Alas, I'm running out to time as this is our (Fr. Mike and I) last day in CS before taking off for Spokane and Making Disciples where we will be joined by Joe Water, Barbara Elliott, The Other Sherry, Gashwin Gomes, and a cast of dozens.
But before I go, I just had to share these finds:
In the 800 years since St. Dominic founded his order, his sons and daughters have managed to leave their mark in an astonishing number of places. For instance, who can resist this charming self-portrait by the 13th century Brother Dietmar, builder of St. Blasius at Regensburg, a former Dominican priory?
Some Dominicans are everlastingly hanging around with the BVM on the magnificent Charles Bridge of Prague:
(St. Dominican and St. Thomas Aquinas receiving the Rosary from Mary, natch.)
St. Dominic did not leave much in the way of written prayers, treatises, or even homilies. His active life was brief, roughly from 1206-1221, during which time he established his Order and gave us the general structure of governance which survives to this day. That structure includes the democratic election of leaders, so much did he trust Jesus' promise to send the Holy Spirit to guide those who invoke Him.
He was the first official theologian of the Pontifical Household, a role still held by a Dominican to this day.
One of the statements attributed to Dominic is particularly important to me. On his deathbed, the saintly poor man promised his brothers that he would be of more help to them than he had been in life. He had nothing to give away to his friars but this advice, ""Have charity one for another; guard humility; make your treasure out of voluntary poverty." St. Dominic knew that members of an Order with a strong intellectual bent would need to remember to be charitable with one another as they disagreed; that humility would be necessary no matter how brilliant they might be. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, the most brilliant of our friars, was able to note that all he had written "was as so much straw" compared to the reality of God he had witnessed in a vision. St. Dominic was convinced that brilliant arguments against heresy would not be effective unless they were presented in true humility. Voluntary poverty can easily be rationalized away and comfort justified by a sharp mind and a weak will.
Holy Father Dominic, pray for your sons and daughter so that other men and women join with them to praise, to bless, and to preach that Jesus Christ is Lord! Pray that we might all be brothers and sisters in your beloved Jesus, united in charity, clothed in humility, and in solidarity with the poor in fact as well as in spirit.
Happy Feast of St. Dominic, everyone! I had never seen this image of St. Dominic before. It's from a stole buried with one of the great early Dominicans, St. Albert the Great, the teacher and mentor of St. Thomas Aquinas. The stole depicts the "joyful friar" with a walking staff in one hand and the scriptures (possibly the Gospel of Matthew, Dominic's favorite) in the other.
The Dominican family is composed of nuns, who were first founded by St. Dominic from among women who had been convinced to leave the heresy of the Cathars in the south of France, dualists who denied the goodness of God's material creation. There are also friars, mostly ordained, but some lay, and active sisters. The largest group of Dominicans are the laity, who live as married or single men and women in the world and who are attracted to the Dominican life, which attempts to balance prayer, study, community life and active apostolate.
The Dominican website says this about the lay Dominicans: "From the beginning of the Order, men and women felt moved to help Dominic’s mission of preaching and join in as they could while still living with their families or continuing in their way of life. Already by the end of the thirteenth century, these friends of the Order and groups of lay people who resonated with Dominican spirituality were invited to become officially aggregated to the Order by adopting a Rule of Life approved by the Master of the Order and suited to their circumstances.
By adopting the Rule, lay Dominicans committed not only to living holy lives and doing works of charity, but also to being a part of the preaching mission of the Order:
They have as their vocation to radiate the presence of Christ in the midst of the peoples so that the divine message of salvation be known and accepted everywhere by the whole of humankind. (from the Rule of the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic)
Today’s Lay Dominican Fraternities around the world are direct descendents of these early groups. In addition there are many other types of groups of lay people associated with the Order, including the International Dominican Youth Movement, with groups around the world who belong to the movement in different ways; Dominican Volunteers International, where faithful lay people join in the preaching mission of a particular Dominican community full time for a year or more, working with those who are poor or excluded; and associate programs of friends of many individual congregations of sisters, nuns and priories."
