“The most basic task of the Church leader is to discern the spiritual gifts of all those under his authority, and to encourage those gifts to be used to the full for the benefit of all. Only a person who can discern the gifts of others and can humbly rejoice at the flowering of those gifts is fit to lead the Church.”
Here in Colorado Springs, the tragedy at Ft. Hood last week seems all too close and real. That's because Ft. Carson here sends the second largest number of soldiers in the country to Iraq and Afghanistan. Second only to Ft. Hood.
In sharp contrast to the events of Ft. Hood is the story of an illiterate Catholic janitor in Pakistan who saved the lives of hundreds of Muslim young women when he stopped a terrorist bomber at the door of the women's cafeteria at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. There were over 400 women students inside the cafeteria when the bomber approached. Pervaiz Masih saved their lives by giving his own.
It happened on October 20 but the story just made the international news yesterday. CNN is carrying a moving video here.
Although the news accounts all call Masih a "Christian", notice that his widow is making the sign of the cross. His last name, common among Pakistani Christians, means "Messiah". Pervaiz Masih was 40 years old and had only been on the job for a week. He earned $60 month and lived with 7 other family members in a single room apartment in Rawalpindi. He is now being described as a "national hero".
"The sweeper who was cleaning up here saw someone outside and went towards him," said Nasreen Siddique, a cafeteria worker who was wounded in the head, leg and arm by the blast. "[Masih] told him that he could not come inside because there were girls inside. And then they started arguing. And then we heard a loud blast and all the glass broke."
"Between 300 to 400 girls were sitting in there," said Professor Fateh Muhammad Malik, the rector of the university. "[Pervez Masih] rose above the barriers of caste, creed and sectarian terrorism. Despite being a Christian, he sacrificed his life to save the Muslim girls."
Despite being a Christian? Or because he was a Christian? I don't think Professor Malik meant to demean Masih's faith. As rector of an Islamic university in an intensely Islamic country, his words are high praise.
But in an intensely anti-Christian climate like that of contemporary Pakistan, it is unexpected. Christians do not die for Muslims. Muslims do not die for Christians. A decent, just man whose faith called him to stand up for the innocent, regardless of their faith, stands out. A Christian protecting Muslims from Muslims.
By the standards of the Pakistani janitor, the wealthy, highly educated American Muslim doctor at Fr. Hood was unimaginably privileged. The doctor was trained to save life and yet felt that his faith permitted him - urged him even- to take life.
No one expected anything from the poor janitor and yet he proved himself to be the stuff of martyrs. His life and death glorified God. May the same be said of us.
The good news is that Islamic University has offered to give Masih's 3 year old daughter a free education (I presume that would be an Islamic education?) and has offered his widow a job. The Pakistani government has also promised to award his family 1 million rupees (about $12,000). Which, if delivered, will be a tremendous help because they are reported to be behind in their rent.
To get a sense of the lives of Christians in Islamabad, take a look at this harrowing video by France 24's English language news service.
Let's pray for Masih's and his grief-striken family and the three young women whom he could not save. May God use this obscure Christian's heroic death to give the Christians of Pakistan new honor in the eyes of their Muslim neighbors and a new breath of freedom from persecution.
Want to read the Koran? Be reminded of the right timing of the five daily prayers as you travel from time zone to time zone? Need to know what direction to face when it is time to pray?
No worries. Just turn to the ubiquitous companions of 21st century spiritual seekers. Your cell phone, I-Pod, or Blackberry can take the place of the muzzein.
Fr. Mark Inglot of East Lansing, Michigan has a Catholic prayer application on his BlackBerry to help guide his recitation of the Divine Office, daily prayers that are obligatory for priests.
“My first thought was, 'Does this take away from the sanctity?'” Inglot said. “Instead of holding this prayer, you’re holding your BlackBerry, but we just have to get used to it. And as we use technology for this purpose, we’re sanctifying that medium. It is another way that God can work in our lives.”
