A group blog devoted to the baptismal call, spirituality, gifts, vocations, ministry, work, history, theology, evangelization, formation, bad jokes, and pastoral support of lay Christians seeking to live their faith in the 21st century.
Sponsored by the Catherine of Siena Institute --- www.siena.org.
I love the The Holy Father's Missionary Intention for June 2010: “That the Churches in Asia, which constitute a 'little flock' among non-Christian populations, may know how to communicate the Gospel and give joyful witness to their adherence to Christ.”
But I find the accompanying commentary (which I know the Pope did not write but was provided for him by ?) frustrating.
.“Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) – The situation of Catholics in Asia is difficult. They are a minority living surrounded by millions of followers of other religions or people who claim not to profess any religion. From a human standpoint, it seems that there is nothing to be done to be able to evangelize the continent, given the disproportionate number of Catholics and the more than a billion people who do not know Christ in these lands. “
You would say that, of course, if the fact that non-Catholic Christianity wasn’t growing faster in China that anywhere else is the world hadn’t been marveled about in the media for the past 15 years. By the Economist, the Pew Foundation, etc.
If there weren’t more practicing Christians in China than Communist Party members. If there probably weren’t more practicing Christians in China than in any other country in the world. If 1 in 10 Chinese (about 130 million) wasn’t a Christian. And if this all hadn’t happened within living memory and hadn’t been shouted from the rooftops.
Even if the Christianity that is transforming China is 94/% non-Catholic and 77% “unregistered”, it still changes the situation dramatically for Catholics. Why can we not acknowledge that? Instead, what we hear in formal statements is this perpetual meme that Christianity is not growing in Asia (and therefore, cannot be expected to grow) we’re so tiny and beleaguered, oh woe is me.
When, the small bit of yeast is, in fact, showing dramatic signs of leavening all the dough and the “power from on high”, the Holy Spirit, is manifesting his presence in remarkable ways.
C. S. Lewis famously called George MacDonald his “master”. Here is one of my most cherished passages from Lewis’ Anthology of MacDonald’s writings. Enjoy!
The White Stone (Revelation 2:17)
'"Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the victor I shall give some of the hidden manna; I shall also give a white amulet upon which is inscribed a new name, which no one knows except the one who receives it."'
“The giving of the white stone with the new name is the communication of what God thinks about the man to the man. It is the divine judgment, the solemn holy doom of the righteous man, the “Come, thou blessed,” spoken to the individual . . .The true name is one which expresses the character, the nature, the meaning of the person who bears it. It is the man’s own symbol – his souls’ picture, in a word – the sign which belongs to him and to no one else.
Who can give a man this, his own name? God alone. For no one but God sees what the man is . . . It is only when the man had become his name that God gives him the stone with his name upon it, for then first can he understand what his name signifies. It is the blossom, the perfection, the completeness, that determines the name: and God foresees that from the first because He made it so: but the tree of the soul, before its blossom comes, cannot understand what blossom it is to bear and could not know what the word meant, which, in representing is own unarrived completeness, named itself.
Such a name cannot be given until the man is the name. God’s name for a man must be the expression of His own idea of the man, that being whom He had in His thought when he began to make the child, and whom He kept in His thought through the long process of creation that went to realize the idea. To tell the name is to seal the success – to say “In thee also I am well pleased.”
Here there is no room for ambition. Ambition is the desire to be above one’s neighbor; and here there is no possibility of comparison with one’s neighbor; no one knows what the white stone contains except the man who receives it . . .Relative worth is not only unknown – to the children of the Kingdom, it is unknowable.
“God has cared to make me for Himself,” say the victor with the white stone, “And has called me that which I like best.”
I wanted to bring ID reader's attention to a couple of pointed comments by two North American bishops over the past few days. (The emphasis is mine.) What is particularly telling is that both bishops were raised within, and are speaking to people who hail from, two of the most intense, and all encompassing Catholic cultures in history: French Quebec and Spanish Latin America.
1) Cardinal Marc Ouellet says he is surprised at the magnitude of the overreaction to his recent interventions against abortion.
"I have no power," the archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada said in an interview. "The Church in Quebec has no power anymore."
"Why such a big reaction? Because I am just reminding people of the teaching the Church," he said.
Ouellet faced a wave of negative media attacks, including a popular La Presse columnist calling him an ayatollah and extremist and wishing the cardinal would die of a slow, painful illness for saying abortion was a moral crime, even in cases of rape.
Provincial and federal politicians denounced his remarks, culminating in a unanimous resolution May 19 in the Quebec National Assembly, affirming a woman's right to free and accessible abortion. The resolution also demanded the federal government end its ambiguity on the issue and stop de-funding women's organizations.
The cardinal recognized, however, merely passing a law would not solve the problem. "I am aware that in Canada, in Quebec in particular, you will not reform society at the moral level by teaching morals first," he said.
"It will be through a new evangelization.If you do not meet Jesus Christ, it is very difficult to accept the teaching, the moral teaching of the Church. I am aware of that, even if what we teach is coherent at the rational level."
