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Keep Praying! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 31 July 2007 07:07
Thanks for your prayers for the Holy Spirit's guidance during our new workshop, "Making Disciples." Sunday evening and Monday went very, very well, and the folks in attendance are truly excited about the material we're presenting. All kinds of wonderful conversations are occuring, our prayer together has been inspiring, and the questions they are posing all seem to anticipate ideas and practical applications we'll be demonstrating later in the workshop!

I am indeed blessed to be working with the Institute, especially with Sherry, from whom I have learned so much. I am also tremendously grateful for the collaboration and hard work of people like Keith Strohm (one of our bloggers and the author of the blog "Take Your Place,") and Barbara Elliott of the Center For Renewal and the author of "Street Saints" and "Candles Behind the Wall."

I'll try to update you later today or tomorrow.

God bless you, and keep those prayers coming!
Check out Koinonia PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 29 July 2007 12:01
Check out Fr. Gregory Jensen's blog where he has two wonderful posts: on disappointment and on inwardness.
Update on Gloria Strauss PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 29 July 2007 04:54
Following the story of an 11 year old cancer patient and her devout Catholic family in Seattle here and here.

From Jerry Brewer's Reporter's Notebook:

I spent Thursday night in Federal Way, checking in on the Strauss family and attending a prayer service for Gloria at the Brennan home.

Things are even better than they were before. It's pretty amazing. Gloria remains mobile. Her mother is still sick with strep throat, but the family is in terrific spirits.

On Thursday, I also got an even greater sense of the depth of the Strauss' support system. The Brennans open their home to prayer every Thursday night, and it's tailored toward youths. Mike and Anne Brennan's daughter, Theresa, is a close Strauss family friend and often baby-sits.

Nearly 50 teenagers, young adults and parents showed up to pray. The Strausses did not attend, but it felt like they were there. And the incredible thing is that there are gatherings such as this one every night of the week. I've just mentioned that as a little fact in previous stories. But to experience it up close was inspiring.

You can't help but wonder if something extraordinary is happening. I'm preparing Gloria Part VI, which is being planned for early next week, and I hope to play off this newfound hope quite a bit in the piece.

You're also going to learn a lot more about Kristen and her battle with multiple sclerosis, as well as receive more insight into one of Gloria's grandmothers, Diane Strauss.

I'm going into "Gloria mode" starting tomorrow. As I start this writing process, there's such a positive vibe. Doug has called it a "mini-miracle" that Gloria is walking, and the family is back to a place of comfort. How long will it last? I don't know. But the Strausses know to cherish the sunlight.

Sherry's note: Consider what God might be doing in one of the least churched, most anti-Christian cities in the US, through the widely reported story of this tough, loving, funny, deeply believing Catholic family and their unsinkable Gloria. Think of what God might be doing in Jerry Brewer's life. Please pray for Gloria, for her family, and for all who read her story.

And for me, if you have a moment. The cold that I thought was making an exceptionally fast exit seems to have returned (which is why I'm up blogging at 4 am) and I've got a hugely demanding week ahead. Your prayers are most appreciated!
Do We Look Like the Christ We Are Proclaiming? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 28 July 2007 20:56
I didn't intend to post again today but notice of this event was sent to me and I could not not share it.

John Stott, 87, the great evangelical Anglican statesman gave the last public speech of his career last week at the historic Keswick conference to an audience of thousands. I have heard him speak only once myself, years ago at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. But what Stott said should challenge all the baptized, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox alike. Via Christianity Today

As the world says goodbye to one of the most celebrated evangelists of the modern era, Dr Stott told the crowd: “I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth. God wants His people to become like Christ. Christ-likeness is the will of God for the people of God.”

Giving his last major address before retiring from public ministry, veteran preacher and Queen's Chaplain Dr John Stott electrified his audience and was greeted with a standing ovation.

Building his sermon on three texts, Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18 and 1 John 3:2, Dr Stott affirmed that “if we claim to be a Christian, we must be Christ-like”.

He went on to stress that the five main examples in the New Testament of how Christians should seek to imitate Christ: “We are to be like Christ in his Incarnation,” he said. “It was unique, in the sense that the Son of God took our humanity to himself in Jesus of Nazareth, but the amazing grace of God in the Incarnation of Christ is to be followed by all of us. We are to be like Christ in his Incarnation in the amazing self-humbling which lies behind the Incarnation.”