Any ID readers use these apps? What do you think? Is it less prayerful to be holding your Blackberry than your office?
In relationship to my earlier blog post this week on "Catholics are Dead. Protestants are Stupid.", I wanted to point you to a comment on the Archdiocese of Washington's blog. Susan Timoney writes a very thoughtful commentary on the appropriate response of Catholics to the sneering comments by Richard Dawkins on the Vatican's overture to traditional Anglicans.
"A friend asked me if I had seen a comment in the Washington Post’s On Faith section about the recent announcement by the Vatican of its Anglican Provision. The comment is by Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion. The title of the commentary is “Give us your misogynists and bigots”. I’m sorry to say it only gets worse. It can be found here."
A Lutheran reader writes in:
"As a faithful Lutheran, married to a faithful Catholic, I’ve developed a respect for the Catholic church. I find anti-Catholic sentiment appalling.
That said, I have to point out that Catholics aren’t guiltless in terms of religious bigotry. On this site, and in my own parish, I’ve seen and heard snarky comments whose theme is Poor Stupid Ignorant Protest-ants. I think many priests and deacons forget – or don’t care that – not all of those sitting in front of them are cradle Catholics. I don’t think telling someone that s/he is stupid and ignorant serves one’s pastoral role well."
Non-Catholics, non-Christians, pagans, agnostics, and atheists and every sort of wandering soul move and in out of our large, relatively anonymous parishes all the time. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, despite everything we know, we still tend to presume that in our parishes, we are dealing only with life-time practicing cradle Catholics.
And that Protestants are "stupid".
When we do that, we can come across to non-Catholics the way Dawkins comes across to us. As sneering bigots. Even when we don't intend to. Even when we ourselves do not consciously hold those opinions and would be horrified if someone else pointed out that was what we were communicating.
So strong and subtle is the power of culture. Especially a culture that assumes that "Protestants are stupid."
This morning, I stumbled across this blog Very Sleepy People written by Lindsay, a young woman who is apparently a convert to Catholicism from a secular background.
She has written a thoughtful meditation on the two attitudes that Catholics typically have toward evangelization which is dead on, I think. And fits exactly what we are discovering as we work with leaders around the country in the Making Disciples process.
I found it especially interesting because Lindsay is talking from the perspective of a practicing millennial Catholic. Part of that small 13% minority of American Catholic 20-somethings who practice their faith. Tellingly, she titles the post "Catholic Cliques"
The options she sees in Catholic practice? (And I would guess Lindsay is reflecting largely on the practice of young adult Catholics like herself.) To use Lindsay's words: "actively hiding from the world because the pugnacious non-Christians annoy the hell out of them" or "jumping into the middle of things, guns' blazing."
"One important caveat: not every American twenty-something is like this. In fact, many emerging adults have been reared into a world vastly different than the self-esteem culture. Some gravitate, instead, toward an Augustinian perception of the self and find their own contemporaries annoying."
Love that word "annoy". With the overtones of irritation, dislike, frustration, and avoidance that go with it. We avoid people and things that annoy us. Especially those that "annoy the hell out of us".
So how are traditional-leaning millennial Catholics to evangelize their own generation if they find their own generation so annoying? Because we will never evangelize what we do not love.
Lindsay's summation of what is missing is very insightful:
"Neither approach really seems to work, at least in my personal experience, because neither really seeks dialogue and conversation, and both seem to contribute to heightened tension and misunderstanding."
I guess this all stems from my personal belief that evangelization begins with conversation and understanding. You can’t effectively evangelize without understanding where someone is coming from, because people are different, and it’s not an instance of one argument fits all. You need to know where someone’s coming from, you need to know what they believe and why, and you need to meet them where they are, not where you’d like them to be. You need to listen to them, not just talk to them, because people believe in their convictions, and they have reasons for them. It’s a delicate path to travel because people’s hearts are invested in such things, and people who actively evangelize can unintentionally offend others because of it.
