guys in white. Nothing in my life to that point had prepared me for this.
it was both the fulfillment of that fantasy that many of us have had: "Boy, if I just had a chance to tell priests what I think!" and absolutely terrifying. As I walked up to the little podium, my knees literally buckled. I remember grimly forcing myself upright and fiercely promising myself: "You can't faint now! You can faint later after you are done!" I also remember trying to console myself at the time with the idea that no one knew who I was, so I could say my piece and disappear and they'd never be able to find me!
In fact, the Dominicans stunned me with their enthusiastic reception. I heard about that talk for years afterwards. My trembling presentation and its aftermath set the stage for my developing collaboration with Fr. Michael and birth of the Institute. The topic: the strategic role of lay Catholics in the Dominican mission of evangelization. It's fairly long so I've skipped a lot of the magisterial quotes, so if you want to see the context. read the whole thing.
It is amazing how the basic ideas still fuel the Institute's work: Here's a few snippets:
. . . I'd like to ask a question about what might seem to be obvious: What does it mean to evangelize the unchurched? What is evangelism? I think that we need to ask this question because the issue is often framed in terms of assisting "inactive" Catholics to become "active" again, of somehow getting them to come back to the Mass and to take up again their identity as Catholics. I believe that when we focus on the "inactive" Catholic becoming "active" again, we may inadvertently be skipping over a essential intermediary step: that of discipleship. Are "returning" Catholics returning to our parishes and to the Mass in order to follow Jesus? Are they becoming "active" because they have first become disciples? I ask this because discipleship, not just activity, is the true goal of evangelization.
When I use the word "disciple", Catholics sometimes tell me that I am showing my Protestant roots, that "disciple" is a Protestant term, not a Catholic one. But the U.S. Bishops don't seem to think so. When they issued their recent pastoral letter on evangelization, they entitled it "Go and Make Disciples," taking the term from Jesus' commission to his apostles at the end of the gospel of Matthew. Fr. Robert River, the director of Diocesan and Parish Services for the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association, put it this way:
Discipleship is 'what faith is for. . .it makes people into disciples of Jesus'. . . What is the purpose of our Catholic schools? To create active disciples of Jesus. Our religious education programs? Our sacramental catechesis? To create active disciples of Jesus. Moreover, discipleship involves a personal decision and a commitment - a free response to Jesus' call. . .Our whole way of being church must stem from knowing that the purpose of our faith is to be lifelong disciples. This is what makes us an evangelizing church." (Evangelization Update, vol. 2, no. 1)
To succeed at evangelization, we must be clear about what it entails. When we talk about preaching to the unchurched, we are talking about reaching out to those who have either ceased to be practicing Christians or who have had no meaningful contact with Christianity. But when we speak of evangelization, we are talking about reaching out to these people and calling them to become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ and responsible members of his Church. Anything less than a proclamation and evangelization centered around life-long discipleship is less than Catholic.
My oldest female friend is currently living in one of the most religious repressive of the Islamic countries. I cannot reveal either her name or her location because it would be dangerous to both her and her family. She is a quite ordinary, middle-aged, five-foot -nothing housewife and mother. She and her husband spent years equipping themselves to be "tent-making" missionaries, that is, Christians who work at a secular profession that enables them to live in a country where no overt missionary work is possible in order that some living witness to the love of Jesus Christ might be found there. She now speaks the language fluently and frequently dons her national dress and goes out to the desert tribes and the outlying villages where she has developed many friendships. There she shares not only goat and spiced coffee, she shares the gospel.
What she does is possible only because she is a lay woman - no "official" missionary, no pastor, priest or nun would be allowed into the country. My friend is supported in her efforts not just by her husband but by her local Protestant congregation back home in the States. But when I tried to tell her story in a magazine article on lay vocation, the editor of a national magazine for committed lay Catholics told me to take it out. "None of our readers could hope to aspire to such a ministry," he said.
The odd thing is that lay evangelicals aspire to it all the time. I myself come from a quite ordinary family of Southern Baptists. We do not have any missionaries or pastors or evangelists in our background. Yet my youngest sister turned 20 in Nigeria while serving as part of a evangelistic team sent out by a Protestant congregation just a couple blocks away from Blessed Sacrament. One of my cousins is currently in Moscow where he is busy planting Protestant churches. My roommate in seminary spent five years as a lay "tent-making" missionary in Turkey. And I could tell many more such stories.
