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It Is Normal . . . PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 19 July 2007 08:06
In the beginning, before the Institute, there was . . .the Nameless Lay Group

In the fall of 1993, a group of young adult friends in Seattle (including me, "the other Sherry" and her husband and Mark Shea among others) got together to create a support group for lay Catholics that we called the "Nameless Lay Group" because we couldn't think of a good name. Over time we became attached to being Nameless. The NLG was the most powerful and concrete experience of a Christian community centered around discipleship that any of us have experienced as Catholics.

We'll be drawing upon that experience among others during the up-coming day on Building Christian Community that the Institute is sponsoring August 31 in Colorado Springs. Many of the original NLG gang will be in attendance.

Anyway, Sherry just found and sent to me last night a copy of our initial founding vision or as we knew it, the "It is Normals". What you do think?

Our Vision:
That we would be a Catholic community that nurtures the faith and gifts of lay Catholics, enabling them to become effective, committed disciples of Jesus Christ who have discerned and are living out their God-given mission in life.

Our Values:

1. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to have a living, growing, love relationship with God.

2. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be excited Christian activists.

3. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be knowledgeable about their faith, the Scriptures, the doctrinal and moral teachings of the church, and the history of the Church.

4. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to know what their charisms of service are and to be using them effectively in the fulfillment of their vocation or call in life.

5. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to know that they have a vocation/mission in life (primarily in the secular world) given to them by God. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be actively engaged in discerning and living this vocation.

6. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to have the fellowship of other committed lay Catholics available to them, to encourage, nurture, and discern as they attempt to follow Jesus.

7. It is NORMAL for the local parish to function consciously as a house of formation for lay Catholics which enables and empowers lay Catholics to do #1-6 above.
Formation as Ecumenism PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 19 July 2007 05:30
Fr. Gregory Jensen, over at Koinonia, posted this most intriguing proposal while I was on the road last weekend:

In the past several weeks I've had conversations with both Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians about the possibility of working collaboratively with them. Stated broadly, the goal of these projects would be for each partner to help the other in their respective spiritual formation ministry. So for example, Orthodox Christians would come together with Evangelical Christians and each other to the other their gifts and insights to help strength the other's pastoral care; so rather then proselytizing, we want to help each other minister more effectively to their own members. Why would we do this?

The awfully little secret in the Christian world is that surprising few Christians--of whatever tradition--are intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. This is not to say that people aren't convinced of the integrity or truthfulness of our own tradition's understanding of the Gospel. In fact, I think the less committed I am to being a disciple of Jesus Christ, the more likely I am to be very committed to my tradition.

We all know, among the Orthodox, fervent defenders of Holy Tradition and all things Eastern against all things Western, Protestant and Roman; among the Catholics we have strident proponents of papal infallibility and universal jurisdiction; among Evangelical Christians, we have aggressive soul winners who don't even bother to learn your name before they "share" the Gospel. Unfortunately, many of the loudest and most active among us have not, as the old song says, "decided to follow Jesus." Instead, we have allowed substituted a tradition, an institution, a program, for a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

In my informal conversations with people, this is a fairly widespread phenomenon that cuts across not only traditional and denominational lines, but also is seen in clergy and lay leaders alike. Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Evangelical Christian congregations are filled with that most curious of creatures, the professing, even active, Christian (whether a lay person or a member of the clergy) who has never been evangelized, much less reconciled, to Jesus Christ.

As I have said before in these essays, I think that formal, theological ecumenical dialog is essential. But, and again as I've said before, the vast majority of Christians have neither the competency, nor the authority, to engage in such discussions.

Instead of focusing of these theological and dogmatic issues, the proposed projects reflect a pastoral mode of ecumenical dialog. What can we learn from other Christian traditions that will serve the pastoral care of the people that Christ has entrusted to our care. What can I as an Orthodox Christian learn from Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians to make me a more effective priest? What can I learn from my Roman Catholic and Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters, to help me bring myself and other Orthodox Christians into an intimate, life-giving and dynamic (in the sense of growing, not emotionally charged) relationship with Jesus Christ? And, in all humility, what can I as an Orthodox Christian and a priest offer in return?

I think that Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians need to see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes because of our respective historical and doctrinal commitments, there are painful divisions among us that undermine the very unity we might experience personally. So until our differences are resolved we must bear the pain of these divisions precisely because we are called by Christ not only to respect not only each others' consciences, but the consciences of the different Christian communities within which we stand.

At the same time, we can, and should, look to find the areas where our personal and communal consciences overlap. It may be a very small area. We might be able to have only a brief conversation or offer only minimal suggestions or assistance to one and other. But so what? As St Dionysius the Aeropagite says somewhere, Christians are all vessels of difference sizes, but whatever the size of our own vessel, we are filled to overflowing with divine love.

As I tell my own spiritual children, this means that some of us our oceans of divine love, others lakes or swimming pools. Me? I'm a quarter teaspoon--but that's okay, because some time you need a quarter teaspoon. Try and bake a cake with only a swimming pool to measure out the ingredients.

Granted very little may come of these common projects--indeed beyond the idea, nothing may come at all. But in Christ, very little, or even nothing at all, can become an encounter with God's grace.

What Have You Seen God Do Lately? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 18 July 2007 15:26
A life transformed by Christ is a compelling witness.

From The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends I am currently reading in preparation for our Building Intentional Community Day on August 31.

An excellent observation:

". . .if we don't have current stories of God's goodness to us, of struggles we have faced or answers to prayer, it may be that our relationship with God was more alive in the past that it is in the present."
My Growing Tuscan Garden . . . PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 18 July 2007 11:08

Here's a snapshot that I took the other day of my growing garden. I thought you'd like to see how it was shaping up.

Oops - wrong picture.

I guess it is the Vatican Gardens.

But what you see is what my garden is becoming in spirit.
Fellowship Across Boundaries PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 18 July 2007 10:44
Yesterday was a day in which I got to experience the breadth of global Christianity again.

First of all, I had another long talk with another Orthodox priest about Called & Gifted and Making Disciples and their possible usefulness within an Orthodox congregation. Although I tried to be very clear that both these formation events were written for Catholics and reflect Catholic teaching and experience, he was still very intrigued and felt that there was a lot of resonance between Catholic and Orthodox experience and theology in this area. So we could have several Orthodox priests and some of their students and parishioners attend a Called & Gifted workshop this fall.