We need to meet them where they are, not where we'd like them to be. That isn't kumbaya Catholicism, folks. It is the first movement of evangelization. Which, like all missionary work, involves leaving the comforts of home to go to a people who live in another world. Whether it is a spiritual world or a physical world.
Read Lindsay's entire post. And the comments which are very interesting as well. And spend a few minutes meditating on it. It will be time well spent.
I subscribe to the London Telegraph's expat edition. I read it to stay in touch a bit with British sensibilities and because it routinely has laugh-out loud (in a subtle English kind of way) funny articles in it.
Today's is classic: I Got You This At the Airport. An introduction to some of the more bizarre alcoholic beverages available at duty-free. I clearly am going to have to spend more time in that part of airports. Heavens knows I have the time . . .
Bottle the First:
"Brennivin is an Icelandic schnapps, known as 'Black Death', made from fermented potato pulp and flavoured with caraway seeds. Literally translated as "burning wine", it is sometimes used to wash down 'hakari', also known as putrified shark meat."
See. Once you've mopped up the coffee you just snorted, how can you resist running right down to your nearest international airport?
And that's just the beginning. Learn all about 15 other one-of-a-kind beverages that will put your Christmas on the map. And make you absolutely unforgettable.
I'm perusing an interesting, quick read by Thomas Cahill, author of "How the Irish Saved Civilization," called, "The Gifts of the Jews." In it, the author describes how our very notion of human individuality and even history itself, is a consequence of God reaching out to Abraham and initiating a relationship. Remnants of the pre-Abraham understanding of life as a series of repeating, unending cycles still exist - the traditional Buddhist and Hindu worldviews, for example - and we westerners really don't appreciate how novel and contrary to the evidence of nature, with its cycle of seasons, stars, menstruation, birth and death - is the idea of individuality, life as a journey, and history.
As I'm reading it, I'm conscious of the ongoing temptation to repeat the Fall in my own life; to try to "become like a god," and manage the events of life. I'm also aware of how easily our approach to faith and God can become transactional: if I do this, then You will, necessarily, do that. Whether it's becoming obsessed with liturgy done "just so", prayers said a certain way, or simply becoming immersed in doing things my way and trying to ignore the fact that my existence is utterly unnecessary and laughably insignificant on its own, we tend to try to avoid the wildness and incomprehensibility of God. Even when we can see the "reasonableness" of God's actions, it's invariably in hindsight.
Two hugely important lessons of God's self-revelation to us - ones we have to learn over and over again - is that with God anything and everything is possible, and that we cannot ever presume to know His mind unless it is revealed to us - and even then, it's tough to understand (as the number of Christian denominations indicate), much less believe.
If we don't usually think of Poor Clares as exuberant that's because we haven't met these Poor Clares. 140 strong with a median age of 35. And with 100 young women waiting to enter.
At the heart of this stunning transformation of a 400 year old Spanish Poor Clare community which hadn't had a new vocation in 23 years when she entered, is the 43 year old prioress, Sister Veronica.
"According to the newspaper, she “has become the biggest phenomenon in the Church since Teresa of Calcutta,” as “she has made the old convent of Lerma into an attractive recruiting banner for female vocations, with 135 professional women with a median age of 35 and 100 more on a waiting list.” The paper adds that Sr. Vernoica has also “opened a house in the town of La Aguilera, 24 miles from Lerma, at a huge monastery donated by her Franciscan brothers."
"It is an unexpected boom in vocations when the Jesuits have just 20 novices in all of Spain, the Franciscans, five, and the Vincentians, two. And it’s happening at a time when nuns are being imported from India, Kenya or Paraguay to prevent the closure of convents inhabited by elderly nuns, and when most of our priests are above the age of 60," the report indicated.
On weekends the convent welcomes hundreds of pilgrims: families, young members of ecclesial movements and church groups arrive in buses to attend the prayers, theatrical plays and talks on fully living the Christian life."
