A Conversation so Big, We Named It Thrice. Like so: Community, Community, Community!
Back in November, I was involved in a multi-post, weekend-long conversation (here, scroll down to November 15, 16, 17) at Mark Shea’s Catholic and Enjoying Itabout the critical role of genuine community in nurturing intentional discipleship and stemming the tide of Catholics who leave for the evangelical world.
Dozens of people wrote in to say “me too”. Some were converts from evangelicalism, others just lonely or isolated cradle Catholics struggling to make a go of it alone. Some excerpts:
“Gotta admit, this rings painfully true...I joined the Church in 2004, but since then I've felt very disconnected from any sort of church life, and I've been tempted to just give up and go back to the Episcopal church...
My husband and I were confirmed in a Franciscan parish in 1999, and we still can count the number of people we regard as friends currently at our parish on one hand.
It sounds like our non-Catholic brethren are vastly better at this. So-- someone who's been there, please explain!!! Who, what, where, when, why??? Surely they are just as busy as we are-- yet apparently the singles and the families and the doubtful and the sorrowful all have an active place. How is this done?
My current parish is beautiful and true in its liturgy, but the people there are so cold, critical and judgemental.
Of the four lay Catholics I interviewed last weekend, two were struggling with serious depression. They were serious, orthodox, pro-life cradle Catholics who found it very hard to believe that God loved them which they attributed to, among other things, their pre-Vatican experience as children.
The third was a woman who has been intensely involved with her parish for many years but nearly left a few years ago and gets almost all of her spiritual nourishment from (you'll love this) Joel Olsteen. She told me that she picked me to talk to because she thought I'd understand because of my background.
There is an entire underground of Catholics either heavily involved or significantly involved with Protestant churches or ministries. Bible Study Fellowship, Young Life, Aglow, the local mega church, you name it. I've talked to many hundreds of them, perhaps thousands, by now.
There are two things they mention over and over as the reasons they look to the evangelical world: lack of support, community, and spiritual fellowship in their parish and lack of "being fed" - that is, an approach to teaching the Christian faith that is *directly applicable to daily life.*
As a former evangelical, who finds the same things in the Catholic church, all I can say is I'm struggling too.
Yes, I've spent time in adoration and yes I have received the Eucharist and yes I believe in the Real Presence. But its not the same as flesh-and-blood human beings yu can have group activities with or even just to talk with and share life with. All the theologising, all the philosophizing, and all the poetizing isn't going to change that.
As a former Baptist minister, I can attest to the change in the idea of community we have experienced. Granted, we are only familiar with our own parish, but it is a far cry from what we knew as evangelicals. . . . But we have our moments when we look back and sigh, and think about all those fun and meaningful elements that were tied to such a developed sense of community and fellowship. I would be interested in what is out there to help fill this gap.
It is terrifyingly lonely when you long for fellowship, and find yourself increasingly isolated.
I am one of those who knows "nobody" in my parish despite 9 years of faithful attendance and participation in various committees.”
I(Sherry W) wrote at the time:
I'm struck by the fact that so often we emphasize that God instituted the sacraments because human beings need a physical encounter with God - the sacraments were instituted to give us a truly human as opposed to an angelic way.
And yet, when it comes to relationship, so many Catholics insist that our spiritual journey through this world can and should be angelic - that although God declared at the very beginning "it is not good for the man to be alone" - that really, it shouldn't matter if we are. But relationship too is essential to the human person and to the spiritual life.
We need both. We were created for both. As it is, ordinary Catholics too often feel as though we must choose.
An ad hoc solution that I and a group of friends (including Mark Shea) tried in Seattle in the early 90’s was the famously Nameless Lay Group. Here is my brief description of the NLG followed by Mark’s memories:
That why our experiment with the Nameless Lay Group was so powerful. We had lots of young adults, but middle-aged and retirement age as well. Married and single. Parents of big families (8 kids) and the childless. The Baptist spouse of a Catholic, converts, and cradle Catholics. People from different parishes. Some of us were close friends outside the group but we were truly open to whoever showed up. We even helped a Protestant family in New Zealand enter the Church long-distance!
What united us was intentional discipleship as Catholics and our awareness of the need for *both* formation and personal support (no either-or mentality.)
It wasn't complicated and could be easily copied. So monthly meetings with a potluck and speakers and a prayer time in a Eucharistic chapel, a newsletter, the occasional party, (Epiphany, Mardi Gras, etc.)
After we disbanded (after three years) because certain members of the core team (like myself) returned to grad school, members talked of the experience nostalgically for years as the best experience of Christian community we'd ever known.
