I don't see eye to eye with all of Dr. Jeff Mirus' projects, but this particular column of his is, I think, bang on. Read the whole thing. Here is a chunk of it, with some of my own emphasis added:
...I think it is time to bring to the fore what classical apologists have generally regarded as merely a preparation for apologetics: a consideration of the impediments to faith. Such impediments are all the intellectual, emotional, cultural and psychological factors, both conscious and subconscious, which make it impossible for a given person to genuinely consider the Christian message. It seems to me that the modern world is so tilted against faith, and in so many different ways, that this problem of clearing the impediments must now be the greater part of apologetical work.
Essentially, the effort to clear away the impediments to faith is the effort to determine why a given person or group simply doesn’t take the arguments for the truth of the Catholic Faith seriously. They aren’t interested, or they’re uncomfortable, or they “know” the arguments are absurd, or they just can’t relate to all this talk about the soul, truth and God. The question is, why? And how can the apologist overcome these impediments so that the person or group in question really hears what he has to say?
We Have Issues
Some of the impediments are universal in every age. Human pride, with its refusal to serve, always undermines the virtue of religion. (...) It is hard to be open to God when we’re in denial about ourselves.
Other impediments arising from attachments are similarly universal. We have a great capacity for material enjoyment which we often find difficult to transcend. If we do think about turning toward God, it always seems that we must relinquish control; there is an element of risk which deters us. Worse, when we have given ourselves up to this or that vice, we become enslaved. Our own bad habits make it very hard to open ourselves to God. Universal as all these issues are, I think it is fair to say that modern culture exacerbates nearly every one of them by specifically reinforcing all the wrong attitudes, feelings and attachments.
For example, it is difficult to conceive of a period in history so preoccupied with the tangible as to essentially deny the existence of anything that cannot be measured. It is also of the essence of the “modern” outlook that the new is always better than the old, which engenders a disdain for traditional beliefs and values. In many other cultures, tradition has been a chief means of inculcating a healthy regard for the supernatural. The modern era also boasts a distinctively false idea of freedom, which is always defined as an absence of restraint rather than a perfection which leads to the fulfillment of potential. Finally, for a variety of reasons, the modern period is intensely relativistic. The lack of comprehension of absolutes is certainly an impediment to faith.
And That’s Not All
You may think that’s a lot of impediments, but we’re just getting started. Consider the prejudices most people grow up with in the modern world. Many are taught by their parents, and all of us are taught by the mass media, that religion is silly, weak or dangerous. Nearly all of us grow up infected by the prejudice of liberalism—that is, the notion that legitimate authority is either untrustworthy or non-existent. Politically, we’re all very committed to democracy and, whatever else may be said for democracy, it tends to foster excessive individualism and the notion that everyone’s ideas are equal. All of this creates a tremendous peer pressure against commitment to any absolute value or belief system. Even when we don’t reject such systems from within, we refuse to embrace them for fear of looking foolish to the world.
Then there are all the distractions common to humankind which we’ve also raised to new heights in modern times. Consider the tremendous press of modern affairs, the unrelenting rapidity of the pace of life, the difficulty of finding a quiet space and, because of the ubiquity of attractive entertainments, the difficulty of even wanting to find a quiet space. We are so full of commotion that we scarcely know what to do without it. Sometimes we are actually afraid to be without it. Under these circumstances, how hard it is to “be still and know that I am God!”
The Final Mystery
As if all this did not make the apologist’s task sufficiently difficult, we know from Scripture that God rarely makes Himself known to those who lack the correct disposition. A passage from the Book of Wisdom, which I recently quoted in my blog, is well worth repeating in this context:
Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth, think of the Lord with uprightness, and seek him with sincerity of heart; because he is found by those who do not put him to the test, and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him. For perverse thoughts separate men from God, and when his power is tested, it convicts the foolish; because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, nor dwell in a body enslaved to sin. (1:1-4)
For all these reasons, it may be time to take up apologetics again with a new emphasis on the impediments to faith. It may be time to attempt to clear away the intellectual, social, cultural, psychological and personal debris which prevents people from seeing things as they are. Instead of initially offering arguments for the Catholic Faith, we might better start by challenging fundamental assumptions and urging others to question the very things they take most for granted.
This moving Youtube worship video features the music and voice of Robin Mark of Belfast. His recording "Revival in Belfast" become an international phenomenon in 1999.
