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A Museum of the Bible is Coming to Washington DC PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 12 July 2012 09:17

The Green family (the owners behind Hobby Lobby) have accumulated one of the world's large collection of Biblical artifacts and have announced plans to open The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D. C. in four years.


A Chant of Eucharistic Devotion: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 12 July 2012 08:31

Another excerpt from Forming Intentional Discples:


In the twenty-first century, we know “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” as one of the most ancient of Christ- mas carols. Ancient it is, but a carol it most certainly is not.

It was written seventeen centuries ago as a Greek chant of Eucharistic devotion within the Liturgy of St. James. Read the powerful words of this chant with the Eucharist in mind.  Or better still, in the Presence of the Eucharist.


Let all mortal flesh keep silence,

And with fear and trembling stand;

Ponder nothing earthly minded,

For with blessing in his hand,

Christ our God to earth descendeth,

Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,

As of old on earth he stood,

Lord of lords, in human vesture,

In the body and the blood;

He will give to all the faithful

His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven

Spreads its vanguard on the way,

As the Light of light descendeth

From the realms of endless day,

That the powers of hell may vanish

As the darkness clears away.

At his feet the six-winged seraph,

Cherubim with sleepless eye,

Veil their faces to the presence,

As with ceaseless voice they cry:

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia,

Lord Most High!


Nothing could be further from the numb, bored passivity with which many of us, myself included, have often routinely received the Eucharist.

Enough With the Reaction to the Reaction to the Reaction Already! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 12 July 2012 08:11

I’ve been meditating upon the nearly complete break-down of trust between generations of Catholics, between left and right. I’ve only been Catholic for 24 years and yet I feel like Catherine Doherty speaking of the 60’s. Overnight, she and friends like Dorothy Day went from being so far out on the left hand side of the Catholic spectrum (albeit orthodox) that you could hardly see them to being regarded as conservatives – and they hadn’t moved an inch. The whole Church had revolved around them.

Reading Cardinal Stafford’s passionate depiction of the times by those who lived it does help me understand. It helps me understand what the tsunami of cultural change in the 60’s felt like. I can’t tell you how wearying living with the reaction to the reaction to the reaction to the reaction is getting. Now that I’m seeing (as I knew was inevitable) the first signs of reaction by the very youngest seminarians to their trad “elders”.

The cycle of reaction and rejection keeps speeding up and now it only take 5 – 10 years or so for a “new generation” to take the required stance against the failures of its “elders” (who may still be in their 20’s).

Each group sees itself as the inevitable wave of the future and each group can’t grasp that their unique take on the world won’t triumph forever in a climate where contempt between generations is normative.

Profound enmity and distrust between the generations means that we can’t build anything deep and thoughtful because we can’t pass anything on to the next generation. We are hard-wired not to learn anything from our elders (evil scum!) and we can’t pass anything onto to those who follow us (who regard us as evil scum!) Everyone is just waiting for the bastards (those people over there) to die, just biding our time until we have the power to level their life’s work and build our own on the rubble. No matter which generation says it, “Never Trust Anyone Over 30" is incredibly impoverishing and appallingly stupid.

The great Catholic revival and the generation of saints in early 17th century France emerged from such a time as this. 8 religious civil wars in 32 years. 20 percent of the population of Paris died in a religiously-fueled siege. Finally, two generations after Trent, the exhausted survivors looked about them and decided to give building something positive a try – collaborating across the generations and categories like bishop, priest, lay man or lay woman.

It was God’s Providence that the greatest figure of the great “generation of saints” was St. Francis de Sales, whose gentleness, and trust in God was proverbial. It was his influence that meant that while the generation that lived through the wars was scarred for life, the next generation turned their energies to heroic systematic charity, evangelization, missionary work, created the Catholic school system, the seminary system, etc. They literally re-invented Catholic life, practice, and spirituality in an evangelical mode.

Not in the image of the pre-Reformation Church, which was two generations gone, and not primarily in reaction to the terrible losses of the past but by really engaging the needs of their time – the early 17th century – out of love and in the power of the Holy Spirit. “Let us see what love will do” was St. Francis’ motto. Heroic love birthed a vast spectrum of creativity, renewal, and transformation whose influence lasted 150 years in France and gave birth to most of the institutions that 1950’s American Catholics regarded as immemorial and immutable.