Then I had two hours with my friend Natali and she was telling me of stories she was hearing from Independent/Apostolic missionaries and asking my help in putting some of their practices in perspective. Natali also told me of the Turkish Christians whose murder made the news recently.

Both my conversational partners were intentional disciples and it is intentional discipleship that drew us together and fueled our conversations.

Our ecclesiology and experience is vastly different (I had to explain to Natali the whole concept of a cloistered Carmelite community, and the call to contemplation and the long process of discernment that precedes final vows. She was open but clearly puzzled. There was no category for this in her experience.)

But Christ - the Lord, source and summit - was the unquestioned center for all of us and that makes true fellowship possible despite our unquestioned and important theological and experiential differences.
The Cafeteria is Not Closed . . And the Line is Snaking Around the Block PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 18 July 2007 06:45
I got back from Chicago late Sunday night only to discover that Intentional Disciples and my name had been bandied about on several blogs in response to the criticisms of one garrolous individual who seems to have only one topic: the corrupting influence of evangelical converts upon Catholic tradition.

I wouldn't normally pay that much attention to the ramblings of one individual except for this: She is being given a platform in respectable circles. She is currently scheduled to give a presentation to the annual conference of a national liturgical society whose founder currently heads up the Liturgical Institute at the Archdiocese of Chicago. The topic? “Finding Jesus Christ in Prayer, in the Liturgy, in the Church: Catholic Liturgy and the Problem of Protestant Evangelical Converts”.

Hmmm . . . What will we do with a problem like Maria?

Strangly enough, when I met Cardinal George last summer in Chicago (where we were both speaking at the same theological symposium on the parish), he didn't seem to be bothered by my fundie past. As Mark Shea and I walked with him over to the symposium's venue, I described myself as "the survivor of three RCIA's and graduate of none" and the Cardinal roared with laughter. Apparently, he didn’t regard Mark and I as "problems". Nor did he make any attempt to stop us from speaking or from having our presentations published this summer in a national theological journal published in his archdiocese for pastoral leaders.

This woman’s choice of topic is made more troublesome by the fact that she has recently explicitly stated in considerable detail online that she does not hold Protestants in general and evangelicals and Pentecostals in particular, to be real Christians because they lack the Eucharist and the hierarchy.

I have already banned her from commenting on ID at least four times because she would not stop implying or asserting that people who disagreed with her weren’t real Christians and should leave the Church. Now I realize that these comments were not just said in the heat of the moment. That this directly contradicts reams of Church teaching at the higest level of authority apparently doesn’t give her any pause at all.

From her perspective, we do have a problem. Because an average of 160,000 adults have entered the American Catholic Church every year for the past 12 years. That's nigh on 2 million converts and a significant number hail from an evangelical background. We are the only part of the global church that faces this particular situation. Half of these adults were "Christians" coming into full communion, who were, like myself, not conditionally re-baptized upon being received Of course, if we were not true Christians, that would mean our previous baptisms were not valid, and that none of the sacraments we have received since are valid either.

I suppose that if you believed this, the good news would be that so many new "Catholics" are gone within a year. I had always thought this a failure of evangelization, catechesis, and community but what if I'm wrong? What if what looks like apparent failure is actually a rear-guard action by the Holy Spirit, shielding the Church from the consequences of not wiping the mental and spiritual hard drives of converts and installing the latest version of Traditional Catholic 196.2 before letting them loose within the Church? Enough to make one pause, no?

But this situation is only one instance of a reality that is growing. The polarization of the American church had progressed to the point that in the name of a hermeneutic of “continuity”, some Catholics, who are still in official communion, are advocating discontinuity of the most explicit kind. “Catholic identity” = only that which is unique to Catholics and not what that we hold in common with other Christians and a particular reading of “Catholic culture” is held to trump formally defined Catholic doctrine without apology.

As I have noted before on this blog, I attended a meeting last year with a group of orthodox theologians, scholars, and pastors with doctorates, and listened to one very conservative scholar (who was not a theologian himself but very influential man who forms priests) vehemently assert that there was no such thing as "the charismatic dimension of the church". I pointed out that Pope John Paul II had talked about the charismatic dimension of the church and its "co-essential nature" with the institutional several times in major addresses. He just shook his head, unimpressed by mere papal teaching. (This exact same point has been repeated by Pope Benedict)

If fact, he went on to insist that charisms didn't really exist at all outside hierarchical functions. The 481 references to the word "charism" and its cognates in magisterial teaching since V2 and the debates in the Council on the charisms in the context of the apostolate of the laity didn't phase him. He implied that the term "charism" in the English documents was the result of a mistranslation of the Latin word "munus" meaning task or office.

(Since this isn't exactly Da Vinci Code territory - all the Latin originals being readily available on the Vatican website - I went home and looked up 38 important passages in eight major conciliar and magisterial documents where the English translation uses the word "charism". The passages about the responsibility of the clergy to honor, call forth, and help the laity discern their charisms and the passages about the importance of the laity discerning their own charisms. In all cases but one, the Latin original was charismata or some cognate thereof. In one case, the Latin word was the "dones", meaning gift. In no instance, was the word "munus" translated into English as "charism".

It was the theological equivalent of an urban legend. To wit, that a ill willed hoax had been perpetrated on the Body Catholic by the simple expedient of a translation slight-of-hand. A hoax that had been repeated throughout the decades by two generations of translators every time a magisterial document referred to charisms. And no theologian of standing, including Josef Ratzinger, in the only institution on earth which still uses Latin in its daily round, had noticed for 40 years.

(Unless . . . Of course! . . . Tthe Latin editions on the Vatican website have been corrupted by the same band of conspirators. . . . and the originals are buried in an archbishop's casket in St. Sulpice! Wow, this is bigger than I thought. )

Then he insisted that the concept of the "People of God" (a phrase that occurs 41 times in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 106 times in the documents of the Council and 650 times in magisterial teaching since the early 60's.) was no longer valid, having been completely replaced and subsumed by the theology of "communio".
The other men in the group tried gently and then humorously to take issue with him but he was adamant. Privately, several told me later that the whole thing was absurd and inexplicable.