The NLM was the unwitting sparkplug of the Catherine of Siena Institute. When Fr. Michael Sweeney became aware of what we were doing, he said that he was finally seeing the theology of the laity in action.
The Nameless Lay Group was a fundamentally lay initiative, undertaken for the express purpose of trying to encourage one another, not in our *feelings* but in our lives as *disciples*. It was paraliturgical in that there was a loose sort of format of (if memory serves) a common meal, prayers (often drawn from the liturgy of the hours and including singing together), a presentation on some topic related to the life discipleship, and discussion, followed by closing prayer.
Attention was paid as well to aesthetics (there was a fondness for candlelight, as my gauzy memory looks back) but much *more* attention was paid to a combination of intellectual and spiritual substance with what is best described as "Christian friendship". We read, for instance, Josef Pieper's book on the Four Cardinal Virtues. We tried to make our needs and struggles known to one another and support one another with prayer and mutual discernment. We were conscious that we were experimenting, but we were equally conscious that we did not want to *innovate*. We were trying to live on the creative edge of the Tradition, rooted in the Tradition rather than in reaction to it as so many post-conciliar experiments have wound up being.
For myself, I can only say that this period of intense creativity, love, friendship and challenge within the context of the Tradition during the 1990s at Blessed Sacrament has left an indelible stamp on who I am. I don't believe in living in the past and crying "O Moment! Stay!" But I will be grateful for that time and those people till the day I die.
We started the Nameless Lay Group in order to pursue *discipleship*, not fellowship. And discipleship, it seems to me, is bound up with mission. We found that as each person pursued their particular work of mission in the world, they grew in a sense of common purpose with one another.
Conversely, when the parish at large would sit down and periodically have a "How can we build community with each other?" gabfest it typically ended as a gripe session where people just talked about whatever it was they felt the parish wasn't doing enough of. It was the difference between looking somebody in the eyes and saying "Let's have a really good talk!" (followed by awkward silence) and two people looking at something they both admire and then realizing, "You too? I thought I was the only one!" (followed by much happy conversation).
Finally, I think it is important to note that mission and witness are intimately bound up with the sacrament of Confirmation. The gifts necessary to the work of mission are given to us in baptism and, particularly, in Confirmation.
The Nameless Lay Group did not give me a sense of mission. What it did was school me in the friendship of God through Christian friendship. Friendship, as distinct from eros, is supremely the love that is the consequence of a shared vision. Eros looks into the eyes of the Beloved. Friends stand side by side looking at something else. You cannot make friendship happen, any more than you can make eros happen. But you can prepare the ground for it and ask God to give the seed. That was what the Nameless Lay Group was, an attempt to "make straight his path" in the hope and prayer that God would then come and walk among us. And He did, for which I am grateful.
During that conversation, I proposed a national gathering here in Colorado Springs to address this topic. And so I want to announce that it is going to happen and we’d love you to be part of the conversation. For more information, go onto Intentional Community: Post the Third.
So, now that you’ve got the picture, here’s what we propose:
The Catherine of Siena Institute is sponsoring a day long gathering on the subject of Building Intentional Community in the Parish in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Friday, August 31 (the day before Labor Day Weekend).
We will be drawing upon some of our experiences with the Nameless Lay Group as well those of other parishes around the country.And we want to hear your ideas and experiences as well.
We will be spending the day (9 am – 4 pm) together at the beautiful Penrose House at the base of Cheyenne Mountain (lunch will be provided) and then end the day (starting at 6 pm) with an evening barbeque at a nearby city park.
This will be your chance to get to know some of our ID team (Sherry W, Fr. Mike, the other Sherry, Kathie Lundquist, etc.).In addition, Mark Shea and his family will also be joining in the festivities!
To cover the cost of lunch and dinner and the other expenses of putting this on, we are asking for a donation of $20/per participant for the whole day.
The day gathering at the Penrose House is an adult only event as there are no child care facilities on the grounds. The Institute cannot provide child-care.
The evening barbecue would work well for families. Cost for adults and teenagers to attend the barbecueonly is $10 and for children under 12 to attend the barbecueonly would be $5.
Colorado Springs has a small, attractive airport although you can also drive down from Denver international Airport which is about 1 ½ hours away via freeway.
Rental cars at the Colorado Springs airport t and local hotels are relatively inexpensive. Mike Dillon in our office can recommend inexpensive local hotels if you need them.
The day gathering at the Penrose House is an adult only event as there are no child care facilities on the grounds.The Institute cannot provide child-care.
