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Good Heavens! The Pope Here! Holy Thursday as Mission PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 27 March 2013 03:16

From the L'Osservatore Romano:

An extraordinary note about Pope Francis' upcoming Holy Thursday Mass with young inmates and a glimpse of European reality:

"He expressly asked us to make sure that there were no other young people here. He wants to be certain that they know he is coming solely for them, because he loves them, he carries them in his heart and considers them important, very important.”

The Pope's congregation? Only 8 of the young men and women are Italian. The rest are foreigners - most of them Muslims. Some have no religious belief at all. 

Many don't even know who the Pope is. Welcome to 21st century Rome.

“A young Neapolitan”, the chaplain confided, “who has been here for a while came to my help. He gathered them all together, to try to make them understand above all what the Pope's act, which is an act of love for them, actually meant. I was upset for a moment by the first looks, that were either blank or only faintly curious about my enthusiasm. Then our friend broke the silence with that most classic of Neapolitan expressions: “Maronna mia, o Papa accà!” [good heavens! The Pope here!] and he ran his hand through his hair, his face betraying emotions mingled with happiness. At that very instant all the others, seeing his amazement, realized that it must really be something very special and began to question me. Little by little, I saw their enthusiasm growing."

Stunning. Holy Thursday, not primarily as a liturgy for those already "inside" but reinvented as a missionary outreach to people, many of whom aren't even baptized, some of whom don't even know who the Pope is. Holy Thursday on the "peripheries". 

The theological and liturgical implications begin to flash through my mind but I know that I don't have enough background to evaluate all that.

All I can do is think of the last portion of then Cardinal Bergoglio's pre-Conclave speech that so impacted the Cardinal electors.

"Thinking of the next Pope, he must be a man that from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to come out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother who lives from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing."

This Pope really means it. This is so far beyond the ecclesial war categories that we were still embroiled in a mere two weeks ago. This is terra incognita.

A last, moving anecdote:

"A Caritas worker in the penal institute says that one of them, having heard the news, exclaimed: “At last I shall get to meet someone who says he is my father!”

A Shepherd seeking out those who are lost in the real 21st century Rome.

Pope Francis: Shattering the Categories PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 22 March 2013 11:07

The most wonderful thing that has happened in the 10 days of Pope Francis' pontificate as far as I'm concerned?

The sudden dislocation of the "Traditionalist"/"Neo-Catholic"/"progressive" ecclesial wars because the Holy Father's words and gestures has shattered the categories with which American Catholic insiders have been consumed for decades.

For which I give thanks to God on my knees. 

As Robert Moynihan puts it:

"Francis cannot be captured by these political categories.

He transcends them.

As Jesus transcended all categories, reaching out to sinners — and all are sinners — but also, asking them not to sin. Loving the sinner, but not the sin…

As Pope Benedict transcended all categories. Ceaselessly reminding all of us that our destiny transcends all worldly categories, that we are made for eternity, not just for time…

Perhaps it is time that we should all say that there are not “conservative” and “liberal” or even “traditional” and “orthodox” Catholics at all, just simply “Catholics” in a universal Church, stretching backward to the first days of the Church and forward to the end of the world in time, and global in space, unable to be described rightly by these secular categories.

So today, Pope Francis, powerfully, set his course, transcending the “left” and the “right” and pointing all of us toward higher things.

It was the first, great “programmatic” discourse of his pontificate.

His central thrust today was: (1) don’t try to confine me, or reduce me and my message, to worldly categories; and (2) don’t try to separate me from my predecessor, Benedict."


A LIttle Essay on Post Conclave Stress Disorder PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 18 March 2013 11:11
A little essay on PCSD (Post Conclave Stress Disorder)

One of the things that genuinely shocked me after Pope John Paul II’s death, was the emergence of not just criticism for his decisions, but of out and out, open, explicit contempt for him, his “style”, his personality, his extroversion, etc. Since JP was the only Pope I’d ever known and I had identified with him, it really shook me up. Were all the expressions of respect and grief that attended his death just an elaborate show?

But over the past few years, I found myself thinking, I’ll bet the same phenomena is going to happen when Benedict dies and how will all the B16 fans deal with it? 

Of course, the internet has *greatly* exaggerated – made more in-your-face and immediate – this very human dynamic. Our access to social media has exaggerated our sense of identification with the personality, style, and decisions of a particular Pope and makes it so much easier to think of THIS particular man as the embodiment of our personal faith. I had a better view of Pope Benedict’s face as he left the Vatican for the last time – while seated at my desktop in Colorado Springs – than I could have had if I had been standing in Rome a mere 20 feet away! 