I must admit that I was completely floored. I had just met my first highly placed "conservative" dissenter who wasn't even attempting to make an argument for his assertions. He wasn't thinking critically at all. He was emoting using theological categories. It was as though he was trying, by sheer force of will, to erase large portions of the past 45 years of Church teaching and history.

A truly Catholic faithfulness and a true "hermeneutic of continuity" demands more of us: that we maintain a fundamental trust that the Holy Spirit have never ceased to guide the Church in matters of doctrine - in 1950 and in 1980.

It is about remaining open and grateful for the whole Tradition of the Church and its legitimate development - pre and post Vatican II. True continuity demands that we not try to use one part of the Church's teaching to suppress or bludgeon another part into oblivion in defense of our pet theories or personal preferences. To be faithful, we must embrace Church teaching on ecumenism and the liturgy, evangelization and social teaching.

Faithfulness demands a basic attitude of humility and docility. What is docility?
According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia: Docility is “ readiness to learn from others.” . . When one so perfects nature as to learn willingly from the more experienced, docility becomes part of prudence. In the relations of human beings with God, all are as children, docile by grace to His revelation received through Holy Church.

Alas, some of the children have run away from home. Now some Catholics, in the name of reasserting Catholic identity and culture, have abandoned any pretense of docility and adopted what can only be described as a thoroughly Protestant view of the Church’s teaching. The cafeteria is not only not closed, the line to get in is snaking around the block. Only the menu items have changed.

And those who persist in cultivating a basic stance of docility, of making a good faith effort to be open to the whole of Church teaching and to think with the Church across American ideological divides are being dismissed as openly deluded, duped, culturally corrupt, and the ultimate insult these days: “Protestantized.” Even when most of us are cradle Catholics and have never been anything else.

If that is the new definition of delusion, count me in. Here at Intentional Disciples and the Catherine of Siena Institute, we will continue to make every effort to think and teach with the Church and to foster faith and hope in revelation and that it is living and speaks to the hearts of 21st century men and women.

Our area of focus will continue to be limited – the theology, evangelization, mission, gifts, vocations, and formation of the laity (so don’t expect posts on liturgy anytime soon) but in this area, we will do our best to think deeply, expectantly, and creatively, to pray faithfully, and to teach and share the riches of the Tradition with joy and confidence.
Director of Development Job Available PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 17 July 2007 11:51
St. Patrick Catholic School (Spokane, Washington) is seeking a dynamically orthodox Director of Development to help us advance the mission of Catholic education in full communion with the Church. Working with the Principal, Pastor, and School Advisory Council, the Director will facilitate the planning, execution, and evaluation of all fundraising, public relations, and marketing efforts. Competitive salary and benefits commensurate with experience. Interested applicants may send cover letter and resume to Dorothy Gallagher ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) or 5021 N. Nelson St., Spokane, WA 99217 Attention: Development Search Team

Send resumes or inquiries to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

This job advert comes to us via St. Patrick's where their very sharp, high energy, and creative pastor has been working with us and where some very exciting things have been happening over the past several years.

Spokane is a lovely smallish city (that feels more cosmopolitan than its size because it is a regional center) in a lovely place. The diocese has emerged from bankruptcy and is moving beyond it. If development work and marketing is your thing, check it out.
Muslims Who Become Christian and the Price They Pay PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 16 July 2007 14:52
Fascinating and disturbing article with the first actual statistics I've seen on the phenomena of Muslims becoming Christians around the world and the continued difficulties they face - even as residents or citizens of the US.

Julia Duin writes in the New York Times (July 10) via

Muslims Who Convert To Christianity and The Price They Pay
Daring Leaps of Faith

By Julia Duin
Religion writer
The Washington Times
July 10, 2007

Having just come out of church, they were at an indoor cafe, conversing about former Muslims they knew who were now Christians. Some married into the faith. Some of the converts no longer believed in the Koran. Others said they had had visions or dreams of Jesus Christ. And others felt the Christian message of God becoming a man was more compelling than their faith. These converts face all kinds of dangers for having left Islam: ostracism from family members and friends, kidnappings and even death threats.

"Most of the people who come here start to question the Koran," one of the Egyptians said. "They can read sources not available in our countries, especially sources in Arabic." The government of Saudi Arabia, for example, blocks thousands of Web sites through its Internet Services Unit in Riyadh, including anything criticizing Islam. A Harvard University study conducted in May showed that out of 2,038 sites banned by the Saudis, 250 were religious.

In the West, seekers who've never heard a serious debate on Islam can click on, and Then there's, a chat site featuring discussions in various languages on a wide range of topics. Some former Muslims enter these chat rooms with the intent to convert Arabic speakers to Christianity, including "Sam Ash," a New Jersey hairdresser.

"I ask them to prove to me that Islam is the way to God," he said. "Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life. If you can show I have eternal life through Muhammad, I'll become a Muslim this moment."

There is no lack of people who wish to challenge him, which is why he will not divulge his real name.

"I've been hacked" into, he said, "and you should see the viruses people send me."

Most of these converts keep their new affiliation secret, as Islam considers those who leave the faith to be apostates. According to Islamic law as practiced in countries such as Iran, Sudan, Pakistan and in northern regions of Nigeria, the penalty for changing one's religion is execution. The U.S. State Department has documented numerous instances of religious persecution overseas against Muslim converts to Christianity. What is not so well known are the threats against such converts in the United States.

Some have simply been shunned by their families. Others have been kidnapped by family members and friends, and put on a plane back home. All are reluctant to ask for protection from U.S. law enforcement, especially those converts with Arabic surnames who are leery of getting their names on a U.S. police report. However, there are no known instances of converts from Islam to Christianity who have been killed in the United States for their decision to leave their faith.

Most established Christian denominations are unaware of the situation, as converts attend Bible study groups in their own language or small hidden churches that appear on no denominational radar. No academic research has been done on such converts. The closest figures are those by David Barrett, co-author of the World Christian Encyclopedia, who estimates that within U.S. borders, 50,000 Christians per year turn to Islam while 20,000 Muslims adopt Christianity. Befriending the latter, the men say, is a dicey proposition.

"It's written in their books," one said. "You cannot be a friend with unbelievers."

'Christ in the Koran'

The Rev. Esper Ajaj, the Syrian-born pastor of Washington Arabic Baptist Church at 4605 Massachusetts Ave. NW in the District, concedes that there are dangers to working with Muslims. Situated within walking distance of American University, he gets a fair amount of seekers at his door.