Robin Mark has been worship leader for 20 years at a evangelical church in Belfast that has made a point of seeking to bridge the gap between Catholics and Protestants that led to many years of the "Troubles". Mark's second album, Come, Heal This Land was recorded at St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh.
Sherry's note: I'm completely stymied by the fact that the you tube video below seems to have vanished even though the HTML is still there. I knew I had an anti-charism in this area but this is . . .hmmm. Any suggestions?
Now suddenly and mysteriously it has returned. I'm going to bed before my terrifying unconscious powers bring down the entire internet.
There was a simply glowing review of a new biography of the great lay Christian and abolitionist, William Wilberforce, in the London Times Sunday. It captures the reader from the first paragraph:
At 4am, on February 24, 1807, the House of Commons voted by 283 to 16 for the second reading of a bill to abolish the British slave trade. In an almost unprecedented gesture, nearly the entire house rose to cheer one of its members who, for two decades, had been ignored, abused or violently opposed for making the promotion of this measure his life’s work.
William Wilberforce, the Yorkshire MP, was “completely overpowered by my feelings” and sat with tears streaming down his face. His campaign had been extraordinary. He made himself perhaps the most influential back-bencher in British parliamentary history. A remarkable man espoused a great cause to the point of obsession, and thereby achieved greatness for himself.
The reviewer sums it up:
But the author has produced a splendid read, for which he deserves the utmost credit. He tells Wilberforce’s story with such enthusiasm and narrative skill that, in this bicentennial year, his book seems assured of bestsellerdom. I put it down liking Hague as much as I was moved by his tale, one of the most remarkable in British political history.
Makes me want to run to Amazon.com and buy a copy!
The Catholic Church is not a duty-free assembly of free-thinkers. Neither is it a group of people who loyally follow their conscience. Every person has to do that.
A Catholic is someone who believes Christ is Son of God, accepts His teachings and lives a life of worship, service and duty in the community. Catholics are not created by the accident of birth to remain only because their tribe has an interesting history.
Philip Jenkins has a nice essay in Foreign Policy this month on the state of European Christianity. As most readers know already, Jenkins does not believe that Europe is on the verge of being overrun by Islam as some fear.
He makes a memorable point:
But this does not mean that European Christianity is nearing extinction. Rather, among the ruins of faith, European Christianity is adapting to a world in which its convinced adherents represent a small but vigorous minority.
In fact, the rapid decline in the continent’s church attendance over the past 40 years may have done Europe a favor. It has freed churches of trying to operate as national entities that attempt to serve all members of society. Today, no church stands a realistic chance of incorporating everyone. Smaller, more focused bodies, however, can be more passionate, enthusiastic, and rigorously committed to personal holiness. To use a scientific analogy, when a star collapses, it becomes a white dwarf—smaller in size than it once was, but burning much more intensely. Across Europe, white-dwarf faith communities are growing within the remnants of the old mass church.
Perhaps nowhere is this more true than within European Catholicism, where new religious currents have become a potent force. Examples include movements such as the Focolare, the Emmanuel Community, and the Neocatechumenate Way, all of which are committed to a re-evangelization of Europe. These movements use charismatic styles of worship and devotion that would seem more at home in an American Pentecostal church, but at the same time they are thoroughly Catholic. Though most of these movements originated in Spain and Italy, they have subsequently spread throughout Europe and across the Catholic world. Their influence over the younger clergy and lay leaders who will shape the church in the next generation is surprisingly strong.
Similar trends are at work within the Protestant churches of Northern and Western Europe. The most active sections of the Church of England today are the evangelical and charismatic parishes that have, in effect, become megachurches in their own right. These parishes have been incredibly successful at reaching out to a secular society that no longer knows much of anything about the Christian faith. Holy Trinity Brompton, a megaparish in Knightsbridge, London, that is now one of Britain’s largest churches, is home to the amazingly popular “Alpha Course,” a means of recruiting potential converts through systems of informal networking aimed chiefly at young adults and professionals. As with the Catholic movements, the course works because it makes no assumptions about any prior knowledge: Everyone is assumed to be a new recruit in need of basic teaching. Nor does the recruitment technique assume that people live or work in traditional settings of family or employment. The Alpha Course is successfully geared for postmodern believers in a postindustrial economy.