Despite everything, I keep hoping I’ll encounter a reservoir of genuine trust in the Holy Spirit and genuine docility to the person that the Cardinals elect but at a human level, when a particular human being has been our real center, it is very difficult to adapt.

That’s why I am finding Pope Francis’ reminder so helpful right now:

Christ is the Church’s Pastor, but his presence in history passes through the freedom of human beings; from their midst one is chosen to serve as his Vicar, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Yet Christ remains the centre, not the Sucessor of Peter: Christ, Christ is the centre. Christ is the fundamental point of reference, the heart of the Church. Without him, Peter and the Church would not exist or have reason to exist.”

If I am first a “JPII” Catholic or a “B16" or a “F1” Catholic, I’ve already lost my moorings and I’m heading for a fall. If I am first a Traditionalist” or “progressive” Catholic, I’ve lost my moorings and I’m heading for a fall.

If I am FIRST and always one who is following Jesus Christ in the midst of his Church; if Jesus Christ truly is my center, my "Vine" – then the deepest, most profound root of all will anchor me as Popes – and the change that inevitably comes with each new pontiff – come and go.

To Be Deep in History: Or How Fr. O'Malley Got Up "To His Neck in Nuns" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 06 January 2013 17:38

"I can see you don’t know what it means to be up to your neck in nuns.”,
an Irish housekeeper warns the genial Fr. O’Malley on his first night at his new parish in the classic 1945 film, “The Bells of St. Mary’s".

The irony behind that scene is that very few Catholic priests in history have ever known what it was like to be up to their neck in nuns.  What many American Catholics today regard wistfully as the most traditional and immemorial of Catholic traditions – the fully habited community of sisters in residence in their parish, running the parish school or the local Catholic hospital – was, in fact, a very recent historical development and probably would not have happened even 40 years previously.  Because for 450 years, Popes and ecumenical councils had declared over and over again - in the strongest possible terms - that true women religious must be completely enclosed.

What prompted this post is a funny new image of Blessed John Henry Newman, making like Boromir and saying " One does not simply become deep in history and remain Protestant." This post isn't really a response to the image, which I actually rather enjoy.  It is a response to the working assumption that I have encountered so often around the Catholic blogosphere: that what it means for us to be “deep in history” is obvious. Whenever I come across this assumption, my first gut response is “Clearly, you haven't read much history”.  Long ago, I realized that most of our contemporary discussions that supposedly draw upon history – especially around the blogosphere - are not deep in history; they are usually deep in ideological clichés with a few names and dates tacked on.

All history, including Catholic history, is complex, partially obscured, and often seemingly contradictory, and does not lend itself to one-dimensional apologetics or simplistic support for 21st century ideological debates.  To see how this has played out in one very important multi-century drama, let’s look at a few crucial moments in the complex history that made the graceful presence of Sr. Benedict at St. Mary’s school possible.

In 1298 Pope Boniface VIII issued a papal decretal (a legal, disciplinary ruling) named Periculoso for its first Latin word “dangerous”.  Periculoso required perpetual enclosure for all vowed religious women.  One of the primary reasons behind the decretal was the alleged licentiousness of many nuns.  (Recent historical studies of sexually active medieval nuns has found that their partners were usually priests already incorporated into the monastery or other men whose presence was required because of enclosure.) This was not traditional.  Early monasticism did not have the tradition of required feminine enclosure and sometimes had “double houses” of male and female monastics.  Double houses were suppressed by Justinian in the east but survived in the west until the 12th century.

Enforcement of Periculoso, which was never total, was a multi-century struggle and reinforced by papal decrees in 1309, 1566, 1570, and 1572 as well as by the Council of Trent.  By the time of Trent, the decretal’s dictates had largely become synonymous with traditional conceptions of women religious; for example, the Council referred to enclosure as the "primary obligation for nuns".

Where enclosure was strictly enforced, women’s communities had to remain small because they could only support themselves through alms and the sort of work that could be done within the cloister.  Most women’s communities moved into towns where they could find more financial support.  Although we think of a world in which women religious outnumber male priests and religious as normal and very traditional, that is a very recent development.  For many centuries, priests and monks greatly outnumbered religious women because the discipline of enclosure meant that only small communities of women could be sustained.