"They want to ask questions," he said. "Sometimes they come to pray here. Then they have a cup of coffee, and I talk to them. Then I discuss the greatness of Christ in the Koran. "We've seen more Muslims in [the 1990s] become Christians more than any time in history. If they are open-minded, it is easy. If they are closed-minded, it is not."

He is writing a book tentatively titled, "Difficult Questions a Muslim Asks" but confesses that "I don't know if I'll put my name on it."

"Look at Salman Rushdie," he said, referring to the Muslim author from India whose 1988 book "The Satanic Verses" earned him a death warrant from Pers ian mullahs.

"One guy called my wife and said, 'Let Esper die.' They could give a person $1,000 and shoot me, and no one would know."

Mr. Ajaj said Christianity is not logical to a Muslim mind that cannot fathom worshipping someone who was ridiculed, then killed. Muslims are divided on whether Jesus even died, and the Koran said Jesus was snatched up to heaven by God before the Crucifixion. Some Muslim commentators think Judas Iscariot or Simon of Cyrene died in His place, and none believe He rose from the dead.

The Rev. Hisham Kamel, pastor of the Arabic Evangelical Church in Temple City, Calif., said the certainty of heaven is what draws Muslims to risk losing family and friends when they accept Christ.

"In Islam, the only way they know they'll get to heaven is if they take part in jihad," he said. But there is a downside of working with converts, said the Rev. Charles Farag of Trinity Arabic Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. Two years ago, he gave one convert, who showed up at his door with a hard-luck story, one of his favorite cars, a 1994 black Chrysler New Yorker. The convert totaled the car the next day, then showed up back at the church, saying someone had tried to run him off the road.

"Sometimes people lie so they can apply for religious asylum," Mr. Farag said. "Then, after they receive help from you, you never hear from them again." The Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to provide details on religious asylum requests.

Sometimes even offering sympathy to a convert brings opposition. One Washington area pastor asked not to be named because of a nearby mosque that has been scrutinizing him. "I have seven Muslims who have converted," he said. "I do not want any trouble."

Ann Buwalda, an immigration lawyer for Just Law International in Fairfax, sa id she's been approached by Pakistani converts who are refugees. One man, "Masih," was working at a retail store in Northern Virginia, she said, when a Muslim co-worker from Pakistan noticed he was wearing a cross. The man asked Masih why he was wearing it.

"I am Christian," said Masih. The Muslim co-worker became angry, called him derogatory names in their native language, shoved him in a hallway and thereafter tried to get him fired and threatened him after work one night.

"He told the security guards at the retail store, so the employer has separated the two," Ms. Buwalda said.

"I worry about these people. I have given him a cell phone so he can call 911 if these guys stalk him. He has informally told police about it but filed no report" because, she adds, most refugees view American law enforcement in the same light as police from their own countries: people to be avoided at all costs.

She tells of another young female convert who wears a cross and who was stalked by a Muslim Pakistani taxi driver in the retail store where she works. Yet another Pakistani woman who converted to Christianity was threatened with death by Pakistani neighbors. "That kind of stuff, it's frightening when it happens," Ms. Buwalda said.

Victor Gill, a Pakistani immigrant who lives in Philadelphia and who leads a ministry called Christian Voice of Pakistan, said converts are regularly harassed in the United States. "The threat is real," he said. "They think they are doing something to earn credit with God when they kill Christians. When John Walker Lindh converted to Islam, his family supported him. But not so for the converts here. The Koran said people who leave Islam must be killed."

Killing converts

Actually, that instruction is in the Hadith, a collection of the sayings of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. It has been enforced in varying ways. Female converts are usually imprisoned in a room - for months or years - as a sort of psychological torture until they recant. As for the men, all the traditional schools of Shariah (Islamic) law stipulate that "apostates" - those who leave their faith - must die. But before they die, they lose all civil liberties. Their children are taken away, their marriage is dissolved, they lose their family inheritance and they cannot be buried in a Muslim graveyard.

One dissident to this traditional interpretation of the Hadith is Taha Jabir Alawani, president of the Graduate School for Islamic Social Sciences in Leesburg, Va. He said the apostate rule was formed in the early seventh century, when leaving one's religion was seen as a traitorous act.

"Mine is a minority opinion," he said. "There's a certain hadith [verse] that said if anyone changes his or her religion, he deserves to be killed. In my research, I found that was linked to some people who were trying to penetrate the Muslim community at the time in Medina. They came from Jewish or pagan communities, and announced they had become Muslims. Then after a few days, they announced they had found this religion to be very bad and they had decided to go back to their religions: Judaism, paganism, whatever.

"The Prophet was trying to stop that kind of conspiracy so he said that if anyone changes from the religion he has adopted, we will kill him. Islamic jurists [ scholars] have not paid attention to [the exceptional nature] of that event. They have generalized that hadith to say if anyone practices apostasy, we should kill him."

Not only has the Hadith been misunderstood, Mr. Alawani said, but the famous Koranic command that there is "no compulsion" in the choice of one's religion has been ignored.

"Everyone has the full right to choose his or her religion," he said. "No one should interfere with that." He is writing a book on the topic but jokes that it should never be released in countries where Islamic law is in full force.

"I should stay away from Pakistan and other places, or I would lose my neck," he said. "Some people living in America even, they don't like those kind of opinions. They will say: 'Don't listen to him. He is trying to Americanize Islam.'"

Some Muslims who convert to Christianity in this country are ordered home immediately, said Samy Tanagho, an Egyptian evangelist associated with Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Calif.

"Last year we had one of the princesses from the Saudi royal family who came with her mother who was seeking medical treatment," he said. "I led her to Christ. It was a huge problem with her family.

"Her faith was genuine. We tried to help her and even contacted Congress to try to protect her. All of a sudden, her family sent a limousine to where she was living and they took her away. She didn't have much support here from Christians, and her family had cut off all financial support."

A California lawyer, who asked to remain unnamed for safety reasons, confirmed this account, adding that a security firm hired by the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles nabbed the woman under the pretext of protecting the royal family.

"Religion and conversion and the royal family; those are the hottest buttons you can push," he said. A call by this newspaper to the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles asking for comment was not returned.

