In the Orthodox Church one often hears about the need for converts to develop an Orthodox mindset (phronema). In my experience, it is worth noting that the development for an Orthodox phronema is almost always limited to converts. Not unsurprisingly, this need arise in response to a challenge that someone wishes to dismiss without a hearing ("You think too much like a Protestant/Roman Catholic--you need to develop an Orthodox phronema that will help you understand why we don't (or do) XXXXXX.")
But whatever else an Orthodox mindset or a Catholic sensibility might be, it is never an absolute thing. The desired mindset/sensibility is always relative to the situation in which we find ourselves. The mindset we need to develop is akin to the virtue of prudence--of knowing what the right and God-pleasing thing is in the situation. For the more biblically minded among us, it is the need for maturity as St Paul uses the term.
Our mindset/sensibility should serve our obedience to Christ, not (as it invariably is used to do) limit the range of our obedience to only what has been done before. Let me re-phrase that, we ought not to limit ourselves to only those things done in the past that met the approval of those who have a vested interest in limiting the range of grace.
The thing that has intrigued me is how Ralph Martin responded when I asked him the other day exactly what he wanted me to talk about. I presumed that it would be about the significance of charisms in the new evangelization.
To my surprise, he said "Tell us about the Institute and its work. Talk about what you've seen in the church as you travel. Talk about collaboration between the clergy and the laity, about evangelization, about charisms. Share from your heart. The whole class is yours."
I'm still startled two days later. No one ever asks me to just talk. About anything that I think is important. Like the humbler class of professional speakers everywhere, I'm always having to work inside parameters established by the sponsoring organization in light of their priorities (which is perfectly appropriate). You know, 45 minutes on charisms or a day on discernment. And I've got loads of pre-packaged talks for those sort of invitations.
But not this. And never has anyone asked me to speak from my heart. In the circles I run in, few Catholics ever talk about your heart - they definitely want your head.
The last time I had a chance to do something similar was 12 years ago before the Institute was a twinkle in anybody's eye. It was to the Dominican pastors of the Western Province. I had never seen that many priests before (I don't know if I believed that priests were entirely human at that point) and my knees literally buckled as I walked up the podium - which Fr. Michael Sweeney found highly amusing. (I remember fiercely muttering "you can faint when you are done, but not now!")
I had no credentials, was unknown outside my parish of Blessed Sacrament and Fr. Michael Sweeney, who had asked me to do this, had never heard me speak. As far as I knew, this was the only chance I'd ever have to do what many lay Catholics dream of: give a group of priests a piece of my mind.
And now I get to do it again. Dizzying. I'm really gonna have to pray about this one. If I could say anything to an international group of Catholic leaders, mostly clergy, what would I say? I hope and presume that I'm past the knee-buckling stage.
Because this time around, they know where to find me.
LAMP (Lay Apostolic Ministries with the Poor) of New York City is a "Catholic lay missionary association, comprised of people who serve among the materially poor, with a focus on evangelization. It was founded by a married couple, Tom & Lyn Scheuring in 1981 and is still going strong 26 years later.
LAMP Missionaries may be married couples, single men and women, as well as religious sisters and priests who can commit a least a year to this work. Lamp missionaries work in material poor parishes who can't afford salaried staff to do home visits, working with youth, adult religious education, Scripture sharing groups, etc. They also work with the homeless and their work is beginning to spread beyond the New York area.
The New York Times has a piece this morning about tourism's re-discovery of ancient Christian Ethiopia and the rock churches of LALIBELA.
Legend has it that these churches were carved below ground at the end of 11th century and beginning of the 12th after God ordered King Lalibela to build churches the world had never seen -- and dispatched a team of angels to help him.
Ethiopia boasts eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites but decades of hunger, conflict and political instability have kept the country and its fabled palaces, obelisks and castles off the beaten track for most visitors to Africa.
Tourism represents a mere 2.5 percent of its gross national product -- something the government is keen to change.
It has set the ambitious goal of attracting one million foreign visitors a year by 2010, quadrupling current figures.