There are a number of good day options for those with children.If a spouse or family member would prefer to sight-see with the children, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the highest zoo in North America is nearby.You can feed giraffes by hand – it’s smelly but very cool!
Labor Weekend in Colorado Springs is the weekend of the Colorado Springs Balloon Classic which is wonderful early morning or evening event for the whole family. Notice the clothing we were wearing last Labor Day! Yes, it starts to cool off here at 6,000 ft plus altitude in late August and we have very low humidity and almost no bugs! So if you would like to escape the dog days of August, this is the place.
Inspired by the Flash Intro of another woman speaker posted here on ID, I've labored long and hard to provide Sherry with a suitable introduction for the Catherine of Siena Website (or for sherryweddell.com, for that matter).
So, without further ado, I present Sherry's new web intro:
Umm...I'm going to run and hide now! If there is such a thing as a novena of Mercy, now would be a good time to say it on my behalf!
One of the great joys for me is stumbling upon a powerful piece of music that moves me to an experience of worship and helps me to reflect on my relationship with God and my mission to the world. That happened recently when I encountered the song, Hearts of Servants by Shane Barnard of Shane & Shane.
The song, sung heartbreakingly well by the duo, is a powerful Lenten reflection upon how we are called to have the hearts of servants, imitating Christ who was a perfect Servant to His People. Here are the simple words:
Jesus, You are Jesus, You were Jesus, You will always be a perfect servant to us a perfect servant to death even death on a cross
give us a picture of Your face show us the measure of Your grace reveal the love of the Father put within us tenderness release from us all selfishness we'll consider them better we are Yours give us hearts of servants
If you are interested and you'd like to listen to the song, I have it playing on my MySpace page. Simply click hereand listen once you get to the page.
Mark Gordon is doing a lovely thing for Lent. Since this Easter Vigil marks his 10th anniversary of entering the Church, he is posting daily reflections throughout Lent "on the practices, doctrines, personalities, and moments that have been particularly precious to me during my ten years as a Catholic."
Today: St. Maximilian Kolbe but worth checking every day this Lent.
His first entry: the little lady with lupus. It's a moving story.
"Ten years ago today, as I was preparing for reception into the Church, I decided that I would attend daily Mass during Lent. Because I was unemployed at the time and my schedule, uh, “flexible,” I typically made it to the 9:00 AM at St. Brendan Church. I sat in the same place every morning, about twelve rows back on the left side of the center aisle, precisely two rows behind a woman who, I came to realize, was in constant pain. At the time, I had no idea what the source of her discomfort might be, but every movement was clearly an agony, and though she was relatively young, her progress into and out of the pew was slow and labored, like that of a very old person. And yet, every day she was there without fail, always before I arrived and usually lingering while I walked out the door.
Believe it or not, you can learn a lot about someone just staring at the back of their head. For instance, as the days went on I noticed that this woman did something quite unusual at the conclusion of the Gospel, during the congregational response, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” While speaking those words, she would invariably swivel her head to the right and nod, as if in acknowledgement of someone walking up the aisle. For weeks I attempted to unlock the significance of this movement, which she executed with mathematical precision and ritual solemnity. It seemed to make no sense to me. At first I wondered if perhaps she was merely daft, and whether this motion might just be some sort of mental tic. But she never repeated it at any other time during the Mass, and when I had occasion to look her in the eye I saw a fierce and controlled intelligence there. Then I thought that perhaps it was a by-product of her physical condition. But again, the motion wasn’t repeated during any other liturgical response, even those that unquestionably involved greater exertion. Then I thought that it might be some sentimental gesture toward a seat or a pew, perhaps where a now-dead friend or relative had once sat. But I had no evidence of this, and anyway, she executed the movement in a rather mechanical, unsentimental fashion.
Then one day I connected the dots. Or rather, I connected the direction of her nod with its true destination. I realized that when speaking the words, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ,” she was turning to address the tabernacle. But that’s not right either. No one in their right mind addresses a tabernacle. No, she was in fact addressing the Divine Inhabitant of the tabernacle, Jesus, truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament reserved there. I was thunderstruck. It made all the sense in the world even as it convinced me that though I had accepted the doctrine of the Real Presence as a theological concept, I hadn’t yet grasped it as a tangible reality. While I was saying the words of the response into thin air, this woman, overwhelmingly conscious of Christ’s genuine physical presence in the room, was simply addresing him. And just as no polite person would speak to someone while facing a wall, she apparently thought it rude not to turn her head and speak directly to her Lord.
