This is an article by Lydia Lim that ran in the Stanford Catholic Newman Center bulletin last week.
Back home in Singapore, the biggest celebration each year for my family is Chinese New Year, which usually rolls round at the end of January or early February.
I am terrified of Chinese New Year. I do not exaggerate when I say that well over 100 people trek through my family’s home on the first day of the New Year celebrations. They start arriving as early as 9am and keep on coming until 9pm. Some stay well past midnight. For an introvert like me, it is exhausting to be serving food and drinks, and making conversation with that many people for a whole day, even if most of them are relatives, or perhaps because most of them are relatives!
For many years, I resented what I considered to be my mother’s excessive hospitality. Did she really have to invite so many people over, and so often? For it was not just Chinese New Year when the hoards descended; they did so at Christmas and on many a weekend as well.
It was only after I learned about the special spiritual gifts called charisms that I realised my mother has the charism of hospitality, and that she is doing God’s work when she opens her home to family, friends and neighbours. Charisms are special gifts that God gives each of us through the Holy Spirit. God means for us to use our charisms to serve others; so that they can experience His love and provision for them. When people visit the homes of those who, like my mother, have the charism of hospitality, they experience a welcome so warm, they want to return. The experience can even bring healing to those who are lonely or feel at the margins of society.
The thing is God gives us each of us different charisms. I obviously do not have the charism of hospitality, but I believe I have the charism of teaching. Standing up in front of a group of strangers to teach them a particular subject probably isn’t my mother’s idea of fun, but it is mine – even when I am sick as a dog. I remember once teaching when I was ill. The amazing thing was that the moment I got up to teach, I felt energy coursing through me and my fatigue just melted away. That energy was the Holy Spirit, for when we use our charisms, we serve as channels for the Holy Spirit to enter the world. That also explains why we can be remarkably effective, and enjoy results that we might not have thought humanly possible.
Our charisms provide clues to our personal vocation – a unique work of love that God calls each of us to do. As Scripture tells us, He calls each of us by name. He has a special role for every one of us to play in his plan of salvation and He distributes his gifts accordingly. When God gives us a job to do, he also gives us the gifts we need to get that job done. God not only called Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta to minister to the poorest of the poor, He also gave her the charism of Mercy. That charism empowers a Christian to be a channel of God’s love through practical deeds of compassion that relieve the distress of those who suffer.
That is why discerning your charisms can help you figure out God’s call for you. The Called & Gifted workshop that will take place at Stanford this coming Friday Jan 22 and Saturday Jan 23, is specially designed to help Catholics discern their charisms. The workshop includes Church teaching on the laity and lay apostleship. Participants will have a chance to do a Spiritual Gifts inventory – 120 questions to help you sort through your experiences and see what charisms you might have. You will learn more about the signs and characteristics of 24 common charisms.
The workshop is a special programme of the Catherine of Siena Institute, based in Colorado Springs. The institute and its team of trained teachers have over the past 12 years run Called & Gifted workshops for thousands of Catholics across the US, Europe, Australia and Indonesia. Fr Michael Fones OP, co-director of the institute and a Stanford alumnus, will be flying in to lead the workshop at Stanford.
After attending one workshop, a woman who was a nurse by training, discerned that she had the charism of Missionary, which empowers a Christian to be effective in a culture other than her own. That process of discernment led her to Tanzania, where she launched a programme to distribute drugs to those stricken with HIV, saving many lives in the process. The workshop has helped many other Catholics clarify their personal vocation and inspired them to change their lives accordingly, perhaps in less dramatic but in no less important ways.
The Called & Gifted workshop will take place on the 3rd floor of Old Union on Friday Jan 22, from 730-10pm, and Saturday Jan 23, from 930am-4:30pm. The workshop is one-and-a-half days long, and free of charge for all members of the Catholic Community at Stanford. Please email Lydia at
Lydia Lim is a Lay Dominican from Singapore and a journalist by profession. She is at Stanford for a year on a Knight Fellowship.