At the same time, a number of informal communities of devout women who did not take vows such as tertiaries, Beguines (a medieval movement of single women who did not take vows, devoted their lives to prayer and care for the poor, and could leave when they wished) sprang up as did later groups like St. Vincent de Paul’s Sisters of Charity, who did not call themselves “nuns” and made only temporary vows, which were renewed on a yearly basis.  Communities like the Ursulines who were founded originally as active teaching orders but took formal vows, were later required to become enclosed and had to move their schools within the enclosure.  This meant that they could only teach girls; so much for the image of Sr. Benedict teaching Eddie to box in “The Bells of St. Mary’s”.

The complex history of Mary Ward’s Congregation of Jesus/Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary reveals a good deal about howwhat we now regard as "traditional" Catholic education developed.

Mary Ward was born in 1585 and related to most of the recusant Catholic families of England.  All the women in her family - mother, grandmother, aunts - were very devout and had spent years in prison for their faith.  Mary was classically educated and spoke and read several languages, including Latin. Like many Englishwomen from the higher classes, Mary Ward enjoyed much greater freedom and independence than was available to women in most Catholic countries at that time - especially in Rome.

In response to a direct vision from God, Mary established an apostolic community of religious women living under an adaptation of the Jesuit Rule whose primary work was educating girls. The congregation's innovative approach to the education of girls (including Latin!) quickly spread over the Europe as they were invited in by bishops. They were commonly known as the “English Ladies” by their friends.

When a Jesuit Minister in Rome dismissed Mary’s burgeoning group with the memorable phrase “they are but women”, Mary famously responded:

“There is no such difference between men and women that women may not do great things . . .”

Her community was formally suppressed in exceptionally harsh terms by the Pope in 1631 – in part due to their lack of enclosure (Mary was an incessant traveler by foot and walked across Europe several times).  Mary herself was accused of being a heretic and schismatic and imprisoned for two months in a Poor Clare convent by the Inquisition (although released by the Pope when he realized what had happened). Her community smuggled notes to her in prison that were written in lemon juice – a trick that English Catholics had learned to avoid persecution. Mary headed one of her letters written from prison "From my palace". The truth of Mary’s innocence, courage, and heroic virtue was recognized even then by many of her contemporaries.

“One of the Poor Clares, who had a reputation for sanctity and a gift of discernment, said to the Abbess, “Mother how we have been misinformed! This is a great servant of God, whom we have received, and our house is happy in her setting foot in it. Let me at least have the happiness of going to look at her in the door, although I am not allowed to speak to her.” When the door was unlocked and unchained, Mary was astonished to see a venerable Sister kneeling on the threshold with clasped hands, praying devoutly and then after a few minutes withdrawing.” (From Mary Ward, Pilgrim and Mystic)

The 1631 Papal Bull of Suppression was never been rescinded but some houses of Mary’s community survived, including one in Munich.  It was the Munich house that became the trigger for the surprisingly low-key undoing of 450 years of required enclosure for all vowed women. In 1749, the local archbishop wanted to assert Episcopal control over the Munich house and asked the Vatican to rule on whether or not the group was a “religious” community, because if it was, he demanded episcopal jurisdiction.  The Pope’s ruling gave the Munich community permission to remain unenclosed as true religious, ending the era of enforced enclosure with a whimper.

Ironically, the 1749 bull acknowledged the existing community as religious under the name of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but prohibited naming the Mary Ward as founder.  It was only in 1909 that another Papal bull named Mary Ward as foundress and her public rehabilitation continued when Pope Pius XII called Mary "that incomparable woman" in his speech to the 1951 Congress on the Apostolate of the Laity.  In 2004, Mary’s congregation was finally allowed to live by the full Jesuit constitutions and formally took the name she had intended to give it: The Congregation of Jesus. The first Catholic Mass held in magnificent York Minster since the Reformation was in honor of Mary Ward (January 29, 2009). Mary was declared “Venerable” by Pope Benedict a month before the 400th anniversary of the founding of her community was celebrated in January, 2010 at Westminster Cathedral before a congregation of thousands.

The decision of 1749 triggered a staggering growth in women religious that we now think of “traditional” but which was unprecedented.  By 1800, new congregations of active religious women were being formed all over Europe. In Ireland, for instance, there were only 120 women religious in 1800.  Sisters made up only 6% of the sum total of all priests/women religious.  By 1851, women religious comprised 38% of all priests/women religious and 50 years later, they outnumbered priests more than two to one.  Finally, in 1900, Leo XIII, in the apostolic constitution Conditae a Christo, formally recognized as an authentic form of Religious Life non-cloistered apostolic congregations.

