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John Allen on Chiara Lubich PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 17 March 2008 08:33
John Allen has an excerpt up from an interview he did with Chiara Lubich, the founder of Foccolare, who died on Friday.

I enjoyed this telling exchange:

In comments to the press afterwards, Lubich revealed that she had once asked John Paul II over lunch if he was comfortable with a woman being president of a major international Catholic movement (the Focolare constitution actually requires that the president be a woman). Magari! was the pope’s Italian response, roughly the equivalent of “Are you kidding?” He was content with the arrangement, Lubich said, because he believes in what Catholic theologian Hans von Balthasar described as a balance between the “Petrine” and “Marian” principles in the church, between the hierarchical and the charismatic.
WYD: the Holy Spirit and Missions PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 17 March 2008 08:07
120 days till World Youth Day in Sydney.

And via Zenit comes this announcement regarding the theme of WYD catechesis: The Holy Spirit and Missions

On Wednesday, July 16, bishops will guide youth in learning about the call to live in the Holy Spirit, drawing from Galatians 5:25. The following day, youth will consider the Holy Spirit as the soul of the Church, as explained in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Friday, July 18, will be focused on the theme of World Youth Day, taken from Acts 1:8. That day's catechesis will highlight the Holy Spirit as the principal agent of mission.

Sounds fabulous.

It is going to be very exciting to have the Catherine of Siena Institute playing a part even through neither Fr. Mike or I will be present. Our Australian team will be offering a series of short presentations on charisms and discernment at the Youth Expo and will also be representing us at two booths (Dominican and Archdiocse of Melbourne) at the Vocation Expo.

The WYD organizing team has announced that they are expecting 125,000 overseas visitors, despite the very high value of the Australian dollar. More visitors will come to WYD than to the 2000 Olympic Games. 21,000 are expected to come from the US.
Palm Sunday Weekend PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 17 March 2008 07:16
Palm Sunday weekend at the top of the continent. I haven't been able to go up since Christmas.

Snow piled everywhere. Every home in Leadville had a minimum of 6 feet of snow in front, barring doors, framing tunnel-like driveways, burying brightly colored fences. Which was impressive until you caught a glimpse of the real piles.

8, 10, 12, 16 feet high looming over trucks and in every available open lot where the city has moved a season's worth of snow. Pure powder heaped upon grey stone-like cliffs of old snow.

I don't think I want to hang around until the thaw. I can't imagine what is like when it all begins to melt. The Arkansas River which begins outside Leadville was already looking pretty high. It will be a great white water rafting season this June.

Hiked up to the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse along the snowshoe trail. The Cookhouse is unique - in winter you can only reach it by snowshoe or Nordic ski (or snow mobile for the less athletically inclined). A mile of schlussing - mostly uphill - earns you a fantastic gourmet meal in a 10, 600 ft high yurt without running water or electricity but with stunning views.

I didn't eat this time but wanted to see how arduous the trail might be and to judge whether any of my lowland friends could make the trip. The answer: I'm dreaming of snowmobiles for the flatlanders.

Also went snowshoeing along the Continental Divide - on one of those classic high country winter morns - azure skies, mounds of powder snow almost concealing swift-running creeks, forests of pine and spruce, utter silence.

The sort of Palm Sunday weekend I never dreamed of before moving here.

It is also snowy in the lowlands (6,700 feet) this morning but we are supposed to reach 60 later this week. Our spring showers come in white. But, our bulbs, like the power of the resurrection, are already making their presence known as we move into Holy Week.

More blogging in a bit.
Spring Wonderland? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 14 March 2008 07:25
Yesterday, I watered trees, perennials, and lawn and saw my first two bulbs pushing up. Around here you only plant the hardiest of the hardy. I get mine from High Country Gardens of Santa Fe which has the same altitude and climate as we do and specializes in tough and hardy plants for the mountain and arid west.

Good thing. This morning, it's a winter wonderland outside and snowing hard.

Welcome to early spring (late winter?) in the Rockies. March is our snowiest month - and it's wetter snow, not the stuff that you can sweep away with a broom like frozen powdered sugar.

Beautiful though.
Focolare and Community PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 14 March 2008 07:05
Mariopolis, the Focolare "little cities" that have sprung up all over the world are also fascinating. They are naturally, filled with EoC businesses. My question: Is it possible to successfully run a EOC business without living in a Focolare community?