January 3rd is the birth date of J.R.R. Tolkien, Oxford don, English scholar, devout Catholic, and beloved creator of a Middle-earth populated with men and women, orcs, elves, dwarves, trolls, wizards, and - of course - hobbits like Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, Peregrin Took, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Samwise Gamgee. [I had to change my personal calendar. I had January 19th as his birthdate]
In the Called and Gifted workshop we often use Tolkien as an example of someone with a charism of writing. Not only was Tolkien a profuse writer, his literary works disclose a profound love for the power of the written word. That's part of what the charism of writing is about; producing works of great beauty that reveal profound spiritual truths.
For those with the charism of writing, the act of writing itself is a connection to God, who creates with a word, and whose Word Himself becomes flesh. We see a glimpse of this connection in Tolkien in this passage from his work, Fairy-Stories.
The incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval. . . . [H]ow powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incantation in Faërie is more potent. . . . The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into swift water. . . . [I]n such “fantasy,” as it is called, new form is made; Faërie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator. (Fairy-Stories 10)
Tolkien is expressing the belief that language is a kind of "magic" because it describes things that exist only in the imagination of the author, and takes root in the imagination of the reader. This he calls fantasy, or sub-creation. Sub-creation is (normally) a text describing an imaginary world. Tolkien created two other words to describe the settling of a "fantasy" in the mind of a reader. The sub-creation of the author is a Secondary World that the reader can enter through his or her imagination, and, if so well constructed that it "holds together," may produce a sense of acceptance or "rightness" in the reader. This feeling that if the story were real, things would be just as they were described, Tolkien called Secondary Belief. Tolkien said "anyone can write a book about a world with a green sun, but it takes skill to make it seem credible." (Fairy-Stories 48-49) For this reason, Tolkien considered fantasy to be “a higher form of art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent.” (Fairy-Stories 47)
Tolkien did produce a Secondary World. Middle Earth has a very detailed history, its own mythology and geography. He created at least one Dwarvish and two Elvish languages with their own alphabets. He created a world in which we explore not only that history and enthralling story, but also the depth of truly human experience: love, friendship, loyalty, betrayal, pity, trust, fortitude, fear, bravery, and hope.
Here's an example of Tolkien's verse from the chapter, "The White Rider" from The Two Towers, the second of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In it Gandalf the wizard describes to Aragorn (a man), Legolas (an elf) and Gimli (a dwarf) what happened to him after he fell from their sight while saving them from a Balrog, an ancient evil creature of great and terrible power. They had presumed him dead, and, indeed, Gandalf the Grey did pass through a kind of death, to return as Gandalf the White, an even more powerful - and humble - wizard. (Celebdil is a mountain peak, by the way).
There upon Celebdil was a lonely window in the snow, and before it lay a narrow space, a dizzy eyrie above the mists of the world. The sun shone fiercely there, but all below was wrapped in cloud. Out he sprang, and even as I came behind, he burst into new flame. There was none to see, or perhaps in after ages songs would still be sung of the Battle of the Peak.’ Suddenly Gandalf laughed. ‘But what would they say in song? Those that looked up from afar thought that the mountain was crowned with storm. Thunder they heard, and lightning, they said, smote upon Celebdil, and leaped back broken into tongues of fire. Is not that enough? A great smoke rose about us, vapour and steam. Ice fell like rain. I threw down my eneymy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin. Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell.
‘Naked I was sent back – for a brief time, until my task is done. And naked I lay upon the mountain-top. The tower behind was crumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined stair was choked with burned and broken stone. I was alone, forgotten, without escape upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered ruomour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone…’
One of the things I love about The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, is that not only is the narrative written in a lovely and lovingly way, the speakers in it, except for the Orcs and other minions of the evil Sauron, speak with an attentiveness to words and sentence construction that makes you certain that they truly care about what they're saying! And in that, they reveal the care with which Tolkien composed their speech. So skillfully did Tolkien create Middle Earth that back in 1976, when I entered his sub-creation, his Secondary World produced such a powerful Secondary Belief in me that I still remember the effect of reading the last words of the trilogy. They are simply "'Well, I'm back.' he said."
