“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
--Pedro Arrupe SJ (1907-91) 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus
Hey, where's the love? What happened to Queen for a day? Where's my birthday video? Where's my champagne? Where's my all expense paid trip to London for the Olympics, eh?
If you are still trying to figure out what to give the woman (Moi) who has everything - here's one quick birthday present that would mean a lot. Go over to the Forming Intentional Disciples Amazon page and click "like" or even better, write a glowing review!
1) The response to Forming Intentional Disciples so far has been tremendous, both around St. Blog's and in the real world. I just found out that 1,490 paperback copies have sold over the past 3 weeks which I'm told is very good. We don't have data on Kindle sales yet. Invitations to give keynote addresses at conferences for the Year of Faith are also rolling in. I'll also be filming an episode of The Choices We Face with Ralph Martin in late September. And I'm going to be visiting New Orleans again in February! Fun!
3) Peter Herbeck of Renewal Ministries called and told me about a new network aimed at the formation and support of young adult leaders called ID 916. (And yes, ID stands for Intentional Disciples!) Check it out.
"These refugees are taking unimaginable risks to live their Christian faith," says Martens, who ministers to one of Germany's most dynamic parishes, which has grown from 200 to over 900 members in 20 years. He views the conversion of a growing number of Iranians in Germany as evidence of God's sense of irony. "Imagine! Of all places, God chooses eastern Germany, one of the world's most godless regions, as the stage for a spiritual awakening among Persians," Martens exclaims. According to a recent University of Chicago study, only 13 percent of all residents of the formerly Communist part of Germany attest belief in God."
But the same phenomena is happening all over Germany, primarily among educated Persian emmigrants. It is estimated that as many as 500 - 1000 Iranian immigrants a year are being baptized, a number which exceeds Germans who are going the other way and becoming Muslim. Why?
"Some German clerics speak of a divinely scripted drama that includes countless reports of Muslims having visions of Jesus. According to Martens and others interviewed for this article, most of these appearances follow a pattern reported by converts throughout the Islamic world: Muslims see a figure of light, sometimes bearing the features of Christ, sometimes not. But they instantly know who he is. He always makes it clear that he is Jesus of the Bible, not Isa of the Qur'an, and he directs them to specific pastors, priests, congregations, or house churches, where they later hear the gospel."
And here's a note of particular interest to Catholics:
. . . only "free churches," such as the Baptists and independent Lutherans, and semi-autonomous congregations like Götz's, joyfully report conversions. "We know that faithful ministers of the state-related churches also baptize ex-Muslims, but we are left in the dark about the numbers." Albrecht Hauser, a former missionary and retired dean of the Lutheran Church of Württemberg, adds, "We are aware of faithful Catholic priests doing likewise." But, observes Schirrmacher, "The Catholics are just as hesitant to release statistics. They don't want to jeopardize interfaith dialogues."
“How are we to explain the fact that people who regularly received the Lord’s body and confessed their sins in the sacrament of Penance have offended in this way? It remains a mystery. Yet evidently, their Christianity was no longer nourished by joyful encounter with Jesus Christ: it had become merely a matter of habit. The work of the Council was really meant to overcome this form of Christianity and to rediscover the faith as a deep personal friendship with the goodness of Jesus Christ. The Eucharistic Congress has a similar aim. Here we wish to encounter the Risen Lord. We ask him to touch us deeply.”
The Church teaches that believing that the sacraments or the liturgy produced the intended spiritual fruit without our disposition and cooperation is "superstition". As a prominent theologian wrote in the 20's, "In this life, the faithful obtain the fruit of the liturgy through a personal quest."
A personal quest is absolutely necessary - as necessary as the sacraments themselves. We have to spend as much time fostering that personal quest in every baptized person and in those considering baptism as in debating the exact working and gestures of the liturgy.
But in reality, we spend 99% of our time and energy on the debates about rubrics, dogma, and validity and almost nothing on the non-negotiable personal response without which the grace given through the most beautiful liturgy in the world will never bear fruit in a real human being's transformation and salvation. And the salvation of human beings is the end for which the whole sacramental economy exists.
Our choices would seem to indicate that we do, in fact, believe that the liturgy is magic. Heaven knows we've seen the fruit of that approach in spades.
I'd like to look at the tragedy in Denver from another perspective. To do so, I'm going to look at a massive, deeply disturbing study of the life-long impact of child abuse and neglect done over ten years ago. it is known as the Adverse Childhood Experience Study which looked at the childhoods and later well-being of over 17,000 largely college-educated, middle class, adults whose average age was 57 at the time of the study.