Loppiano, in Tuscany, is the oldest and how has about 900 inhabitants from 70 nations.

9 schools of formation are located in Loppiano. The variety of businesses is also fascinating:

The Loppiano Prima Co-operative started in 1973. Its main activity is producing wine and olive oil. At present the members of the cooperative number 4,000. It is appreciated for the way it is managed and for being part of the project of the "Economy of Communion" wherein the capital and work are placed at the service of the community.

The Fantasy workshops have specialised in materials, objects and furniture for babies and small children.

The Azur company comprises several activities such as revision of electric meters, assembling of electricity stabilisers, production of furniture and accessories for children, wooden religious articles and different handicraft objects.

The Gigli del Campo is a fashion workshop and boutique mainly for lady's wear. Even fashion can express a style of life by reflecting through harmony and the originality of a dress design the beauty of creation.

In the artistic field there are two significant art studios: the Centro Ave and La Bottega di Ciro. The former includes sculpture, painting, design and architecture. The latter produces most original, rich and charming pieces of art, using a unique combination of discarded materials (wood, iron, stone, cloth, etc.).

40,000 visitors travel to Loppiano every year. There is a Mariopolis in the US - in Hyde Park, NY.

Any ID readers ever visit a Mariopolis?
Focolare and The Economy of Communion PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 14 March 2008 06:17
I had done some research recently on the economic movement that has arised from Focolare called the "Economy of Communion" and found it intriguing. It was started by Chiara Lubich in response to the poverty she witnessed in Brazilian shantytowns.

Here's the idea:

Business owners (on 5 continents) who participate in the project, freely choose to share their business profits according to three purposes of equal importance.

Help people in need - creating new jobs and intervening to meet their immediate needs beginning with those who share in the spirit that animates the Economy of Communion;

Spread the "Culture of Giving" and of loving - indispensable and necessary values for an Economy of Communion;

Grow the business - which has to remain efficient while remaining open to giving.

The goal:

To link efficiency and solidarity;
Rely on the strength of the culture of giving to change economic behavior.
Generate income which is pooled with other EOC businesses and given to the poor - presumably through other Foccolare entities around the country.

So far: 735 businesses have taken part - many were started as part of the movement - the majority in Europe although 245 are in North and South America.

The idea seems to be a variant on the US non-profit system (in that the goal is not generating income for stock holders) but these businesses exist to generate jobs, economic opportunity, and resources for the employees, the needy, and the community.

One American example:

In 1991 JoAnn and Tom Rowley from Arizona and Joan Duggan from Chicago arrived at Mariapolis Luminosa in Hyde Park, New York. They quickly realized that they shared both a love for the field of education and the desire to commit everything to become part of the fascinating EoC project.

At the time, the local economy was depressed as the largest businesses in the area were cutting their staff and closing facilities. But these 3 educators decided to pool their talents and interests to start a very special educational support center, "Finish Line".

Joan had strong executive experience in a highly successful computer leasing business as well as teaching experience at the university level. Tom had been a teacher for 20 years and wanted to continue teaching while JoAnn had administrative experience in schools. Their objective was to meet the educational needs of students that the public schools cannot meet adequately due to budget cuts, reduction of personnel, and increasingly large classes.

"Finish Line" opened May 1, 1992. Despite the economic downturn in the area, in a few years "Finish Line" was already in the black. It schedules more than 4000 educational hours a year and provides steady employment for 13 other teachers.
Finish Line has also given $20,000 to Economy of Communion projects.

It is all quite inspiring - a practical attempt to seek out and work for the human person and the common good through business. Anyone have direct experience with this Focolare approach to business?
Chiara Lubich Has Died PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 14 March 2008 06:03

Chiara Lubich, founder of Focolare and one of the great pioneers of the lay apostolate, died today. Chiara founded the Focolare movement at the age of 22 in the midst of World War II. She was 88.

Per Asia News:

“All day yesterday” – continues the release, – “hundreds of people - relatives, close collaborates and her spiritual children – passed through her room to bid her a final farewell, before gathering in the nearby chapel, and around the house in prayer. An uninterrupted and spontaneous procession. To some, Chiara was even able to signal understanding, despite her extreme weakness”.