The uniquely American factor behind St. Mary’s school was the demand of the Third Council of Baltimore that all Catholic parishes open a school within two years.  By 1900, an estimated 3,500 parochial schools existed in the United States. Within 20 years, the number of elementary schools had reached 6,551, enrolling 1,759, 673 pupils taught by 41, 581 teachers. Secondary education likewise boomed. In 1900, Catholics could boast of approximately 100 Catholic high schools, but by 1920 more than 1,500 existed.  The explosion of Catholic schools would not have been possible without the armies of non-cloistered religious women dedicated to the work of Catholic education.

Dramatic change over time and remarkable changes in the apparent direction of development has always been part of the Church’s life and is hardly limited to the post Vatican II experience.  Which is why, less than two centuries after the Pope told the Archbishop of Munich that the non-enclosed religious women in his diocese were true religious, Fr. O’Malley found himself “up to his neck in nuns”.  And it is why Ingrid Bergman teaching Eddie to box strikes us as a sentimental but completely traditional image of Catholic life and not as a disobedient and dangerous heretic as the “incomparable” Mary Ward appeared to the Inquisition.  And it is why Blessed John Henry Newman, who first wrote the words “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant”, was widely regarded as potentially dangerous by Catholic bishops of his day.

Enjoy the clip below from The Bells of St. Mary's and see how different it looks when you know something of history behind the sisters and their beloved school.

Disciple-Friends Change the World PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 13 December 2012 09:26
I just received a link to a wonderful blog post by Fr. David Barnes of Beverly, MA. The post was triggered by reading Forming Intentional Disciples but I particularly rejoice in is his imagery of disciple-friends.

Oh, how it brings back
memories of our famously Nameless Lay Group in Seattle where we thought of ourselves as disciples-friends. It reminds me of the great Generation of Saints in early 17th century France, when a network of disciple-friends changed the course of entire nation for generations. Fr. Barnes writes things that bring tears to my eyes as I read them.  Here's a taste:

"The book has come at an interesting moment in my life when I find myself reflecting upon my years that I have spent in this particular parish. In a way, Weddell's book has put a name and a "system" to much of what has been my experience as a pastor in this parish. At the heart of our life together has been a lived discipleship. The focus of our life together has not been various projects and events, but rather building up our communion together by being a band of followers--disciples of the Lord. The more that we have become disciple friends, the more others have been drawn here. And the more others have been drawn here, the more we have become convinced that Jesus keeps his promises."

We were meant to find God and we were meant to find Him together.

Priesthood: Exercised with the Full Flowering of the Vocation of the Laity in Mind PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 12 December 2012 15:55

Deacon Gaurav Shroff, one of our CSI teachers and collaborators, (who will be ordained in June, please God!) has written a powerful and thought-provoking essay on The “Munus Regendi” of the Priest and the Vocation of the Laity and the Homiletic and Pastoral Review has it up online for your reading and formation pleasure.

I covered the whole issue of governance much more briefly in the book but it is one of the really critical needs - both in the formation of priests and in pastoral practice at the parish level.

As we say in Making Disciples: Disciples don't just happen! Apostles don't just happen! WEEDS HAPPEN!

Here's a taste:

"This brief survey of Magisterial teaching on the munus regendi underscores that the priesthood as a whole, but especially in its exercise of the office of governance, is exercised with the full flowering of the vocation of the laity in mind.  The goal of the priesthood is a mature and well-formed laity that embraces its own vocation."

Congratulations, Deacon G!


Comments from you, our ID blog readers?


Dr. Ralph Martin's Response to Fr. Robert Barron's Review of "Will Many Be Saved"? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 07 December 2012 14:57

Dr. Ralph Martin asked Brandon Vogt and I to share his response to Fr. Robert Barron's widely read review of Martin's new book Will Many Be Saved?  At CSI, we honor and revere both of these exceptionally effective leaders in the area of evangelization while simultaneously believing that this is a critical conversation for the entire Church at this point in her history.

Comments by Ralph Martin on Fr. Robert Barron’s Review of Will Many Be Saved?

Quite a few people have asked for my comments on Fr. Barron’s column on my book, Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization. I have shared these comments directly with Fr. Barron and we have agreed to discuss these issues  more fully in the future. I am honored that Fr. Barron  would pay attention to my book and appreciate the positive comments he made but I would like to offer a few reflections in response as well.

My main purpose in writing the book was to draw attention to the actual teaching of Lumen Gentium 16, both as to the possibility of being saved without hearing the Gospel with its precise requirements as contained in both the text of LG 16  and its footnote 2, and its estimation that “very often” these conditions aren’t fulfilled and therefore for the sake of people in this situation’s salvation the Gospel must urgently be preached. I included the  Rahner and Balthasar chapters because their impact has been such as to make it hard for people to give a hearing to the actual teaching of the Council..