And at that moment I wept, for I would never be able to enter that world for the first time again.
Readers may remember that Sherry and I were in Houston last week for a series of talks for the Companions of the Cross. On my way from the airport, Fr. Francis took me to the Catholic Charismatic Center that the Companions direct. Within a mile or so of the place we passed the University of Houston, and, right next to the freeway, a large office building that he said was being converted to the largest abortion clinic in the country.
The building will house Houston Planned Parenthood, and among the services offered in the 78,000 square-foot building will be about 4,000 abortions annually.
Fr. Francis mentioned that there was going to be a large protest held outside the building on Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Here's an article about the protest, with a few highlights.
Organized by prayer leader Lou Engle, The Call to Conscience will begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday with a prayer rally near the site of a planned six-story, 78,000 square-foot headquarters for Planned Parenthood Houston, which will sit in the center of four minority neighborhoods. The facility is scheduled to open in the spring, and will include 15 exam rooms, almost twice as many as are in the current clinic, and an ambulatory surgical center that pro-life activists say will be used for late-term abortions.
The prayer rally will be followed by a silent march through the neighborhoods surrounding the clinic site. Engle, founder of The Call and The Call to Action, which is coordinating the protest, said three of the four communities are predominantly Hispanic, and the other is largely African-American. The Guttmacher Institute, which keeps abortion statistics, estimates that more than half of all abortions are performed on black and Hispanic women.
"We felt like the Lord was saying to us: ‘This is not right. You need to raise up a prophetic witness against it,'" Engle said. "We need to mobilize prayer, and we need to use it as an occasion to subpoena the conscience of the nation because it is really targeting minorities."
Engle said his group hopes to see construction halted on the abortion clinic, which activists say will be the second-largest in the world after China. But he also hopes the rally will expose what he sees as a racist attempt to target black and Hispanic women to have abortions. Engle said one of the objectives of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was to "exterminate the Negro population," as she wrote in a 1939 letter.
In a statement released Wednesday, Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas said the new, larger facility was needed to assist the growing number of uninsured residents in the area.
This part of the article really caught my attention. I have read similar accounts of people involved in the abortion process suddenly coming to terms with what is actually happening - the ending of a human life - and quitting their jobs and becoming part of the pro-life movement.
Also attending the rally will be Abby Johnson, former director of a Planned Parenthood facility in Houston. She quit her job and joined the pro-life movement last fall after witnessing for the first time an ultrasound during an abortion procedure.
"I could see the whole profile of the baby 13 weeks head to foot," she said, according to ABC News. "I could see the whole side profile. I could see the probe. I could see the baby try to move away from the probe."
Johnson said the experience changed her forever, and she quit two weeks later.
"That's the result of prayer," Engle said. "It's a radical paradigm shift. I'm calling it a ‘prayerdigm' shift."
A couple of comments on my post about the Grayby boom led to a long reply comment from me, which I thought I might as well post for the rest of you to see.
Here's the first comment:
I believe that the Catholic Church today suffers from a lack of community, and I believe that telling the stories of God's grace and miracles in today's world could help build that community. Don't tell me that Jesus loves me, show me.
And a comment to that comment:
You said it! My elderly parents faithfully attended Mass and financially supported their church for many, many years. When they became infirm and unable to attend church, no one noticed. Not a single priest or parishioner called or visited. Being the good Catholics that they are, they haven't complained. ( they've never really known what they were missing in terms of community). If the Catholic Church isn't careful, they will not only lose the young people, but the elderly as well.
And here's my quick and dirty reflection on these comments!
Some of the Catholic churches I visit in my work with the Institute pride themselves on being a "welcoming community." Usually, however, the people who are saying that are "insiders," that is, people who are very involved and feel welcome.
They may be people like my friends who moved from Tucson to Colorado Springs recently, and began attending the parish near their home. It's a young parish, with lots of young families, like them. They have four darling children under the age of 8, including a 2 year old. It's hard NOT to notice them. Our parishes are often family oriented. But if you're a single person, or just attending Mass by yourself for whatever reason, you may well feel anonymous - and be anonymous.