Alongside these older Christian communities are hugely energetic immigrant congregations. On a typical Sunday, half of all churchgoers in London are African or Afro-Caribbean. Of Britain’s 10 largest megachurches, four are pastored by Africans. Paris has 250 ethnic Protestant churches, most of them black African. Similar trends are found in Germany. Booming Christian churches in Africa and Asia now focus much of their evangelical attention on Europe. Nigerian and Congolese ministers have been especially successful, but none more so than the Ukraine-based ministry of Nigerian evangelist Sunday Adelaja. He has opened more than 300 churches in 30 countries in the last 12 years and now claims 30,000 (mainly white) followers.
"White Dwarf" Christianity as a metaphor for intentional discipleship. I like it!
Catholic marriages in Boston plummeted 61 percent in the past 20 years, going from 12,314 in 1984 to 4,820 just two years ago, according to a church document circulated by a member of an important archdiocese planning group.
The document says the church’s marriage rate is dropping more than the national average.
Terrence C. Donilon, an archdiocesean spokesman, said the church has launched a long-term effort to revitalize parish life and increase Mass attendance, marriages and baptisms. “The glass is more than half-full,” said Donilon.
The document, which Donilon called “unofficial,” points out that evangelical Christians and Mormons have success in committing teens to their faith, while evangelization is a “low institutional priority” for the Catholic Church.
“There is a disconnect between what youth believe about God, themselves, their lives and their behavior,” the document said.
There are so many ramifications of our failure to evangelize. This is only one of them.
If you've been dying to try your hand at comedy spoof news writing, check out this blog: Spoof.
Here's a sample built upon President Bush's much publicized mistake when he responded "yes, sir" instead of Yes, Your Holiness" to Pope Benedict the other day.
President Bush drew gasps at the Vatican on Saturday by referring to Pope Benedict XVI as "Mr. Pope" instead of the expected "His Holiness," according to reporters.
When the pontiff asked him if he was going to meet with officials of the lay Catholic Sant'Egidio community at the US embassy during his visit, the US leader was heard to say, "Mr. Pope, sounds like a plan."
In addition, the President apparently greeted a cardinal in the corridor with, "Nice robe. How's it hangin'?"
White House spokespersons have refused to comment on the President's casual vernacular except to say that George W. Bush has always been a man of the papal.
Yes, its pretty bad - but could you do better? Anyone want to share a bit of their comedy writing with us? (Keep it clean!)
If you live in the diocese of Stockton, California or in Chicagoland, this is your opportunity to attend the Called & Gifted workshop. We're expecting something like 500 Catholics and other Christians to attend these two workshops but there is always room for you!
The Modesto workshop will be held at St. Joseph the Worker parish where Mary Sharon Moore from Eugene and Mark Egbert of Colorado Springs will be teaching.
Chicagoland folks can travel to Bloomingdale where Keith Strohm (of Intentional Disciples and Chicago) and Barbara Elliott of Houston will be teaching at St.Isidore church with the able assistance of Brenda Jasinski of Wisconsin.
Please call the respective parish office beforehand and let them know that you and your friends are coming so they have some idea what numbers to prepare for.
Meanwhile, Fr. Mike and I will be training a parish-based Called & Gifted team in Santa Clarita, CA (LA) at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church while Mark Cesnik of Tucson will be training gifts discernment facilitators in Libertyville, IL for St. Joseph parish.
Prayers much appreciated for traveling mercies for all and for the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of all who attend and teach!
It takes place July 14 - 22 off the coast of Ireland aboard the Next Wave, a gaff rigged sailing ship that can handle 52 passengers. Ages 17 - 30 are welcome. Pass the word to young adults you know who might be interested. Here's a brief ">You tube video.
I love the water and it sounds so wonderful but even if I was still a twenty something, I'd be puking the minute the boat hit open water.
They also serve who can only sit on the shore and wave as the sailor-apostles sail by . . .
He's rough. He swears. He dresses like he's at a Harley Rally. He hunts down criminals. And he is one of the most effective apostle for Jesus Christ that I have ever seen.
Duane "Dog" Chapman is an ex-con once imprisoned for murder (the group he ran with killed someone) whose life ws transformed by the Gospel of Christ. He's now a rough and tumble bounty hunter (with his own show on A&E) in Honolulu who chases down criminals who have escaped from the police or jumped bail. By all accounts, he's captured over 6000 fugitives.
The thing is, I've watched his show now for several weeks, and I'm stunned at how vicious he is in catching the criminals, and then how much he treats them with respect and, even, love, once he has captured them. I stare in amazement at the tv as, more often than not, these strung out, hardened criminals begin to respond to Dog's presence, his love. They soften up, revealing the human person beneath their hardened exterior.