"Another convert I know here who is Lebanese, his family threatened to kill him," Mr. Tanagho said. Hence, he added, when he baptized a Persian woman a few years ago, she asked that her baptism be kept secret.

"Egyptians and Iranians show some of the greatest interest" in Christianity, he said. "They've seen the ugly side of Islam."

Iranians 'feel free'

Unlike the aforementioned Pakistanis, Egyptians, Saudi Arabians and Syrians, Iranian converts reported the fewest repercussions for their faith.

"I've seen some people who've come from Iran to the United States to persecute, if not kill, in order to bring back their relatives to Islam," said Kris Tedford, a Farsi-speaking American who pastors the Iranian Church of Eternal Life in Oakton. "That's not the general rule, though. More people tend to feel freer here."

"Of all the Muslim nations, Iranians are the most receptive to the Gospel of Jesus Christ," said Abe Ghaffari of Iranian Christians International in Colorado Springs, Colo. "They've been so well exposed to the Islamic republican government in Iran and they have a lot of disillusionment with life there and the economy."

He guesses that 7,000 evangelical Christian Iranians live in this country, mostly in California.

"There was one case of an Iranian who became a Christian in New York," he said. "His wife, a Muslim, reported this to their families in Iran. The next thing, the father put pressure on him to return to Islam and even had an imam in New York call him and try to pressure and intimidate him.

"He has applied for asylum here because he knows he can't return to Iran and be safe there. Under the Islamic law, he'd be severely punished and if he persisted in his Christian faith, he'd probably die.

"People here are in danger, including from family members in the United States, who shun them, disown them and deprive them of any inheritance. And their family members still back in Iran get used as hostages."

Mina Nevisa, an Iranian convert who lives in the Los Angeles area, has not seen her family since she and her husband fled the country in 1984. She had just started attending an underground church in Tehran with her 28-year-old female cousin when a police raid on the home of the pastor revealed a directory with a listing of names of secret converts to Christianity.

The cousin was arrested on charges of apostasy and taken to the notorious Evin prison, where she was raped, tortured and then killed by a firing squad. The pastor was also killed. Mrs. Nevisa and her husband fled first to Turkey, then to Spain and then Sweden. While in Sweden, she said, she got threatening letters from the Iranian government. She said she also received threatening phone calls.

The couple fled here in 1998, settling in Northern Virginia and setting up an evangelistic ministry geared toward Muslims. In 1999, she published a book: "Don't Keep Me Silent: One Woman's Escape from the Chains of Islam."

The threatening calls started up again. This past January, Mrs. Nevisa said she was alone at home when a caller informed her he knew her husband was out of town.

"Don't you know we know your schedule?" the caller asked. The couple decided to re-establish their ministry in Southern California, but their Web site leaves only e-mail addresses and post office box numbers with which to find them.

"We got a letter this past Christmas saying 'die' in English," she said. "It's not only the Iranian government that wants to hurt you; it's fanatic individuals."

Muslim Background Believers

At Millersville University, a small college in the gentle hills just southwest of Lancaster, Pa., several hundred Arabic-speaking Christians were having their annual conference.

Several called themselves MBBs: Muslim Background Believers. MBBs are former Muslims who become Christians.

One Jordanian who refused to have his photo taken - "Someone published my picture before and there was trouble" - went by the assumed name of Maxwell Mohammed.

"I go out of my way to find MBBs across the country," he said. "They have no one to talk to. Last week I got a call from New York, an Iranian couple. His family had cast him off because he had become a Christian."

Mr. Mohammed, 53, who said his family has disowned him as well, said Muslim groups meet all over northern New Jersey but in numbers of 10 to 20 to escape detection.

"These MBBs have unique problems," he said. "They become family-less and jobless. I help these people with money, jobs and visa problems. It's hard for these people to find mates as well. Even other Christians wonder if they'll go back to Islam.

"They need a family. It's like they carry a cross their whole life. My own mother said to me: 'Your father is dead and you, too.' If you convert, you are given three days to come back. If you do not, blood is shed."

He added: "It is not easy to minister to Muslims. They are good people who love and revere God. I was one of them, and if it weren't for a faithful Christian who loved me for three years, I wouldn't have seen the light of salvation through Jesus Christ."

Zechariah Ananni, a Lebanese who converted to Christianity in 1975 after hearing an American missionary preach on the streets of Beirut, was also at the conference. Convinced that his life was in danger, he emigrated first to Detroit, then to Windsor, Canada, where he spends his time trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. His wife is so afraid for their lives, she has fled back to Beirut, lea ving him with two young daughters.

A Moroccan at the conference said his married daughters were threatened by their Muslim husbands with divorce if they so much as talked to him about his conversion to Christianity. A Palestinian woman told of how her father tore her New Testament in half when he learned she had converted.

"Noor," a woman from Algeria who was converted through an Arabic-language service at Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, said her husband divorced her soon afterward. A court in Algiers awarded him custody of their two sons. She retains custody of a daughter. "He still bothers her a lot," Noor said. "He tells my daughter I am an unbeliever, and I am going to hell."
Got Perfection? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Sunday, 15 July 2007 06:44
The other day my friend, Daniel, was talking to me about Jesus' admonition to his disciples to "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Mt 5:48) It's one of those passages that's easy to file away in my mind as impossible to achieve (and thus not worth striving toward), or to interpret in such a way as to diminish the challenge. So I can try to understand it as the ancient Greeks understood perfection, which, as I recall from seminary, was for an object to be used in the way it was intended to be used. So, for example, my pen is perfect when I'm using it to write with. In that sense, perfection is doing that which God made me to do.

That means, of course, that discernment is critical. I have to discern my gifts, talents and skills. I have to discern what issues in the world today engage my heart and mind and don't let me go. I have to pay attention to the feedback I get from other people, as well as the input that the Lord is offering me in the scriptures and his Church's teaching.

But even in that understanding of perfection I cannot escape what is, I believe, at the root of the command of Jesus, and that is spiritual perfection. After all, the Father, while the Creator of all that is, including all matter, is not himself material. Ultimately, doing what God made me to do means doing God's will in all things.