CAN: What is your view of the state of Catholicism among U.S. Hispanics?
Gomez: “The number of Hispanics self-identifying as Catholics has declined from nearly 100 percent in just two decades, while the number who describe themselves as Protestant has nearly doubled, and the number saying they have “no religion” has also doubled.
I’m not a big believer in polls about religious beliefs and practice. But in this case the polls reflect pastoral experience on the ground.”
CNA: What questions do you see as key for Catholic ministry to U.S. Hispanics?
Gomez: “As Hispanics become more and more successful, more and more assimilated into the American mainstream, will they keep the faith? Will they stay Catholic or will they drift away—to Protestant denominations, to some variety of vague spirituality, or to no religion at all?
Will they live by the Church’s teachings and promote and defend these teachings in the public square? Or will their Catholicism simply become a kind of “cultural” background, a personality trait, a part of their upbringing that shapes their perspective on the world but compels no allegiance or devotion to the Church?
Hispanic ministry should mean only one thing—bringing Hispanic people to the encounter with Jesus Christ in his Church.
All our pastoral plans and programs presume that we are trying to serve Christ and his Gospel. But we can no longer simply presume Christ. We must make sure we are proclaiming him.”
As we are seeing in the west, the most entrenched, integrated Catholic cultures can disappear in a generation or two if that which birthed and sustained that particular culture is not present in that generation. French Quebec was originally founded by – lay men and women, priests, and religious – who were passionate intentional disciples, people whose faith had been set ablaze by the great French revival of the early 17th century that arose from the ashes of decades of religious war between Catholics and Protestants. What was birthed out of transforming conversion cannot be sustained 400 years later by mere convention and institutions.
It is not Catholic culture, in itself, but all that flows in human history from following Jesus Christ, the fundamental heart and Lord of the Church, that sustains the Catholic faith from age to age. It is always the rediscovery of that fundamental heart that revives the Church when she is on the verge of collapse. Without Jesus Christ visibly at the center, the distant remnants of Catholic culture are powerless to awaken faith and generate new life.
In every generation - if you want to evangelize the culture - make disciples.
The event requests have been pouring in and I'm a bit intimidated as I realized this morning that I've have only two weekends at home between July 30 and Thanksgiving. Fr. Mike's schedule will probably be even more packed and our other wonderful traveling teachers will be criss-crossing the country on our behalf as well. Looks like I'll be moving up into that next frequent flyer tier this year.
Consider this a heads up. If you live in or around
La Cross, WI or Milwaukee, WI
Kansas City, KS
Taylors, SC or Greenville, SC
St. Paul, MN
San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Redwood, CA
Detroit or Lake Orion, MI
Moses Lake or Puyallup, WA
Corpus Christi, TX
Grand Isle, NE
It looks like the Catherine of Siena Institute will be coming your way in 2010.
(All of our scheduled events haven't made it to our web calendar yet because they are in the final stages of being confirmed. We'll get them up there as soon as we can.)
An editorial in Christianity Today briefly examines the beneficial role the secular media can have in calling the Church to "be more itself." Looking at some of the negative reactions from some members of the hierarchy to the media's attention to the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis, the editorial posits we shouldn't shoot the messenger, and that over-defensiveness creates an even more antagonistic relationship between mainstream media and the Church.
While sloppy reporting, innuendo and a lack of knowledge of history or the workings of the Church should be pointed out and decried, we can't forget that Jesus himself promised what is hidden will be revealed. Furthermore, the same media that exposes our sins (to our shame) can also report the good that we do (to the glory of God). If a reporter is seriously trying to uncover the truth, we should welcome - and aid - that cause, not dismiss it or label the effort as anti-Catholic. The truth, even if sought by someone who might claim there is no such thing as truth, cannot be anti-Catholic. Rather, it is "sharper than any two-edged sword," and has the power to separate the reality of who we are from the façade we might try to hide behind.
The editorial rightly points out, "The Boston Globe's 2002 series on sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston is a case par excellence of journalistic integrity in the service of a community. The Pulitzer Prize-winning series is often noted for breaking the dam of global church secrecy and helping the church handle victims and abusers more responsibly. The series led to concrete changes, including a 2004 church-initiated survey of the scope of abuse in the U.S., and tougher measures for handling allegations."
While the ongoing revelations of the sexual predation of children by Catholic clergy is a source of great pain to us all, the Church must welcome them if, like any individual confronted with their sin, we are going to undergo conversion. The editorial goes on to observe, correctly, I believe, that
God, in his zeal for our refinement, can use journalistic truth-telling—even from those who ask "what is truth?"—to sanctify us. Purification rarely feels good, and some critiques are found to be nothing more than hate-filled attacks. But since "there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known" (Luke 12:2), ministries can face journalistic scrutiny confidently, looking for God's judgment and grace in unlikely sources. As Catholic theologian Edward Oakes said in an April homily, "[I]f the Hebrew prophets could see the hand of God at work in the attacks on ancient Israel from the Assyrian empire, then Catholics [and all Christians] ought to be able to espy the workings of divine providence when the media bring to light crimes that should have been made public from the beginning."
