Rocco Palma over at Whispers, is spreading the news:
John Paul II made five pilgrimages to these shores, and as his beatification cause proceeds, officials are seeking testimonies from English speakers who met the late great Polish Pope:
On the occasion of the upcoming third anniversary of the death of the Servant of God John Paul II, the Office of the Postulation for his cause of beatification and canonization is looking for testimonies from the faithful about a personal encounter with John Paul II during his life or a testimony of his intercession after his death to be published in it's English edition of the monthly magazine "Totus Tuus." Entries should be no more than a page in length, single spaced, and can be sent to the following e-mail address:
with the subject "I am giving my personal testimony."
Please note that any testimonies submitted will subject to editing and that submission is no guarantee of publication. Anyone who does not wish to have their testimony published may also so indicate in the accompanying e-mail.
Paul Scofield has died at 84 of leukemia. He was one of the greatest stage actors of his day but is best known among most of us for his portrayal of St. Thomas More in A Man for All Seaons.
It is cheering to learn, that as a man, he shared some significant characteristics with St. Thomas. Scofield, like More, was a brilliant, home-loving, humble, good man. This would be a good day to pray for him and his family. He brought us much joy.
"He was a stage actor by inclination and by his gifts -- a dramatic, craggy face and an unforgettable voice that was likened to a Rolls Royce starting up or the rumbling sound of low organ pipes."
"Actor Richard Burton, once regarded as the natural heir to Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud at the summit of British theater, said it was Scofield who deserved that place. "Of the 10 greatest moments in the theater, eight are Scofield's," he said."
Scofield was an unusual star -- a family man who lived almost his entire life within a few miles of his birthplace in southern England and hurried home after work to his wife and children. He didn't seek the spotlight, gave interviews sparingly, and at times seemed to need coaxing to venture out, even onto the stage he loved. His temperament, too, was unexpected in an actor who remained at the very top of his profession.
"It is hard not to be Polyanna-ish about Paul because he is such a manifestly good man, so humane and decent, and curiously void of ego," said director Richard Eyre, former artistic director of Britain's National Theatre. "All the pride he has is channeled through the thing that he does brilliantly."
"What is absent from all this is any concept of life in Christ as relationship. All you get are rules, written on a card and magnetized to the refrigerator. Break rules on Card A and the Divine Administrator puts in the record that you are slated for hell. Break rules on Card B and the Divine Administrator marks down the infraction and gives you a warning. Earn enough infractions and the Sin Monitor Task Force transfers your name to the "Go to Hell" file. However, if you do the theological equivalent of filling out a waiver by going to confession, the Divine Administrator will, for inscrutable reasons, round file your sin folder and let you start over.
The goal of the Christian life, in this scenario, is to die with your sin folder empty. Then God has to let you into heaven, which is this beautiful place that has nothing to do with Him, really. It's just a pretty park where your favorite dead people have been standing around waiting for you to arrive. The notion of a life of virtue spent trying to cultivate a relationship with God never enters the picture. It's just a question of keeping and breaking rules. And nobody really knows why one rule is more important than another."
Read the whole thing. Just the right note upon which to enter into the Triduum.
Some stats based upon the Pew results (and the assumption that there are approximately 220 million adults in the US as indicated by the Census Bureau in 2004)
69.1 million US adults (31.4% of adult population) alive today were raised Catholic.
Today, there are 47 million self-identified Catholic adults (23.9% of US adult population).
18% of those raised Catholic now identify with another faith. (12.44 million)
A) 81.7% of those Catholics who now identify with another faith regard themselves as Protestant. (9% of all Protestants or 10.16 million)
B) 62.6% of those Catholics who identify with a Protestant faith now call themselves “evangelical Protestants”. (6.36 million, 11 % of all evangelicals, 5.6% of all Protestants)
C) 37.7% of those Catholics who identify with a Protestant faith now regard themselves as mainline or black Protestants. (3.83 million or 7% of mainline/black Protestant population and 3% of all Protestants)
D) 18.3% of those Catholics who now identify with another faith identify with a non-Protestant faith.
2.3 million cradle Catholics now comprise
5% of US Orthodox Christians 4% of US Hindus 3% of US Jews 7% of US Mormons 4% of US Muslims 26% of US Jehovah’s Witnesses 22% of US Buddhists 23% of “other faiths” 23% of “other Christian” (Unity, Unitarian, etc.)
E) 14% of those raised Catholic now regard themselves “unaffiliated” with any religious tradition. (9.7 million)
Faiths where converts from Catholic backgrounds are disproportionately present (There are less than half as many Catholics as Protestants in the US so we should have no more than half as many converts to another faith)
Since the Pew Survey gives percentages (23.9% of US Adults identify as Catholics, for instance) but never tells you their starting figure, trying to work out exact numbers is difficult. (Exactly how many adults are there in the US and what year are you using as your standard? The Census Bureau estimated 217 million Americans 18 and older in 2004 but was that the figure that Pew used?)