A few years later I saw this woman sitting with her husband in a restaurant. After screwing up my courage I approached them, introduced myself as a fellow parishioner, and asked if I could sit. I told her the story I’ve just related to you, and I thanked her for the gift of that gesture, and also for the gift of her example as one who, though in great pain, was faithful in even the littlest of things. She wept and explained that she suffered from lupus, and that she didn’t expect to live very long. She said my impromptu visit had given her a great sense of joy, and she thanked me. Sadly, I learned not long afterward that she had died. Although she is gone, her gift to me has persisted, because on the very day I figured out the significance of her gesture, I adopted it as my own. In ten years, I have not attended a single Mass in which I have not turned my head toward the tabernacle and nodded profoundly as I said the words “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” And there has not been a even one time I’ve offered that devotion without also thinking about the little lady with lupus."
I am currently reading a book about my patron, St. Augustine. The book is not new- it was published in English by Sheed and Ward in 1961. As a historical book, it may have been surpassed by other books of its kind based on more recent research. Perhaps someone with more knowledge in this matter can fill me in. The book is called Augustine the Bishop by F. Van Der Meer and it is a study of the day to day life of Augustine as bishop of Hippo Regius. As such, it gives the historical context in which Augustine’s thought took shape. As I read the book it amazes me how relevant it is relative to what we talk about here at Intentional Disciples and I hope to share some of my impressions in upcoming posts.
What struck me as I was reading last night is how reluctant the early Christians were to be involved in civic life, notably in politics and the military. In several of his letters Augustine reveals the reason for this reluctance: Christians were afraid that such duties would necessarily involve them in evil. By Augustine’s time Christianity had become so pervasive in the cities of North Africa that Christians could no longer avoid civic responsibilities. Therefore, those who couldn’t avoid these civic duties often delayed their baptism until shortly before death, hoping that their souls, dirtied through war and politics, would be washed clean in the laver of baptism on their deathbed. This obviously presented a grave pastoral problem, one which Augustine would rise to meet in his wise and erudite City of God, a work whose foremost concern is how Christians can, to use a well worn phrase, “be in the world without being of the world.” This work affirmed that not only can Christians be civically engaged and avoid evil, but that such engagement can be just and virtuous if animated by a life of grace.
The qualms of conscience faced by lay Christians in Augustine’s time are faced daily by lay Christians in our own time. How many lay Christians live and work in situations where there is a tacit understanding that illegalities and immorality are unavoidable and necessary? Moreover, in order for them to fulfill their mandate to transform the temporal order, making it more just and amenable to the dignity of the human person, they need to face these moral problems with a certain equanimity- neither cynically accepting that dirtying one’s hands is inevitable nor abandoning their duty to societal and cultural engagement. Does anyone here have stories of trying to live and work in this tension?
From a CNS article of April, 2006 which I somehow missed and didn't see discussed around St. Blogs. The piece is primarily on Italian Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, president of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples who offered some very interesting observations:
"The face of today's missionaries, however, has changed; they are laypeople, groups of families or religious from a country nearby
The numbers of lay Catholics working in mission lands "has exploded" during the past decade as laypeople fill the void left by an ever-dwindling number of people entering traditional missionary orders
Laypeople and especially local catechists represent the church's "most promising and effective force" in evangelization, he said, because they live the same day-to-day lives as the people they r each out to and are often more familiar with local customs and the native language."
This is a passage taken from the first talk I ever gave to priests, the Dominican pastors of the Western Province. as a still-wet-behind-the-ears Catholic in November, 1995.
I believe that the most effective itinerant evangelists are trained lay disciples whose natural roles and responsibilities carry them among the unchurched every day. But is all this just a another idealistic theory that can never be realized? Is it really possible for lay Christians to successfully evangelize the unchurched ? I can attest that it is not only possible, it is happening right now.
My oldest female friend is currently living in one of the most religious repressive of the Islamic countries. I cannot reveal either her name or her location because it would be dangerous to both her and her family. She is a quite ordinary, middle-aged, five-foot -nothing housewife and mother. She and her husband spent years equipping themselves to be "tent-making" missionaries, that is, Christians who work at a secular profession that enables them to live in a country where no overt missionary work is possible in order that some living witness to the love of Jesus Christ might be found there. She now speaks the language fluently and frequently dons her national dress and goes out to the desert tribes and the outlying villages where she has developed many friendships. There she shares not only goat and spiced coffee, she shares the gospel.
What she does is possible only because she is a lay woman - no "official" missionary, no pastor, priest or nun would be allowed into the country. My friend is supported in her efforts not just by her husband but by her local Protestant congregation back home in the States. But when I tried to tell her story in a magazine article on lay vocation, the editor of a national magazine for committed lay Catholics told me to take it out. "None of our readers could hope to aspire to such a ministry" he said.