"By taking a whole life perspective the Adverse Childhood Experience Study began to progressively uncover how childhood stressors (ACEs) affect health and social well-being throughout the lifespan.
The ten ACE’s studied were:
• Mother treated violently
• Household substance abuse
• Household mental illness
• Parental separation or divorce
• Incarcerated household member
ACE’s profoundly affect our lives because our ability to manage stress is controlled by brain circuits and hormone systems that are activated early in life. When a child feels threatened, hormones are released and they circulate throughout the body. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones can impact the brain and impair functioning.
The clearly documented effects of sustained “toxic stress” can include smaller brains, over-reaction to adverse experiences throughout life, immuno-suppression and vulnerability to all kinds of health problems as an adult, a significantly earlier death; learning disabilities and cognitive defects, serious depression, suicide attempts, violence against a spouse or partner, and a host of other grave problems.
None of this is academic for me. I am one of the 10% of adults who had 5 or more ACE’s growing up which gave me a 100% chance of experiencing severe depression as an adult. If we compare an adult woman like myself with 5 ACEs to a woman with zero ACE’s, my risk of abortion is 290% greater, my risk of three or more marriages is 380% greater and of having 30 or more sexual partners is 580% greater. A woman like me is 5 times more likely to be physically abused by a spouse or partner or become an alcoholic and nine times more likely to be raped or become an intravenous drug addict. A woman like me is 17 times more likely to attempt suicide.
The fact that I have experienced only 1 of the grave outcomes listed above and that I am not severely depressed today and haven’t been in several years verges on the miraculous. I have been the recipient of a vast amount of healing grace through a number of very different people and never stop thanking God for it.
I’d like to use the ACE study as another way to view the tragedy in Denver. So much of the impact of our response to God’s love and grace, of our faithfulness, our obedience, our charisms; so much of the impact of spiritual “fruit” that is borne in our lives is hard to see clearly since the outcome is as much about what doesn’t happen as what does happen. We will only know a small sliver of what God ultimately does with and through our obedience in this life. The spiritual fruit of your discipleship could ensure that the kind of descent into madness that we saw Friday in Denver doesn’t happen to hundreds of other young people although you will almost certainly be unconscious of the significance of your actions at the time.
Because you said "yes" to God, a child is loved rather than aborted or terrorized or abused or abandoned or bullied. Spouses don’t abandon and abuse one another but instead are slowly healed and transformed by encountering the love of God through one another. Families are actually places where you learn the lessons of the love and the reality of a loving God with whom you can have a living relationship from the very beginning. A movie about a favorite super hero remains just a movie, not a global symbol of deranged violence. Parishes are places where Catholics are not abused but are routinely called to intentional discipleship and fruitful apostleship.
As I have said hundreds of times to many thousands of Catholics in Called & Gifted workshops:
"Someone out there is waiting for what you have been given to give and their life hangs in the balance. You may not have met them yet. They may not even have been born yet. But in God's Providence, you are the one. And it matters that you say "yes".
This is one of the most important things at stake in calling all the baptized to intentional discipleship. That’s why I wrote in my book:
But I have to disagree with Bloy. I think that there is a greater sadness than even the lack of individual saints: the absence of the communal fruit that God intends to manifest within our Christian communities and networks of saints-in-the-making. This absence is an almost unfathomable loss because it affects the whole human race. We can be deprived of the rivers of prayer, generosity, wisdom, love, creativity, charisms, vocations, and grace that God intends to bless, heal, evangelize, and transform the lives of billions. . .
OK. It's time for fifteen Sunday seconds of marketing.
I thought I'd share some of the very encouraging comments I've been getting this week from pastoral leaders and evangelizers who have read Forming Intentional Disciples. I'll keep 'em anonymous since a couple came in private communication.
I am well into your new book "Making Intentional Disciples"...I was up until 1:30 reading and it took me a half hour to settle down. What a great read!!! Simply fantastic writing with superb factual and theological support!
For anyone involved in, interested in, thinking about the New Evangelization, Sherry Weddell has written an excellent book that says what I have been thinking (and trying to say) for years! Forming Intentional Disciples is a must read!
First, let me say THANK YOU for writing this book. It is a synthesis of every deep conversation on evangelization and catechesis my colleagues in the diocese and I have been having for the last four years. I think I've said "Amen!" to something every 10 pages or so.