Notice the incredible, creative, focus on hospitality and evangelization in a community that is enclosed. And the exuberant singing, hand motions, and even dancing. And the constant focus: a direct love relationship with Jesus! They name the Name and talk constantly about personal relationship! A whole convent of in-your-face intentional disciples.
Do they not know that "real" Catholics don't talk about "personal relationship with Jesus"? But of course, they are Spanish and so happily don't possess the American Catholic paranoia about not being Protestant. And they also know that they stand firmly in the tradition of St. Theresa of Avila, whose early Carmelites sang and danced and used castanets to praise God. And very much in the tradition of Sts. Francis and Clare whose love of Jesus was expressed in poetry and embodied in the Christmas creche.
Read the whole CNA story. And then you have got to watch this video featuring Fr. Cantalemessa and the whole Poor Clare community. The memory of it will make you smile all day long.
The Gospel for Friday's daily Mass (Luke 16:1-8) has often confused me, so I spent some time reflecting on it the other day. It's a parable that, as I looked at various commentaries, seems to generate a good deal of confusion and (sometimes silly) speculation.
The passage goes like this:
Jesus said to his disciples, "A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, 'What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.' The steward said to himself, 'What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.' He called in his master's debtors one by one. To the first he said, 'How much do you owe my master?' He replied, 'One hundred measures of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.' Then to another he said, 'And you, how much do you owe?' He replied, 'One hundred kors of wheat.' He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.' And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. "For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, 6 so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
As this Gospel passage stands, it’s quite confusing. Why in this parable would Jesus seem to speak approvingly about a dishonest steward who cheats his master after already mismanaging his property? Why should we imitate this shifty money-grubber? The moral of the parable Jesus gives is: For the children of this world?are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than the children of light.
One commentator suggested that Jesus was speaking "tongue in cheek." Another proposed the story as a balance to the dim view Jesus takes of wealth elsewhere in the Gospel of Luke. He saw it as a suggestion that disciples be more realistic about the use of money in the world. So the children of light – the disciples of Jesus - aren’t crafty enough when it comes to finances? If this is the meaning of the parable, then we Dominicans must be children of light. We can’t even raise a few million to pay for renovations to our seminary.
But I don’t believe that’s what Jesus means. The verses following this Gospel (Luke 16:9-13) are full of parallels and these parallels are the interpretive clues to his story.
9 Jesus says, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
This sounds more like the Jesus we’re used to – but it may still not be clear as to what he’s getting at. The dishonest steward is making friends for himself by means of dishonest wealth so his master’s debtors will let him into their homes. The parallels in Jesus’s comments are Dishonest wealth / eternal homes Dishonest wealth / true riches What belongs to another / Your own (which is received as gift) Dishonest / faithful WEALTH / GOD
Logic indicates that dishonest wealth, mentioned twice, is parallel to – the same as – "what belongs to another." The dishonest steward was writing off his commission from the debts he had imposed on the tenants on his master’s land. And it was a hefty commission: 50 measures of olive oil = 400 gal. (225 trees); 20 measures of wheat = 200 bushels, or the yield of 20 acres. That would have belonged to the debtors, if he weren’t so greedy.
If we have money or resources that rightfully belong to another – and face it, you and I consume way more of the worlds' resources than is our due – then we should be generous in sharing. It’s not ours to begin with, but God’s.
No, Jesus isn’t telling us to be deceitful, or more crafty when it comes to dealing with the worldly. Rather, we are to live with foresight – to keep our eyes on the goal of our life: our eternal home, true riches, that which is given to us as a gift, i.e., GOD Himself. We are to be as shrewd and calculating about pursuing what’s really important – a relationship with God – as the dishonest servant was shrewd and calculating about pursuing what was important to him – a warm home and freedom from hard labor and begging.
But as Christians we cannot be satisfied with merely our own relationship, our own salvation. We have to imitate St. Paul, who saw himself as a high priest offering to the Father the souls of those who had come to know Jesus through his preaching and the power of the Holy Spirit demonstrated in charismatic signs and wonders that were part of his ministry. In the New Evangelization, we cannot be content with merely preaching to those who come to our churches – but, like Paul, preach Christ where he has not already been named – to those who do not know Jesus. For we who are receiving from God the gift of faith in a lived relationship with Him are also stewards of that faith and relationship.