Also, with regard to your parents - I'm sorry, first of all. Secondly, on a couple of occasions when I was a pastor someone came up to me and complained that I hadn't visited them in the hospital. I hadn't noticed their absence, to be honest, but then the parish had over 1000 people attending each weekend (not a huge parish, mind you). I wonder if they felt miffed if others that they knew (and perhaps under more intimate circumstanced) hadn't visited them. It was frustrating for them that I hadn't noticed, and it was frustrating for me that they, or someone in their family, hadn't told me. I really treasured visiting parishioners in the hospital or their homes, especially if they asked to receive the anointing of the sick, and was sorry when opportunities were missed.
As a pastor, I got to know some of the people in the parish well - usually people who were already "insiders" when I arrived. They would often stop to talk after Mass, while everyone else passed by. That was often frustrating for me - that the people I already knew were the people who engaged me after Mass. But even if I thought I hadn't seen them on a weekend, I wouldn't know if they had just slipped past me while I was talking with someone else. My own experience of the post-Mass handshakes was that with some regularity someone would ask if I had a minute and then ask for advice on how to patch together their marriage (or something that would take much more than a minute to respond to).
But how should a pastor respond to someone's absence from Mass? If someone is gone from Mass for a few weeks, and IF I noticed, I would not know if they were on vacation, going to Mass someplace else, skipping Mass, or in the hospital unless they contacted me. Now, in a good Christian community, I would hope that someone would tell me that another parishioner was in the hospital (especially if it was due to accident or sudden illness, rather than a planned visit). The fact that that rarely happens is a testimony to the lack of community in our parishes.
So, in summary, if you know you're going into the hospital and would like a visit from the pastor, make sure you let him know. And to be safe, let your family know that if you're ever the victim of an accident or sudden illness, and are taken to the hospital, that you'd like a visit from your local priest - particularly if you'd like to receive the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. And if you know a parishioner is sick, don't presume the pastor knows. And if you know a parishioner is skipping Mass, in charity, you should invite them back, and let them know they're missed - by YOU!
Today is also the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which marks the conversion of St. Paul the Apostle and is 100 years old today.
As Pope Benedict put it in his address yesterday:
Thanks to this spiritual ecumenism -- sanctity of life, conversion of heart, private and public prayer -- the joint pursuit of unity has made great strides forward in the last decade and has diversified in many initiatives; from getting acquainted with and meeting members of various churches and church communities; to conversations and collaboration among various branches that become increasingly friendly; to theological discussions on concrete ways in which we can join together and collaborate with each other.
That which has given, and continues to give, life to this journey toward full unification for all Christians first and foremost -- is prayer. "Pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17 ) is the theme of this year's Week of Prayer. It is at the same time an invitation that never stops resonating in our communities, because prayer is the light, the strength, the guide for our footsteps as we listen humbly to our God, the God of us all.
Secondly, the Council emphasizes common prayer, joint prayer between Catholics and other Christians directed toward the only celestial Father. To this end the Decree on Ecumenism affirms: "These prayers offered in common are doubtless a very effective means to beseech for Christian unity" (UR, 8). In common prayer Christian communities unite before the Lord, they become aware of the contradictions generated by division, and they show the will to obey the Lord's will, faithfully turning to him for his omnipotent help. Furthermore, the decree adds that such prayers are "a genuine manifestation of the links with which Catholics continue to be joined to their separated brothers" (ibid.).
Common prayer is therefore not a voluntarist or a purely sociological action, but an expression of faith that unites all disciples of Christ.
Today the truth of these words really hits home. The world suffers from the absence of God, from God's inaccessibility; it strives to know the face of God. But how could the men of today meet the face of God in the face of Jesus Christ if we, Christians, are divided, if one set of teachings is against the other?
Only united are we really able to show to the world -- that needs it -- the face of God, the face of Christ.