What was done in their time can be done again in ours. We can put an end to the cycle of reaction. We can be little St. Francis de Sales in the 21st century west. (We do have to remember that the traumatic experience of the past 50 years is almost entirely western and not meaningful at all for the majority of Catholics who live outside the west now.) We can see what love will do – if we have the guts and imagination to answer Christ’s command to forgive our enemies and do good to those who despitefully use us and after having done so, begin to see a future beyond the trauma of the recent past.

What do you think?

Shooting Arrows in the Dark PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 11 July 2012 19:58

Read this powerful, incredibly moving story of Brother Vianney-Marie Graham of the contemplative Clear Creek Monastery in Hulbert, Oklahoma, who has long been praying for inmates on Death Row because he considered them "the abandoned of the abandoned."

Read about his years of prayer for and evangelizing friendship with James Malicoat, a condemned murderer who beat his 13 month old daughter to death.  Incredible.  It moved me to tears.

Nothing is impossible for God.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all-
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

- Gloria in Profundis, G. K. Chesterton

Is the Internet Making Us Crazy? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 11 July 2012 19:38

Take a look at this long but fascinating Newsweek article on the power of the internet, texting, etc. to make us crazy.  Apparently the average person in the US, regardless of age, sends or receives 400 texts a month.  (I'm only half crazy, I guess, since I've haven't sent or received a total of 400 texts in my lifetime.)  The average teen goes through 3,700 texts a month.

"Does the Internet make us crazy? Not the technology itself or the content, no. But a Newsweek review of findings from more than a dozen countries finds the answers pointing in a similar direction. Peter Whybrow, the director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, argues that “the computer is like electronic cocaine,” fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches. The Internet “leads to behavior that people are conscious is not in their best interest and does leave them anxious and does make them act compulsively,” says Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows, about the Web’s effect on cognition, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It “fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions,” adds Larry Rosen, a California psychologist who has researched the Net’s effect for decades. It “encourages—and even promotes—insanity.”

How internet dependent are you on a daily basis?  How has it affected you and people you know?  What do you think?

Great Resource for Middle School Catechists PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 11 July 2012 11:14

ID reader and commenter Christian LaBlanc, has created a great resource for middle school catechesis:  The Bible Tells Me So: A Year of Catechizing Directly From Scripture.

The Bible Tells Me So is divided into three Units: 1 and 2 treat the Bible chronologically from Genesis to Revelations, emphasizing the Catholic understanding of Scripture. These classes are taught directly from the Bible. Unit 3 then examines the Mass in lessons which draw from the knowledge gained in the preceding units, using the Bible and a Missalette.

Check it out!

Ireland's "Greatest": John Hume PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 11 July 2012 09:04

In the seemingly endless bad news coming out of the Irish Catholic scene, one figure enjoys almost universal admiration: John Hume.

Civil rights activist, peace-maker between Catholics and Protestants, Nobel Laureate, voted "Ireland's Greatest", now Pope Benedict has made John Hume a Knight Commander of St. Gregory.  Hume started life as the eldest of 7 children in a very poor Catholic family in Northern Ireland, and spent time as a seminarian before leaving to embark on the life of a practicing Catholic layman - whose impact on his homeland has been staggering.

"When he set off on his life-long mission to bring peace to this island of ours and to heal the divisions between the two communities, it was always about respect, about integrity and about dialogue. But it was a very long, very lonely and very difficult journey. Attacked from all sides, his life threatened, he never gave up and against all the odds, he kept going and stayed true to his vision of a new agreed Ireland, where difference is respected and not used as an excuse for violence. All of us are reaping the benefits of his lifelong work - and that is why I passionately believe we should all be eternally grateful to him and overjoyed that he has won the title of Ireland's Greatest."

It is all too easy for highly committed Catholics in a time of clerical shortage to undervalue a call to lay life and secular vocations and to focus almost entirely on priestly and religious vocations - but that is to miss some of the most significant things that God is doing in our time such as the evangelization of the culture and structures of our society.

The credibility of the Gospel, of the faith, of the Church is profoundly tied to the presence or absence of great men and women of faith like John Hume, who, inspired by the Church's social teaching,  persisted in the midst of opposition and difficulty and changed the course of history.

Can you name any other lay Catholics that you admire the way that the Irish admire John Hume?