And truly, we are unfaithful and dishonest stewards of that gift unless we constantly and lovingly share it. And we are unfaithful and dishonest stewards of our worldly resources if we do not constantly and lovingly share them. The sign and wonder of being unconcerned with the things of this world will make it easier to share our faith – the key to the next world.
Please pray for Mary Baughman, my husband Dave's mother. After ignoring/denying chest pains for the better part of a week, she had a heart attack this afternoon while doing some chores. She drove herself to the hospital (she is in rural Ohio). They put in two stents, but while withdrawing a catheter her femoral artery was torn and we nearly lost her. She is now in stable condition in the ICU.
Please pray for our family, especially our girls who are quite distressed at this news. We are in Warsaw, Poland, with no family or even friends nearby. Pray for wisdom and God's leading as we seek to discern how to best respond to this situation.
Update 11/9: Mary is still in ICU, but her blood pressure has stabilized and she is feeling much better. We were able to speak with her briefly via Skype, which was wonderful for morale both here and there. She's not entirely out of the woods yet, but she is much improved. Your continued prayers are much appreciated.
Luongo has written an all too familiar description of the historic, hard-wired assumptions that Catholics and Evangelicals have about each other’s spiritual state. Assumptions that I long ago summed up for myself (painting with the broadest possible brush) as "Catholics are dead. Protestants are stupid."
Luongo uses the word "stunned" three times in her article. Her colleagues are stunned to learn that she, who seems to be a real Christian, is a Catholic. She is stunned to hear what they believe Catholics believe.
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry while reading so I settled for a strangled chuckle. Reading her recent experience brought back so many memories of my early days as a Catholic.
There was the young Dominican to whom I tried to explain why evangelical Protestants are so uneasy about Catholic devotion to Mary. He cut me off. "That's ridiculous." Everyone knows that we don't worship Mary." he insisted. "They are just stupid."
I can laugh now but at the time, I was certain that what was going on was simple confusion. No cultural insider had ever explained to the young priest what evangelicals really thought. A little catechesis would just clear everything right up. So I tried again.
"Well, you see, most evangelicals are afraid of undermining the glory and sovereignty of God . . .", I began. But this newly minted product of Dominican formation cut me off again. "They are just stupid!" And I was the one left open-mouthed and mystified. Stunned. With the first faint question rising in my mind: perhaps the "stupidity" involved wasn't all on one side?
Gerardine Luongo has had the same experience in reverse while trying to explain Catholic devotion to Mary to her colleagues. Her evangelical colleagues' concern? That Catholics are essentially spiritually "dead".
"I was told that Catholics worship idols. Another stunned look (mine) and more questions followed. What idols? (Visions of golden calves popped into my head.) Wait, were they talking about Mary and the saints?"
Yep. Because - ran the script that was hammered into me as a blue eyed baby fundie - Catholics are dead. People who are spiritually "dead" do things that horrify and enrage God like worship idols instead of the living God. 'Cause spiritually “dead” people don’t know the difference.
To this knee-jerk assumption, Luongo has a beautiful response:
"Every day, women in the developing world defy their communities and bring their children to CURE for help. These are mothers who have been told by village leaders that their disabled children are cursed and therefore to be feared. The mothers of such children are encouraged to kill their cursed infants. If they do not, they may be shunned by their villages and divorced by their husbands. These women travel long distances in search of help. These are radical women—women whose lives would be easier if they listened to their communities and abandoned or killed their disabled children. Because of their mothers’ hope, these children are offered hope through healing at CURE.
Is Mary not a role model—maybe even the role model—for these women? Mary and the saints offer us a wide range of examples of how to live a life of faith. To seek the intercession of the saints is not to place faith in them. It is to place faith in the power of prayer to the Father through the Son while recognizing the power of the communion of saints—a communion that includes all Christians, living and dead—to offer prayers to God on our behalf."