This is Martin Luther King Day in the US and for some, a holiday from work
But this Monday in January has also recently been christened "Blue Monday" - the most depressing day of the year - because Christmas is past, most people in the northern hemisphere are suffering from winter blahs, and it is also the day that the biggest credit card bills of the year arrive (courtesy of the holidays).
And the news from Haiti hasn't helped at all.
So I offer you this wonderful video as an antidote to the blues.
16 year old Maddy Curtis, from a family of 12 children, won her Boston area regional American Idol competition. Maddy is a glowing young woman from a remarkable family whose children include 4 Downs Syndrome boys, three of whom are adopted. And she has a lovely voice to boot.
Watch this for a quick pick me up - and you'll be rooting for Maddy.
John Allen made some remarks about a report from the UN Population Division which indicates a growth in the ratio of elderly to young in the future.
Rapid aging of the human population, the report asserts, is a demographic trend of mammoth consequence, and one “without parallel in the history of humanity.” That’s a bold claim, especially since the modern science of demography really didn’t take shape until the 18th century. But without doubt, today’s demographic landscape – dominated by declining birth rates and rapid aging across the planet – represents a startling inversion of the assumptions that have long dominated the field, the sound-bite version of which was the “population bomb.” If the old demographic worry was relentless population increase, today’s anxieties cut in exactly the opposite direction. According to the “World Population Ageing 2009” report from the United Nations Population Division, by 2045 the number of older persons in the world (defined as those 60 and above) will exceed the number of children (15 and under) for the first time. Both in the United States and around the world, the elderly are by far the fastest-growing segment of the population, a result of both declining fertility and increased life spans.
In addition to the stress on healthcare and pensions that we might expect, this trend has very dire consequences with regard to the entire world economy. Demographic winter is the name given to the situation in which those involved in producing goods in an economy decrease compared to the overall population. The decline in birth rates in developed nations - comprising 80% of the world's economy may result in a plummeting of the numbers of workers, consumers and innovators - leading to falling consumer spending, and too few workers to support the elderly.
But with regard to the Church, Allen sees a possibly rosy picture.
Given that elderly people are, statistically speaking, far more likely to invest time and treasure in their faith than any other demographic cohort, today’s rapid increase in people 65+ represents a potential “boom market” for religion. Whether the Catholic church benefits from this boom will depend, to a great extent, on how imaginative the church becomes in making these swelling numbers of older folks feel welcome and appreciated.
It certainly has been true that the elderly are more involved in Church than the young. The Pew Foundation study on Religion in America found that, at least as of last year, only 30% of those who had been raised Catholic in the U.S. were "practicing" (defined as showing up at least once a month for Mass). 38% seldom or never attended Mass 15% were Protestant 14% were not affiliated with any religion 3% were practicing a non-Christian faith.
Furthermore, the Pew study indicated that those who left the Church and became unaffiliated did so in their youth: 79% by age 23 and 97% by age 35. Of those who became Protestant, 66% left by age 23, and 91% by age 35 - although in general there was a gap between leaving the Catholic faith and embracing Protestantism.
Even those who still hold on to the label "Catholic" are not necessarily being married in the Church or baptizing their children. According to a 2007 CARA study, 40% of Gen X/Millennial Catholics were not married in the Church.
Mr. Allen is presuming that the ranks of those sitting in pews will increase as the population ages. I don't necessarily see it. Our society is becoming less religious, and while some folks will come back to the Church as they age - perhaps seeking "fire insurance," many won't. This is especially true if the postmodernism continues to influence our secular culture. Postmoderns don't believe in absolute truth so claiming certain behaviors are sinful, and that other behaviors are not just desirable but necessary for a Christian - doesn't make sense, and may even lead to an angry rejection of religious statements because the make judgments about behavior. Distrust of institutions is a major characteristic of postmodern society, so that's a second strike against the Church. If all we can do is make the elderly feel welcomed and appreciated (which I'm all for, mind you), but leave it at that, we'll lose many who find all the welcome and appreciation they seek their neighborhood recreation association, bridge group, or gardening club.