Dr Stott is revered the world over for his life of ministry. The world famous evangelist Rev Billy Graham testified him as “the most respected clergyman in the world today”.

Now 87 and increasingly fragile, Dr Stott's frailty vanished as he started to preach for the final time publicly.

He warned his audience that being Christ-like in “patient endurance...may well become increasingly relevant as persecution increases in many cultures”.

The Anglican evangelist then returned to the subject of the importance of being incarnational: “As Christ had entered our world, so we are to enter other people's worlds. This entering into other people's worlds is exactly what we mean by incarnational evangelism. All authentic mission is incarnational mission.”

He continued: “Why is it, you must have asked, as I have, that in many situations our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? ... one main reason is that we don't look like the Christ we are proclaiming.”

Explaining his comments, Dr Stott revealed: “John Poulton, who has written about this in a perceptive little book entitled ‘A today sort of evangelism’, wrote: 'The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message. Christians need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas. Authenticity gets across. Deep down inside people, what communicates now is basically personal authenticity.'”

Dr Stott pointed out the impact that a Christ-like church would have on the world: “There was a Hindu professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him: ‘If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.’ ... From the Islamic world, the Reverend Iskandar Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, has said “If all Christians were Christians – that is, Christ-like – there would be no more Islam today.”'

Rallying a captivated congregation, finally Dr Stott asked the question: “Is Christ-likeness attainable?”

He concluded: “In our own strength it is clearly not attainable but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within ... God's way to make us like Christ is to fill us with his Spirit.”

Commenting on the evening, Keswick Convention Council Trustee and preacher Jonathan Lamb said: “He may be known as one of the greatest Christian leaders of the 20th century, but few of us could remain unmoved by the sight of a stopped figure, now quietly spoken, calling us to become more like Jesus Christ.

“Emotions were high amongst the thousands present, each with memories of the power and clarity of John Stott's writing and preaching, and thankful for a life of godliness, integrity and humility. How fitting that his final visit to Keswick should deliberately point to the Lord Jesus, whom he has served so faithfully.”

God bless you, John Stott!
How did we get here from there? And how do we get to where we need to be? PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 28 July 2007 20:52

Written by the other Sherry

DarwinCatholic has an interesting post about the roots of the post-Vatican II chaos. He's been reading Frank Sheed's The Church and I, and has found it illuminating.

During Sheed's work with the Catholic Evidence Guild in the 30s through the 50s, he found

... through his work doing apologetics in parks and on street corners, Sheed was in a particularly good position to see what the see the intellectual state of the average Catholic, as well as the intellectual. And what he saw, it seems, worried him. Throughout the '30s, '40s and '50s he spoke to bishops about the state of catechesis (which he generally considered to not be at all good -- in part because those doing the catechising were not themselves sufficiently knowledgeable) and addressed numerous groups of seminarians and teaching sisters.

What he found was that all too often even the priests and nuns tasked with teaching the laity were not able to deal well with questions that went beyond the memorized questions and answers in their catechisms. This was not, he said, through any lack of faith (far from it, there was in intensely strong belief in the teachings of the Church and if anything an overly strong belief in infallibility, which attached the stamp of dogma equally to the everything from abstaining from meat on Fridays and women covering their heads in church to the immaculate conception and purgatory) but rather through a defensive posture which the Church had taken in much of Europe since the Reformation, emphasizing memorization over argumentation and discipline over education.

One of the examples of the kind of "beyond the catechism" questions that Sheed would pose is as follows:

Sheed: "Does the pope need to go to confession?"

Other: "Yes, of course. The pope must go to confession regularly to receive forgiveness for his sins."

Sheed: "But if the priest's authority comes from the bishop, and the bishop's authority comes from the pope, who has the authority to forgive the pope?"

The answer, of course, is: Christ. And since our sins are forgiven through the power of Christ by the priest who acts in persona Christi, any priest can grant the pope absolution. People knew this, Sheed says, in their hearts. They understood that the pope needed and received absolution. But far too often questions like this would stump not only Catholic school children, but also the nuns and priests who taught them, because they weren't used to thinking about what they believed meant.

(He has a good bit more that is well worth reading; take a look at the whole thing (link in the title of this post].)