From the Catholic side, how many times have I heard intelligent Catholics casually dismiss evangelical worship as merely "entertainment"? It happened again last month when I was working with a group of pastors and pastoral leaders at a seminar on evangelization. I asked them "What have the lapsed Catholics that you know personally told you about why they left"?
The obvious goal of that particular discussion was to hear what people who have left the Church have to tell us. There was a broad spectrum of familiar answers: people didn't agree with certain teachings, didn't believe anymore, looking for community, the desire to be "fed", etc.
Then one woman said "mega church services are entertainment". "They just want entertainment", and a number of heads nodded in agreement.
I had to ask. " Is that the language that your friends actually used? Did they say that wanted to be "entertained"? Did they actually use the word "entertainment"? Since our goal is to understand what motivates lapsed Catholics, we need to actually listen to the language they actually use."
The women looked puzzled by my question. I had to repeat the question to the whole group. "Have you actually heard former Catholics tell you that they have started attending evangelical churches in order to be "entertained"?
Slowly it dawned upon us all. The "entertainment" thesis reflected our Catholic insider judgements about what must have motivated them. But none of us had ever heard an actual, living former Catholic use that language.
Certainly I never have. No former Catholic that I have met in the evangelical world ever talks about a desire for "entertainment" as a motivation for ceasing to attend Mass. In fact, the gap between the dominant "storyline" that you hear from former Catholics whom you meet in the evangelical world (which is usually some variation on “I never met Jesus in a living way as a Catholic”) and the judgment that so many Catholic pastoral leaders blithely make about why they left in the first place is staggering.
When we casually dismiss mega-church worship in general as "entertainment", we mean that we regard it as shallow, emotionally-driven, ephemeral, and without spiritual or theological substance or seriousness. The spiritual equivalent of a crude, popular sit-com. That it is, essentially, spiritually "stupid".
But that is a unjust caricature of the incredible breadth and often remarkable depth of worship that I knew in the evangelical world. Since the externals are often so different, it can be hard for Catholics who only have a superficial exposure to the evangelical world (often in the form of TV preachers) and who are steeped in certain liturgical assumptions to recognize that depth. But truly, it is there.
In some circles, thank God, the "Catholics are dead, Protestants are stupid" assumptions have disintegrated over the past 20 years. But even so, you can hardly describe the current relationship between evangelicals and Catholics as bland.
These days, I am less likely to be regarded as "dead" than as the object of fascination among a certain kind of sophisticated evangelical. Sometimes it is because they are hovering on the brink of entering the Church. For others, it is because they are discovering the spiritual riches of historical Christianity.
There is a whole movement called "spiritual formation" in the evangelical world whose content and inspiration is almost entirely Catholic. I have spent some time lately with a local evangelical group committed to spiritual formation. A group in which I am the only Catholic. An essentially evangelical group using only Catholic resources, including the writings of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. And they have told me that evangelical seminaries and colleges around the country are developing new courses of study in spiritual formation that are simply saturated with the writings of the great Catholic saints and mystics.
However, the old shibboleths can die hard outside specialized movements. I have found this especially true in evangelical missionary circles like the one that Geraldine Luongo is now moving in. In that community, everyone cheerfully accepts me as a "real believer" until they ask what church I attend. Then they look stunned and the conversation immediately changes in subtle ways. Usually no one says anything out loud because they want to be polite.
They don't have to. I know where the hesitancy comes from. They find it hard to believe that I am a true disciple and therefore, "spiritually alive". Because if I were “alive”, I wouldn't have intentionally entered the Catholic Church where, by definition, almost everyone is "dead".
Cause many evangelicals still presume that Catholics are spiritually “dead”. And many Catholics still assume that Protestants are spiritually “stupid”.
Which means that those of us who are truly “bi-cultural” and know that neither is true, have some important and practical ecumenical work to do.