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"Growing True Disciples" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Saturday, 22 September 2007 11:12
This post is a nice follow-up to the one just made by Sherry, I think. I had been working on this yesterday and today, and just saw her post when I prepared to upload this.

I just finished reading a book by George Barna, the president of Barna Research Group, Ltd., a marketing research firm that focuses on issues related to faith and culture. He's an evangelical whose company has conducted research for hundreds of churches and parachurch ministries.

His book, "Growing True Disciples," is interesting in terms of his insistence that the focus of Christian ministry is to encourage and facilitate discipleship. Similarly, Pope Paul VI said in Evangelii Nuntiandi that the Church exists to evangelize, and the purpose of evangelizing, is, of course, to make disciples of Jesus. Barna's book looks at models of promoting discipleship used by different Protestant churches. All of the models demand a lot more from the individual than most Catholics are used to giving. The point that's made clear in the book is that discipleship usually doesn't "just happen," just as any significant change in the way we live doesn't "just happen."

Acts 2:42-47 describes (perhaps ideally) what the early church community looked like. What it describes is a group of people who are completely "sold out" to Jesus; who seek to not only follow his teaching, but to allow his life and power to flow through them. They have made following Jesus the focus and content of their life: all else is secondary

Early on in the book (p. 27), Barna lists the characteristics of a true disciple. They are challenging:

"Disciples experience a changed future through their acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and of the Christian faith as their defining philosophy of life.

Disciples undergo a changed lifestyle that is manifested through Christ-oriented values, goals, perspectives, activities, and relationships.

Disciples mature into a changed worldview, attributable to a deeper comprehension of the true meaning and impact of Christianity. Truth become an entirely God-driven reality to a disciple. Pursuing the truths of God becomes the disciple's lifelong quest."

Of course, there's something missing here, yet is present throughout the disciple-making models he presents: a community of faith.

All of his models insist upon regular participation in a church community. It is through engagement with the word (and thus the Word), communal prayer, encouragement from other Christians, and accountability to others - as well, of course, through grace - that disciples are formed. As Catholics, we also include active, conscious participation in the sacramental life of the Church as a crucial, non-negotiable element.

While Barna's book has its flaws, and I don't agree with all of his presuppositions, I appreciate the unrelenting emphasis upon discipleship. He challenges pastoral ministers like myself to ask tough questions like, "Is my preaching, counseling, teaching, and leadership in and out of worship effective in assisting people to become disciples?"

I also have to ask myself if my life reflects the life of a true disciple. Do I consistently obey Jesus' commands and His Church's teachings? Do I love other people in practical ways that cause me to "pour out my life" for them? Have I put the attractions and distractions of this world in their proper place and focused my desire upon knowing, loving and serving God? Is my life "a living Gospel for all people to read"? Am I sharing my faith with others who do not know Christ?

In short, is my life bearing fruit worthy of a follower of the risen Lord?

One of the practices of most of the Christian communities that are successful in promoting discipleship is the setting of personal spiritual goals and practices that may help reach those goals. These goals must be practical, achievable, and specific; not simply "I will be more loving," but "I will stop gossiping about Mary Jane and instead spend time getting to know her better, choosing to discover her good qualities, and pointing out those good qualities as attributes that give glory to God."

That may be a little too specific, but you get the idea.

So that's my project for the next week or so: to re-evaluate my life and pinpoint some areas where I want to grow in my relationship to Christ and the Church, and come up with a gameplan. Maybe I'll share some of what I discover with you. Feel free to do the same.
Beginning With the End in Mind PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 21 September 2007 08:28
Todd wrote in response to my post below

Sherry, thanks for the reply. I do agree with your thrust at ID as part of a catholic whole, shall we say.

Hi Tod:

Thanks for your response. First of all, I need to make it clear that I’ve heard nothing but good things about Archbishop Dolan and my limited experience of the archdiocese has been very positive so my concern really isn’t about Milwaukee as such. This is but another instance of a dynamic I have encountered all over the Catholic world: this same strange reluctance to talk explicitly about Christ and our response to him, this same strong preference for a spiritual language so general, vague, abstract, and bureaucratic that that our personal response to Christ is never called in question.