Few Catholics leave the faith for theological reasons but millions leave for real-life existential reasons. In Ireland today, the most universally honored Catholic in the nation is a layman while the reputation of the clergy - fairly or unfairly - is at it lowest level in generations.  In the 21st century,  those who have rejected faith for themselves are still impressed by and attracted to those who have lived it at great cost and with great integrity for the sake of great fruit.

A Real Parish Leader Reads "Forming Intentional Disciples" . . . And Lives! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 10 July 2012 09:44

This is encouraging!  Istvan in our office, has been shipping out endless copies of the book for the past 5 days and several people told me yesterday that their copies had arrived.  But now someone has actually read the book!  I have to admit, I was a bit nervous.  The way I feel before giving a talk that I haven’t given before to a sophisticated and possibly critical audience.


You'll have to forgive me but this is my first experience as a real author (published by a real publishing house) and there is something different about getting a response from someone who didn't hear you speak or met you at an event but just read something you wrote in a book - not a blog post.  This is a whole 'nother medium for me.


Anyway, I just got this e-mail this morning from a pastoral leader (editors and close friends don't count!), who has read the book (Forming IntentionalDisciples) and found it helpful.  I'm keeping it anonymous to protect this person's identity but I think the issues are universal.


"I wanted to contact you to let you know how much I enjoyed and will benefit from your book.  I've been waiting for your book for six years...of course, I only knew I was waiting for your book for the last six months.


Before that, all I knew was that our efforts at evangelizing the young families in our parish seemed to fall on deaf ears.  Despite trying to be creative and flexible and to meet families where they are (faith sharing! Lenten groups! Parenting! Weight loss!), we typically attracted only two or three parents out of 150 families who bring their children to Sunday School.  We had our best impact this past year, when we settled on a captive audience--parents of First Communion students, whom we asked to attend monthly meetings on topics related to family discipleship.  Of these 40-50 families, about 15 committed to attending weekly faith-sharing during Lent, and of those, several asked for the weekly meetings to continue next year.  I finally had the sense that we might be kindling a little reaction there.  After reading your book, I realize that the monthly face time allowed us to begin establishing trust and curiosity and helped scaffold people into considering a more active participation in these types of encounters.

Your book gave a lot a clarity to my thinking about this kind of work.  Not only will I use the information and principles in my own planning, but I plan on working a lot of the concepts into my parent sessions to increase parents' understanding of the evangelization of their own children.  Thanks for your work and your excellent book."

Praised be Jesus Christ!  Now and Forever!



An "Innovation of God" in China PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 10 July 2012 08:07

I love these stories.

In a small Chinese villeage, two 80 year peasants, who were just baptized in August, are catechizing 26 catechumens. The lay people in the parish are formed by meetiing weekly in small Christian communities for Scripture and catechism study.

This is, I think, an example of what Pope Benedict XVI has called a novità di Dio, an “innovation of God.” The Holy Father quoted a maxim of St. Bonaventure: Opera Christi non deficiunt, sed proficient—“Christ’s works do not go backward but forward.”[1]

In the twenty-first century God seems to be doing something new again to meet the needs of our time. Millions of lay men and women are answering God's call to evangelize, form, and nurture the millions of new brothers and sisters God is sending us every year.

Per official Vatican figures, 71% of the "Workforce for the Apostolate" are now lay men and women.

And in a certain Chinese village, the "innovation of God" is 80 years old.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, March 10, 2010


Where's the Fruit? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 09 July 2012 08:56

A relevant passage to the discussion below from the chapter in my book, Forming Intentional Disciples, on sacramental grace and personal faith/disposition:

As I have noted before, Blessed John Paul II wrote about baptized Christians who were “still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit.”[1] The pope was reflecting a long-standing theological distinction that we don’t usually make in English.

We often use the single English word faith to denote what is covered by two different Latin terms. The first Latin term, virtus fidei, means “the virtue of faith,” which is the power or capacity to believe but not the act of faith itself. Virtus fidei is the sort of faith that Blessed John Paul II was referring to when he wrote of the “capacity to believe” placed within us by baptism that can exist without explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ.

The Church uses a different term, actus fidei, for the explicit, personal act of faith that is at the heart of discipleship.