Lay Dominicans attempt to live in a very conscious way the call to all Catholics to evangelize the world in their places of work, within their families, and in their towns and cities. They receive a formation in their local chapters for this apostolate, and support one another and often work together in this mission. Why not investigate if there's a chapter in your area? If there are friars, sisters, or nuns, there may very well be lay chapters, too.
Lopez Lomong was one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan. He was born in Sudan, separated from his parents at the point of a gun at age 6, and with the help of friends, he escaped confinement and made it to a refugee camp in Kenya.
In 2001, he was brought to America as part of a program to relocate lost children from war-torn Sudan. Lomong, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who has been working out at Colorado Springs' Olympic Training Center and the Air Force Academy, won a vote of team captains Wednesday to earn the honor of leading America's contingent into the 90,000-seat Bird's Nest Stadium.
The 1,500-meter track runner will be the flagbearer only 13 months after becoming a U.S. citizen.
"It's more than a dream," Lomong said in an interview with The Associated Press moments after he got the news. "I keep saying, I'm not sure if this is true or not true. I'm making the team and now I'm the first guy coming to the stadium and the whole world will be watching me carry the flag. There are no words to describe it."
Cheer Lemong on tomorrow night as he marches into the Olympic Stadium. Be sure to watch this interview with his American foster parents.
Compared to Lopez' story, winning the Superbowl is banal.
This moving story was brought to my attention by Clara, CSI's Australian co-director.
Former French-Colombian hostage and former candidate for President of Colombia, Ingrid Betancourt, was rescued from 6 years of captivity among Colombian guerrillas recently. In this CathNews story, she talks of the spiritual source that kept her going through it all:
"Reflecting on her release from captivity former French-Colombian hostage, Ingrid Betancourt, says that Jesus kept his promise to her when she was released in June after she consecrated herself to the Sacred Heart.
The Catholic Herald reports after she was rescued by Colombian special forces Mrs Betancourt's first action was to arrange to go to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris.
In an interview earlier with the French Pèlerin magazine about her faith and how it saw her through her ordeal, Mrs Betancourt said her first gesture on being rescued was the sign of the cross.
"Why? Because without Him at my side I would never have managed to survive the pain," she said.
She went on to say that "being a hostage places you in a situation of constant humiliation ... faced with this you can take one of two possible paths. Either you allow yourself to become ugly and bitter, filled with hate and vindictiveness, or you follow the other path, that is shown by Jesus." She said this insight was what preserved her from being consumed by hate for her captors and anger at her predicament.
"He [Jesus] said 'bless your enemies'. Each time I read the Bible I felt those words were directed at me as though Jesus were standing in front of me, He knew what to say to me," she said.
"Of course I realised that when your enemy is awful it is hard to live out those words faithfully and therefore I felt like saying the exact opposite. When I said these words, however, it was like magic. I felt a kind of relief.
"The hatred simply vanished... I feel that a transformation took place within me and I owe that change to being able to listen to what God wanted for me."
Mrs Bentancourt said that the Bible had been her constant companion. "At the start of my captivity I said to myself 'you are going to be here for months and months so you might as well read the Bible' which I had not done previously.
"Opening it, it fell open on the epistles of St Paul on the passage which I can recite more or less from memory: 'You may ask for what you will but the Holy Spirit will ask better as He knows what you truly need.'
"When I read that I exclaimed: 'My God, I know what I want, to be free!' Re-reading the epistle six years later I understood at last what it meant and thought 'lucky the Holy Spirit has interceded for me, because I do not know what I need!' "
She said that after being angry with God for allowing the death of her father, Gabriel Betancourt Mejia, "later I understood that I had to thank God for taking him, because my father would never have been able to endure those six years of suffering."