Religious tourism may prove to be the answer.
"We are focusing on our comparative advantage, which is the diversity of the cultures of the Ethiopian people, and ... the faith aspect," Dirir said.
TOO MANY TOURISTS?
Far from being a dead relic, Lalibela's churches throng with local worshippers on any given day.
Wrapped in white Muslim robes, some read Biblical passages on parchment in Ge'ez, a 2,500 year-old language. Others press lips and foreheads to damp walls, clustering round pillars or prostrating themselves to kiss the stone floors.
Check out this collection of incredible pictures from northern Ethopia, which includes the magnificent St. George above.
A second topic raised in the discussions over at Commonweal was that of Donatism (the converting Bishop had given a public talk on the subject)
A. Donatism in the narrow sense is the heretical belief that the validity of the sacrament depends on the worthiness of the minister. (p.2)
B. Donatism in the wider sense is a certain attitude toward purity, error, and sin, as well as toward the proper stance on the relationship of the church to the world. On this point, he endorses the eminent Augustine scholar Peter Brown’s description:
“The Donatists thought of themselves as a group which existed to preserve and protect an alternative to the society around them. They felt their identity to be constantly threatened, first by persecution, later by compromise. Innocence, ritual purity, meritorious suffering predominate in their image of themselves. . . . The Catholicism of Augustine, by contrast, reflect the attitude of a group confident of its powers to absorb the world without losing its identify. This identity existed independently of the quality of the human agents of the Church; it rested on ‘objective’ promises of God, working out magnificently in history, and on the ‘objective’ efficacy of its sacraments.”
To which Christopher Ruddy made this striking reply:
I acknowledged then and acknowledge now that church-world tension, but I think it is wrong to conflate that unavoidable tension with a Donatist desire for a purer church. A church that is not in some sort of substantial tension with the world is either corrupt or deluded. Augustine, the anti-Donatist, wrote a few words on that tension, as did Vatican II; the church as leaven and the church as light to the nations are not mutually exclusive realities. Moreover, a concern for identity and orthodoxy cannot be reflexively reduced to a fear-driven desire for purity and security. One can be confident and open, as I believe Benedict is, in the face of a difficult, even hostile situation. His words and actions as pope give little evidence of a fearful, cramped man. On an impressionistic level, he looks relaxed and happy; he wears the yoke of his office lightly and does not seem burdened as Paul VI was.
and then went on to articulate an important balance
Gerhard Lohfink captures the difference in "Does God Need the Church?: Toward a Theology of the People of God" through his reflections on biblical election and his description of God's People as a "contrast society," one which avoids both sectarianism and cooptation; God's people are elected, called out (literally, an ek-klesia) through no merit of their own, precisely in order to exist for others, to reveal to the world God's will for all peoples. Election and openness go hand in hand, they call for each other. Donatists and their heirs get election, but forget openness. Some Catholics today get openness, but forget election. Thinking of the church as a contrast society--and living as such--helps one to see how brilliant intensity and broad openness can coexist.
The answer to your second question, I believe, is found in Acts of the Apostles and other New Testament writings, which I consider to be part of the history of Catholic ecclesiology. It's also exemplified in Vatican II's exposition of the universal call to holiness. Vatican II affirmed the basic, if easily forgotten, Christian insight that all of the baptized are called to the same high standard of perfection in Christ. That we all pursue that high standard in different ways and places (and very mundanely, as when I clean up a son who has diarrhea or you serve on a committee), or that we all repeatedly fall short of that standard, doesn’t take away from the intensity of that call, which "costs not less than everything," as T.S. Eliot put it. Calling people to the radical conversion demanded by the Gospel does not in any way necessarily involve excluding those who are searching or uncertain or struggling. God is patient and hospitable, and so must his followers be, too. This is what the then-Cardinal Ratzinger was getting at it in his comments on the catechumenate and the “God-fearers.”