Following Christ is not the whole of Catholic belief and practice certainly but it is the source and center of the whole: all belief, worship, practice, theology, culture, etc. It is the encounter with Christ and the following of him that has birthed everything we hold to be essentially Catholic. And when the Church or members of the Church lose track of that Center, we know what happens: the belief, the worship, the practice, the theology, the culture cannot stand; it begins to wane and then disintegrate until renewed once again by intentional disciples that we often now know as saints. This cycle of renewal has been repeated many hundreds of times in the 2,000 year history of the Church.

You wrote:
I'm a little cautious about attributing too much to what people say. It's not as though modern society or even the Church offers much opportunity for people to be articulate.

Here we agree. One would hardly expect modern society to support articulation of Christian belief and hope but why should the Church fail to do something so critical to our most essential mission with great energy?

In the "Terzo Millenio Innuente" the late Pope John Paul II stated that the Church's mission is that of evangelization. And this idea evolved when in a gathering the Pope had with young people at the turning of the millennium, he told them,

"Do not be afraid to go out in the streets, and in public places, like the first apostles who proclaimed Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, town and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the roof tops." "What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight: what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops." (Mt.10,27).

Yet, as a community overall, we nod our heads at magisterial teaching on the subject and remain mute about Christ and the Gospel. We regard our muteness as not only normative but as somehow spiritual and faithful and find it puzzling and even bizarre when some Catholics violate that norm. Why is “don’t ask, don’t tell” our deeply embedded working paradigm – even at the level of diocesan leadership? Where did it come from? And, as you point out, that extends in startling ways to the blogosphere where the very idea of intentional discipleship has proved to be controversial even among seriously practicing Catholics.

You continue:
As long as we realize that mouthing the name of "Jesus" in a certain way is a tool, just like any other human-made endeavor, like Fr Philip's "crap," we should be fine.

Todd, human beings can use anything as a tool – including worship, and gestures of love and acts of justice but it doesn’t follow at all that the world would be better off if we just stopped. Sure, “Jesus language” can be a pious “front”, a form of manipulation or deception or shallowness but so can any language on any topic of significance. I haven’t noticed that we expect people to stop talking openly about those topics because such talk might be misused or empty. We simply must demand better, more thoughtful, deeper talk, talk that wells up from prayer, meditation, study – which may be conducted in silence - and having lived the reality of discipleship in our own settings.

It simply does not follow that our habitual silence regarding Christ among ourselves and in conversation with those who are not Christian is a good thing. It is not a sign of an attachment to Christ so deep, so profound, so habitual, that talking about it is unnecessary. In fact, all the evidence is to the contrary.

I have never known a human being, introvert or extrovert, who does not talk about what they love. We talk about beloved friends and family, things we love to do, books or films or music we love, etc. Often, even to strangers or casual acquaintances. If we love someone, we not only won’t hide it, we usually can’t hide it altogether from the thoughtful observer – even when we try.

And to not talk about “first principles” – about Christ, about evangelization and personal faith and discipleship when wrestling with why larger numbers of Catholics don’t practice the faith is like hospital staff not talking about patients and their illnesses and instead focusing exclusively upon room décor, food service, and the arrangement of medical records. (I worked my way through grad school on an oncology unit.) The physical health and well-being of the patient is the point, the end of all the various specialties and services that form the whole spectrum of medical care. In the absence of the patient and their needs, the purpose and the meaning of the rooms, the food, and the records vanishes. If you deal with a doctor or hospital administrator who talks only about such things, you know there’s something seriously amiss.

Ultimately, the fruits will tell the tale.

Absolutely. But outside a direct intervention by God (which I would never rule out) the value of the answers that human beings get when attempting to solve a problem are usually determined by the value of the questions they ask.

When diocesan leaders talking about a major diocesan initiative in an article in the diocesan paper clearly intended to publicize their efforts mention only peripheral things, you have to ask why. One has to presume they are talking in a straight forward manner about the questions they mean to ask. And when you begin to realize that this focus on peripheral things is not unique in any way to that diocese, that it is part of Catholic culture and practice on a much larger scale, it is time to ask why.
Ah, To Be Stuck in the Airport Now That Autumn is Here PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 21 September 2007 05:58
It seems that my 6:15 am flight has been delayed due to mechanical problems until 9:00 am and poor Delta is short-staffed and the only experienced person can't do anything for us abandoned orphans until she gets the flight to Atlanta off, etc.