If we don't know how to call people to discipleship, or believe that "giving one's life to Jesus and trusting in what He has revealed" is setting the bar too high, then we've basically said that God isn't our greatest good, the one and only satisfaction of our heart's desire. If that's the case, then we have, indeed, fallen prey to the consumerist myth that promises satisfaction in material things.
If the "Grayby Boom" brings about an economic bust, on the other hand, then maybe there's hope that our churches will be full. But in that scenario, I am sure they won't be looking for just a friendly community. The elderly will be seeking after real meaning and purpose. They'll be seeking after Jesus. Will we be preaching Him?
Sherry and I returned from Houston this afternoon, after a very successful three days with the Companions of the Cross. Some 35 priests and three (of their 15) seminarians had all gone through the Called & Gifted workshop, and most had had a personal gifts interview afterward (thanks to Mary Sharon Moore, our intrepid phone interviewer). We led them through some of the material from Making Disciples, especially the information on pre-discipleship spiritual thresholds and the threshold conversation. We also gave them a shortened interviewer training, and talked about the implications of discipleship and discernment in the parish environment.
It was a marvelous three days. The community is orthodox, charismatic, relaxed, and fun to be around. The fellows genuinely enjoy one another's company, laugh easily, and tease one another, well, like brothers. They sing together beautifully, often spontaneously breaking into harmony. Sherry and I were both at ease, and it was great to receive so much affirmation from them. We both agreed that there doesn't seem to be an undercurrent of anger that we so often find in different corners of the Church.
I suppose I should briefly explain. Depending upon the group, there might be anger directed towards society in general (or aspects of our society), or the hierarchy, or charismatics, or traditionalists, or progressives, or the laity - it all depends upon who you're dealing with. It can be disheartening. Not that there aren't aspects of our culture that should make us angry, like the tragedy of abortion, or consumerism, or militarism. It's just that generally the anger isn't directed towards ideas or statements or events, but at people; and the fact that they are still beloved children of God is easily forgotten.
At any rate, there didn't seem to be any of that. They're a young society - only 25 years old - and are dedicated to evangelization and parish renewal, as well as working among the poor and marginalized. All that we're trying to do at the Institute seems to fit what they are attempting in the parishes and oratories that they staff in Canada and the U.S. I suspect - and pray - that our paths will be crossing more in the future, God willing.
And yes, they are the only religious community I know of with their own hockey team. In this case, called, appropriately enough, "Men in Black."
Sherry and I are in Houston, TX, giving a workshop on spiritual thresholds, and teaching interviewer training to the Companions of the Cross (more on that later). Consequently, I haven't seen a paper or watched TV, but have heard about the terrible earthquake in Haiti. I received an e-mail request for donations from Catholic Relief Services and have responded with a modest donation. CRS has people on the ground in Haiti, and has already made a $5 million dollar commitment to immediate relief supplies. I urge you to do the same: pray and donate.
If you wish to donate to CRS, you can do so at the secure CRS site here.
Father Jean Jadotte, associate pastor of Miami's Notre Dame D'Haiti parish, sends these prayer intentions for Haiti. Please join him and other Haitian ex-patriots in these and other prayers.
-We are praying for hope despite this situation, that even as we face darkness, people may see a pinpoint of light.
-Praying for families.
-Pray for a greater conscience among everyone not just in Haiti but all over that we must do something [to help].
-Pray for a spirit of thanksgiving for international agencies for their good heart and good faith.
-Pray for relief workers to have a spirit of patience and perseverance.
-For those who at this time are in search of meaning in their lives and peace.
I would add that you pray that those who survived might receive safe drinking water - that is an immediate need and can mean the difference between life and death.
I lived in Oakland, CA when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck, and our house of studies was just a few miles from the Cypress structure, the double-decker highway built on landfill that collapsed and killed scores of commuters. That earthquake, while slightly more intense than the one in Haiti, lasted only a third as long as the shaking in Haiti due to the unusual way in which the fault zone broke. Had the tremors lasted longer, many more buildings would have collapsed, as they begin to move sympathetically with the shaking of the ground. I presume that many of the buildings in Haiti were not constructed as solidly as those in the Bay area. We cannot imagine the devastation, particularly in such a poor country that does not have the resources that we do.