Also I am not speculating or offering any opinion in the book about the relative numbers of the saved and lost. I am not claiming to know that there are more people in hell than heaven, or vice versa. I am not claiming hell is “densely populated” although it very well may be. I think Fr. Barron’s coumn gives the impression by the way comments are juxtaposed that I am arguing for a position on how many are or will be in hell. I’m not. All I am claiming, with Vatican II, is that “very often” people find themselves in a perilous situation regarding salvation and we can’t presume they will be saved without coming to explicit faith, repentance and baptism. I also want to indicate that the teaching of LG 16 specifically locates itself in continuity with the scripture and doctrinal tradition of the Church and needs to be interpreted within the hermeneutic of continuity. I also want to point out that people don’t live in a neutral environment but are acted upon by the powerful effects of original and actual sin, the work of the devil who continually assaults us with “fiery darts” and is going about like a “roaring lion seeking to devour souls”, and the “world” characterized by a post-Christian, often aggressively hostile culture to Christ and the Church which immensely influences people to take paths away from Christ and the Church., and to “love the darkness rather than the light.”

Regarding the “broad” and “narrow” ways I suppose there is some variability in the relative numbers of people on either way depending on whether a Christian culture forms the context of peoples’ lives or not. We are definitely entering into a post-Christian age as regards Western culture and it appears to be getting more difficult to follow Christ absent the societal and cultural support that once was more present. Drifting along with the culture today, as many people are, is drifting towards destruction. 

My point is to reveal the urgency of evangelization in  inviting people who may currently be on the broad way leading to destruction, to leave it and find the source of life, Christ and the Church. People who may be on the broad way don’t need to stay on it and I think more Catholics will be willing to take the risk to “give a reason” for the hope that is within them if they realize that something ultimate is really at stake – heaven or hell.

Regarding the footnote that references the particular section of Spe Salvi, I debated whether to include it or not, not wanting to detract from my primary purpose, nor be disrespectful in any way to Benedict whom I admire greatly, and Spe Salvi which I find inspiring in many ways.  I finally decided that since the text would be well known among a number of theologically aware readers I needed to at least advert to it and make a low-key comment that indicated that there was at least an apparent or potential lack of harmony between LG 16 and these comments, and that some clarification was necessary. I didn’t intend these to be disrespectful or “to write them off”  in any way but simply to point out the very real need for clarification. I am concerned that Fr. Barron would compare what I intended  as a low key and respectful remark pointing out the need to clarify the apparent discordance between Pope Benedict’s remark and the teaching of an Ecumenical Council, to those who dissent from a clearly authoritative doctrinal Encyclical like Humane Vitae. As many people know I’ve spent my whole adult life defending the authentic teaching of the Church. and will continue to do so. That is the intention of my book. The quite unexpected and  overwhelmingly positive endorsements from the highest level of Church leadership and very respected theologians I think indicates that Will Many Be Saved? succeeds in its purpose. The fact that only three months after publication it is already in its 4th printing is testimony to its reception.

Regarding Pope Benedict’s remarks in Spe Salvi a number of things need to be said. There are clearly different levels of  authority among different magisterial documents and even within the same document. The magisterium itself gives us ways of determining the levels of authority and their binding nature. Let me review some of these with a view towards applying them to  the text in question. These guidelines (published in various documents by John Paul II, the CDF and placed in canon law) for determining how to interpret and locate the authority level of a document or within a document  include, among others, the nature of the document – and certainly an Encyclical is of a high level. Nevertheless there are many different kinds of Encyclicals ranging from devotional, to  theological meditations, commemorations of significant anniversaries or events, to quite precise and conscious efforts to teach doctrine or morals. Other criteria for determining the way in which a document is to be regarded are according to the intention of the author or the manner in which something is put, and the frequency with which it is said.  