Finally Mrs Bentancourt said why she had been so keen to visit the shrine of the Sacred Heart. "I was listening to Radio Maria [the international Catholic radio station] and I discovered that June is the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart... so I said this prayer: 'My Jesus, I have never asked anything of you, because I am so ashamed of your greatness, I am simply too ashamed to ask but now I am going to ask you for something very specific.
"I do not know exactly what it means to consecrate oneself to the Sacred Heart but if you tell me, during the month of June, I will be all yours."
On June 27 Mrs Bentancourt's rescuers arrived and the ordeal was over. "I thought 'there we go, he's on time'... the fact of the matter is that Jesus kept his word. I experienced a miracle."
A driving rain pelted me as I ran to the front of the building, only to hear that maddening clatter you get when you pull on locked glass doors. Mercifully, an elderly woman moved towards the doors from inside, and in short order had me comfortably settled in the lobby. Like an elegant hostess, she sat with me there---dust rag in hand---and chatted as I waited for a senior manager in the firm to show up for our meeting.
"I clean this office," she said in what I later learned was an East European accent, moving her arm in a sweeping motion to show me the lobby. "What do you do?" I told her a little about my work as a Christian writer (which puzzled and bored her, I think), but when I mentioned I was also a chaplain, she perked right up. "I, too, am a Christian." She said it with a certainty and a satisfaction that must surely have pleased God. I waited for her to tell me more, but only silence followed.
"Am I keeping you from your work?" I asked, not wanting to get her in trouble. She shook her head to indicate I wasn't, and then explained that she always finished early, and added, "I like to come down here and watch the people come to work." There was a hint of loneliness to this last statement, an almost wistful whisper of sadness. So I asked her more questions about her story.
At first her answers were brief. It was obvious she was used to short attention spans, people asking questions to be polite but with little interest in the answers. When she realized I was interested, though, she settled into the role of storyteller with alacrity. I was treated to delicious tidbits of her personal history that had us both smiling.
All the people who were important to her were no longer around. I wasn't made privy to the details of their absence, and my hostess-turned-storyteller had too much dignity to complain. Whether they died or moved away or simply neglected her wasn't part of the tale I had permission to know. Only once, when she was telling me a part of someone else's woes, did I get a glimpse of her own thoughts. Describing that person's loneliness, she said quietly that "...they only want to matter to someone."
It's a phrase I hear repeated about as often in my work as any other, though people seldom say it directly. In a work world that values efficiency and action, that places great emphasis on busyness and productivity, that wrestles to squeeze the most out of every action, one of the byproducts is often loneliness. It's a disease as prevalent in the senior reaches of a firm as it is in the bowels of the operation. It stretches outside the workplace to our families, leaving children feeling this same gnawing emptiness that haunts adults. Always, the sentiment emerges: "I only want to matter to someone."
For most people I meet, telling them they matter to God is not enough. God seems distant and surreal to people who have little or no tangible connections to other human beings. But the reality of a loving God literally leaps out to those whose loneliness and isolation is ended by mattering to someone here on earth.
It struck me as I listened to my hostess on that early gray morning that one of the most important ways workplace Christians can serve God is by caring about the people they work with every day, especially those who usually fall below our radar screens.
Among the many majestic things about Jesus during His time on earth was His wonderful ability to notice the lonely, and to reach out to them in warm and intimate ways. "Zaccheus," Jesus said, "I must stay at your house today." How important that must have made Zaccheus feel! How easy it is for us to love others simply by taking note of them. If we truly wish to honor God at work today, then we do that best by honoring those He created who work in the next cubicle or the next office, whether they're wielding dust rags or the power to hire and fire us.
When my friend the senior manager arrived for our appointment, he greeted my hostess by name and thanked her for taking care of me while I waited. She nodded shyly and smiled, then looked at me and answered, "I didn't want him to be lonely in this big place."
We have thought, written, and talked quite a bit on these pages about postmodernism, but since it is the biggest challenge to evangelization and formation that we face we must continue to clarify our thoughts on the matter. Here is a bit from the British theologian Graham Ward's introduction to The Postmodern God: A Theological Reader:
Surfing the net is the ultimate postmodern experience ... Cyberspace is a cultural metaphor for postmodernism."