"The Catholic tradition holds that it is the virtue of faith that is bestowed in baptism. For that virtue to become a personal act of faith, it must be activated freely, explicitly, however minimally…. It is that personal act of faith, however minimal, and always under the grace of God, that transforms the human being from one who can be a believer into one who is a believer…. It is that act of faith that is required for right sacramental intention.[2]

The virtus fidei, the “capacity to believe” bestowed upon an infant at baptism, must become actus fidei, explicit personal faith, for a teen or adult to receive a sacrament fruitfully.

[1] Catechesi Tradendae, 19, my emphasis.

[2] Marriage and the Catholic Church, p. 54-55.



Sacramental Practice: What Does It Mean to Say "Yes"? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 09 July 2012 08:03

My friend Sherry Curp was up and roaming the internet early this morning and came up with this find. The Diocese of Joliet’s website features a challenging essay by Canadian pastor, Fr. James Mallon, on the very subject of pastoral approaches to sacramental practice and personal discipleship that Fr. Richard’s blog post below raised.

Fr. Mallon sketches out some of the history behind our nearly total current focus on the outward forms and validity of sacraments while almost always skipping the other half of the equation: ex opere operantis: the personal response of the recipient to the objective grace received, resulting in salvation, transformation, and fruitfulness for the Kingdom of God.

It is definitely worth reading in its entirety but here’s a money quote:

As Catholics our biggest pastoral struggle is also our greatest pastoral opportunity.  Couples, parents, or families who have little or no connection to the Church who come knocking must be welcomed with open arms and love, no matter how limited their faith or understanding of what they are seeking. Our starting point must be that we never say “no” to any request for a sacrament.  However, this begs the question of what it means to say “yes”.  “Yes” cannot simply mean the fixing of a date, some paperwork and a quick class.  Our “yes” must be a whole-hearted willingness to walk with them until they are ready to celebrate the sacraments and be accompanied with a clear definition of what readiness looks like,  Our “yes” must be an invitation to a process, a journey with a resistance to pressure to simply provide the date.  The journey must be one of authentic conversion and not be simply a complicated obstacle course that must be successfully navigated in order to get the prize at the end.


Tim Ferguson, canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of Detroit, sent me this important speech by Pope Benedict to the Roman Rota:

Pope Benedict's allouction to the Roman Rota in 2011 introduced a very key point with regards to the right of the faithful to marriage. He said, in part:

"The right to contract marriage presupposes that the person can and intends to celebrate it truly, that is, in the truth of its essence as the Church teaches it. No one can claim the right to a nuptial ceremony. Indeed the ius connubii refers to the right to celebrate an authentic marriage. The ius connubii would not, therefore, be denied where it was evident that the fundamental requirements for its exercise were lacking, namely, if the required capacity for marriage were patently lacking or the person intended to choose something which was incompatible with the natural reality of marriage.”

Tim's reflection:

I think the same could be said of the other sacraments, analogously – while the faithful do have a right to the sacraments, they do not have an unqualified right to the mere ceremony, but to an authentic and fruitful celebration of the sacrament, which presumes a certain amount of preparation and proper disposition. Parents who bring a child to be baptized, but who clearly have no intention of raising their child in the faith should not be turned away, but should be led into an understanding that this is not just a ceremony to please the grandparents, but this is initiating their child on the path of discipleship that should only be done if there is some solid assurance that the child will be given ample opportunity in his or her family to grow and progress along that path of faith.

Reactions?  Comments?

An Average of One Active Diocesan Priest Per Parish? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 07 July 2012 17:14

CARA has a challenging graph for us all.  It seems that US Catholic chutch is about to drop below an average of 1 active diocesan priest per parish.  As Mark Grey, CARA's senior researcher, has pointed out before, it takes an average of about 1.8 active diocesan priests per parish to ensure that every parish has a resident pastor.

Why active?  Because about 30% of diocesan priests are retired, sick, or otherwise inactive.  What about religious priests?  Well, only about an quarter or religious priests are involved in parish work.  Typically, religious communities of priests have many other focuses and institutions to maintain.
Mark Grey at CARA estimates that in 23 years (2035), there will be over 7,000 American Catholics for every active diocesan priest.  A ratio that large parts of the non-western Catholic world have dealt with for many years - for centuries - but which Americans will find unthinkable.
Here's the punch line that you knew was coming:  if you want priestly and religious vocations, make disciples.