What I like about the book is that it describes the situation on the ground so accurately, and communicates clearly that we don't have to just accept this situation. There is such dreadful complacency out there, and everybody acts like this is just the way it is, its the way we are. It's so practical too.
I am *really* enjoying it! You're saying things and supporting them from Church documents/from what you've seen and heard that I have suspected, mentioned to some, tried to explain, and haven't gotten very far with. Reading some lines, I think, "YES! I *knew* there was a place for what I was seeing! I'm *not* crazy! There really are ways to move forward on these fronts; hurrah!"
As I read the Intro and the first chapter, I began thinking that our Archbishop should put everything aside and read this book TONIGHT. If you care about the Church, and in particular, if you care about evangelization (and all Christians should!), this book is a MUST READ.
This is an invitation to become part of this absolutely critical conversation by reading Intentional Disciples. If you appreciate the work of the Catherine of Siena Institute, please buy the book from us since, in effect, you'll be making a small donation to us as well as getting the fruit of eight year's work in parish-based evangelization by a whole network of pastoral evangelizers and collaborators who are really making it happen on the ground.
What is at stake in our failure to call the vast majority of the baptized to intentional discipleship? As I wrote in my chapter on sacramental grace and personal faith in Forming Intentional Disciples:
“In Leon Bloy’s novel The Woman Who Was Poor, the heroine famously declares, “There is only one sadness, it is to not be a saint.” The tragedy of not being a saint is both global and personal, temporal and eternal. A saint’s life sends out ripples of grace that bless many within the Church and outside of it. When the fruit of a saint’s life is missing, all of us are impoverished, because the impact of the presence or absence of the power of the Holy Spirit doesn’t stop at the borders of an individual’s earthly life.
But I have to disagree with Bloy. I think that there is a greater sadness than even the lack of individual saints: the absence of the communal fruit that God intends to manifest within our Christian communities and networks of saints-in-the-making. This absence is an almost unfathomable loss because it affects the whole human race. We can be deprived of the rivers of prayer, generosity, wisdom, love, creativity, charisms, vocations, and grace that God intends to bless, heal, evangelize, and transform the lives of billions. . . "
"Many things lie in the balance, but certainly these four:
1) The eternal happiness in God - the salvation - of every human being.
2) The complete fruition of the Mass and the sacraments.
3) The next generation of Catholic leaders, saints, and apostles: priestly, religious, and secular.
4) The fulfillment of the Church's mission on earth."
 Leon Bloy, The Woman Who Was Poor (London:Sheed & Ward, 1947), p. 354.
"Pro-life religious people need to consider how it might be made more difficult for people to procure weapons that are not designed for sport or hunting or self-defense.
Why would anyone be opposed to firmer gun control, or, to put it more plainly, laws that would make it more difficult for mass murders to occur? If one protests against abortions clinics because they facilitate the taking of human life, why not protest against largely unregulated suppliers of firearms because they facilitate the taking of human life as well?"
Human lives like six year olds taken by their mother or father into a movie theater.
There is no conceivable use for assault weapons in non-police, non-combat, ordinary civilian life - except mass murder.
From a Denver newsource:
"The semiautomatic assault rifle used by the gunman jammed during the attack, a federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press, which forced the shooter to switch to another gun with less fire power.
Holmes also bought an urban assault vest, two magazine holders and a knife for just over $300 on July 2 from an online supplier of tactical gear for police and military personnel, according to the company.
Chad Weinman, CEO of TacticalGear.com, said his company processes thousands of orders each day, and there was nothing unusual in the one that Holmes placed.
"Everything Mr. Holmes purchased on July 2 is commercially available," Weinman said, adding he was "appalled" that the material was sold to Holmes before the shooting."
So we have a technical malfunction to thank for the fact that the toll of the dead and the wounded aren't higher than they are?
It's time to say that this is madness. It's time to say that unregulated availibility of assault weapons is clearly anti-life. It's time for pro-life people to take a stand.
In light of this morning's horrific attach on the movie theatre in Denver, where 12 died and 59 others were injured), I am going to re-post something I wrote 5 years ago after a similar incident here in Colorado. And I'd love to get your responses:
I have a non-violent solution to the angry young man bursting into the mall/church/school with his assault rifle. Something in addition to the other obvious non-violent options of 1) refusing to give him access to assault rifles, 2) stop filling his head with images - through movies, videos, TV, computer games - which lionize solitary young men wielding assault rifles. It wouldn't stop all such events but it will stop inspiring copy-cat incidents by guys who are going to prove something to the world and become immortal by taking others with them.