But as I talked it over with The Other Sherry last night, it became clear that the really important implications didn't require that I be able to come up with reliable numbers.
First of all, we must remember that all the Pew asked of those 35,000+ interviewees was which religious tradition (or none) they identified with. Not "do you ever darken the door of a church or synagogue?" Not "do you attend a worship service every week"? And certainly not "are you an intentional disciple?" This was about self-concept, not deeds.
So this does not address at all the issue of the millions of Americans who self-identify as Catholic but haven't been to Mass in months or years. It was strictly a "what religious tradition do I identify with?" question. An important question certainly. But a limited one.
1) Religious change, spiritual seeking, conversion, and religious self-definition is normative for many, even the majority of American adults. And this includes conversion from belief to disbelief and disbelief to belief. Nothing, not even lack of faith, is set in stone in America.
" If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether."
And listen to this:
"If anything, these figures may understate the extent of religious movement taking place in the U.S. For instance, they do not include individuals who have changed affiliation within a particular denominational family, say from the American Baptist Churches in the USA to the Southern Baptist Convention. Nor do they include people who changed religious affiliation at some point in their lives but then returned to their childhood affiliation. Moreover, these figures do not capture multiple changes in affiliation on the part of individuals."
So the 44% does not include "reverts" which is a huge factor in Catholic circles. I have blogged before on the fact that although I've been searching for years, I've only met 20 or so cradle Catholics who have never had a family member leave the practice of their faith for a period of time. During that period, did many of them cease to think of themselves as a Catholic? What would they have answered the Pew surveyer during that period of their lives? If the goal is to grasp the extremely fluid nature of religious commitment in the US, the whole "in and out" phenomena is huge,
If you consider that factor, it is pretty clear that a majority of Americans have changed religious affiliation at some point in their lives.
To illustrate this point, one need only look at the biggest gainer in this religious competition - the unaffiliated group. People moving into the unaffiliated category outnumber those moving out of the unaffiliated group by more than a three-to-one margin. At the same time, however, a substantial number of people (nearly 4% of the overall adult population) say that as children they were unaffiliated with any particular religion but have since come to identify with a religious group. This means that more than half of people who were unaffiliated with any particular religion as a child now say that they are associated with a religious group. In short, the Landscape Survey shows that the unaffiliated population has grown despite having one of the lowest retention rates of all "religious" groups.
We'll return to the whole "retention" issue in a moment.
2. Therefore, constant change in religious affiliation is to be expected for all faiths, Christian or not, in the US.
"The survey finds that constant movement characterizes the American religious marketplace, as every major religious group is simultaneously gaining and losing adherents. Those that are growing as a result of religious change are simply gaining new members at a faster rate than they are losing members. Conversely, those that are declining in number because of religious change simply are not attracting enough new members to offset the number of adherents who are leaving those particular faiths."
So the question is not "will people enter and leave our congregations?" but how many will leave and enter?" and "Will more enter than leave?"
I have written before about the clash between the the common Catholic assumption that religious identity is inherited, constant, and very difficult to change, and the reality that significant and rapid change in religious identity is, in fact, a long standing global phenomena. From my series on Independent Christianity.
"We tend to regard the three basic “types” of Christianity - Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy - as essentially stable and fixed. Given the long histories and long memories of these faiths, it is only natural to think of religious affiliation as a deeply-rooted identity that changes only with difficulty and very slowly. We don’t expect to wake up tomorrow and find that Protestants have decided en masse that the Reformation was not a good idea or that the Orthodox have jettisoned their icons in favor of store-front missions. Our ecumenical dialogue is founded upon this presumed stability.
David Barrett, however, has a fascinating sidebar in his World Christian Encyclopedia indicating that a surprising amount of religious change is, in fact, the norm. As Barrett puts it, “Every year, millions of people are changing their religious profession or their Christian affiliation. Mass defections are occurring from stagnant majority religions to newer religions” (World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 5). It is imperative for us to understand that a significant part of this change is the result of personal choices, and not just natural birth and death. Evangelicals have a saying: “God has no grandchildren”. Although Catholics don’t usually think in these terms, the Church’s recent experience in the West should give us pause.
Christianity has experienced massive losses in the Western world over the last 60 years...every year, some 2,7655,100 church attenders in Europe and North America cease to be practicing Christians within the 12-month period, an average loss of 7,500 every day. At the global level, these losses from Christianity in the Western World slightly outweigh the gains in the Third world. (World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 5).