I understand that some Catholics feel judged or excluded by such language and such currents--or dismiss them as 'evangelical'--but that doesn’t negate the basic reality: We are all mediocre, God-beloved people called to conversion and to divine life in community. No one is perfect, and one of the strengths of Catholicism is precisely its mediocrity, its anti-elitism, its willingness to welcome all who are willing to come. Go, for instance, to an urban, northeastern Catholic cathedral to see the congregation for a weekday Mass. I always find moving the communion procession, in which all kinds of people come forward to receive healing and strength and welcome from the Lord. But, that welcome is also bound to conversion, and it would be hard to read any of the Gospels or letters of Paul and not hear that call to conversion. Among the first words from Jesus's lips in Mark's Gospel are, "Repent, and believe in the Gospel." Paul calls the Philippians--and us--to be "children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (2:15)--quite literally a "brilliant intensity."
I believe that the renewal desired by Vatican II will take place only when more of the baptized become aware of their personal responsibility for the church’s life and mission—and when ecclesial authorities are equally converted to that vision and help foster it. That renewal will likely be driven by small communities of believers whose "brilliant intensity" shines not for themselves but for others and whom through their life and attractiveness draw the rest of us to live better our own high callings.
Bishop Jeffrey Bishop Steenson of the Diocese of Rio Grande send a notice to his clergy last week that he had decided to be received into the Catholic Church. This has produced much debate around the blogosphere but especially over at Commonweal.
A long, most interesting, thoughtful discussion ensued. (A pleasant surprise for me since my previous, limited exposure to Commonweal led me to the conclusion that such discussions were unlikely to occur at Commonweal.) I won't attempt to recapitulate the arguments here but I wanted to highlight two fascinating sub-topics that emerged:
1) The issue of "Catholic sensibility": A few relevant comments:
Lawrence Cunningham observed:
Getting ecclesiology right has powerful ramifications on everything from who gets baptized to who presides at the altar. Being faithful to the Way of Jesus has profound ecclesiological undertones. Often people become Catholics precisely because it is there that they can best nourish their discipleship. Being faithful to the Way of Jesus has profound ecclesiological undertones. Often people become Catholics precisely because it is there that they can best nourish their discipleship.
To which Mark Jameson responded:
Ah, but is that really Catholic? Or is it the result of the layering of Catholic dogmatism onto an American-Protestant-Evangelical sensibility?
I think having a Catholic sensibility is something that takes a while to develop--and it's not the same thing as a Lutheran or Episcopal sensibility that rejects a defined set of progressive changes in their current polity.
Joseph Gannon: I wonder if there is such a thing as a Catholic sensibility tout court, I suspect there are quite a few varieties. On the few occasions when I have watched EWTN I have found the sensibility exhibited quite different from mine.
As used in the discussion above, "Catholic sensibility seems to be remarkably similar to what is sometimes called the "Catholic imagination" or "Catholic culture". I notice that "sensibility" and "imagination" are used more frequently by those on the liberal end of the aisle while "Catholic culture" seems to be a favorite term for those on the more conservative end.
As used in Catholic circles, "sensibility" seems to be a kind of intuitive sense of the faith that exists in considerable independence of the actual teaching of the Church: the Catholic "tune" for which dogma provides the lyrics. (A la the famous Mark Twain quip about his wife's attempts to use profanity: "you know the words but you don't know the tune.")
There is discussion of whether or not there are a variety of "Catholic sensibilities" but the term is used in the singular most of the time, the common assumption seems to be that there is one common sensibility that all true Catholics share. All seem to agree that this "sensibility" is one that you are socialized into gradually - ideally by being raised Catholic or having been Catholic for a long time and exposed to the right (truly Catholic) influences.
The fascinating things is that,as we have seen on this blog and elsewhere, the users of all three terms on opposite ends of the spectrum agree: the concept of "discipleship" is not in keeping with Catholic sensibility and is essentially foreign. I have yet to encounter a single person who asserts that evangelization or explicit discipleship is in keeping with "Catholic sensibility". Catholics who are advocating evangelization or discipleship appeal to Scripture and the teaching of the Church, not to "catholic" sensibility, imagination, or culture. When one appeals to Church teaching, the response is often a variation on "you don't know the tune so why should I take you seriously?"