I blame it all on Fr. Mike. When he left on Tuesday, his flight was delayed as well and he has passed the curse onto me. I'm sure I've flown out of here hundreds of times by now - no worries - until today.

Fortunately, I was getting into LA early so hopefully I will still get there in time. Since it is too early to call my LA hosts, I shall inflict myself on you.

Fair enough? Not that you could do anything about it if it isn't, but like those little red buttons on elevators that we are supposed to push in the event of an emergency, we like to give you the illusion of control.
A Weekend in LA PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 21 September 2007 03:42
Off to LA (Santa Clarita)for a Called & Gifted and some teacher training, back on Monday. Blogging will be slim to none, depending upon my opportunities.

See you Monday!
If Tom Didn't Exist, We'd Have to Invent Him PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 20 September 2007 12:18
His latest is so fabulous that I must simply quote it in its entirety:

Just Say Yes to Nonisity!

Terrence Berres, Amy Welborn, and Sherry Weddell are critical of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's reported plan to, er, energize their vibrancy. (I suspect William Strunk and George Orwell might also have words for anyone who proposes energizing vibrancy.)

And all we need to "energize the vibrancy" is energy. So isn't the question the source of the loss of energy? One possibility that comes to mind is asking what might be at stake if a Catholic routinely skips Sunday Mass, or, for that matter, if a Catholic leaves the Church. If the answer is "everything", that's probably more energizing than "not much".

Because, see, that’s not the Catholic way, either - the way of evaluating the health and future of the Church via schematics and diagrams and planning packets either. The Catholic way is to imitate the saints, it seems to me. To preach, to teach, to gather the lost, to heal the sick, to be with the poor - to plunge into it.

Christian culture is not self-sustaining. Christian culture is the fruit of personal faith. Without the preaching of the kerygma and personal conversion which is the source of renewal in every generation, Christian culture ultimately withers away and dies.

I've been using the term "nonisity" to mean "the state of being satisfied with nothing less, and nothing other, than God." (From St. Thomas's answer to Jesus' question of what he would like: "Non nisi te, nothing but You.")

I can't see anything wrong with extending the use of the term to include "the state of having nothing less, and nothing other, than God." And if we do that, then we can say that the Church, qua Church, has nonisity. In spades.

Which is to say two things:

1. All the Church has to offer is God.

It has other stuff, yes, but that other stuff and a cup of coffee will get you a cup of coffee. Has the Church given the world the hospital and the university and the Pieta? Sure, but if (per impossible) the Church disappeared tomorrow, there would still be hospitals and universities and (for a little while, at least) the Pieta.

2. The Church offers GOD!!!

How do you sweeten that deal? Why would you try to sweeten that deal?

Disputations: A Holy Blog of Obligation
The Korean Martyrs: The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 20 September 2007 11:58

Today is the Feast of the 103 Korean Martyrs and an excellent time to reflect upon the remarkable history of the Korean Church, which was founded by lay people, who first encountered the faith through books and gave birth to a devout Christian community of 50,000 and many martyrs before the first European missionaries arrived 50 years later.

From Ann

The history of Korea's Catholic community is unique. Here the laity began to worship as Christians before missionaries came to prostelyze. A group of Korean scholars studied the Christian faith from the books that Lee Sung-hoon brought back from China. These lay Koreans began catechizing others and baptizing them. When the hoped-for religious evangelizers finally arrived, they found their work well begun. During the half century before the first European missionaries managed to sneak into this Confucian country, 50,000 lay people had already become Catholics.

Although a Catholic priest and a monk entered Korea in the 1590's, they were chaplains for the Japanese soldiers stationed there and could not have any contact with the native peoples. The first Korean contacts with Catholicism came through Korean diplomatic envoys who were regularly sent to China where they met Jesuit priests. The priests gave them some Catholic books which the envoys took home with them. A group of Korean scholars became interested in the books and began to study the new religion, comparing it with the Neo-Confucianism which was the traditional philosophy in Korea.