Most thoughtful Catholics are already aware of the grim situation of the Church in the West which, in part, spurred Pope John Paul II to call for a new evangelization.
On the other hand, Christianity has experienced massive gains across the Third World throughout the 20th century... The present net increase (in Africa) is 8.4 million new Christians a year (23,000 a day) of which 1.5 million are net new converts (converts minus defections or apostasies). Sizeable net conversions are also taking place in Asia (2.4 million/year). (World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 5).
Looking at the global scene as a whole, one must conclude that the mission ad gentes has been the great success story of the 20th century. It is the pastoral care and on-going evangelization of established Christian peoples – especially in historic European denominations - that has “collapsed”.
What the Pew Survey seems to be telling us is that the US is an exceptionally dynamic local example of a larger world-wide phenomena. If there is any place in the world where "God has no grandchildren", it is here.
The CARA response to the Pew survey rather sharply pointed out that the Pew results indicated that the Catholic Church has one of the better "retention" rates. Meaning, in this case, that 68% of those raised Catholic in the US still regarded themselves as Catholic when asked. (Again, this has nothing to do with practice of the faith.)
Those groups that presently doing better at "retention"?
At the bottom, interestingly is "unaffiliated" . 54% of American adults who grew up without a faith choose one as an adult. So as I noted above, the fastest growing "religious" group in American also has the worst "retention". But since the numbers of religious drop-outs are growing so much faster that this group continues to expand at a brisk clip.
But notice this:
"the majority of the unaffiliated population (12.1% of the adult population overall) is made up of people who simply describe their religion as "nothing in particular." This group, in turn, is fairly evenly divided between the "secular unaffiliated," that is, those who say that religion is not important in their lives (6.3% of the adult population), and the "religious unaffiliated," that is, those who say that religion is either somewhat important or very important in their lives (5.8% of the overall adult population)."
This should tell us two things: focusing purely on retention is not the solution, and even unbelievers are remarkably open to changing their mind in the US - if we reach out to them.
If the Catholic Church is doing a reasonably fair job of retention, why all the angst?
Because we are doing one of the poorest jobs of evangelizing adults in the US and therefore, have, by far, the largest "net loss". Nearly four times as many American adults have left the Church (10.1%) as have entered her (2.6%),
The interesting thing is that Protestantism (taken as a whole) actually has a slightly larger drop=out rate than we do (11% vs our 10.1%) but our overall "net loss" is 266% larger than theirs. Because proportionately, 300% more American adults become Protestant than become Catholic. There is continual action on both sides of the equation.
On the far positive side of the spectrum lies non-denominational Protestantism. Nearly five times as many adults have entered non-denominational Protestant churches as have left them. While nearly four times as many adults have left the Catholic faith as enter it. Those two sentences sum up the profoundly different experiences which have colored our respective pastoral assumptions and practice.
What is fascinating is that Catholic theology has been way ahead of the curve in this area. All the debates about evangelization at the Vatican Council, John Paul's constant emphasis on the "new evangelization", the US Bishops in Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us stating that the formation of adults, rather than children, is the "preferential option" in catechesis. The Holy Spirit has been trying to tell us something for decades.
The development of universal childhood catechesis hand-in-hand with universal education was a huge breakthrough in the late 16th and 17th centuries, It was a dramatic, radical, innovation developed to respond to the challenge of the Reformation in the midst of a world where most adults were still illiterate. But four centuries later, it is time to get innovative again,
We are still putting the vast majority of our formation energy into the catechesis of our children without taking in the fact that we live in a culture where it is normative to revisit the whole religion thing again as adults. Where "retention" of one's childhood faith cannot be assumed, where it is not considered legitimate to simply accept and profess the faith your parents tried to pass on to you. Where it is considered not only normal but proper, fitting, and mature, to investigate various options and choose one for oneself. Where it just isn't true anymore to say a la The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie "give me a child when they are young and they will be mine for life"
Where we have to put as much or more energy into reaching out to, evangelizing, and forming adults as disciples as we do catechizing children. Because if we don't evangelize adults, there is a very good chance that we will lose our children as well.
Because if there is any place in the world where it is true that "God has no grandchildren", it is here.
"Human life cannot be realized by itself. Our life is an open question, an incomplete project, still to be brought to fruition and realized. Each man's fundamental question is: How will this be realized—becoming man? How does one learn the art of living? Which is the path toward happiness?
To evangelize means: to show this path—to teach the art of living. At the beginning of his public life Jesus says: I have come to evangelize the poor (Luke 4:18); this means: I have the response to your fundamental question; I will show you the path of life, the path toward happiness—rather: I am that path.
The deepest poverty is the inability of joy, the tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory. This poverty is widespread today, in very different forms in the materially rich as well as the poor countries. The inability of joy presupposes and produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, avarice—all defects that devastate the life of individuals and of the world.