Daniel mused, "Doesn't the fact that Jesus command us to be perfect mean that it must be possible? Not on our own, of course, but with his grace? And if it's possible, doesn't that mean that I have to seek after that perfection every moment of every day? And how can that happen unless I'm talking to him throughout my day, before and during every activity, every conversation?"

He began to speculate how often an examen of conscience might be needed throughout the day, and would it be possible to be perfect through mid-morning, or midday, even.

It's sad how easily I can dismiss the hard sayings of Jesus. Yet what am I going to say when I face him at my judgment? "Oh, I thought you were exaggerating! I knew it wasn't possible, so I didn't even bother trying." To dismiss the call to perfection is to deny the efficacy of sanctifying grace, which we are ordinarily offered through the sacraments. For me to not even strive for perfection is to say to God, "You're not powerful enough to help me overcome my sinfulness. You can't make me a new creation, steady my spirit, or turn my stony heart into a natural heart." Sure, alone I can't do it on my own, but what might be possible for God? The angel Gabriel tells Mary "nothing will be impossible for God" (Lk 1:37), and Jesus echoes that sentiment in saying, "all things are possible for God." (Mk 10:27)

It's tragic how much we try to control our environment and the people in it, while we give up so easily when it comes to trying to control ourselves. We get so angry when people don't bend to our will, or when situations, many of which are extremely complex, don't turn out the way we want.

When we were baptized and anointed king (along with priest and prophet) we were anointed so that we could govern, and the first thing we are to govern is ourselves! Yet my refusal to do so is to give into the age-old temptation to demand, "Not Thy will, but MY will be done!"

I don't fear my friend Daniel falling into perfectionism, which usually refers to a need to control my environment ("are the hospital corners on my bed really tight enough?") Nor do I fear him becoming scrupulous, because he is much too secure in the knowledge of God's love for him. If the striving for perfection is grounded in a reciprocal love for God and a desire to please him even more than we already do; if it is rooted in a desire to give him glory through our smallest actions and each word from our lips, then I don't imagine the search for perfection becoming an occasion for self-flagellation or self-absorption. Rather, my failures become opportunities to ask God's forgiveness and patience, and to beg for more grace. It places me in a stance of supplication and dependence, or what could be properly called poverty of spirit.

This search for spiritual perfection, if it is genuine, will not make me self-absorbed, but thrust me into concern for the welfare of others. Not the desire to change them (they are not to be subject to my will), or even to judge whether or not they are seeking spiritual perfection, but into a stance of humble service. I will want to serve others, forgive others, heal others, work for justice for others, protect others, because all these are commands of God.

And isn't this search for spiritual perfection really at the heart of the life of each of the saints we honor and from whom we ask for intercession? Aren't they held up to us as models for imitation by the Church so that we may imitate them? I don't mean imitating the details of their lives, but their desire to please God in all things. These men and women we call "friends of God" became his friends during their lifetime, and through their daily conversations with him and through making his will their own were not strangers to him when their lives ended.

I was challenged by Daniel's musings, but also inspired by them, which is why I share them with you. And just to add an exclamation point to his conversation with me, the reading for that night prayer was just one verse from St. Paul:

"May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness. May he preserve you whole and entire, spirit, soul, and body, irreproachable at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
On The Road Again PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 12 July 2007 09:12
This time to Chicagoland where Fr. Mike and I are training yet another local Called & Gifted teaching team. Joe Waters, a graduate student of divinity at Duke will be attend in preparation for doing his summer internship with us in 2008.

And we'll have the chance to chew the fat with Chicagoland resident and ID blogger Keith Strohm who will be helping us teach our four day Making Disciples seminar at the end of July in Colorado Springs.

We'll be back late Sunday evening and plan to get back to blogging speed (is that like ramming speed?) next week.
Neither Triumphalism or Indifferentism PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 11 July 2007 19:45
Tom over at the remarkable Disputations has a really thoughtful and thought-provoking take on the recent CDF document about what exactly is meant when we say that the Church "subsists" in the Catholic Church.

Much of the commentary I've seen on St. Blog's about the CDF's "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church" has to do with the quality of secular news reports on it. The CDF document itself, it's pointed out, says nothing new, and in fact says:

The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change [the Catholic doctrine on the Church], rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.

Until yesterday, though, my own understanding of the conciliar expression:

"... the one Church of Christ... which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth", ... constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him."

amounted to something like, "Well, you see, the Church erected by Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, don't you know." And my answer to the question, "Why didn't they just say 'is'?," was a variation adapted to time and place of, "Because, on the whole, they decided to say 'subsists in.'"

With yesterday's document, though, the penny has fallen, at least a little.

"Subsists in" comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are "numerous elements of sanctification and of truth" which are found outside her structure....Subsistence accounts for the second-order phenomena of disunity in a way that identity or predication does not.

But wait. There's more.

Catholic ecclesial doctrine -- at least as it's framed in recent CDF documents -- distinguishes three kinds of Christian communities:

Particular Catholic Churches, led by a bishop in communion with the Bishop of Rome(collectively,the Catholic Church}.

Particular Churches with true sacraments that are not in communion with the Bishop of Rome.

Christian Communities that lack a sacramental priesthood.

The Lazy Reporter's Guide to Vatican Pronouncements directs you to identify all the bad things written about the second and third kinds, and indeed that can be done.

With careful editing, we can get:

"It follows that these separated churches and Communities... suffer from defects...."

"... these venerable Christian communities [i.e., Particular Churches not in communion with Rome] lack something in their condition as particular churches."

"... these Communities [that] do not enjoy apostolic succession ... are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church [and] cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'Churches' in the proper sense."

Nothing new here, right?

But yesterday's document also includes a knock against the Catholic Church!

A gentle knock, to be sure, but a knock nonetheless:

On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realised in history.

This, I take it, is part of the development and deepening of the Catholic doctrine on the Church that occurred at the Second Vatican Council. Sure, the Orthodox are hosed up by not being in communion with the Successor of Peter. And sure, the other Christian communities are even more hosed up by lacking apostolic succession and all that implies.

But Catholics are also hosed up! We lack the fullness of universality, the "plenitudo catholicitatis"!

The Catholic Church may possess the mark of catholicity, but she isn't fully catholic in history as long as there are Christian communities outside her.

(The commentary on the CDF document distinguishes "the fullness of the means of salvation," which the Catholic Church has, and "the fullness of catholicity proper to her," which "still has to grow in the brethren who are not yet in full communion with it and also in its own members who are sinners.")