I came across these comments by Pope Benedict XVI, which were made en route to a visit to Portugal earlier this month. They seem appropriate given the tendency these days to see faith and reason as mutually exclusive (see the recent posts on Fr. Barron and the movie Agora).
In these centuries, the dialectic among the Enlightenment, secularism and faith always had people who wanted to build bridges and to create a dialogue. Unfortunately, the dominant tendency was to see a contradiction and to see one as excluding the other. Today we can see this is false. We have to find a synthesis and be able to dialogue. In the multi-cultural situation we’re all in, it’s clear that a European culture which would be solely rationalist, which would not have any sense of the transcendent dimension, would not be in a position to dialogue with the other great cultures of humanity – all of which have this sense of the transcendent dimension, which is a dimension of the human person. To think that there’s a pure reason, even a historic reason, which exists entirely in itself, is an error, and we discover that more and more. It touches only a part of the human person expressed in a given historic situation, and is not reason as such. Reason as such is open to transcendence, and only in the meeting between transcendent reality, faith and history is human life fully realized.
One of my favorite contemporary Catholic thinkers is Fr. Robert Barron, who holds the Francis Cardinal George Chair of Faith and Culture at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois. He is one of the foremost Catholic evangelists and is using podcasts and YouTube videos to bring the Catholic faith to our increasingly non-religious citizens.
I admire his online video commentaries, which draw thousands of viewers worldwide and are among the most popular of any evangelist on YouTube. These frequent, high-quality productions include brief and lively theological reviews of contemporary culture, including movies such as No Country for Old Men, Apocalypto, and The Departed, a three-part critical review of Christopher Hitchen's book God is Not Great, The Discovery Channel's The Jesus Tomb, the HBO series "The Sopranos", "Rome" and more.
I ran across his two-part series on contemporary heresies as they are normally unknowingly expounded by the commentators on his videos. The two videos that follow contain his explanation of these "heresies" and how he responds to them. They are important to anyone interested in evangelizing our current culture, since we need to know the presumptions that make it difficult or impossible for people to hear the Christian message. Each video is 8.5 minutes long. The first one deals with these two cultural presumptions:
Scientism: the "real" is only that which can be studied by analytical, empirical methods. Thus, any claims by philosophy or religion can't - shouldn't - be taken seriously.
Ecclesial Angelism: that the Church, including all its individual members, must be perfect, without sin. Since they are not, any claims made by a Christian cannot possibly be taken seriously. And, in case there aren't enough real acts of violence done by the Christians in the name of God, manufactured ones can be easily enough made in HD with Dolby Digital sound and beautiful non-Christian, rational heroines (see Sherry's post on Agora).
The second video addresses the following misunderstandings.
Biblical Fundamentalism: People assume that the bible is unambiguously the word of God - and that includes more than just fundamentalist Christians! Barron discovers that people presume he has a unique, individual interpretation of scripture because he presents the Catholic understanding of biblical interpretation and recognizes that there are different genres within the book we call the bible. While the fundamentalist interpretation of scripture is everywhere on YouTube (and the internet), the Catholic interpretation is almost invisible.
Marcionism: Marcion claimed the God of the Old Testament was a false God, and Christianity and the New Testament reveals the true God. Marcionism is everywhere on YouTube, in which the God of the Old Testament is presented by the Old Testament itself as vicious, bloodthirsty and capricious.
I hope you enjoy these. Let me know what you think about Fr. Barron's responses. Have you encountered these contemporary (and in one case, ancient) heresies in people you speak with about God, or about your Catholic faith?
Father Robert Barron has written a thoughtful response to the new movie, Agora, which purports to tell the story of Hypatia, the famous pagan woman philosopher and mathmatician who was killed by a "Christian" mob in Alexandria, Egypt in 415 AD.
Agora shows mobs of hate-filled, ignorant, Christian monks under the command of St. Cyril, bishop of Alexandria burning the great Library of Alexandria and killing Hypatia because they saw reason and thought as the enemies of the true faith.
For you who are really busy, here’s the short version of the real history:
The destruction of the Library of Alexandria was 1) probably the result of an accident rather than a plot 2) done by pagans, not Christians and 3) occurred 40 years before Jesus was born and 418 years before Hypatia was born. The part of the Library's collection that survived Julius Caesar was kept in a branch library in a pagan temple in Alexandria but had almost certainly vanished before that building was destroyed in 391 AD, 24 years before Hypatia was killed and 21 years before Cyril became Bishop of Alexandria.
The destruction of the Library of Alexandria had nothing to do with Hypatia or Christianity or Cyril of Alexandria. This is an anti-Christian 18th century urban legend.
Hypatia’s death was horrific and unjust but Cyril of Alexandria probably had nothing to do with it. Her death was probably the result of a political disputebetween Christians (not between pagans and Christians) and had nothing to do with a Christian hatred of philosophy and learning or the destruction of the Library of Alexandria.