All we have to do is make a pact - all of us - all media sources, all bloggers, friends, family, etc. All we have to do is say that the name of any such shooter will never be mentioned again. He will not go down in history like Jesse James or Jack the Ripper. He won't go down in history at all. He will vanish. His story will never be told. The penalty is not just almost certain death. The penalty is certain anonymity. The shooter won't vanish from the mind or eye of God or his family - but he will from history.
Some of this - a good deal of this - is publicity driven. Done by young men who have added dazzling media images to their personal stock of inner darkness and rage. Without those images: of Columbine and Omaha and now Colorado - how many miserable 17 year olds will take that route? They usually do it after months and years of brooding upon such images and stories, seeing themselves as the anti-hero and revenger, whose spectacular end is reported 24/7 all over the world, and endlessly speculated about. A small child's "I'll show them!" magnified a billion times by CNN and FOX and the internet. Now it is "I'll show the world!".
What if we cut the supply? What if he knew for sure that no one would see, that no one would ever know his name, if he took this path? That no media report would ever mention his name or his family or his home town or his childhood or the people who bullied him at school or read the letter or video that he leaves behind. That his fantasies of finally being seen and recognized, of being the all powerful center of attention, could not happen this way. That he could not send a defiant message to the universe this way.
We have to simply stop rewarding this sort of fantasy with 24/7 global notoriety and a place in the Bad Boys of the Universe Hall of Fame.
Publicity is the oxygen that feeds this particular kind of fire. And it is we who control the source of that particular narcotic.
One of my favorite stories is about Bl. Catherine Jarrige, whose feast day is July 4. She lived during the French Revolution and the accompanying supression of the Catholic Church and demonstrated a level of inspired chuztpah that takes your breath away.
Priests who not declare their first allegience to the revolutionary government were known as "non-juring" priests and in November of 1791, they were suspect and to be arrested. Most were arrested and the majority were kept in prison ships where the majority died within a few months from the appalling conditions.
Persecution evolved into active "de-Christianization" by 1793. In October of 1793, a law was passed sentencing non-juring priests and those who harbored them to instant death. Less than a month later, the Goddess Reason was installed on the high altar of Notre Dame Cathedral.
It was in this climate that Catherine, a lacemaker and professed third order Dominican, who was known for her great generosity to the poor "showed her quality". Catherine created a priest underground that slipped clergy in and out of her area successfully, ensured priests were fed and safe, and that the sacramental needs of the community were still met. No baby went unbaptized, no one died without confession. She only lost one priest, whom she accompanied fearlessly to the guillotine. After his execution, Catherine took some of the martyr's blood and smeared it on the eyes of a blind child who was instantly healed. At seeing the miracle, the executioner began to cry "I'm lost, I'm lost. I've killed a saint!"
One particularly amusing story about her exploits comes down to us. Catherine was guiding a priest, disguised as a revolutionary peasant, out of the area. To prevent discovery, Catherine has doused the disguised priest with wine and told him to walk as though he were drunk and let her do the talking. As they walked along, they encountered a revolutionary soldier. Thinking quickly, Catherine began to yell at her walking companion loudly as though she were scolding her husband. The soldier sympathized with Catherine's 'husband': "Citizen, if I had a wife like that, I'd drown her in the nearest river." The undercover priest is said to have passionately agreed. "Citizen, so would I!"
Catherine was instrumental in re-establishing the life of the Catholic community after the revolution and lived to be 82. It was said that as a young woman, she loved to dance the Bouree - a local country dance but gave it up after she was professed as a Dominican to focus upon her ministry to the poor.
Here's a fun little example of 21st century French men and women dancing Catherine's favorite dance. It doesn't take much to imagine her among them.
Time for a bit of blogging about some remarkable lay Catholics who have responded in remarkable and creative ways when the Church has been suppressed and persecuated. July is full of their feast days.
July, 2012 happens to be the 100th anniversary of an extraordinary man that most of us have never heard of, the first indigenous blessed in the entire South Pacific region: Peter To Rot. I first stumbled across Peter To Rot in 2002 when we put on Called & Gifted workshops in two languages for 1,000 Catholics in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Catholicism reached Papua New Guinea in the mid 19th century but most of the first missionaries, including two bishops, and numerous priests died as martyrs or from disease. When missionaries finally established a foothold in the 1880's, their strategy from the beginning emphasized the critical importance of lay leadership and especially the formation of lay catechists.