Lee Sung-hoon traveled to China with his father and while he was in Peking was baptized with the name of Peter. This intelligent young man read many Catholic books and tried to imitate the virtues of the saints and to promote the Catholic faith among his friends. On his return to Korea, he organized the first Catholic community, baptizing the new believers himself. These Catholics called one another "believing friends," abolished class distinctions, stopped offering sacrifices to their ancestors and spread the faith using books written in the Korean alphabet.

In 1785, the community was detected by the government and the Catholics were dispersed. Kim Bom-u who had allowed his house to be used as a sort of church was tortured and died two years later. Thus began the first of many persecutions suffered by the early Korean Catholics.

Two years later, Lee Sung-hoon reorganized the group and he and five others made themselves priests and began to administer the sacraments. They soon realized that this was a mistake and sent Yun Yu-il to Peking in 1789 to beg the bishop for priests.

The bishop at last assigned a Chinese priest, but he failed to enter the country having missed his guide. A second persecution had already broken out and Yun Chi-ch'ung Paul was sentenced to death for failure to sacrifice to his deceased mother. A Chinese priest was finally successful in entering the country in 1794, but he soon became the reason for a fresh persecution.

In 1801, Queen Chongsun determined to eradicate all Catholics. She considered the religion a heresy harmful to the customs and traditions of Korea. She issued orders to imprison Catholics of all classes and to punish their relatives. Almost 300 Catholics were killed during this persecution. Those who survived escaped deep into the mountains where many starved to death.

Here, in the beautiful mountainous areas, new Catholic communities were formed. The members shared what they had and practiced their faith without a priest for almost thirty years. During this time, the people continued to write, begging for priests. According to one letter sent to Pope Pius VII, there were more than 10,000 Catholics. A fresh wave of persecution in 1815, however, saw hundreds of Catholics in rural communities arrested and more than thirty killed.

Two priests attempted to enter the country in 1817, but failed. The Holy See tried to send missionaries, but none could enter. A new persecution broke out in 1827 during which hundreds of Catholics were arrested and many were killed.

During the severe persecutions, Chong Ha-Sang Paul and a few others visited Peking more than ten times to appeal for priests. Due to their efforts, the Vicariate Apostolic of Korea was formally established as of September 9, 1831, and the Paris Foreign Mission Society was asked to be in charge of spreading the faith in Korea.

The first Vicar Apostolic of Korea tried unsuccessfully to enter the country and died in Mongolia in 1836. The second Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Imbert, successfully crossed the Yalu River and entered Korea in late december 1837. By the end of 1838, Korea had a bishop, two priests, and more than 9,000 Catholics.

In 1984, during the bicentennial of the Korean Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II traveled to Korea to canonize 103 of some ten thousand martyrs of Korea. This group included 92 lay persons, 45 men and 47 women, from nearly every walk of life.

Today there are 4.5 million Catholics in South Korea which is 40% Christian. The Church there is vigorous, missionary-minded, and growing.

Pray for us that we might be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
September Journeys PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 20 September 2007 10:12

CSI is on the road again this weekend:

This weekend, there are Called & Gifted workshops at

Greenville, SC (St. Mary's)

Manchester, Iowa

And Santa Clarita, CA (where Keith Strohm and I will be hanging out)

All the workshops will begin at 7 pm Friday night and run through 4pm Saturday.

September is a great time to be on the road - and to begin discerning God's call.
The Secret Christians of India PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 20 September 2007 09:01
Gashwin Gomes sent me this eye-opening article from yesterday's Wall Street Journal about the struggle of Dalits ("untouchables") in India who have secretly converted to Christianity or Islam but don't do so publicly because in their desperate poverty, they need the government assistance available only to Hindu Dalits.

MEDIPALLY, India -- Every Sunday, women and children gather to pray in a tiny, whitewashed church on the edge of this southern Indian village, sitting cross-legged on blue plastic sheets as they sing Christian hymns.

The men don't dare to come. "If they are seen in the church, the officials will be informed," says Vatipally Aharon, Medipally's Baptist pastor.

Almost all the Christians here -- and the overwhelming majority across India -- hail from the so-called Dalit community, the former "untouchables" relegated to the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy. Under India's constitution, Dalits are entitled to affirmative-action benefits, including 15% of all federal government jobs and admissions in government-funded universities. That provides the country's most downtrodden with a way to escape their traditional occupations such as emptying village latrines, burying cow carcasses, and tanning animal hides.