(Update: I've just visited the Agora website and see that the film is set conveniently in 391 AD - the year that the pagan temple which had once held a branch library was destroyed. (See the detailed history below). The problem is that Hypatia was her early 20's in 391 and wasn't murdered until a quarter of a century later in 415 AD. Cyril was a teenager of 15 in 391 AD and wouldn't become Bishop of Alexandra for another 21 years. Oh yes, and the temple was, according to ancient witnesses, probably empty of all library scrolls by 391 AD anyway. No witnesses made any reference to it as a "library".
In the film, Hypatia's father and mentor, Theon, is portrayed as the last librarian of the library that hadn't, in fact, existed for many years. Theon was a mathematician and philosopher as was Hypatia. But math and philosophy don't make for strong visuals and if you focus on astronomy, as the film does, you can always present your heroine as a Galileo-like figure, ready to entertain the idea that the earth is not the center of the universe, and we all know how the Catholic Church treated Galileo!
So this film is nothing less than CGI heavy anti-Christian propaganda. The only difference between Agora and the Da Vinci Code is that the assassins in Agora aren't albinos. Yet it was the most popular film of 2009 in traditionally Catholic Spain.
Agora is being released in New York this weekend and in LA a week later. )
For those of you who would like more details, read on:
The Library of Alexandria was the first known library of its kind to gather a serious collection of books from beyond its country's borders and was, in fact, charged with collecting all the world's knowledge. The only problem with Agora’s scenario is that numerous ancient historians tell us that the library of Alexandria was destroyed accidently by Julius Caesar’s army in 48 AD, at least 40 years before Jesus was born.
Fr. Barron mentions The Serapeum, a pagan temple, which had once housed part of the great Library’s collection. The Serapeum was, according to ancient writers, probably empty of scrolls when it was destroyed in 391 AD, 24 years before Hypatia’s death and when the future Cyril of Alexandria was only 15 years old. The Serapeum was destroyed by the Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria as a pagan temple on the order of Roman Emperior Theodosius I who ordered the destruction of all pagan temples. (Theophilus is regarded as a saint only by the Coptic Orthodox Church.) Even the pagan historians who witnessed and lamented its destruction made no reference to the Serapeum as a library.
Carl Sagan, who popularized the Agora version of the story on his 70’s PBS series, drew from the 18th century historian, Gibbon, (of "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" fame), who was the first to link the murder of Hypatia with the destruction of the great library at Alexandria, the greatest storehouse of learning in the ancient world. Both were drawing from the work of the early 18th century Deist scholar, John Toland, who used her death as the basis for an anti-Catholic tract entitled Hypatia: Or the history of a most beautiful, most vertuous, most learned, and every way accomplish’d lady; who was torn to pieces by the clergy of Alexandria, to gratify the pride, emulation, and cruelty of their archbishop, commonly but undeservedly stil’d St. Cyril.
Far from being regarded as the embodiment of evil pagan scholarship by Christians, Hypatia had Christian students and friends. For instance, Hypatia maintained correspondence with her former pupil Synesius of Cyrene, who in AD 410 became bishop of Ptolemais and wrote a letter defending Hypatia as the inventor of the astrolabe. This is how Hypatia's contemporary, Christian historiographer Socrates Scholasticus described her in his Ecclesiastical History:
There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not unfrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.
Modern historians think that Hypatia was killed because she became associated, in popular understanding, with a political dispute in Alexandria. The Christian prefect of the city, Orestes, may have cultivated his relationship with Hypathia to strengthen a bond with the Pagan community of Alexandria, as he had done with the Jewish one, to handle better the difficult political life of the Egyptian capital. Hypatia's influence was believed by many to be preventing a reconciliation between Orestes and Cyril. In March, 415 AD, during Lent, a Christian mob - possibly led by monks - grabbed Hypatia out of her chariot and brutally murdered her, hacking her body apart and burning the pieces outside the city walls.
Shortly after Hypatia’s death, a forged letter attacking Christianity was published under her name. The pagan historian Damascius (another former student of Hypatia's) laid the blame squarely on the Christians and Bishop Cyril. Although Damascius’ account became widely known, he is the only ancient source to say that Cyril was responsible.
Agora is getting strong review from the top critics and being taken as a serious "idea" film by some.
Fr. Barron’s concern is not so much the mangling of history but the visceral impact upon 21st century audiences:
“In one of the most visually arresting scenes in the film, Amenabar brings his camera up to a very high point of vantage overlooking the Alexandria library while it is being ransacked by the Christian mob. From this perspective, the Christians look for all the world like scurrying cockroaches. In another memorable scene, the director shows a group of Christian thugs carting away the mangled corpses of Jews whom they have just put to death, and he composes the shot in such a way that the piled bodies vividly call to mind the bodies of the dead in photographs of Dachau and Auschwitz. The not so subtle implication of all of this is that Christians are dangerous types, threats to civilization, and that they should, like pests, be eliminated.”
As critic David Edlestein of New York Magazine put it:
"Agora doesn’t merely exalt the empirical outlook of Hypatia, it portrays religious faith—all religious faith—as monomaniacal superstition, a fount of anti-truth."