After a period of hostility and difficulty with the ecclesial hierarchy of the time, in 1964 Chiara was received for the first time by the Pope, then Paul VI, who recognised the movement as "A work of God”. From then on private and public papal audiences – with Paul VI and then John Paul II – multiplied, as well as their interventions during international events.

The Focolare Movement, founded in Trent, Italy, in 1943, is present today in 182 nations and reaches over 5 million people. Focolare means “hearth” or “family fireside.”

Chiara Lubich, together with a small group of friends, realized that God is the only ideal worth living for and as a result they focused their lives on the Gospel. Many others followed. Their goal became one of striving towards the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer to the Father: “May they all be one” (Jn 17:21).

Through its 18 branches and 6 mass movements the Focolare spirituality is having an impact on family life, the youth world and on all areas of ecclesial and secular life.

Focolare has given birth to :

33 little cities throughout the world strive to be a sample of a society renewed by the Gospel message of unity. In the United States the little city Mariapolis Luminosa is located in Hyde Park, New York.

The Abba School is an interdisciplinary study center for an elaboration of scholarly disciplines.

The Economy of Communion in Freedom, based on a culture of giving, is an innovative economic proposal now encompassing close to 800 businesses in the world.

The Movement for Unity in Politics, present in over 40 countries, is an association of politicians who, in unity across party lines, put the common good first.

Over 1,000 social programs are active worldwide.

27 publishing houses produce books and magazines.

Centers for the arts and media are inspired by “God as Beauty.”

Pray for her and for all whom God has blessed through her life. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Update: Here is the text of Pope Benedict's telegraph to the Focolare Movement:

Pope's message on death of Chiara Lubich

The Holy Father has sent a telegram to Fr Oreste Basso, co-president of the Focolari Movement, for the death at the age of 88 of the movement's founder Chiara Lubich. The text of the telegram is given below.

"With deep emotion I learned the news of the pious death of Ms Chiara Lubich, which came at the end of a long and fruitful life marked by her tireless love for the abandoned Jesus. At this moment of painful separation I remain affectionately and spiritually close to her relatives and to the entire Work of Mary - the Focolari Movement which began with her - and to those who appreciated her constant commitment for communion in the Church, for ecumenical dialogue and for fraternity among all peoples. I thank the Lord for the witness of her life, spent in listening to the needs of modern man in complete faithfulness to the Church and to the Pope. And, as I commend her soul to divine goodness that she may be welcomed in the bosom of the Father, I hope that those who knew and met her, admiring the wonders that God achieved through her missionary ardour, may follow her footsteps and keep her charism alive. With such sentiments, I invoke the maternal intercession of Mary and willingly impart my apostolic blessing to everyone".
We'd love to hear from those who have had direct contact with the Foccolare movement or Chiara Lubich.

As the 19th century evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, was fond of saying: "The world has not yet seen what God will do through the life of a man or woman who is wholly consecrated to Him." And then he would always add:

"By the grace of God, I will be that man."

Chiara Lubich, and my friend Natalia about whom I wrote yesterday, and so many others have dared to answer that challenge with their lives. We have seen it. We are seeing it.

But the question remains as we move into Holy Week: Are others seeing it in us?
Pray for Archbishop Rahho and Christians of Iraq PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 13 March 2008 14:29
This Holy Week, they are carrying their own heavy cross.

The body of Iraq's kidnapped Chaldean Catholic Archbishop has been found near the northern city of Mosul, prompting warnings of a mass exodus of Christians from Iraq.

Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was abducted on February 29 shortly after leaving Mass in Mosul, in what the Pope described as an "abominable" act. The three people who were with him were killed by the kidnappers.

This You tube video of the funeral of another Caldean Catholic martyr says it all. Father Ragheed Ganni, a 35 year old Chaldean Catholic Priest killed on Sunday June 3rd, 2007 with three of his deacons right after celebrating mass at Holy Spirit Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul, Iraq. The car of Father Ragheed and the three deacons was stopped by terrorists shortly after leaving the church. They were forced to get down from the car and asked to declare their conversion to Islam. When the four martyrs refused they were brutally gunned down with machine guns.

Fr. Ganni is singing. In English, the hymn goes:

We honor you with hymns O Mother of God, you are the pride of the whole earth, because the Word of God whom the Father sent, chose to take His human body from you. The generations call you blessed, all nations and people's honor you and ask for mercy by your prayers. You are a generous earth in which plants of joy always grow.
The Making of a Bi-Cultural Christian PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 13 March 2008 13:33
More accumulated varia.