But there is a catch: Any Dalit caught abandoning Hinduism for Christianity or Islam loses these privileges, and can be fired from jobs gained under the quota. The rules are enforced by vigilant local officials who keep a close eye on villagers' comings and goings.

The plight of India's secret converts, ignored for decades, is now at the forefront of national politics. Partly driving the change is Indian Christians' new partnership with Islam, a religion frequently at odds with Christianity elsewhere in the world.

Read the rest at Gashwin's blog (the Wall Street Journal is available only to subscribers) As Gashwin points out:

It's well written, and thrusts into the spotlight yet again the harsh realities of Dalits all over India, a reality that the Western-educated urban elites are, I feel, completely clueless about.

Gashwin was startled by the article's mention that there might be as many as "25 million secret Christians" in India but this has been common knowledge around evangelical missionary circles for years.

According to the World Christian Database there are approximately

23 million "secret" Christians in India, that is Indians of either Hindu or Muslim background who baptized and active in Christian communities but have not changed their "official" religious status because of the economic consequences. In addition, there are also

25 million Independent/Apostolic Christians,
19.2 million Protestants,
19.8 million Catholics,
3 million Orthodox(obviously, I've rounded off the figures)
total: 65 million Christians or approximately 6% of the total Indian population.

A small percentage but three times the figure (2%) commonly quoted.

In addition, there is an even more surprising development: What are known as
NBBC's: Non-Baptized Believers in Christ. David Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, estimates that there are 15 million NBBC's in the Hindu and Muslim worlds - usually for reasons of persecution.

Personal faith in Christ of some kind without access to baptism. Of course, NBBC's have always existed through Christian history but globalization is ensuring that their number is becoming ever larger. Imagine: fifteen million underground catechumens.

Pray for them and for the secret Christians of India as they seek Christ(because he first sought them!)in a very difficult time and place.
Light in the Dark PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 20 September 2007 08:36
Appropos of the discussion on ID and over at Amy Welborn's about the need to get missional, comes this charming account of a new form of evangelization in Malta.

It seems to be a variation on something pioneered by the Community of the Beatitudes in Rome where Adoration is held at the Pantheon and students of their School of Evangelization invited passers-by to come in, have something cool to drink, rest, pray, and soak in the Presence. Confession in several languages was also available. My pastor here in Colorado Springs stopped in and was very impressed.

Here's the description of the Maltese version:

Dawl bil-Lejl (Light in the Dark) is an experience of evangelization from young men and women to their counterparts on the road. It originated in 1999 in Italy by a group that called themselves "Sentinelle del Mattino" (morning watchers). The whole idea is to open the church of the locality at nightime for adoration, while a number of youths comb the streets inviting other young people to come and meet Jesus.

Evangelization in the streets is not a question of technique or a special method, but rather a change in mentality. It is founded on the principle that every Christian has a call for evangelization. In fact you can call yourself a Christian when you proclaim your faith to others. In the "Terzo Millenio Innuente" the late Pope John Paul II stated that the Church's mission is that of Evangelization. And this idea evolved when in a gathering the Pope had with young people at the turning of the millennium, he told them, "Do not be afraid to go out in the streets, and in public places, like the first apostles who proclaimed Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, town and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the roof tops." "What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight:what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops." (Mt.10,27).

Similar to this St.Paul wrote, "For I see no reason to be ashamed of the Gospel..." (Rom.1,16)

About 25 Maltese people have already participated in a basic course conducted by Fr.Andrea and Chiara, both from Verona. It was a basic course over a weekend, aimed at lighting again the fire in these young people which was bestowed upon them in baptism and these in turn promised to pass this light to the young people in Malta especially during Dawl bil-Lejl. There were also 3 seminarists who got involved. This basic course was organised by the Ministry for youth within the "Kommunita' Dixxipli ta' Gesu'" founded by Fr.Paul Fenech. Some of the youths who participated in the course had a first hand experience of how Dawl bil-Lejl works last July when they met up with a 130 strong contigent from all over Italy, in Bibbione, a famous tourist resort near Venice.

Proclaiming the Good News--Without Words PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 19 September 2007 22:07

Written by Keith Strohm


You Just Never Know... PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Wednesday, 19 September 2007 18:36
Who's listening.