As a fellow evangelical-turned-Catholic observed to me, it is ironic that while Catholicism has a much stronger and richer theological basis for evangelization than evangelical Protestantism, the Protestants are the ones who are actually doing the lion's share of the evangelizing. The fact is that the global evangelical missionary movement has grown explosively over the past decade. In just the past ten years, the number of evangelical Protestants in the Third World has doubled from around 150 million to about 300 million. Why is this important to our discussion? Because this missionary explosion has been carried on by an evangelistic workforce that is 99% lay. And even more meaningful is the fact that a large percentage of these lay Protestant evangelists are former Catholics.
Everywhere I go in the world of evangelical missions, I run into leaders and activists who were baptized and raised as Catholics. That is because approximately 30% of today's 35 million evangelicals in the US are first or second generation former Catholics. That means that something like 11 million former Catholics identify themselves as Protestant evangelicals (Ralph Martin, The Catholic Church at the End of an Age, p. 39).
Among Hispanic Catholics in the United States, who now constitute nearly a third of American Catholics, five million have left the Catholic Church in the last ten years to join evangelical or Pentecostal churches or other religious movements. In 1970, 90% of American Hispanics identified themselves as Catholic. In the early 1990s, only 70% so identified themselves. (ibid., p. 38)
To return to the recommendation of Caleruega: ". . .we can learn from aspects of their efforts, biblically-based preaching centered on Jesus in the language of the people, giving immediate access to lay ministry in the context of basic communities". (Chapter 2, no. 38) There is a particular quality of warmth, relationship, and intimate sharing centered around the discipleship of the people in the pews that characterize an evangelizing parish. As a Swiss Catholic missionary to Bolivia, Robert Aubrey, has observed, "The atmosphere of a community of converted people which praise the Lord and find religious and human warmth in the midst of a faceless society and of almost anonymous parishes, is something essential for human life. Only within a community can the new convert persevere, and experience the riches of faith and its implications for life" (Samuel Escobar, "A New Reformation," Christianity Today, April 6, 1992, p. 33-34). Ninety-nine percent of all Catholics have only one place where they could hope to find such support for their Christian life and vocation - their local parish.
When you entered the Order, you spent years being educated and formed for your vocation. But I, too, am a preacher of the gospel in my own right - and where is my house of formation? Your parish is my St. Albert's, the only house of formation I may ever have to prepare me for my vocation as an evangelizing change agent in the world.
I can still remember how still the room became as I spoke that last paragraph. And how nervous I was. I knew it was the teaching of the Church, the OPs knew it was the teaching of the Church but neither of us was used to stating it so baldly.
Please read the whole thing but here are some especially good snippets that gives a very vivid picture of life for Christians in Iraq at present.
We had lunch with one of the Archbishops in Baghdad last week to talk about the struggle Christians in Iraq have and the way the Church is just trying to survive. During the conversation (which was accompanied by terrible food!), the Archbishop made this extraordinary remark: “The Church is an instrument for redemption, not administration.”
The meeting commenced; each participant gave an account of what was happening in his congregation. Then, without any preparation, the main item of the agenda became clear: How do we prevent our leaders in St. George's Memorial Church in Baghdad from being kidnapped and killed? Our people are increasingly going hungry and relying on the church for everything—food, water, medicine and rent money. Our relief work through the church has radically increased; however, supplying the needs of the people involves huge risks. All of us stopped discussion for a moment, realizing that most of our church leaders have been killed or kidnapped. Oh, how difficult it is for those of us from the West to accept the risk of death for the ministry of redemption! Although all of us are aware of danger and risk (you cannot be ignorant of this if you live in Iraq), I wonder if we are really prepared to take real risks for the sake of redemption.
My mind went back to the previous weekend at church. Many of our children had their first communion that day. They processed into church in their wonderful white robes, singing the simple word, “Hallelujah!” Some of the children were in tears. As they came to the front of the church, I asked one of the girls why she was crying. She told me it was because it was the most important day of her life and she knew that Jesus was walking with her. Their song was a song of redemption and their tears were tears of redemption. My mind returned again to the words of the Archbishop. These words challenge us here and they should challenge the Church around the world.