Years ago, I recorded an inexpensive cd of my journey into the Catholic Church because the whole story takes too long to tell in most workshops and seminars and I'd had hundreds of people ask me about it over the years.

Now we have it (The Making of a Bi-Cultural Christian or MBCC for short)

But I've found it hard to talk about the MBCC at events because it feels oddly personal. Discernment or the theology of the laity or evangelization is altogether different but I'm not a personality and this is about me so I tend to mutter something very brief and incoherent with an embarrassed look on my face, if I remember to talk about it at all.

Predictable result: very few people have listened to the cd and I've wondered if it had been worth the trouble to do it at all. Clearly, Scott Hahn or the Coming Home Network doesn't have to worry about any competition from me!

But last weekend, one of our teachers told me that he had found it extremely useful in RCIA. He told me about a young women who was entering the Church from a fundamentalist background but whose parents were very concerned about her decision. He gave her a copy of the cd to take home for Christmas where both she and her parents listened to it. Mark told me that she returned from the holidays in a much more peaceful place because her parents were more comfortable with her decision as a result of listening to the cd.

So I'm passing it on. Got RCIA candidates from an evangelical background? Pick up a copy of The Making of a Bi-Cultural Christian (at $5/cd, how can you lose? We're nothing if not cheap.) and let them listen to it.

The CD includes the story of what I call the "Advent of the three miracles". Mark Shea and I were survivors of three bad RCIAs and graduates of none, it was nearly Christmas, a tragically abused baby was dying, and the Holy Spirit was on the move.

It is encouraging to think that God can use our story to help others make the same journey.
It's Happening on Martha's Vineyard PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 13 March 2008 12:35

Mike in our office just got off the phone with Deacon Karl Buder of Martha's Vineyard who has quite a story to tell.

Deacon Karl was just ordained in October. Shortly afterward, his pastor handed him a Called & Gifted cd set which he had purchased 3 years earlier but never had time to do anything with.

Deacon Karl listened to the C & G, got excited, and found himself in Chicago land in December being trained to faciliate the discernment of others. I did that training and had the fun of getting to know him a bit and hear his stories about the realities of life on that famous island with its three parishes merging into one, a large Portuguese community, a mostly working class year round population, and the rich summer visitors who fuel the economy.

So when Deacon Karl called today and told us that he had offered little workshops using our cds which has really struck a chord with people and done 45 one-on-one interviews in the past 3 months, we were delighted. One comment that really said it all: his experience of the Called & Gifted process has changed the course of his ministry.

For years, I've been telling people when I train them to do "discernment interviews", that this is the most fun you can have legally. And the experience of so many has born this out as they are amazed and encouraged by the stories they hear of God's work in and through the lives of very ordinary Catholics.

But the longer I work with the whole discernment process, the more aware I am that it is a fabulous and critical pastoral awareness and skill for anyone - priests, religious, lay leaders of all kinds - in some kind of pastoral leadership. Not to mention one of the essential tasks of governance.

Why talk about governance on a blog dedicated to the laity? Because governance, one of three major tasks of the pastoral office, has big implications for intentional discipleship and the gifts and vocations of the laity. (There is only one pastoral office, which bishops hold in its fullness, priests and deacons participate in as co-workers of the bishop and lay leaders in a parish participate in by delegation from the bishop or pastor - not by right).

The spiritual forces unleashed by conversion naturally demand governance. The Church is eloquent on the fact that calling forth the charisms and vocations of all the baptized for the sake of our common evangelical mission constitutes an indispensable part of governance.

"The exercise of the munus regendi is directed both to gathering the flock in the visible unity of a single profession of faith lived in the sacramental communion of the Church and to guiding that flock, in the diversity of its gifts and callings, towards a common goal: the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Every act of ecclesiastical governance, consequently, must be aimed at fostering communion and mission." (emphasis mine) Address of John Paul II to the Bishops of the ecclesiastical regions of Pennsylvania and New Jersey (USA) on their “Ad Limina” visit, Saturday, September 11, 2004

This is why the Church teaches that clergy are to “cooperate” with the laity, listen to them, recognize their experience and competence, awaken and deepen their sense of co-responsibility, help them explore and discern their vocations, and form them for and support them in their secular apostolate (Pastores DaboVobis, 59, 74).