And what do you want to bet that 50-something Hypatia didn't look like Rachel Weisz?
Our Making Disciples seminar in Boise went exceptionally well and the 48 attendees came away energized and full of ideas about how to implement the new approach to evangelization that they had learned. What a great group to work with! We were especially blessed to spend time with old friends in Boise that I hadn't seen in 7 or 8 years.
One of the stories I shared in Boise was from a young woman who first wrote me a month ago. Michelle (not her real name) is in her 20's and lives in a historically Catholic urban area. She entered the Church at Easter from a non-religious background, and had been Catholic exactly two weeks when she first wrote me.
Her question? Why were the Catholics on her RCIA team so uncomfortable actually talking about God and their faith?
"My RCIA leader is great, and the people on the team are good hearted-- but some can get uncomfortable actually talking about God and their faith. There is a lot of talk about living out Jesus' mission by doing good in the world, loving others, reaching out to people. A lot about how other people will encounter Jesus in us through all of the love and outreach. This is all wonderful stuff and I don't want to put down any of these people in my parish or the real work that they do. But it's not what I want to hear about. If my ultimate goal was only to reach out to others, I wouldn't have had to join the Church.
I want to know how these doctors and teachers and food pantry volunteers actually talk about Jesus and about their Catholic faith while they are doing this work. I want to know how their personal life of faith intersects with the work they do each day. Do the people they work with know they are Catholics? Do they offer to pray with the folks they help? Invite them to Mass?
In the past when I've tried to ask people questions about their individual faith and practices, I've gotten some defensive replies.I talked to my RCIA leader about it and she said that some people are just more reserved than others and not at a place where they are comfortable speaking about their faith. She also said I shouldn't assume that people don't have a strong faith or a relationship with Jesus, just because they can't talk about it.I guess that this means I was coming across as attacking people's personal faith.
I have no religious background and had no religious training as a child, and that I've always lived in an area where most of the people are culturally Catholic. So it's not like I grew up with people handing out tracts and praying in school- that's not where this is coming from. If anything, it comes from my own first hand knowledge that people who keep religion out of the "rest of their lives" don't give a neutral impression of their faith, they give a negative impression of their faith."
I am surprised to hear that life-long Catholics would be stunned by the idea that adults without a religious faith talk about God. The friends I have who aren't part of some church talk about God more than anyone else. That's why it's a negative thing to keep your faith private. All the "unchurched" (I've never heard that word before) are having these intense conversations and if you don't participate and they know you are part of a church, they assume that you are ashamed or unsure of your own faith. I know I have to pray a lot more about talking to these people at the meeting next week. I don't feel I can keep quiet about it. I don't understand what about the question "Do your co-workers know you are Catholic" is so touchy.
It's just when it comes to everyday life, and talking to other people, and how come no one is worried about all their friends and family who've left the church, that it turns into community service and Jesus by osmosis.
Even the priest in my parish who baptized and confirmed me has never really asked why I decided to convert. Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, only once or twice have I had a confirmed Catholic really want to know why. They ask but they want an answer that is socially acceptable, like "my grandmother was Catholic" or "because the parish community is so welcoming." The minute that I say anything less rational, they get a little freaked out.
In Making Disciples, we talk about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Catholic culture where the tacit working assumption is that personal relationship with God is extreme and something that “normal” Catholics don’t talk about. In fact, the Pew US Religious Landscape Survey found that Catholics are less likely to talk about God with other people than atheists.
So what was the “less rational” reason for Michelle’s journey into the Church that “freaked” the cradle Catholics around her out?
Most people assume that it is because my husband and his family are Catholic. In reality, they are practicing Catholics to varying degrees, and most of the exposure to Catholics and the Church that I experienced through them was bad.
I became aware of God's presence in my life because one day I said a prayer, in total unbelief, out of desperation. I was alone in my kitchen, crying, and I felt like an idiot. I promised that if God would help me through what was going on in my life at the time, I'd do whatever He wanted me to do with my life. A few days later I forgot about it.
Then one day, maybe three years after that, life was great, I was walking home one night, and I felt something that I really can't describe. It was peaceful but at the same time I was strongly reminded that I'd made a promise and had been given twice what I'd asked for. That was in the fall of 2008. After that I spent almost all of my free time and energy trying to figure out what it was, exactly, that God wanted of me, so that I could do it.
After all of that happened, the process of being drawn to the Catholic Church happened very fast and it seemed like the entire world was trying to tell me where I needed to be, my dreams, the people around me... Some of the decision was intellectual. I'm an intellectual person. I made a list of things that I felt would help me make a decision and then I sat there with my list in hand, reading as much as I could about different denominations and faiths. I crossed some of them out right away. When I got to the documents of the Catholic Church I was just blown away. It sounds geeky I know, but I went to the Vatican website and read the Code of Canon Law and was totally overwhelmed by how beautiful it is. I was in tears. All I could think was, how much it means to these people that they are in charge of souls.