And it's looking at herself in this way -- not merely as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church calling to those Christians outside her fold, as the one who has lecturing those who have not, but as a Body herself genuinely wounded and lacking -- that informs the Church's post-conciliar efforts in ecumenism and Christian unity.

Not a take-it-or-leave-it triumphalism, not a mix-n-match indifferentism, but a true-to-your-proper-nature catholicism.

Oh, and we should never forget that the proper nature of Catholicism has been given to the Church, not by Council or Pope, but by Jesus Himself. As the commentary puts it, "progress in fullness is rooted in the ongoing process of dynamic union with Christ."

I knew this before, of course, maybe even a little better than I knew why Lumen gentium says "subsists in," but something in the brevity and clarity of yesterday's Q&A made it pop out for me.

Sherry's comment:

Tom's commentaries are always worth reading but this is exceptional even for him.

It reminds me of Fr. Michael Sweeney's noting that the Instruction on the Collaboration of the Lay Faithful in the Ministry of Priests that came out in the 90's and caused such a furor, actually represented a development of the theology of the laity and contained some of the strongest language asserting that the entire purpose for the existance of the ordained priesthood was not for its own sake but for the sake of holiness and mission of the royal priesthood (the laity).

So often, we don't carefully read church teaching because we approach simply as fuel for our pre-existing ideological conflicts. Is it "for" or "against" my position? But if we can get past the defensiveness and read in a spirit of faith, hope, and docility, very exciting things start to pop out.

Are Catholics Christian? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 10 July 2007 22:08
Christianity Today ran an interview with Sinead O'Connor, now an aging rocker known for a hit album and for tearing up a picture of JPII on SNL (Saturday Night Live). It will make many Protestants who read the article to wonder whether Catholics are Christian (even though many Catholics would argue Sinead O'Connor's not Catholic).

The interview is about her new album based on passages from the Old Testament and titled, "Theology." I found it another distressing glimpse of a perhaps large segment of contemporary Catholicism that is thoroughly influenced by postmodern attitudes.

Now the term "postmodern" might put you off, but you've experienced some of the basic presuppositions of this worldview. They are, in a nutshell:

- All truth, including morality, is relative; nothing I do is a sin.

- Truth claims are ideological at best and lead to violence at worst.

- We don’t “know” anything, we only “interpret,” so pick a worldview and interpret accordingly, but be “open” to others’ worldviews.

- My personal experience and feelings are most trustworthy; yours are not necessarily “real”.

In our new workshop, Making Disciples, we point out how postmodern attitudes effect Catholics, and Ms. O'Connor's comments are illuminating in this respect. For one thing, postmodern attitudes lead many Catholics to be practical Universalists, meaning they believe that almost everyone - or everyone - is saved by a loving God. They also lead to the relativism that Pope John Paul II pointed out as so dangerous. For the Catholic who embraces postmodern relativism, there are many equal paths to God. There is nothing uniquely salvific about Jesus.

Ms. O'Connor is a case in point - here's part of the interview

Christianity Today: Where do you stand in your faith in Jesus?

O'Connor: I think everybody has an individual relationship with Jesus. I kinda really do believe in this Trinity thing, that God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all one thing. I understand Jesus as being an interceder, someone you ask when you really need a big favor from God. I also feel that Jesus is inside everybody. It's almost like an energy or a thing that lives inside of us.

CT: How about his role as a Savior?

O'Connor: I grew up in violent circumstances [in Ireland, where religious violence was common], and Jesus was a Savior to me insofar that he would make me forget what was going on. But to say that Jesus is a Savior can sometimes translate as, "Unless people know doctrine, they're not going to be saved." I don't believe that. I believe God loves everybody. And at the end of the day every creation of God goes on to God and his love equally. So I have difficulties with the implication that because somebody on the other side of the world doesn't know Jesus, they don't get saved.

CT: So there's no such thing as Jesus being the one way, truth, and life?

O'Connor: I believe that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and that whole kind of thing is one particular energy. If you want a put a picture of a body on it, then fine. But I call it an energy. Some people paint a picture of Jesus. But to me, he's an energy. That energy is the same no matter where you are in the world or whose side you're on. If you call it Allah or you call it God or you call it Buddha, it's all the same. I thing God saves everybody whether they want to be saved or not. So when we die, we're all going home.

CT: So it doesn't matter your lifestyle, we're all going to heaven.

O'Connor: Yeah, I don't think God judges anybody. He loves everybody equally. I think there's a slight difference when it comes to very evil people, but there are not too many of those in the world.

Fones: At Intentional Disciples we are encouraging Catholics to consider the invitation from God to enter into a personal relationship with Him. If God is simply an "energy," it's hard to see how a relationship is possible. It's also true that an "energy" can't really make claims on me or my behavior.

Postmodern individualism also warps the Christian perspective on how we should relate with others. Whereas the Christian is willing to love another enough to confront them if they are doing something wrong or sinful (cf Mt 18:15-18 and, oh, any Pauline letter for examples), the postmodern credo is "I should not interfere in your life; that would be presumptuous and judgmental." Of course, the converse is true as well - don't you dare tell me what to do! Again, the interview gives a stunning example of this:

CT: Listeners of Christian music have a high moral standard for artists in the genre. Are you ready for that part of this industry?

O'Connor: I think everybody knows who I am. I'm not trying to act like I'm a perfect person. I'm not going to be personally insulted if anyone doesn't want to have anything to do with me. If someone turns their back on me because I'm not a perfect person, then it's not my problem. It's their problem. If we're all going to turn their backs because they're not perfect, then we're going to be very lonely.

CT: You have no qualms about swearing or smoking. How do you feel about the prospect of losing the respect of the faith community because of those things?

O'Connor: If I did, actually I wouldn't mind, because I'm trying to be myself. God loves everybody the way they are, that's the way I see it. God made me the way I am. If somebody else doesn't like it, it doesn't matter. I could always get a job doing something else. I don't fear poverty.

Finally, if you read the post from the Barna Group survey, you know that Catholics are more likely to believe that Jesus sinned and God is fallible than the general population. Again, Sinead O'Connor gives an example of this:

O'Connor: God's character is very human; he goes through the whole gamut of emotions that a person might go through.