The postmodern culture is "a culture of seduction and flagrant, self-consuming sexuality; a culture of increasing sophisticated drugs and drug use; a culture of virtual, videotaped realities."
I am most intrigued by his assertion that postmodernity is "a culture of virtual, videotaped realities" in which "surfing the net" is the ultimate experience. I believe this is certainly true and we can see it in a variety of ways, most especially in a culture for which moral considerations are absent, because they seem not to pertain to a virtual world. There are no moral considerations to take into account when something is not really real. That's not so dangerous if virtual reality is mainly peripheral and truly only "virtual", but what happens when the virtual world becomes the real world for so many people? When a whole culture becomes one of "virtual, videotaped realities?" Are not Facebook, MySpace, and the multitude of other social networking sites an example of how a whole culture (seemingly parallel to the "real" world's culture, but with highly permeable boundaries) can arise from virtual reality?
How then is the Gospel presented and received in such a situation? What space can be created in these virtual realities, cultures, and habitats for Christian witness, particularly as mediated through Christian community? Is it even possible for Christian communities to make an authentic witness to the Gospel in virtual space?
I am eager not only to hear reflections on this subject, but also for you to draw our attention to Christian witness in virtual space.
While preparing for a talk I gave at Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle, I came across an article on Divine Judgment that included a concept that I had not heard about before: God's continuous judgment, which can be applied to the Church, a nation, or an individual. I found the section on God's continuous judgment of the Church particularly telling.
The continuous judgment of God upon the Church does not directly affect its external success or temporal well-being; for these are not matters that are directly involved in its mission. But the Church as such will live a fervent life of faith, worship, unity, love, and apostolic concern as a consequence of God's judgment upon a submissive response of the Church's members to the guidance of His Spirit within the Church. Or else, the Church can experience division, formalism, defections, apostolic ineffectiveness, and scandal as God's judgment on those who seek the things that are their own and not the things of Jesus Christ. No one in the Church can excuse himself of responsibility before God as judge because of his position; nor can the Church as a whole expect that, no matter what its response to God may be, its mission will be as abundantly fruitful and its witness to the world as unambiguously clear just because God is at work within it. New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967: Divine Judgment.
According to this understanding of God's judgment applied to the Church today - and by Church, I mean all of us, together - the fiscal health of our parishes and dioceses (or lack of it) is not a measure of God's judgment. The amount of money in our banks or the beauty of our buildings is not directly involved in our mission to evangelize the world.
But insofar as we experience division (33830 Christian denominations and counting, liberal/conservative/traditionalist labels within the Church), formalism (an emphasis on ritual and observance, over their meanings), defections (10% of Americans are former Catholics), apostolic ineffectiveness (how many adult baptisms or professions of faith in your parish last Easter Vigil?) and scandal (clergy sexual abuse, fiscal irresponsibility, N. Ireland's "troubles") we should see these problems as a judgment upon all of us. It is a sign that we are not submissive to the Holy Spirit, and that we are seeking our own will, rather than the will of God.
God's continuous judgment can sometimes be seen in disasters, like the flood recounted in Genesis, or the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In both of those cases, the judgment was based on the behavior of many, many individuals - of a people. We, as a Catholic people, need to see the problems facing the Church not as the problems of the hierarchy, or because of a sinful world, but as a supernatural consequence of the behavior and attitude of millions of individuals. God's judgment will change with the change of each individual heart!
In yesterday's lectionary for Mass, both Jeremiah the prophet and Jesus, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, receive a less than enthusiastic response from their listeners. Jeremiah, preaching conversion of heart to the self-satisfied and complacent at the entrance to the temple in Jerusalem, is manhandled and threatened with death (Jer 26:1-9). Jesus, who ultimately will be put to death for his preaching and seemingly outrageous claims of union with His Father, is a source of offense to the folks in his hometown (Mt 13:54-58).