The other thing that happened was that I had an encounter with the Blessed Virgin. I used to relax myself with this meditation- I would picture a scene from my childhood when I needed an adult and no one came to help me, and then I would imagine myself, as a grown woman, coming in and being the "mother" and taking care of the childhood version of myself. There were a few of these scenes. One of them involved being bullied by some other kids. The way that the mediation was supposed to go (and had always gone before) was that the adult version of me would come in and chastise the other kids. One day I was in the middle of this meditation and I sort of lost control of it. Instead of my adult self walking in, another woman came in, all covered in light, and didn't say anything to the other kids. She took my hand and brought me away. When I came out of it I had a very clear picture of the things in my heart that were keeping me from accepting the call to join the Church. After that there was really no question.
Michelle’s story is a familiar one. The stories we hear over and over from new Catholics from non-Catholic backgrounds can be summed up as 1) their motivation for entering was a) personal mystical experience and/or b) reading; 2) their experience of cradle Catholics was little or no help in the process; and 3) cradle Catholics regard the mystical side of the convert’s journey as “extreme”. There are many exceptions but Michelle’s experience is remarkably common. Michelle continues:
I've found that cradle Catholics assume that I will be judgmental of all of their relatives who have stopped practicing, and of them, if they aren't or haven't always been "perfect" Catholics. The implication is that I had an extreme experience so the obligations and practices of the faith are somehow easier for me and I can't possibly understand how it could be complicated for someone else.
Sure, I just invited all of my extended Jewish family, my secular liberal circle of friends, and my gay sibling to Easter Vigil to see me baptized, so no, what would I possibly know about it being complicated?
Michelle has been talking to some of the other newly baptized Catholics in her parish and found out that she is not alone in her experience:
So.... I have been talking to a couple of them and it seems that I'm not alone in some of my frustrations-- feeling a bit like we got a "soft-sell" on the faith, or that other members of the team were standoffish when talking about personal faith and prayer. I think I am also not alone in having some pretty intense spiritual experiences before coming to the church.
The other thing I'm hearing from them is the same fear of judgment that I hear from lifelong Catholics, only in reverse. I said before, many people born Catholic assume that as someone who converted "out of nowhere," I will hold them to an impossibly high standard and be judgmental.
But what I hear from some of the other people in my RCIA class (especially the ones in their early 20s, is that they fear that people in the parish will judge them on their old lives, if they as new converts ask any questions that will make the older Catholics uncomfortable. So, the scripture facilitator who thinks that the passion and death of Christ is "not her thing"-- if you call her on it, she might remind you of how you used to volunteer with a pro-choice group. The thing is that these new converts are remorseful for all the non Christian things they used to do. They don't want anyone to tell them it's okay that they used to volunteer for a pro-choice group. But they also don't want it used against them. These are young people holding themselves to a higher standard for the first time ever and they just want to know that there are other people around with similar standards and motivations.
I get the part about the higher standard but I have never felt afraid of being judged on my "old life" by anyone in the parish, and I am a prime candidate for being judged on my old life. It seems to me that there is just a lot of fear and vulnerability on both sides that is not coming from a true place.
The irony is that the majority of older Catholics are most unlikely to judge these new converts on the morality of their former lives but new Catholics don’t know that. In fact, most Catholics are so terrified of seeming to “judge” anyone that even raising the topic of faith at all with another person is distasteful because it seems to verge on “judgment” to us.
I am in Tucson, where the high yesterday was an unseasonably cool 80 degrees. Today, we're going to be closer to normal - about 95 degrees. I'm hunkering down working on a retreat for the Religious Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St. Dominic. The retreat begins June 4 and runs through the morning of June 11, so there's quite a lot of work to be done. I'll try to blog as I can, but can make no promises.
Thank you all for your continued prayers for my parents. My father hopes to be released from the nursing center at the end of this week, and will be moving into an assisted living apartment as one becomes available. Mom is doing better today. The doctor has taken her off morphine, which, while it prevented back pain, also prevented her from any semblance of normal life. She's much more alert today, and is showing some interest in living, thanks be to God.
My sister and I took our parents' cat to her new owners on Saturday evening. They are retirees living in Green Valley, and their cat of 20 years died last year. Letting go of the cat was a hard thing for my folks to bear, but they don't allow pets in assisted living, and my mom won't be leaving the nursing center, so there was no choice. It really drives home the reality that life is a series of "letting goes" as we become more and more focused on a life lived in and for Jesus.
Deacon Keith Fournier published a brief article at Catholic Online on the purpose of Pentecost, which he describes as both the birth of the Church and enlivening its ongoing mission. Part of his article focuses on the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church, and is worth quoting. In speaking of the renewal he writes,
That movement is now viewed as one of the several "ecclesial movements" which both the late Venerable John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have called the "finger of God" for the mission of the Church in this age. Good fruit has been borne through all of these ecclesial movements. Though they each have their important distinctives, they also have many commonalities. They all invite Christians to have a "personal" relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, an encounter with the One who has been raised from the dead and is alive in our midst. They call their members to holiness of life. They call their members to live in the Heart of the Church which is to be the home of the whole human race.