Thursday morning I met a young woman for coffee at a local Colorado Springs Starbucks. She wanted to talk a bit - turned out to be a conversation about "relationship difficulties." We got our caffeine fixes and sat outside in the glorious Colorado sunshine and began to chat. She spoke of her difficulties in keeping Christ first in her life, rather than a young man in whom she is romantically interested.

A fellow was seated outside at a table near us, and he finished his drink and left shortly after we sat down and began to chat. Awhile later, I noticed he had returned, sans coffee, and had sat down at a table next to us. While the young woman and I continued to talk, he continued to sit, staring off into the distance (I presume - had had dark sunglasses on, so I couldn't see his eyes.)

After about twenty minutes or more, he was now leaning forward on his chair, and I couldn't help but wonder if he was listening.

Finally, at one point, he interrupted me and asked, "Speak louder, please, the Lord's ministering to me through you." I was a bit startled, but said, "Thanks be to God, then." It wasn't long before Kevin was a part of our conversation about relationships, faith, God's love and will for us, Divine Providence, and the fact that we only get to see a small part of the big picture that is our life, while God knows the whole of it.

I wonder how many Kevins sit next to us on buses, planes, in coffeeshops, restaurants. How many Kevins are in the cubicle adjacent to ours at work? How many people are hungering to hear a word of hope, hungering to be assured of God's love, desiring to know God has a work of love for them to do?

St. Dominic was said to have always been either talking to God or about God. Evidently plenty of people were listening in.
"When I Heal Her, I Will Change the Lives of Many." PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 19 September 2007 08:11
Speaking of evangelization, I'd like to encourage all ID readers to continue to check out the on-going Seattle Times series about Gloria Strauss, the 11 year old Catholic girl in Seattle who is currently hospitalized with neuroblastoma. Gloria and her remarkable, devout Catholic family have already impacted the lives of thousands through the work of reporter Jerry Brewer.

Gloria's mother, Kristen Strauss, heard a voice tell her before this journey even began.

"When I heal her, I will change the lives of many."

As everyone around Gloria recognizes, God has already used her suffering, courage, and faith and that of her wonderful family to change the lives of many. Including Cliff Wagner of Virginia who has never met her.

I live in Falls Church, Va., but I lived in Kent for a while. I was drinking so heavily while I was there I couldn't work, so I came back home.

I've been sober since Aug. 27. I had a four-day bender, a super hangover, and I was shaking — common stuff for me. I go to The Seattle Times Web site a lot, and I was pissed because they kept showing Gloria's picture every day. But I was hung over, so I finally read it. It was like I was hit by a 2x4.

I haven't had another drink since. If she can put up with that cancer, I can put up with not drinking. I haven't even been tempted. It's a Gloria thing. She did it.

The main thing I'd like is for someone to go up to Gloria and tell her that this gruff, 51-year-old man said, 'Thanks, your strength tells me there's hope for me yet.' Every day, I have two meetings. One is AA. The other is a meeting I hold with myself and God. I've never been a man of action. But an epiphany occurred.

Continue to pray for Gloria, her family, and for all who struggle with life-threatening illness and their families.

Pray that we, our families, and our parishes, might become powerful witnesses like Gloria and used as instruments of love, healing, conversion, and encouragement for millions who are seeking right now.
"Vibrancy" and Discipleship: Milwaukee Style PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 19 September 2007 05:52
Amy Welborn sent me this link to a blog called The Provincial Emails yesterday about a planning process going on in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

It seems that there has been an 18% drop in Mass attendance in the Archdiocese between 1999 and 2006 and Archbishop Dolan understandably wants to know why and what to do about it. (For more details, read this piece in the local Catholic Herald.)

The Archdiocese has requested that every parish come up with a way to increase attendance by 20% and has hired a priest consultant. In July, Fr. James Connell published and distributed to about 500 people a document called “Energizing Our Vibrancy” in which he posed what he termed “starter questions” about the present and future of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

The "vibrancy" in question is not just fewer people, but fewer young people.

Of course, the first thing that the report tries to scotch is the idea that the drop is a reaction to the Scandal. But, in fact, the statistics from CARA about national attendance can't tell us what is at work in a particular diocese which may differ significantly from the nation as a whole. And as The Provincial Emails points out, the people who left aren't being asked why. The 500 people to whom the document is being distributed are apparently all ecclesial insiders.