In their spare time, priests are also called to “recognize”, uncover with faith, acknowledge with joy, foster with diligence, know, appreciate, judge and discern, coordinate, put to good use, and have heartfelt esteem for the charisms of the laity (Lumen Gentium, 30; Presbyterorum Ordinis, 9; Pastores Dabo Vobis 40, 74, Christifideles Laici, 32)

Now It's happening on Martha's Vineyard. The parish is sending 4 more people (to California!) to be trained as interviewers, including one young woman who is bi-lingual in English and Portuguese.

This also means that our California interviewer training in April is full and we can't take any more trainees.

But we do have another training in Seattle coming up - at the end of March and several more that are in the development phase around the country. Give us a call (888 878 6789) to find out if a training is coming to a town near you.

Of course, to be part of the fun of facilitating someone else' discernment, you have to have first done some discernment of your own.

The first step is always to have gone through a live introductory Called & Gifted workshop or to have listened to it on cd, taken the inventory, and had your own interview (which we can do by phone).

It is wonderful, life-changing thing to be a little "John the Baptist" making straight the path of someone whom God has anointed and sent to heal and transform our world. Not to mention - the most fun you can have legally!
Save Money. Evangelize the World. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 13 March 2008 12:13
We are offering our exciting new Making Disciples seminar three times this summer and we are even more excited to be able to offer some serious discounts to parishes or groups that send more than one person! The more leaders in a parish get the vision and have the skills, the faster we can start fostering cultures of intentional discipleship in our communities.

$50 off a second attendee if you have separate rooms

$80 off the second person if you share a room.

$100 off/per person for the 3rd, 4th, 5th (or more!) attendees (Bring 8 and the 8th person is free!)

What is Making Disciples about?

The key to intentional discipleship is a critical part of catechesis and formation that seldom happens in the Catholic pastoral practice: thoughtful pre-evangelization and an initial proclamation of Christ that asks for a deliberate personal response.

Making Disciples is a four day seminar (Sunday evening through Thursday at noon) that will help participants

·Understand intentional discipleship and that it is the normative source of spiritual life, and thus the ultimate end of all pastoral ministry.

·Understand why initial discipleship precedes catechesis and how life-changing catechesis and formation builds on discipleship.

·Learn how to listen for and recognize pre-discipleship stages of spiritual growth.

·Learn how to facilitate the spiritual growth of those - whether baptized and “active” or not - who are not yet disciples.

·Learn how to articulate the basic kerygma that awakens initial faith in a gentle and non-threatening way.

·Learn how to use these skills in a wide variety of pastoral settings: RCIA/inquiry, adult faith formation, sacramental prep, spiritual direction, pastoral counseling, or gifts and vocational discernment.

·Have an opportunity to prayerfully reflect on their own journey toward discipleship.

The full seminar will be offered

June 8 - 12 in Benet Lake, Wisconsin
July 27 - 31 in Colorado Springs, Colorado
August 10 - 14 in Spokane, Washington

Call our office (888 878 6789) or send an e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to find out more.

I will be doing a two hour rif on Making Disciples at the Evangelical Catholic Institute in Madison, WI again this year. (Where I'll get to hear Fr. Robert Baron and Francis Beckworth. Not shabby, that!) We've presented the basic ideas 5 times in 5 different configurations so far and every time people say it has changed their own spiritual lives and how they regard and go about ministry.

We'd love to have you - and your friends - be part of the conversation!
Just Last Night PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 13 March 2008 06:33
Just last night, I spent 4 hours listening to a remarkable friend who has led a remarkable life of obedience to Christ for the past 25 years. 10 years ago, I wrote about Natalia in the first issue of the Siena Scribe and 10 years later, she is still at it. 12 years ago, I tried to incorporate Natalia's story into an article on the mission of the laity for a national Catholic magazine and the editor's response was immediate. He asked me to take out her story because "none of his readers could aspire to such a thing."

Oh, really? Good thing Natalia isn't Catholic. Because she's been, not only aspiring, but doing "such a thing" for the past 25 years with the support of her family, friends, her local congregation, and now, a very large and established international organization. Because aspiring to have a real impact on the world for Christ is considered normative where she hails from.

Now Natalia is facing yet another season of personal challenge and life-altering change. But her confidence in God, who has guided and provided through these past 25 years, remains high. Your prayers for her (and her family's) protection and provision would be greatly appreciated.