They emphasize living a unity of life where their Christian faith permeates their daily work and vocations. They love the Church, recognizing that she is "Some - One" not something, the Body of Christ continuing His redemptive mission on the earth until He returns. They know the missionary nature of every Christian vocation and the real presence of the Holy Spirit and live it. In doing so they demonstrate that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still available for all Christians, in the life of the Church.
I have not traveled much in charismatic circles, but I would say the Rev. Mr. Fournier describes those that I have met accurately. Unfortunately, the renewal is often marginalized in typical parishes, rather than functioning as leaven to encourage conversion. Charismatics are not regarded as one expression of "typical" Catholicism. In some communities with more than one parish, one of them may be de facto the "charismatic parish." On the blogosphere there is tremendous distrust, even disdain, for the renewal among Traditionalist Catholics, who seem to view it as over-emotional, especially in its forms of worship.
I have no doubt that one significant reason for this is that most priests, whether diocesan or religious, were not formed during their seminary years, to recognize the effects of the Holy Spirit acting in Christians and manifesting in the various charisms, or spiritual gifts, that were given by God at baptism. Writing before the renewal existed in this country, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote,
While trying the spirits to see if they be of God, (1Jn 4:1) priests should uncover with a sense of faith, acknowledge with joy and foster with diligence the various humble and exalted charisms of the laity. Among the other gifts of God, which are found in abundance among the laity, those are worthy of special mention by which not a few of the laity are attracted to a higher spiritual life. Likewise, they should confidently entrust to the laity duties in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action; in fact, they should invite them on suitable occasions to undertake worlds on their own initiative. Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 9.
Yet this skill of discernment is still not taught in seminaries. Moreoever, priests themselves are not taught to discern their own spiritual gifts, and thus are often threatened by gifted lay people on their staff. This is a tragedy, because these gifts manifest when people have a conversion and begin to realize that God seeks to offer personal guidance to Christians through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. And, unfortunately, in many parishes, those who had experienced the Holy Spirit at work in their lives did not receive guidance from the Church's priests. The "testing of the Spirits" urged by the author of 1 John (probably because of his own experience of what happens when there is no official oversight), did not happen, and some charismatic Catholics became a bit wacky or eccentric - or mislead by the Evil One who also poses as a spirit of light. In some cases, the gifts that were sought were the more spectacular, like prophecy, speaking in tongues, and healing, and an unintended devaluating of other gifts occurred.
Cyril of Jerusalem, writing to those preparing for baptism, spoke of these gifts back in the 4th century. They were seen as a normal consequence of being baptized. Cyril imagines gifted Catholic Christians transforming the world as agents of the Holy Spirit, each in his or her own way with the gifts they had received.
Great indeed, and all-powerful in gifts, and wonderful, is the Holy Spirit. Consider, how many of you are now sitting here, how many souls of us are present. He is working suitably for each, and being present in the midst, beholds the temper of each, beholds also his reasoning and his conscience, and what we say, and think, and believe. Great indeed is what I have now said, and yet is it small. For consider, I pray, with mind enlightened by Him, how many Christians there are in all this diocese, and how many in the whole province of Palestine, and carry forward your mind from this province, to the whole Roman Empire; and after this, consider the whole world; races of Persians, and nations of Indians, Garbs and Sarmatians, Gauls and Spaniards, and Moors, Libyans and Ethiopians, and the rest for whom we have no names; for of many of the nations not even the names have reached us. Consider, I pray, of each nation, Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons, Solitaries, Virgins, and laity besides; and then behold their great Protector, and the Dispenser of their gifts;— how throughout the world He gives to one chastity, to another perpetual virginity, to another almsgiving, to another voluntary poverty, to another power of repelling hostile spirits. And as the light, with one touch of its radiance sheds brightness on all things, so also the Holy Spirit enlightens those who have eyes; for if any from blindness is not vouchsafed His grace, let him not blame the Spirit, but his own unbelief. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 16, no. 22.
What is also significant is that he indicates that an apparent lack of any of these various gifts may indicate unbelief on the part of the Christian. Perhaps that is part of our problem today - and why, for many, those who claim to have received them are regarded as just a bit odd.
Every Monday, the Most Rev. Gerald Kicanas, vice-president of the USCCB and bishop of Tucson, my home diocese, sends an e-mail memo out to the clergy, religious and lay ecclesial ministers of the diocese. It includes information on where he's going and what he's doing, as well as news bits from around the diocese. He might mention a new facility being built at a parish, a secretary of 30 years retiring from a small rural parish, or point out some good work being done by a youth group. It amazes me that he does it at all, given his pastoral duties, but I am grateful for it. It tells me he is interested in his flock.
Last week he included in the memo some responses he made to questions or comments he had received in the mail from people who were concerned that he and the other bishops of Arizona (Phoenix and Gallup, NM, which includes part of northeastern Arizona) had spoken against Arizona SB1070, the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act" (click here to download a pdf of the bill). I believe his comments in response to those questions are helpful, since undoubtedly many of you are hearing - or thinking - the same things.