CT: By human, do you mean fallible?

O'Connor: People often say, "If there's a God, why does he let bad things happen?" We expect God to be perfect, but if we're made in God's image, then perhaps God isn't perfect. And that's OK. But I also believe that partly we are God. We are part of God and God is something that's in us and all around us.

Fones: I feel real sorrow for Sinead. She may not fear material poverty, but there seems to be a certain poverty in regard to her relationship to Jesus. Yes, God loves us - she's right there. We were created in love. But we are also fallen, and left to our own devices and without grace we are only poor approximations of whom God calls us to be.
Catherine Jarrige PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 10 July 2007 22:06
Catherine Jarrige is one of my favorite heroines of the faith because she was so unpretentious,creative, and fearless. Catherine was not a "catechist" in our normal sense of the word - one who teaches catechism lessons to small children. But what do you call a lay woman who created an underground for priests and carried the entire weight of Catholic religious life on her shoulder for several years during the French Revolution. Parish life director, indeed!

Here is an article that I wrote year ago about the charism of service, using Catherine as an examplar.

This July 4, American Catholics will have something more than independence and fireworks to celebrate. It will mark the first celebration of memorial of Blessed Catherine Jarrige, who was beatified last November.

By any standards, Catherine, a French peasant and lay Dominican who outwitted a revolutionary government in order to keep Catholic life alive in a time of oppression, is a remarkable women. But more remarkable is the fact that her exploits seem to have been empowered by a gift that we consider one of the most ordinary and unremarkable - the charism of service.

The charism of service empowers a Christian to be a channel of God’s purposes by recognizing the logistical gaps or unmet needs that can prevent good things from happening, and by personally doing whatever it takes to solve the problem and meet the need. Christians with this charism see what the rest of us can so often miss—the organizational roadblocks and practical gaps that keep good things from happening. They are gifted with a kind of radar that seeks out and anticipates potential logistical problems.

Those with a gift of service are also energized by the challenge of taking personal action to solve the problem they have recognized. These are the people who will set up chairs without being asked when the facilitator of a meeting falls sick, or will spot a vacancy in the schedule of ushers and voluntarily fill in for the missing person.

People with the gift of service really know what it takes to get a job done and are personally willing to do whatever is necessary. Usually able to turn to their hands to most any practical task, servers are the hard-working backbone of any community. They are usually deeply involved in their local parish or Christian community because they find it intolerable that things should not be done for want of a little “common sense” and elbow grease.

Of course, their sense is anything but common. Catherine Jarrige, for example, was shrewd, fearless, and absolutely ingenious. During the French Revolution, all Christian churches and monasteries in France were closed and priests who were caught were routinely executed.

Catherine set up an underground for hunted priests, hiding them in robber’s dens and provided them with food, shelter, safe passage, and false papers. In her region, no babies went unbaptized or the dying without last rites. The entire religious life of the area rested on her capable shoulders for several years.

Catherine also helped restart parish life after the Revolution. There is real evidence that Catherine is still busy coming to other’s aid today. Attending her beatification ceremony in St. Peters last November was a man who had been miraculously healed at the age of six through Catherine’s intercession

I must not forget to mention that Catherine was a lay Dominican as well.
Catholics are Mainstream America PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 10 July 2007 21:47
Please click here to be directed to a sobering report of a random survey of some 4018 Catholics recently conducted by the Barna Group ( that examined 97 different facets of the lives of Catholics (beliefs, behaviors and attitudes), comparing them to national norms. The outcome is disturbing: we are "virtually indistinguishable from people aligned with other faith groups - except in the area of faith."

George Barna, the founder of the organization, is Protestant, and the surveys likely reflect in some ways an evangelical outlook. Nevertheless, they provide useful information, and have been used by Catholic parishes and other Catholic organizations. So taking the report with a grain of salt doesn't diminish my dismay at the results.

According to the report, "of the dozen faith-oriented behaviors tested, Catholics strayed from the norm in relation to eight of the 12 items. Specifically, the typical Catholic person donated about 17% less money to churches; was 38% less likely than the average American to read the Bible; 67% less likely to attend a Sunday school class; 20% less likely to share their faith in Christ with someone who had different beliefs; 24% less likely to say their religious faith has greatly transformed their life; and were 36% less likely to have an "active faith," which Barna defined as reading the Bible, praying and attending a church service during the prior week."

Also disturbing was the fact that in spite of all the attempts at catechesis through Catholic schools, CCD, sacramental preparation classes, and homilies, the respondents "were more likely than the norm to say that Satan is not real; to believe that eternal salvation is earned; and to contend that Jesus Christ sinned while on earth."

If I had hair, I'd be pulling it out.

Barna's assessment at the end of the report is insightful, I believe.

"The history of American Catholics is that of a pool of immigrants who have successfully blended into the native culture. They have done well at adapting to their surroundings and emerging to become a backbone of the community and the national economy. The questions raised fifty years ago about the political loyalties and social objectives of Catholics are no longer relevant in this society," Barna commented. "Yet, the cost of that struggle to achieve acceptance and legitimacy is that Catholics have largely lost touch with much of their substantive spiritual heritage. They retain an appreciation for tradition and consistency, but have much less of a commitment to knowing and practicing the commands of Christ. For instance, the data show that some of their long-held distinctives, such as being champions of social justice, are no longer a defining facet of their community."

"The trail of Catholicism in America is a clear example of culture influencing faith more often than faith influencing culture," Barna continued. "The faith of tens of millions of Catholics is affected by the prevailing culture more than by the central principles and teachings of the Bible. Spiritual leaders who are passionate about remaining true to the scriptures and to Catholicism’s historic commitment to Jesus Christ and the Word of God must address this spiritual drift within the body. If they fail to do so, in the next quarter century American Catholicism could well lose its ability to shape people’s minds and hearts in ways that conform to the historic teachings and purposes of Christianity."

The Second Vatican Council was meant to turn Catholics to the world - not to be assimilated by it, but to transform it through their faith. The problem, as far as my limited brain can analyze it, isn't with the teachings of the council, but with their lack of implementation. The Church exists to evangelize, according to "Evangelization in the Modern World" and to give praise to God through the liturgy. We can't focus on only one or the other without serious repurcussions. We've done just that, and Barna's survey illustrates the consequences.
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