Listen folks. It is so much larger than the Scandal. We already know that only 20% of Gen X'ers (late 20's to early 40's adults) Catholics attend Mass nationally. That means 80% do not. And it didn't start in 2001.

The famed "JP II generation" only comprises 20% of their age cohort. Unless Milwaukee is uniquely immune, they should (along with nearly every diocese in the country) expect to see a huge drop in the attendance of younger people.

The sacraments aren't bringing them back. They aren't coming back to marry. Catholic marriages have dropped 50% nationally since 1970 even though our Catholic population has risen 350%. Out of wedlock births now make up 40% of all births in the US.

And now the final frontier has been reached: they aren't even baptizing their babies. The number of infant baptisms is starting to fall - down 60,000 from 1995. Cultural Catholicism among Gen Xer's is really and truly dead with the exception of recent immigrant groups (Vietnamese, Hispanic, etc.) and it is most unlikely that it will survive another generation in those groups.

The really startling thing is not that attendance is dropping. The really startling thing is that both the original post and the article in the Catholic Herald talk in vague terms about a crisis of "identity" and "commitment" to the institution.

“If fewer people are coming, we are falling down on our Eucharistic commitment,” Welte said. “Each of us who calls ourselves Catholic must first be critical of ourselves and ask what kind of a member am I and if I am not a good member, can I commit to being one? If I am a so-so member, what can I do to improve? Our whole community is impacted whenever someone doesn’t show up.”

“Our Catholic identity stays with us,” she said. “But when someone dies, will there be a church to provide a Christian burial? There are huge implications here.”

But neither post and article mention Jesus. They never use the word Christ. They never mention God. And that, gentle readers, is our real problem in 21st century America.

Christianity cannot survive without Christ. It is Christ who is the center, the head, the life, the Lord of his Church. The Church is his Body, not an independent end in herself. As the Council of Trent taught so clearly 5 centuries ago, the sacraments are not magic.

Without personal faith and response to God's mercy and grace, the sacraments do not save; do not justify. Without personal faith and response to God's grace, there is no living faith to hand on to the next generation. Without personal faith and response, loyalty, identity, and commitment vanish. Without living faith, catechesis, which is intended to foster the Christian maturity of those who are already disciples, is without effect.

Christian culture is not self-sustaining. Christian culture is the fruit of personal faith. Without the preaching of the kerygma and personal conversion which is the source of renewal in every generation, Christian culture ultimately withers away and dies.

The New Evangelization that Pope John Paul the Great spoke about so constantly and with such fervor is the only fruitful response. We have to realize that for this generation, we cannot assume anything. Gen Xer's are post-Christian and post-modern to their toes. It is the air they breathe.

The vast majority will not come to us. We will have to seek them out, gain their trust, articulate the kergyma, and challenge them to believe and to follow Christ in communion with his Church. In other words, we will have to be pioneer missionary evangelists in the midst of a "Christian" country. And then we may well see attendance grow, not because of "institutional" loyalty but because a whole new generation is seeking to follow Christ. They will be in our midst with love in their hearts and fire in their eyes.

This is exactly what we deal in our new seminar Making Disciples. How to call post-modern Americans to intentional discipleship in the midst of the Church. Our next MD will be November 4 -8 in Faulkner, Maryland. Come join us.

Or if summer works better for you, consider attending our June, 2008 seminar.

In the archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Colorado Standards PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 18 September 2007 06:48

On the spur of the moment last weekend, I decided to walk around the Rampart Reservoir near home. By Colorado standards, it's flat and only 15 miles around at 9,000 feet elevation. A mere stroll on a gorgeous mid-September day. By Colorado standards.

It was fresh and remarkably beautiful and serene and the first five miles were wonderful. But by the time I finished and dragged myself back to the car, the only parts of my body that weren't screaming was my head, my chest, and my left arm. (My right elbow was suffering from a repetitive motion injury - 15 miles of using a improvised walking stick). I have recovered quickly (although I'm a bit stiff today - the second day is always worst I understand)

The truly humiliating part was standing on the side of the trail while these perky, smiling true Colorado runner types zipped by.

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