Which puts us in the very odd position of having something which the magisterium has been declared to be the primary mission of the Church and yet is simultaneously felt to be contrary to the deepest, most "Catholic" instincts of the majority of the baptized.
Pete Vere of St. Blog's has written a piece for the Washington Times on the huge percentage of couples who are already sexually active or cohabiting when they approach the Church to be married.
In the diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, "about 60 percent of couples seeking marriage [from the diocese] are cohabitating, and about 25 percent of couples seeking marriage are either pregnant or bringing children into the marriage."
The Diocese of Lexington's marriage-preparation program, Father List works closely with Mike Allen, the diocese's director of family life ministry. About 60 percent of couples are cohabiting and about 85 percent of couples are sexually active when they approach the diocese for marriage preparation,Mr. Allen said.
The solution, he said, is to persuade couples seeking marriage to accept the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage and human sexuality "not as rules, but as a vision."
To this end, the Diocese of Lexington uses a program developed by moral theologian Christopher West. The program helps couples understand the four things Catholics believe are common to every marriage: permanence, faithfulness, openness to the procreation and upbringing of children, and the mutual support between spouses. The program also promotes sexual abstinence during the courtship and engagement as well as the practice of natural family planning during marriage. The last skill assists couples in spacing out childbirth and family size without the use of contraception.
Mr. Allen said the diocese's previous program focused mainly on building skills such as communication and management of household finances, leaving "a deficiency in helping couples to understand what marriage is."
The West program helps plug this deficiency by giving couples "a spiritual vision of marriage whereby they see how marriage fits in within the wider context of the Catholic faith," Mr. Allen said."
Bobby Vidal, who is on staff at BKT has attended both Making Disciples, Equipping Apostles in 2006 and the revised Making Disciples last August here in Colorado Springs and is getting ready to rumble. He has gotten permission to change his title from Director of Religious Education to Director of Evangelization and Lay Formation and has come up with an intriguing implementation plan:
Two especially interesting bits in light of our discussion last week of diocesan planning processes and discipleship:
"We must form a compelling vision for what real Christian community can do:
1. Draw the unbelieving and the unchurched 2. Foster life-long discipleship & spiritual growth 3. Discernment of gifts (charisms) and vocations 4. Equip and support extraordinary apostolates
We need to integrate this vision into the different pillars of the pastoral plan (i.e,, Liturgy, Education & Formation, etc.) (Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, #168)”
“Mapping out General Paradigm Shifts
From: How do I get more people to come to my ministry? To: How can I and my minister get more people to experience an encounter with Jesus Christ?
From: How do I train those involved in my ministry to take on leadership (do what I do) To: How do I and my ministry train those involved in my ministry to discern their individual call?
From: How do I get people who come to my ministry to commit (give more) of themselves to the ministry? To: How do I and my ministry assist people in committing their life to Christ
From: How do I maintain the numbers of people in my ministry? To: How do I nurture the discipleship (spiritual growth) of those involved in my ministry?”
I know that Bobby doesn’t mean that developing competence in a specific ministry is not valuable and important but he is asking first questions first: What is the end for which we are working?
His paradigm is mission not institutional maintenance: Service within as formation and support for a larger purpose shared by the whole Christian community: mission outward.
Most parish ministry is conducted by lay apostles, the vast majority of whom have vocations and apostolic calls that are to be lived outside the parish. Parishes are like seminaries in that they exist for the sanctification, formation, and governance of apostles whose primary mission is elsewhere. Parish ministry is formation for secular mission just as service within a seminary community prepares future priests to go out into their true mission field.
In light of this understanding, a ministry leader’s overall point of discernment becomes:
How does my specific parish ministry foster intentional discipleship, spiritual maturity, and prepare parishioners to discern and answer God’s call primarily (but not exclusively) outside ecclesial structures?