The text in question here seems to be clearly in the nature of what I would call “theological reflections,” rather than authoritative teaching. The way Benedict puts his reflections is quite unusual for an Encyclical.  When he says: “For the great majority of people – we may suppose -….” I don’t think we can identify that as authoritative teaching either by the intent of the author or by the nature of the wording. I don’t think its credible to think that he intends to ignore or negate a teaching of an ecumenical council or the entire scriptural, theological or magisterial tradition within which LG 16 locates itself, by “supposing.” I do think clarification is needed and I don’t think that to quietly suggest that,  is “precisely analogous” to dissenting from Humanae Vitae. I think Fr. Barron is overstating what Benedict is intending to do in this text. I don’t think Pope Benedict is saying “at a very high level of authority,” that “we oughtn’t to hold that hell is densely populated.” If he wanted to rule out this as a possible theological position among Catholic theologians in good standing I don’t think  he would do it  by “supposing” and without much more detailed and considered reasoning, including explanation of how this could be considered to be in harmony with scripture, tradition and the teaching of LG 16 in Vatican II. Even though I am not arguing in my book for a densely populated hell, or making any claims about how many people are in heaven or hell, I don’t see how Catholic theologians aren’t free to argue that position, as many of our most illustrious theologians have. As Cardinal Dulles has pointed out this was the prevailing theological opinion throughout the history of the Church up until the mid-twentieth century.

I am a great admirer of Fr. Barron’s  work and am grateful for his leadership in contemporary evangelization. I think there is room for a good number of theological and pastoral positions regarding the fundamental reasons for evangelizing and the various ways in which the message can be shaped. I look forward to having these discussions with Fr. Barron and others in the future.  

Ralph Martin, S.T.D.

Director of Graduate Theology Programs in the New Evangelization

Sacred Heart Major Seminary

Archdiocese of Detroit

President, Renewal Ministries

Moved to Tear by Voting PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 31 October 2012 10:43

In this last week before the election, I thought I'd re-post some long forgotten blog posts from the past to set the tone and clarify some of the last minute claims.  Since I just dropped my ballot in the mail yesterday, I'd like to start with honoring a moving and remarkable aspect of the American election system that we take so for granted that we hardly notice it.

Once upon a time I lived in Swansea, the old Welsh mining town and harbor where Dylan Thomas grew up.  It was about Swansea that Thomas quipped:  "This town has more layers than an onion and everyone of them can move you to tears."

I thought of Thomas' comment because I just returned from voting where I had a Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington-Jimmy-Stewart moment.

I returned strangely moved.  Maybe it was the sheer dim, shabby, thread-bareness of it all.  Maybe it was the dusty church hall, the battered tables, or the elderly volunteers with their lists and stickers.  Or the cheap red paper signs reminding potential last minute campaigners (there were none) that they must stand 100 yards from the door to the polling place.

I think that what finally brought tears to my eyes was the earnest little woman who carefully stood where she could not see how I had voted and yet where she could direct me to the woman who would process my ballot and who also carefully did not look at what I had or had not marked on the simple cardboard sheet I was turning in.

For all they knew, I was voting against their candidates.  For all they knew, I was delivering a blow to their most cherished civic ideals.  And yet they devoted themselves to ensuring that I exercised my right to do so in complete freedom and anonymity.  In thousands of precincts around America - in blue, red, and purple states - tens of thousands of other volunteers were enabling millions of my fellow citizens to do the same today.

All the frantic noise, the vast sums of money, the sturm and drang of the election had come down to this quiet, sober moment.  Presided over by a humble, self-forgetful army of civic servants whose names most of us will never know.

I just had to say “thank-you for your service" to the woman who took my ballot.  If it wouldn’t have disturbed the hush of the moment, I would have tried to thank all the volunteers present.   We owe them.  We owe all who ensure that year after year, our experience of voting is dim and threadbare and ordinary instead of violent or marred by corruption.

In the context of human history, that qualifies as a major achievement.  God bless all who make it possible.

For Our Washington DC Readers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 02 October 2012 09:12
For my friends in the DC area:

Blessed Sacrament Church welcomes Sherry Weddell, author of Forming Intentional Disciples, will be speaking on
New Evangelization in the Year of Faith: “Do We Believe More in God's Love Than In Our Own Weakness?”

Friday evening, Oct. 19, 7:30 pm: open to all, no registration required.

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church
1427 West Braddock Road
Alexandria, VA 22
Contact Susan Doyle, (703) 998-6100 for more information.

I'd love to see you there!

Is the Practice of Catholic Discipleship a Personal Relationship with a Library Of Books? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 25 September 2012 12:47

I just received this e-mail this morning from a man with an evangelical background who has been a seriously committed Catholic for over 20 years and just finished reading Forming Intentional Disciples.  “Thomas” is so serious about evangelization that he obtained a Master’s Degree in the New Evangelization at the only Catholic university in the world that offers a pontifical degree in the subject:  Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit where we met.  He writes (the emphasis is mine):


“My experience in several parishes since the early '90s had convinced me that seeking to learn to evangelize within the Catholic Church (the one I can discover at the parish level) might be futile. Papal documents are one thing; parish Catholicism seemed quite another. I came to know that there was something called the "new evangelization" back in the early '90s, and I read Vatican and USCCB documents about it, but could not find or stimulate interest in it in my parishes after several awkward attempts.