Even with all the resources available in our country, and in the Bay area particularly, it took months for life to return to normal. I grieve for the people of Haiti. May some good come from this devastation. Perhaps poor Haiti, poorest of all the nations in our hemisphere, will not remain forgotten.
"There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim "Christian is my name and Catholic my surname," only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." - Pope Benedict XV: Encyclical Letter Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24, 1 November, 1914.
Christian is my name and Catholic my surname - and all I have to do is be in reality what I call myself.
That should keep me busy for the foreseeable future.
I think it's safe to say that most Catholics can't imagine attempting to share their faith with another person - even people they might know from Church, must less someone with whom they might have an acquaintance from a "non-church" environment, like the gym. But there are opportunities, if a) we realize that faith is first of all a relationship (and we can talk about relationships pretty easily, can't we?) and b) we believe every person is hungering for a relationship with the Father, through Jesus, and in the Spirit, and c) we begin to recognize opportune moments to bring up the subject of a relationship with God.
Here's an example of someone who attended a retreat I gave in Eugene, OR, earlier this month. Jean (not her real name) a lively, devout life-long Catholic who both knows the essence of her faith and has a living relationship with Jesus. Her e-mail to me yesterday demonstrates the power of simple witness from a man she hardly knew on both her and another woman who is unchurched.
Friday, I went to the funeral for a man I barely knew from the gym ("John Doe" [not his real name, either], early 50s) who always read the bible while he was working out. What I found out at the funeral was that he had a conversion three years ago and went to the 7:00 am Mass daily at St. Mary’s. He is the person I talked about who died on his knees (and I learned with a rosary in him hands). It was very sweet that another women from the gym came, too. (I don’t think she is a connected to any church organization—but she really liked the funeral service. Maybe I can draw her away from her focus on the “stars”).
There are a couple of points of contact that she can make with this relative stranger: 1) they work out together, so there's something in common 2) the woman went to the funeral of John Doe and talked to Jean about the funeral - so they have that experience in common, too 3) the woman has some kind of relationship with Jean, and trusts her enough that she's talked about her interest in the stars (astrology, perhaps?)
So how could a conversation about God begin?
Jean could initiate such a conversation at different places, just based on what she told me in her e-mail:
"What made you decide to go to John's funeral?"
"You said you really enjoyed John's funeral. What did you like about it? Why?"
"You are interested in the stars. The kings in the song, "We Three Kings," were actually wise men who were interested in the stars. There's an interesting website called Bethlehemstar.com you might check out that describes what they saw in the night skies that led them to travel over such a long distance with those gifts. Let me know what you think about it."
The last starting point might be appropriate only if Jean had a pretty established level of trust with the woman, but you get the idea. If we're interested in telling people about a relationship that has changed our own lives for the better, and if we really care about the lives of others (not just their earthly life, but their eternal life), won't we look for opportunities to tell them about Jesus?
Home for 22 hours between engagements. I cleaned up the ravages of cat abandonment, unpacked, did laundry, watched Victoria & Albert, and slept for 9 hours. The luxury is having 22 hours of being "off" cause Fr. Mike is doing the last minute things for our three days with the Companions of the Cross in Houston this week.
For which I am so grateful cause I was so tired in Omaha (which went well) from 10 days of intense work and several nights of bad sleep, I had one of the those very rare teaching experiences of hitting the wall on Friday afternoon.
The last time that happened was years ago in Hawaii when I could have sworn that I had heard my brain go "crack" in the middle of one of our most demanding events. The "crack" seemed so loud that I looked around the room, certain that other people had heard it. Apparently not. Another reason to give thanks that I don't live in the universe of "What Women Want".
But I've gotten some decent sleep and our presentations run only from 9 - 12 and 1 - 4 so this should take a lot less energy. Time to re-pack. Home again on Friday when I'm gonna take some time off!
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