Peter To Rot was a second generation Catholic, son of a major chief, who with his wife, had been baptized and catechized his own children. Peter was passionate about his faith from his childhood and began his work as a trained catechist at age 22 in 1934 but his real test came under Japanese occupation in 1942 - 1945. The missionaries were immediately put into concentration camps but Peter, as a layman, was allowed to stay in his village.
As has happened numerous times in Catholic history, the weight of the local Catholic community lay upon this lay man's shoulders. Soon, he was leading Sunday prayer and exhorting the faithful to persevere, witnessing marriages, baptizing newborns, presiding at funerals. One missionary who had escaped arrest lived in the forest; Peter brought villagers to him in secret so that they could receive the sacraments.
Although the Japanese did not outlaw all Catholic practices at first, they soon began to pillage and destroy the churches. To Rot had to build a wooden chapel in the bush and devise underground hiding places for the sacred vessels. He carried on his apostolic work cautiously, visiting Christians at night because of the many spies. He often traveled to Vunapopé, a distant village, where a priest gave him the Blessed Sacrament. By special permission of the bishop To Rot brought communion to the sick and dying.
The Japanese occupiers tried to reintroduce polygamy to gain the favor of several local chiefs but Peter To Rot stood strongly against it. "As a villager later testified, “Without him, I would have taken a second wife. To Rot was a saint, concerned only about the salvation of souls. He had no fear of the rich and the powerful.”
Peter was arrested and imprisoned in 1945 at the end of the war and then murdered by his captors on July 7. He died wearing his catechist cross. You can read the whole of his remarkable story here. Today, 22% of the population of Papua New Guinea is Catholic and the diocesan radio that helps bind together this vast diocese with its rugged landscape and hundreds of languages together is called The Voice of Peter To Rot.
An Irish Catholic lass, Catherine Wiley, meets the love of her life in London and marries him. Like so many Catholics at that time, she had left the practice of the faith but after the birth of her first child, she returned. Eventually, she and her husband bought a country house in Walsingham without a clue that before the Reformation, it had been a friary and place of pilgrimage. They were the first Catholics in that house since the Reformation.
Read the rest. Again - an incredible example of what God can do through a lay person who is fully engaged in their professional work as a disciple. Building churches in Cambodia? Sure. Caring for Romanian orphans? Absolutely!
But as Catherine realized: "All these little things I had been doing were stepping stones. I began to realise that our company was God-given. Because I had this powerful company I could get things done."
And now she is getting invitations from groups and dioceses all over the world including New York. Imagine: Formation and support for grand-parents as natural evangelizers.
"The faith of our forefathers is hanging in the balance, especially in the western world. Grandparents have a special role to play in passing it on to their grandchildren. If we don’t act now, it may be too late, as quite often our own children have little knowledge of the faith. I truly believe that grandparents are being called at this moment in history."
PS. Earlier this week, I was asked to read and write a supportive word for a new book written by John and Teresa Boucher on how grand-parents can pray for their grown children: Praying for the Our Sons and Daughters, and will be published by The Word Among Us Press. It is a real gem: full of spiritual depth, lived experience, practical, and beautifully written. Check it out.
Thanks be to God for John Allen again! Please read the whole of his "Real War on Religion" post. Allen had the brilliant idea of summing up the kind of real-life persecution that Christians and other believers around the world faced during the 24 hours of July 4.
This one really got me - I had picked vague mentions of it on the internet but hadn't found the specifics. Here they are. Unspeakable.
Ghulam Abbas, a mentally disabled man in a region of Punjab under Pakistani control, was thrown into jail July 3 after rumors spread that he had burned some pages from a Quran. Before any investigation or trial could take place, a Muslim extremist mob stormed the jail, dragged Abbas from his cell and burned him alive. According to local observers, it's at least the 35th extra-judicial murder to take place following an arrest under Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws since 1986.
The incredible thing is that Abbas, apparently was a Muslim rather than a Christian. Apparently, half those prosecuted under Pakistan's blasphemy law have been Muslims. (Pakistan is 99% Muslim).
The U.S. bishops, in collaboration with the Catholic University of America and Catholic Relief Services, are planning to hold a conference titled "International Religious Freedom: An Imperative for Peace and the Common Good" on Sept. 12 in Washington. Something to pray for and to attend, if you can.
80% of all religious persecution in the world is against Christians. Religious freedom is a huge Catholic issue, not just in the US but all over the world.