So this example regarding Religious Ed/Formation ministry from Bobby’s plan: " From: How can I get catechists to make good lesson plans? To: How can I get the catechist to live and proclaim the kerygma and address the stages of pre-evangelization and initial proclamation of the gospel before initiatory catechesis is done?”
Good lesson plans are still critical. But we can’t determine what a good lesson plan or good ministry looks like until we are clear about the desired end result. When we are clear that our end is “evangelical” and “apostolic”, the criteria by which we judge the “goodness” of our lesson plans or our ministry structures changes dramatically.
This was a part of an e-mail I received from my friend, Sally, as she nears Campostela, the destination of her pilgrimage with her daughter.
"When we first began this journey and everyday was a hardship, physically, emotionally and all the other ly´s you want to throw in; I thought of how there really isn´t a line that separates us from the poor, nothing more than a hard days journey into the unknown. Learning the depths of gratitude that a waiting place of rest can bring about in a person. Last night we were in an univiting place, dirty and uncomfortable and I realized this morning that many, far too many live in conditions far worse than we were in, with no parallel existence where a nice clean bed waits for their homecoming, with no way clear to them of how to move on. There is a line that separates me from the poor, and I have drawn it with my own hand. "
If you are reading this on a computer, you are one of a tiny percentage of humans who are wealthy enough to have access to one.
I'm writing this on the kitchen table of my gracious hosts in Santa Clarita. Half the world already knows but I just found out this morning: 11 year old Gloria Straus died Friday morning while I was stuck in the Colorado Springs airport.
Reporter Jerry Brewer who has covered her story and that of her family for the past 7 months has writing a moving interview with her parents this morning in the Seattle Times:
Hours after cancer killed Gloria Strauss, her parents looked at their little girl and saw a woman.
They gazed again. And again. And again. It was astonishing. She did not seem 11 anymore. The nurses had cleaned her body, a family friend had washed her hair and, goodness, there was a smile creasing her face. "She looked like a grown woman," said Gloria's mother, Kristen. "It was amazing. Her body seemed long and beautiful, just like a young woman."
After more than four years fighting neuroblastoma, Gloria stopped breathing shortly after her parents fell asleep in her hospital room Friday morning. It was 6:50 a.m. when two nurses tapped Doug and Kristen. Minutes later, the parents said goodbye. They did not receive the kind of healing miracle they wanted. Instead, they believe Gloria received the "ultimate healing" — heaven.
They know the obvious questions: Do they feel robbed? Can their faith withstand this loss? How can they believe in one miracle so strongly and accept this detour?
Tom Curran, a family friend who runs a Catholic ministry, has helped the Strausses throughout this process. To understand their beliefs, he says, one must look at this journey as an ongoing relationship between Jesus and the family.
"The key phrase, which Doug has used before, is that Jesus isn't just the healer," Curran says. "He is the healing. This is an intimately and profoundly relational thing."
To nonbelievers, it is an abstraction. To believers, it makes sense. But Doug and Kristen never demanded for God to follow through on a promise. They simply chose to trust, believe in what they hoped God meant and bend to his will.
"It's not going to make sense to people who are not in the relationship," Curran says. "It appears like a contradiction. It seems like, at the end, somebody just pulled a rabbit out of the hat. But that's not how God has been involved."
Jerry Brewer who told Gloria's story to hundreds of thousands of readers summed up his reaction this way:
Now that the writing is over, it's important for me to expose my feelings.
You can't cover a story like this for seven months and not ache for the family. You can't get to know a child like Gloria and say, "Tough break, kid."
This isn't a story to me. This is my heart on paper. This has been an opportunity for me to redefine myself, as well as my journalism career. I'm very honored to tell a story this moving. I'm very humbled that, despite how difficult this became, the entire Strauss/Trimberger family and Gloria's entire support base continued to embrace the telling of this story. Check that: They spurred the telling of this story.
This journey has been more uplifting than depressing. The tears I will cry for Gloria are for joy, for gratitude and for the other children who suffer like she did.
How has reading about Gloria and her family affected you?
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