Jeremiah's problem is ours today, as it has been for Christians in every age. We were anointed priest, prophet, and king at our baptism, and that anointing is meant to be lived out in large and small ways each day. In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici, Pope John Paul II wrote, "through their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ... the lay faithful are given the ability and responsibility to accept the gospel in faith and to proclaim it in word and deed, without hesitating to courageously identify and denounce evil." (CF, 14) Won't we be fun at cocktail parties!
Some Catholics take on this role more naturally than others. I have met many people who have adopted a prophetic stance towards all kinds of evils and perceived evils: abortion, economic injustice, war, environmental issues, music by the St. Louis Jesuits. It's one thing to rage against "the system", but quite another to make it personal as Jeremiah and our Lord do. Yet that, too, is part of being a prophet - calling people to conversion. And because it is so difficult, so personal, it doesn't happen very often. If someone I know is doing something wrong, or has done some injury to me or another, it's pretty darn tough to point it out. In fact, it takes real love to do so - a genuine desire for the good of the other.
As I reflected upon the response of the crowds to Jesus and Jeremiah, I thought of three typical responses they received, and how they are the same responses we tend to get when we try to offer someone "fraternal correction."
The first one is the hoped-for response; the very one God mentions to Jeremiah: "Perhaps they will listen and turn back, each from his evil way, so that I may repent of the evil I have planned to inflict upon them for their evil deeds." If I care about someone who is in need of conversion, calling them to conversion is an act of love precisely because I trust that living apart from God - even in a small way - will be a source of unhappiness and sorrow for them.
The second is similar to the one Jesus is given "in his native place". It's the "I know who you are, and you're nothing special - how dare you tell me what to do" response. The intensity of this response can vary from polite silence to the "whatever" of a teen-ager, to a full-out ad hominem attack. "Why, you're nothing but a glutton and a drunkard, and you hang out with sinners and prostitutes!" Often, I believe we fear the worst will happen, so we keep our mouths shut. Or, worse yet, we fear the other person might suddenly have their tongue loosened and we get a dose of a genuinely prophetic response which points out our own failings. Chances are, if we're close enough to someone to see their failings, they're close enough to see ours.
Finally, there's the third response - the doing away with the prophet altogether. This is the fate Jeremiah suffered when he was stoned to death by his exasperated countrymen in Egypt. Jesus, too, offered the priestly sacrifice of himself as the ultimate price for his prophetic and kingly work. While we may not have to worry too much about a death sentence from a former friend, we do risk losing the friendship. Someone may simply walk away, or at least emotionally walk away. This so often happens in marriages when one party chooses to do or say something with the explicit intent of hurting the other.
As challenging as it may be to live as a prophet for our friends, family members, co-workers, society, it's probably as challenging to receive correction when someone cares about us enough to offer it in a loving way. And perhaps that's the key. How can we make our prophetic living an act of love? Pope John Paul II mentioned the courage necessary to denounce evil. Denouncing evil as a sign and act of love takes more than mere courage, it takes grace. But if done lovingly, perhaps there's a better chance it is from God, and a better chance our genuinely prophetic words will be accepted.
It is fascinating to see who watches EWTN: disillusioned Episcopal priests on the west coast. Independent evangelical pastors on the verge of entering the Church on the east coast. And innumerable others. We've heard from a lay woman who wants to start a L'Arche community, from frustrated converts who are passionate about evangelism, from lay people who feel they have received a particular vision or message from the Church, from pastors who want Called & Gifted workshops, etc. People who want desperately to talk to someone in detail about their dilemmas and the choices they face.
And the theme is always discernment. How do I know what God wants? What God is doing in and through this experience? What should I do? How do I help my parishioners or friends or family discern?
Discernment: the single most critical life skill for lay apostles in a secular and often hostile culture. Discernment - a critical part of governance for the ordained.
And the resources to facilitate discernment are relatively few, hard to find, and harder to evaluate.