I re-read the story I wrote about Natalia this morning and the beauty of her long obedience was as fresh as ever. So I thought I would share it with you all.

Just last night, I was sitting with my close friend Natalia in the narrow kitchen of a old, rambling University District home, our chairs drawn up beside the faded linoleum sideboard upon which we perched our cups of tea. Every year, she returns from her home in the Middle East to spend a month in Seattle and every year, we eagerly await the chance to share our experiences with each other.

"Imagine, just last week I was out in the villages," she said with a wistful expression. "I don’t know if this is wrong, but I feel closer to the village women than I do to the westerners who live around me. After seven years, I really feel like those women are my sisters." Natalia loves her desert home. She has become fluent in the language and feels deeply bonded with the people there. She was really distressed when it looked as though the government might refuse to renew her family’s visa for another two years and tremendously relieved when she knew that she could return. What is sometimes difficult for me to remember is that Natalia lives in a country that is internationally recognized as one of the most religiously repressive in the world.

In Natalia’s home, phones are routinely tapped, letters opened, spies attend gatherings, and the government keeps a "file" on every resident, especially foreigners. For a citizen of this place to embrace another faith is illegal and could result in prison or even death. Natalia and I correspond in a kind of code but I know that however much I can try to read between the lines, I will never really know what has happened until I see her in person. Her situation is so potentially dangerous that I can never share publicly the name of the country in which she lives, and I have given her a pseudonym for this article.

Why, you might ask, would anyone want to live in such a place, much less love it? Natalia is one of those Christians with the special charism of missionary. The charism of missionary empowers a Christian to be a channel of God’s goodness to others by effectively and joyfully using their charisms in a second culture. No "public" missionary would ever be allowed to enter this country and do openly Christian preaching or evangelization. But Natalia’s passport describes her occupation as "homemaker." As a laywoman, she has the freedom to do what no bishop or priest or sister could hope to do: be a living testimony to the love, life and teachings of Jesus Christ to people who would otherwise have no reasonable opportunity in their lifetime to hear the Christian message.

Westerners are seldom invited to the homes of local people, but Natalia has won the love and trust of many. So she dons local dress and drives out to the villages and the desert and sits on the floor or in a tent, eating goat and drinking spiced coffee and chatting. She has prayed for their sick children in the name of Jesus and seen them healed. She has listened to many women share their struggles with their families and their lack of freedom. She has shared Scripture and prayed with them. And increasingly she finds that she feels closer to these women than to the many western expatriates who live near her.

Natalia is not Catholic and it has never dawned on her that she is a living embodiment of Pope John Paul’s observation that "all the laity are missionaries by baptism" and that "they are bound by the general obligation and they have the right, whether as individuals or in associations, to strive so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all people throughout the world. This obligation is all the more insistent in circumstances in which only through them are people able to hear the Gospel and to know Christ" (from the encyclical Redemptoris Missio). Natalia has never heard of St. Nino, the fourth century laywoman apostle of Georgia (a country south of Russia that used to be part of the Soviet Union) or of the lay Catholics of Japan who, in the face of terrible persecution, sustained and passed on the faith for nearly 250 years without the pastoral care of any priests. Natalia only knows that she is being obedient to God’s call.

Not only does Natalia not know that what she is doing perfectly reflects Church teaching about the role of the laity, many Catholics don’t get it either. When I recently tried to use her story as an illustration for an article on lay vocations to be published in a national Catholic magazine, the editor told me to find another person’s story to tell. "None of our readers could possibly aspire to such a ministry," was his verdict.

I meditated on his comment last night as I watched Natalia talking. This five-foot-nothing, middle-aged housewife, her rumpled clothes and drooping eyes mirroring her exhaustion and jet lag, was this woman so very extraordinary? Could none of the thousands of lay Catholics who read that magazine ever dream of doing something similar? I knew that this was not true. After all, hadn’t I just taken my lay missionary cousin out to breakfast last month and listened to his stories of his work in Moscow? Hadn’t my roommate in seminary spent five years as a lay missionary in Turkey before marrying a local Armenian? Didn’t my youngest sister turn twenty while leading Bible studies in Nigerian university dormitories? I knew that there were thousands of non-traditional lay missionaries in the world. What was it that made this editor sense that his Catholic readership would find such a story to be "too much"?