One of the disciple-making parishes that I describe in my book has fostered the vocations of 1 bishop, and nearly 30 priests who now serve in 5 religous communities and 4 dioceses.  20 seminarians from the parish are in formation right now as are 9 women in various religious communities.  This is a parish who has the strongest communal culture of discipleship of any parish I've ever known - and I've worked in over 300 so far.  How about 98% Mass attendance?  Check.  Extraordinary giving? Check. Creative lay apostles who undertake amazing apostolates of all kinds?  Check.  A parish where Confirmation isn't just Catholic "graduation"?  Check.
Everything changes when you intentionally set out to make disciples of the baptized.  Because the graces of the sacraments and the power of the Holy Spirit is released in the lives of individuals and therefore, into the life of the larger community.

The Presence of Disciples Changes Everything PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 07 July 2012 14:16

A short quote from Forming Intentional Disciples that speaks to one of the primary issues at stake when we talk about a New Evangelization: the manifestation of charisms and vocations of all kinds.  The presence of disciples changes everything.


"We have seen it happen over and over. The presence of a significant number of disciples changes everything: a parish’s spiritual tone, energy level, attendance, bottom line, and what parishioners ask of their leaders. Disciples pray with passion. Disciples worship. Disciples love the Church and serve her with energy and joy. Disciples give lavishly. Disciples hunger to learn more about their faith. Disciples fill every formation class in a parish or diocese. Disciples manifest charisms and discern vocations. They clamor to discern God’s call because they long to live it. Disciples evangelize because they have really good news to share. Disciples share their faith with their children. Disciples care about the poor and about issues of justice. Disciples take risks for the Kingdom of God.

The Holy Spirit is planting charisms and vocations of amazing diversity in the hearts of all his people. Like the graces of the sacraments, they are real but they are not magic. Just as the gifts of children must be fostered deliberately and with great energy by parents if their children are to reach their full potential, so vocations must be fostered by the Church.

In this area, we are not asking for too much, we are settling for too little. God is not asking us to call forth the gifts and vocations of a few people; he is asking us to call forth the gifts and vocations of millions. Our problem is not that there is a shortage of vocations but that we do not have the support systems and leadership in place to foster the vast majority of the vocations that God has given us. Most fundamentally, when we fail to call our own to discipleship, we are unwittingly pushing away the vast majority of the vocations God has given us."

Episcopalian Attendance in US Drops 23% PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 07 July 2012 05:36

Wherever Catholics go when they leave, all the evidence is that they aren't heading to the Episcopal Church in significant numbers.  And it doesn't look like that many evangelicals are on "the Canterbury Trail" as we used to say back when becoming Episcopalian still looked wildly cosmopolitan and cutting edge.  As a young evangelical Quaker (there are maybe 300,000 Quakers in the whole world), Anglicanism looked immense and globe-spanning and in the hiearchy of non-fundamentalism, Episcopalians were (in our eyes) at the far end of the other side of the spectrum, right next to Catholicism.  Large, historic, liturgical, established, exotic.

Now the apt word seems "life support".

The average Episcopal Church attendance dropped a staggering 23% in the ten year period between 2000 and 2010 (via Whispers) In 2010, just under 700,000 attended TEC Churches in the whole world.

In the Seattle area, (Diocese of Olympia) where St. Mark's Cathedral still looms and KING FM has broadcast their lovely Sunday evening Compline for many years, average attendance in the whole diocese was 9,500.  9,500?  I've worked in Catholic parishes with larger weekly attendance than that.

The Episcopalian Diocese of Quincy, IL attendance has dropped 71% and averages 363 people in attendance at 9 parishes.  I've taught Called & Gifted workshops that were larger.  No wonder they are openly talking about reuniting with the Diocese of Chicago (attendance: 12,925).

To compare, CARA estimates that on a given Sunday, there are about 22 million Catholics in the pews in the US vs. approximately 657,000 Episcopalians.  In other words, there are roughly 33 times as many practicing Catholics as practicing Episcopalians.

This is not a time to gloat but to thoughtfully ponder.   A group I spoke to recently about evangelization wanted to look to the experience of mainline Protestants to see what they were doing.  Seriously?

If we are serious about evangelization, we would far, far better look to the experience of our evangelical brothers and sisters.  49% of American evangelicals weren't raised as evangelicals while Catholics have the second lowest number of converts of any American religious faith.


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