I suspected, after watching several episodes, that Dog doesn't just drop these guys in jail and then take off. After going to his website, I found out my suspicions were correct. In many cases, he mentors these folks when they come out, helping them stay out of trouble and rehabilitate their lives. In fact, Dog likens his relationship to these criminals and convicts to being a father.
If you are interested in seeing Christianity in action, tune in to his show, Dog the Bounty Hunter. But don't expect images and dialogue that resembles Touched By An Angel. This is Christ in a very distressing disguise.
I just returned home to Tucson after about seven weeks on the road, only to find my mailbox on the corner of Cherry and 2nd Street crammed with junk mail. Much of it was from the "Tucson Shopper," my nemesis. I've called four times to beg them to take me off their mailing list. All four times the person I spoke with dutifully took my name and address. All four times, nothing happened. The coupons, advertisements and Tucson Shopper newsletters kept arriving with the regularity of Halley's comet.
Only much, much, more frequently.
Today I stopped by the Post Office to get some stamps. I took along as exhibit A the grocery bag of Tucson Shoppers that had accumulated in my mailbox.
The woman at the post office was polite. "I'm sorry, Father, we have to deliver that mail. They pay for it."
"I don't want it. I never asked for it. I'm seldom home, and it makes it difficult for the mail delivery agent to give me my real mail."
"Well, you could put a hold on your mail every time you leave town for awhile."
"Could I call the Better Business Bureau, instead?"
"Yes, that might work." (I could tell she was skeptical)
"Here's something you might try." She handed me a slip of paper. It was obviously a photocopy of a copy of a copy of a copy of the Holy Grail of beleaguered junk mail recipients.
Here's what was printed on it:
"Customers wishing to reduce the amount of marketing mail they receive may write to the Direct Marketing Association Preference Service, which is independent of the Postal Service, to express this desire.
Mail Preference Service Attn: Dept. 13509534 Direct Marketing Association P.O. Box 282 Carmel, NY 10512"
With great satisfaction, I fired off a polite, yet firm, request to reduce my junk mail, dropped it in the mailbox, and walked away satisfied that not only was I saving the forests of Oregon, I was reducing my own frustration at having to carefully sort through the Tucson shopper newsletters to make sure none of my real mail was stuck between its pages. I want to believe my direct marketing mail problems are over.
Then a thrill of horror sent a shock of adrenaline through my body.
What if the Postal Service and the Mail Preference Service are actually part of a massive conspiracy? I mean, I just sent my address and name to the agency in charge of direct marketing! What if I had just guaranteed that every direct marketer in the country now has access to my small, corner mailbox? What if I start getting the Phoenix Shopper, the Tombstone Shopper, the Dusseldorf Shopper, the Shanghai Shopper, and more?
Is there the equivalent of the Protected Witness program for the recipients of junk mail?
Or perhaps the FBI is in on the scam with the Postal Service and the Mail Preference Service. Fox Mulder was right. Trust no one.
From the beginning, however, my encounter with what I have called "dynamic orthodoxy" has been occasionally darkened by the shadow of doctrinaire Catholics who hold all the "right" positions and say all the "right" things, yet exhibit an angry, sour attitude that seems the opposite of Christian joy or an evangelizing spirit.
They do not so much engage culture as demand its unconditional surrender, and they take greater satisfaction in elaborating on sin and its punishments than on the beauty of the Savior. They tend to be all Inferno and little Paradiso.
Catholics can't generally afford the luxury of being misunderstood; our mission is to make disciples of all nations, which we can only do by balancing Paradiso and Inferno in public.
What good is a heart full of joy if the only thing others ever see is bitterness? And by what others see, I mean what actual people actually see, not what they would see if they followed you around and listened in on your private conversations and prayers. If my public blog presents a different personality than my private speech, then I lack integrity; my joy and my [let's stipulate it as righteous] anger are dis-integrated, and therefore a poor reflection of the One God.
You see, then, what this means for the external/internal distinction. If I am more or less internally integrated, then I should make sure my external acts reflect this.
Oh, and we can also distinguish between integrity and balance. I might have an 80/20 balance of Paradiso/Inferno, but if I do it by being all Paradiso 4 days out of 5, and all Inferno the other day, then I'm not integrated. If I were integrated, then no matter how you sliced me, you'd get the same balance.