I think back to the words of my mentor, Donald Coggan. Every time we parted, he would say, “Take risks, not care.” I hope I have done this and I pray we all will do this more and more when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus with the world.
Inherited a black kitty named Pippin yesterday. Austin, one of our staff, raised Pippin from a kitten but now that she is 16, has developed terrible allergies and sadly, had to find a new home for her. Pippin is remarkably healthy and limber for her age. She found a hole in the wall behind the dryer last night and spent the night there but decided to come out and meet and greet this morning. She is now wandering about the Tuscan villa, bewailing her fate and throwing up occasionally. She is very friendly between spasms of angst so there is hope.
The New Year's Race has begun. I'll be home 13 days in January - and 13 days in February. Fr. Mike will be on the road even more than I. That's what happens when you have 24 events to put on around the country. I have some juicy stuff to blog - but must get laundry underway first.
I'm off tomorrow afternoon for a one day Called & Gifted for Catholic School Teachers in Houston with my friend Barbara Elliott. Then home for the weekend and off at the crack of dawn on Monday with Fr. Mike and another friend to offer an abridged version of the Making Disciples seminar for the Dominican pastors and parish leaders of the Western Province. Back Thursday evening, Jan 10.
Then off Friday morning, Jan 11 to catch a flight from Denver to Seattle to a kind of family reunion and to celebrate my sister's birthday. Back on January 16.
So blogging will be catch as catch can on my part till January 17. Airport lounges, hotel rooms with wi-fi, cafes, etc. Fr. Mike will be around more in early January so you will be hearing from him, I'm sure.
Just a reminder re: Called & Gifted offerings in the near future:
The Dictionary of African Christian Biography. Amazing stuff. It is the on-going work of 105 seminaries, universities, and research centers in 20 African nations and is available online. Most of the entries are in English, some in French. This is the only resource of its kind online.
You can search among 3,100 alphabetical biographies by time period, communion/denomination, (Catholic, Orthodox, various Protestant missionary groups) and country. (You can also search via a linked map of the continent.)
The project director is realistic and good humored about what has been achieved so far.
"Among the several ongoing challenges facing the dictionary, an obvious one is the unevenness of country, language, and denominational content. It is readily evident that while the numbers of stories in English are relatively plentiful, with French-language entries lagging far behind, the languages representing the other three lingua franca of Africa are not represented at all. This is due to neither oversight nor neglect, but to the linguistic limitations of the principals involved and to the fact that the dictionary reflects only those stories that have been submitted. . . We are currently seeking funding in order to begin the translation of the database into Swahili, Portuguese, and Arabic.
Added to this is the somewhat patchy quality of the stories. Anyone browsing the DACB will at once be struck by the unevenness of both the quality and consistency of the nearly one thousand biographies that currently make up the database. Some of the stories are a mere one or two sentences in length, while others run to several thousand words. While scholarly exactitude mark some of the entries, a large number have been contributed by persons who are neither scholars nor historians. The stories are non-proprietary, belonging to the people of Africa as a whole. Since this is a first generation tool, and on the assumption that some memory is better than total amnesia, the checkered quality of the entries has been tolerated and even welcomed. This being a first-generation attempt to ensure that there is some kind of memory to which scholars and leaders of subsequent generations will have access, it will be left for another generation to redress the weaknesses and deficiencies inherent in the present dictionary."
And this charming note, which made me laugh because I knew his situation oh so well:
Despite the DACB's laughably meager financial resources and minimalist administrative infrastructure, those of us most immediately involved are encouraged and delighted by its growing recognition as a unique and impressively useful source of information on the church in Africa.
Hurrah for faithful persistence in the midst of the laughably meager and minimalist! It ain't great but it's better than nothing and, under the Mercy, the beginning of something larger and far better.
What is even more exciting is that this effort is spawning similar efforts in other parts of the world.
In a world where 70% of Christians and the majority of Catholics live outside the industrialized west, it is time that we become more familiar with the remarkable men and women - our brothers and sisters in Christ - whom God used to make that a reality.