Now we're in a parish where the pastor has recently tasked a deacon and his wife with starting an evangelization committee, and they are trying to figure out what that will mean for them.  I've provided them, our pastor, and our RCIA director copies of your book, and I hope they read it. But so far they are not demonstrating any interest in assistance or participation that I might offer. I'm probably not able to lead in this, but do hope in time to follow a bit, and maybe assist.

Of course there is nothing (except knowledge, skill and ability) preventing me from engaging in personal evangelism, and I've attempted to do so over the years, bearing the fairly meager fruit of only a couple of souls brought into the Church. Your book, however, helped me to see that my predicament is not unique.  Three observations in particular have been especially encouraging.

First, you described the priest's 'regal' role (as part of the prophet / priest / king munera of Christ that we share in varying degrees) as something that few priests cultivate. Clearly a few do keep an eye out to foster the vocations and charisms among their flock, but most concentrate on preaching or pastoral service.

Second, you mentioned that the set of charisms usually associated with evangelism are often not naturally recognized or even welcomed in many parishes. My scores on your gifts inventory indicate a cluster of charisms for me that can relate to evangelism (including knowledge, writing, teaching and evangelism), but I have yet to find openness to any of this at the parish level.  In my former career life these gifts were exercised. And at Sacred Heart Seminary, yes there clearly is a place for the study of evangelism. But evangelism shouldn't be, primarily, a recherche scholarly pursuit left to the academy; it should become the daily bread of Christians.

Finally, toward the conclusion of your book you made an observation that brought me out of my seat. Just a few days before reading these comments my wife and I had been discussing how difficult it has been to find a way to learn /practice evangelism in a Catholic parish, as well as how difficult it has been to find a way to enjoy Christian fellowship with other people who approach their faith as deliberate disciples. We noted that our Catholic worship just isn't oriented toward this, which isn't itself a problem.

Then I commented (and she agreed) that in a Catholic parish it's like banging your head against a wall to find these things that nourish discipleship. Though I have a strong appetite for reading (scripture, councils, popes, dicasteries, saints), the practice of Catholic intentional discipleship can at times seem like a personal relationship with a big library of books.

Then I contrasted this Catholic experience with what we'd both experienced in evangelical churches. I speculated that we could easily regain this at any one of the evangelical churches we drive past on our way to Mass every week.”


Thomas has just brilliantly summed up one of our greatest problems.


The practice of Catholic intentional discipleship can at times seem like a personal relationship with a big library of books”.  While the longed-for human spiritual companionship is readily available – but not in a Catholic setting.

And that my friends, is why millions and millions of Americans who were raised Catholic have become Protestant.  Because a personal relationship with a library of books or websites or blogs is not Christian community, is not incarnational, is not communio, is not Catholic, is not human.  Most human beings cannot live on the Eucharist alone forever - without the support of a real human Christian community.


Not even our most committed, most orthodox, best formed members.

What would you like to say to Thomas?


The Christocentric Parish Website PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 25 September 2012 12:05

The responses to Forming Intentional Disciples are still streaming in.

Yesterday, Mary Beth Newkumet of Life After Sunday, wrote:

Thank you for writing your wonderful, prophetic book! You would chuckle to see my oh-so-marked-up copy with it’s many exclamation points in the margins. :)

You see what we see, and you have articulated it so beautifully now for such a wide audience. Bravo and congratulations!

And she added:
As a non-profit, we’ve come up with a Christo-centric template for a parish website that can be a tool of engagement for the new evangelization. We are hopeful that it will help parishioners recognize how the encounter with Christ takes place right in their midst, in a very specific geography, among very specific people.

To make the site as “incarnational” as possible, we’ve taken the parish’s own central image of Jesus and placed it in the middle of the homepage to help folks understand that all that they are and do must be “through him, with him and in him”. Other parish sacred artwork is featured throughout (Beauty!), and then images of parishioners being the Body of Christ in prayer, play, service and rest. We’ve even shown it concretely with a parish map tied to Google maps.

And, you will be happy to see that Jesus is indeed named name! :)

Here are a couple of example websites. What do you think?  I love the Pope Benedict quote:
"The happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy, has a name and a face.
It is Jesus of Nazareth."