There were certain concerns involving the new law and my opposition to it that seem to bother people the most. Let me reflect on some of those concerns:
• You say these migrants and immigrants are not criminals, but they have broken the law. They are criminals. What part of “illegal” don’t you understand?
I am not supportive of open borders. Clearly, our nation has a right to protect its borders. We are a nation that values and respects the rule of law. Illegal immigration is not good for anyone. It is not good for the migrants who pass through our rugged desert at the risk of their own lives. It is not good for our country when we do not know who is crossing our borders. However, the reality is that the great majority of migrants enter our country out of human desperation. These are the people who are caught in the fierce “push-pull” tides of this phenomenal migration. They are pushed by poverty in their home nations. They are pulled by our nation’s need for people to do certain kinds of work. There are very strict quotas for legal entry that do not reflect the need our nation has for workers and the need for people to work. Sometimes, law needs to be changed because it does not reflect the current situation or it is not just because of changed circumstances. Many have said the immigration policy in our country is “broken.” That is what I believe. Comprehensive immigration reform would put into place a system that would allow those who want to work to be here legally to do that work. It would allow our border security to clamp down on drug and weapons traffickers, human smugglers and the criminal network that has developed around the phenomenal migration. This comprehensive immigration policy would replace illegality with a system based on legal presence and legal entry, restoring the rule of law. It would include a program in which workers could come into the country legally to work. It would include worker rights provisions so that those coming here to work are not exploited. It would contain an earned pathway to legalization (not amnesty). This would bring those here illegally out of the shadows, require them to pay a fine and any owed taxes, to learn English and to be gainfully employed as they stand in line for a chance for citizenship. I understand that people crossing the border to seek work outside of our legal processes are doing something illegal and in that sense could be characterized as “criminals” or “illegals,” but yet I wonder if you and I were faced with a preoccupation on how to care for our families would we not risk crossing a border to provide for them.
• The Catholic Church is only interested in this issue to appease Hispanics who make up such a large percentage of the Catholic population.
A core teaching of our Catholic tradition and that of other faiths is the need to welcome the stranger. I have heard this from our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters as well as from members of other Christian denominations. Our Church has spoken up on behalf of migrants and immigrants throughout the history of our nation. We are a nation of immigrants, and our nation has benefited from the skills, ingenuity and hard work of immigrants. The Church does not support “open borders” and recognizes the right of a nation to protect its borders. But, we need also to respect the responsibility of families to find a decent way of life. Pope John Paul II has said that everyone has a right to a decent way of living in their own country, but if that is not possible they have a right to migrate. Our Church has both the right and responsibility to address the moral dimensions of migration and immigration.
• The Church and its bishops have no right to meddle in politics.
Prodding our government to do something about people dying in our desert is not politics. Speaking out about a flawed law is not politics. Bishops and the Church have a responsibility to uphold the moral teachings of the Church and to monitor legislation to make sure that it upholds the dignity of all human life. That is why the Church speaks up about the right to life of the unborn, the right to dignity and respect for people with disabilities, the elderly and the immigrant and any of the littlest and weakest among us. We could not be faithful to Christ if the Church would remain silent about legislation that treats human beings with less than the dignity they deserve.
• What’s wrong with this new law?
My first concern is that is that it can heighten fear and create divisions within our communities. It changes the dynamic of how we live together in community. One young Hispanic student came up to me after our discussion at Salpointe Catholic High School and in tears asked me what I could do to stop the insults and put-downs that she and her friends have hearing since the passage of this law. Furthermore, along with many local law enforcement officials, I believe the law will distract local law enforcement from their primary responsibilities for public safety. It will make it difficult for people here without proper documentation to report crimes and will push them further into the shadows. It has the potential to split families. It could cause economic harm to our state. I know our state legislators pushed forward this bill out of frustration and anger at the lack of response on a Federal level, but that should encourage us to advocate for comprehensive federal immigration policy change.
I will be joining several leaders of faith communities in our state next week to do just that as we meet with members of our Arizona Congressional delegation. We will encourage them to move beyond partisan bickering and get this issue resolved. That will take great political courage, but that is what characterizes true leadership. “Profiles in Courage” should be the hallmark of our elected representatives.
I'd like to share this prayer by Sr. Rina Cappellazzo, O.P., Vicar for Religious for the diocese of Tucson, Arizona. It seems like an appropriate prayer for me at this moment in my life.
Come Holy Spirit
Replace the tension within me with a holy relaxation Replace the turbulence within me with a sacred calm Replace the anxiety within me with a quiet confidence Replace the fear within me with a strong faith Replace the bitterness within me with the sweetness of your grace.
Straighten my crookedness Fill my emptiness Dull the edge of my pride Sharpen the edge of my humility Light the fires of your love within me.
Creator God, from whom every good gift comes, send Your Spirit Into my life with the power of a mighty wind, and by the flame of your wisdom, open the horizons of my mind.