Then I remembered a comment that had been made by one of the participants in my last spiritual gifts discernment class. The topic that day was our individual vocations and how our charisms are given to us as both clues to our call in life and as powerful tools that enable us to carry out our mission. "But, of course, just living our normal lives and taking care of our families is a real vocation" offered a warm and wise older woman to a younger woman. A small chorus of verbal agreement and nodding heads followed her observation. There seemed to be real satisfaction in reaffirming that plain, ordinary life was a genuine mission, a full vocation, that God wasn’t probably calling anyone in the room to any of the unusual vocations that we had been discussing. I found myself wanting to say "Yes, but…"

What if we are called both to ordinary lay life and something else on behalf of the world? What if our ordinary life is intended to be the channel through which God can bring the extraordinary to pass? If we are married and working and supporting a family, can we assume that is the full extent of God’s call on our life? It is "too much" for lay Catholics to expect God to call them to that which will not just sustain the status quo but change it? Is it pretentious for us to expect God to use us to transform the whole world for Jesus Christ? Is it excessive for us to be open to the possibility that God will use lay men and women to do dramatic things for his kingdom that could not be done by a priest or religious?

What, I wondered, if we started looking on the Natalias of the world as possible role models for average Catholics? What would happen if we opened ourselves to a whole new level of lay apostolic creativity, initiative, and fruitfulness? I think that we would be astonished at the remarkable charisms and ministries that God would raise up among us if, as a community, we nurtured the conviction that there are many Natalias called to and gifted for critical Kingdom tasks among us, and that for the sake of the whole Church, we must help them discern and take up their God-given mission in life.

A New American Easter Discipline: Befriending New Catholics PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 12 March 2008 11:37
My friend Eryn sent me this great Zenit piece on the adults entering the Church again this Easter.

Tens of thousands of Americans will join the Catholic Church this Holy Saturday through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

Many of those in the RCIA program participated in the Rite of Election with their bishops at the beginning of Lent and will be baptized, confirmed and receive Communion for the first time this Saturday. More, who already have been baptized, will embrace full membership in the Catholic Church.

The numbers vary across dioceses. The Diocese of Orange, California, for example, will baptize more than 650 people and welcome more than 500 others into full communion at the Easter Vigil.

The Archdiocese of Detroit registers some of the largest numbers with 589 catechumens receiving full initiation and 497 candidates from other Christian traditions being received into full communion. Although technically not part of the RCIA, 289 baptized Catholics will also receive confirmation and Eucharist.

In Ohio, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati will welcome during the Easter Vigil 437 catechumens and 541 candidates for a total of 978 people; another 65 candidates were brought into the Church at other times during the year.

According to early figures, in 2007, almost 64,500 adults were baptized in the Catholic Church and nearly 93,000 came into full communion. As has happened for the past 12 years, nearly 160,000 adults became Catholic by choice last Easter.

We should always remember that this beautiful, stirring, annual drama is unique in the western world. It is the positive side of the same dynamics that draw so many out of the Church - a religious culture that fosters individual spiritual searching and gives the searcher a vast spectrum of options.

I've told this story before but I remember vividly being part of a parish meeting with Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna and listening to someone involved in a returning Catholics program, tell him that their parish saw an average of 100 people enter every year.

"One hundred?" the Cardinal responded in an astonished tone.


"One hundred?" He repeated as though his excellent English was suddenly failing him.


"One hundred"???? He asked yet again.

"Yes, your Eminence, one hundred." replied his puzzled informant.

But many, even a majority, will not be practicing a year from now. For a variety of reasons that we have discussed on this blog before.

One thing we can do this year to change that statistic. Befriend these new Catholics who are about to leave the friendly little womb of the catechumenate for the vast ocean of the Church universal. Lots of new Catholics drown in that ocean.

So lets not just congratulate them at the Vigil. Want to do your part to change those Pew statistics? Consider how you can encourage, foster the faith of the new Catholics in your parish through your continued friendship and support this year. Learn their name. Go out of your way to greet them at Mass. Invite them over to dinner. Invite them into a small faith-centered group. Whatever.

Lets all take some personal responsibility for the on-going spiritual and relationship welfare of these new Catholics. It could literally change the course of someone's life.
Blogging Speed Bump PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 12 March 2008 08:22
I'm home. Just finding it hard to find time to blog in the midst of everything else, But I will soon.
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