When the Focus is Mission, Not Maintenance . . . Astonishing Things Can Happen PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 23 September 2012 11:21

Re: the happy news from London below, here is a more detailed look at what the local Anglican bishops have been doing for the past 20 years:

"Hope arrived as bishop in 1991; he first changed the criteria for the appointment of new priests, who were no longer to be chosen for their ability to care for the existing congregation, but for their ability to mobilise mission. ‘Every major individual church growth story since 1990 began with the appointment of a new incumbent chosen with mission and growth in mind and tasked to lead it.’ Next, Hope asked every parish to produce a ‘mission action plan’ (Wolffe and Jackson repeat the joke I remember from the time, that none of those three words had previously featured in the vocabulary of the average Anglican parish…), and appointed people to give the parishes support in the development and implementation of the MAP. Third, the system of calculating a parish’s required contribution to the diocese based solely on its numbers was discontinued. This system had rewarded failure and penalised success (falling numbers saved you money and vice-versa); in its place came a system of negotiation which would challenge failure and allow growing churches to request to keep a greater proportion of their income in order to cement growth.

Within the parishes, clergy have been released (by changing social expectations) from many traditional and time-consuming roles within the local community and able to focus their efforts on areas of perceived need; London clergy tend to be younger, and involved in strong interchurch networks, such as New Wine; a model of church planting that has emphasised the revival of fading congregations by transplanting leadership and a new congregation from a growing neighboring parish has also been a significant motor for growth, in that a significant number of shrinking congregations have been revitalised."

Imagine.  Mission is systemically and institutionally rewarded.  Money is shifted to support mission, not just the maintenance of existing structures.  And 20 years later, adult membership has grown 70%.  In secular, multi-cultural London.

Interesting in Catholic teaching on this very topic?   Here is the link to the presentation that Fr. Michael Sweeney OP and I made in Rome on this very topic:  The Parish: Mission or Maintenance.

What do you think?

The Christian Tide is Turning . . . in London PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 23 September 2012 10:58

The last two days have been very interesting and encouraging.  I'll try to fill you in bits.

First of all, I attended a local event on intercessory worship yesterday.  This will not surprise those of you who have read Forming Intentional Disciples and know that 1 of the 4 "first things" that truly evangelizing parishes do is "Lay the spiritual foundation of intercessory prayer".

Anyway, Pete Grieg, the "accidental" founder of a contemporary global movement of 24/7 prayer, lives in London and noted, as an aside, that the "tide was turning in London."  So when I got home, I did the Google thing, and found this most surprising piece in the Church of England newspaper that begins:

"Sit down, breathe deeply – I have some shocking news to give you. The church in Britain is growing."

An international team of leading researchers, based at Cranmer Hall, Durham, have just published a study entitled Church Growth in Britain from 1980 to the Present. Here are just a few of the extraordinary statistics that have been unearthed:

-      There are 500,000 Christians in black majority churches in Britain. Sixty years ago there were hardly any

-      At least 5,000 new churches have been started in Britain since 1980 – and this is an undercount. The true figure is probably higher

-      There are one million Christians in Britain from black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities

-      The adult membership of the Anglican Diocese of London has risen by over 70 per cent since 1990.


"Some parts of the mainline churches are seeing growth – Anglican growth centres on the Diocese of London (the one Anglican diocese which has consistently grown over the last 20 years) and new Anglican churches/fresh expressions."

And a little of it is rubbing off on Catholics: "In the Catholic Church, there were 1,657,644 attending Mass in 2008, compared with 1,654,556 the year before.  (A gain of about 3,000). Contrary to previous years, the researchers are putting the rise down to "home-grown Catholics" rather than immigration from catholic countries like Poland.

Immigration, deliberate evangelization, and the imaginative leadership of local bishops who insisted on placing Anglican priests based upon their competence at mission, not maintenance, are two of the prime catalysts of Christian growth in London.

The book does have a section on Catholic growth in the east-end of London, which may reflect Polish immigration. But since I haven't been able to read the book yet - I'm not sure.

Just in the Nick of Time! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 11 September 2012 14:51
The second printing arrived just in the nick of time. We had 30 lonely copies of Forming Intentional Disciples left on the shelf and received an order for 50 this morning from a parish in Minnesotta. So it was fun to watch 2,000 copies being unloaded this afternoon direct from the publisher.

It took five weeks for the "hot" second printing to arrive so now we have a better idea of the time line we have to deal with. Of course, the second printing is only 4,000 and we bought half and OSV and Amazon are back-ordered so at this rate, we could be ordering the third printing in a couple weeks.

We are now shipping freely while Amazon is still out of stock. And we beat Amazon's prices for bulk orders of 50 or more. Place your orders here:
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