This is why we are in need of a new evangelization—if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works. But this art is not the object of a science—this art can only be communicated by [one] who has life—he who is the Gospel personified."
I certainly feel challenged in my own lack of joy and love. As to "he who is the Gospel personified" - Yikes! Lord have mercy! But my life was changed by a mentor I had as an undergrad, who did "teach me the art of living."
This Easter season, I can't wait to renew my Baptismal vows! I also remember what I said "I will" to when my children were baptised; to hand on the faith. I said "I will" for my kids, and for everyone whose baptism I have witnessed. Does anyone take these vows seriously?
What a question to ask this week as we journey toward the Easter Vigil!
A woman confessed to a friend her confusion and hesitance about an important life decision she was facing. She professed to believe in God but could not bring herself to rely on her faith to help choose her path.
" How can I know I'm doing the right thing?" she asked. "How can I believe my decision will be right when I can't even see tomorrow?"
Her friend thought and finally said, "Here's how I look at it. You know when you're driving down a dark country road with no street lights to give you any notion of where you are? It's a little scary. But you rely on headlights. Now, those headlights may only show you ten yards of road in front of you, but you see where to go for that little stretch. And as you travel that ten yard stretch of road, the headlights show ten more yards, and ten more, until eventually you reach your destination safe and sound.
"That's how I feel about living by faith. I may not be able to see tomorrow, next week, or next year, but I know that God will give me the light to find my way when I need it."
Must work on my presentation for the upcoming Evangelical Catholic Institute in Madison, Wisconsin. All about recognizing pre-discipleship levels of spiritual development. All most relevant to questions I've been asked lately.
There was the woman came up to me at a workshop break, just after I'd spoken about the critical importance of intentional discipleship in the discernment of charisms. Her comment: "I don't think I want to go deeper in my relationship with God. Can I still discern charisms?" I sputtered a bit since it was impossible to know exactly what she meant.
Was she stating that she recognized that she wasn't a disciple? Or did she mean that she was serious about her faith but had "hit the wall" and was struggling at this point in her spiritual life - perhaps facing some very difficult decision or reality. All I could do (in public, no less!) was repeat the basic point.
Discipleship precedes discernment because it is out of an extended following of Christ that charisms and vocations emerge.
As Hans Urs Von Balthazar pointed out, Simon, the fisherman, could have rooted around in his unconscious for the rest of the life and never come up with Peter, the apostle. His vocation as Peter was a mystery hidden in Christ that would not be revealed except through an extended relationship with Christ.
And charisms are nothing less than ways that God gratuitously allows weak and broken vessels like you and me to become channels and instruments of the redeeming work of Christ that we celebrate this week.
So talking about pre-discipleship levels of spiritual development is important.
Because Christ is the center and source of his Church.
Here's a lovely post about St. Patrick - on the day that would be his feast day but isn't this year because it is also the Monday of Holy Week. The blogger is pretty obviously Protestant but also obviously making a good faith effort to honor a man whom he has not been accustomed to honor.
Patrick returned to Ireland. He preached to the pagan tribes in the Irish language he had learned as a slave. His willingness to take the Gospel to the least likely and the least lovely people imaginable was met with extraordinary success. And that success would continue for over the course of nearly half a century of evangelization, church planting, and social reform. He would later write that God’s grace had so blessed his efforts that “many thousands were born again unto God.” Indeed, according to the early church chronicler Killen, “There can be no reasonable doubt that Patrick preached the Gospel, that he was a most zealous and efficient evangelist, and that he is entitled to be called the Apostle of Ireland.”
We know that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to “those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness” (Matthew 5:10) and that great “blessings” and “rewards” eventually await those who have been “insulted,” “slandered,” and “sore vexed” who nevertheless persevere in their high callings (Matthew 5:12-13). We know that often it is in “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, sleeplessness, and hunger” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5) that our real mettle is proven. Nevertheless, we often forget that these things are not simply to be endured. They actually frame our greatest calling. They lay the foundations for our most effective ministries. It is when, like Patrick, we come to love God’s enemies and ours that we are set free for great effectiveness.
I couldn't help but laugh while being simultaneously moved by that last paragraph.
"Born again"? Holy Mother of God! Didn't St. Patrick know that his use of that phrase is a sure sign of infiltration by evangelical Protestant influences? Course, it would have to be a prophetic infiltration since Protestantism wouldn't exist for another 1000 years. Hey, but saints can do stuff like that, right?
Or maybe, just maybe - the whole "born again" -"evangel"-evangelization thing wasn't born with the Reformation. Maybe it is older than Ireland and as Catholic as St. Patrick.