11 + years later, my friend is still living her life of witness in the Muslim world and there are thousands more "unofficial" but intentional lay witnesses like her all over the world.
Would an editor of a magazine for lay Catholics today tell me that "none of our readers could hope to aspire to such a ministry? What do you think?
Here's an ambitious initative from a group of parishes in Ventura, CA - a Lenten University. More than 70 courses for adults offered at various locations over Lent. Scroll up a little to click on the calendar link on top to see the whole schedule.
This is the most ambitious Lenten education offering I've ever come across. And some of the speakers are big names: Sr. Helen Prejean, Cardinal Mahoney, etc.
Nearby ID readers may want to participate. But it can also inspire us.
Is your parish doing something related to adult formation that is especially creative or significant this Lent? Share it with the rest of us.
Catholics have a wonderful theology of the secular mission of the laity but once again, evangelicals are way ahead in practice. There is an enormous, booming marketplace ministry emphasis in the evangelical world and the International Coalition of Workplace Ministries is a great place to check it out.
The ICWM is impressive with a directory of over 1,300 Christian groups that are seeking to integrate faith and work, with links to newsletter and devotionals, ministries and organizations all devoted to the subject of the Christian in the workplace. And pretty ordinary businesses run by Christians who are serious about living their faith in the marketplace.
I haven't been able to make my way through all 1,300 groups but the vast majority seem to be evangelical. There is a fairly strong Pentecostal/Independent flavor to some of the allied organizations.
I haven't seen any Catholic groups in the list yet but they may well be there.
Anyone know any comparable Catholic ministries or groups other than lay movements?
Several people have asked, are the vision and skills that you would learn at this summer's Making Disciples transferable to Newman centers, and many other pastoral settings outside RCIA and the parish?
The skills involved?
It's all about Do Ask, Do Tell.
The fundamental topics will include:
How to recognize pre-discipleship levels of spiritual development.
· How personal faith “releases” graces that transform lives.
· How to respond pastorally and effectively to people at different levels of spiritual maturity.
· How to ask questions and facilitate discussion that encourages participants to freely share (and discover!) their real beliefs and issues and move closer to discipleship.
· How to clearly and effectively share the basic kerygma.
· How to help someone who is ready actually become an intentional disciple
In fact, one of our goals is to help all kinds of Catholics, whether in leadership or not, become comfortable with and skilled at asking where people are in their relationship with God, at listening well, respectfully, and prayerfully, and at articulating the basics of the gospel in a way that invites intentional discipleship.
A culture of intentional discipleship is built and reinforced by many inputs by many people. If many people in our parishes, Newman centers, schools, or other groups were ready and able to do this, it would reinforce and maximize the impact of whatever other evangelization efforts were underway: retreats, missions, homilies, small Christian communities, adoration, Bible or catechism studies, RCIA, etc.
In the comments of Fr. Newman's blog, Dionysus asks the following question about the Principles of Evangelical Catholicism:
You mention that these principles help guide your pastoral pratice. How would you say it leads you to do things differently than they are done in other parishes?
Fr Newman's response is enlightening, and I'd like to highlight it here:
The rubber meets the road at the preparation for and administration of the sacrametns, especially Baptism, Confirmation, First Communion, and Marriage. We do not administer these sacraments to strangers, which means that those who ask for them must truly be active members of our parish and give evidence that they understand the moral duties imposed on those who receive these sacraments. There was a time in the Church's history when we could responsibly give these sacraments almost simply because they were requested, and this condition obtained because of the vigor of Catholic culture and Church life.
That is no longer the case, and so our sacramental practice must be adjusted to the new reality....something much close, I suspect, to the discipline of the Early Church.Failing to adjust our discipline of the sacraments in the face of a neo-pagan culture results in millions of what I called "baptized pagans", meaning those who have received the sacrament without receiving the Gospel. This is one of the reasons why 75 to 90% of the baptized in the First World no longer attend Mass, and this must stop if we are to bring about real conversion in those who are called by Christ in the sacraments to follow Him in the Way of the Cross. The sacraments work ex opere operato, yes, but they are not magic. Each sacrament is a mystery of faith, and absent real faith in those receive the sacraments, superstition is more often the result than authentic Christianity. Evangelical Catholicism is one response to the challenge posed by this trend in our time.
Here is an example of a priest who understands the pastoral role of governance and focuses on the creation, formation, andnurturing of intentional disciples as a pre-requisite for embracing the Church's mission to the world.