It sounds like the real formation of the laity has been something desperately needed in the Church for probably at least the last several generations. Developing a universal culture of intentional discipleship, formation and support for lay apostles is a pressing need, as urgent as the mission of the Church -- as urgent as the Gospel itself.

What we do not need is a return to an idealized Catholic past. The years before the Council were not a Golden Age, if you look below the surface.

What we need is lots and lots of thinking, and meditating, and praying, and conversing, (not necessarily in that order), and then also strategizing and acting on what the things proposed to us by our Faith mean.

Only thus, I think, can this generation hope to hear the Gospel preached in terms it can understand and embrace.
Please Pray for Making Disciples PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 28 July 2007 06:19

We are in the final stages of preparing for Making Disciples which begins Sunday evening and runs through Thursday at noon here in Colorado Springs.

We're expecting folks from 22 dioceses including Brisbane, Australia to gather for this exploration of how to facilitate the journey to intentional discipleship. (By the way, if this subject sounds interesting, be aware that we will be offering Making Disciples again in November in Faulkner, Maryland)on the Potomac just south of Annapolis.

This material is new and exciting but your prayers would be greatly appreciated for Fr. Mike, myself, Keith Strohm, and Barbara Elliott as we teach, discuss, and listen and for our staff as they take care of the critical logistical stuff.

Pray that all of us gathered for Making Disciples might be encouraged and strengthened in our own discipleship and given a heart and a vision for helping others have a transforming encounter with Christ in the midst of his Church.

Blogging will be sporadic at best and since I have three other commitments immediately after MD, you won't be hearing from me a great deal until after August 7. I'll try to check in as I can.

"Protestant Reformation for Hispanics"? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 28 July 2007 05:50
Some challenging stats regarding the growth of Hispanic Protestantism in the US via the Wichita Eagle:

Nationwide, there are now about 10 million Hispanic Protestants, according to the recent Hispanic Churches in American Public Life research project.

That number has doubled during the past 10 years, according to the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., founder and president of the Sacramento, Calif.-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. The conference represents Hispanic evangelicals in the United States and Puerto Rico.

"This is the Protestant Reformation for Hispanics," Rodriguez said.

Nationwide, the U.S. Hispanic population grew from 22.4 million in 1990 to an estimated 42.7 million in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Among all U.S. Hispanics, nearly 70 percent are Catholics.

But a report on Hispanics and religion released earlier this year showed that half of Hispanic evangelicals came to the faith from other backgrounds and more than 80 percent of them are former Catholics.

That report -- conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based research groups Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life -- said that more than 80 percent of all Hispanic Christian converts cited a "desire for a more direct, personal experience with God" as a reason for their conversion. Few Hispanics -- only 7 percent -- said they left Catholicism because they were dissatisfied with the church's position on certain issues, the report said.

"They are saying, 'We like our Catholic faith. However, these evangelicals, they really have this going on with this personal relationship component,' " Rodriguez said. "'It has more animated services, it's more lively, it's more Hispanic.' "

Sherry's note:

Let's see: one half of the 10 million Hispanic Protestants converted from other faiths and more than 80% of those approximately 5 million Hispanics were Catholic. So that would make about 4 million Hispanic Catholics who have become Protestant in recent years.

Of that number, only about 7% or 280,000 left because they did not agree with Catholic teaching.

3,720,000 left because of a "desire for a more direct, personal experience with God"

So "I like my Catholic faith.: But it doesn't seem to include this personal relationship component. That I discovered elsewhere. And evangelicalism is "more Hispanic" than the Catholicism that has shaped them for many generation.

2007 Reasons Why Mark Shea is Coming Back in 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 27 July 2007 14:08
On August 30, in fact, and he has authorized me to convey to you his Imperial request that you be there.(Colorado Springs) so y'all can chew the fatted calf together.

Then come and hang out with the Sheas, Curps, Kathleen Lundquist, Fr. Mike and moi on August 31 at our Building Intentional Community Day at gorgeous Penrose House.

Commentary and Community in Colorful Colorado! How can you beat that?
Pope Benedict on the Second Vatican Council PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 27 July 2007 10:32
Via John Allen from the Pope's July 24 conversation with priests from the northern Italian dioceses of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso. (emphasis mine)

The last question came from a priest who described himself as a member of the Vatican II generation. He said many priests of his era are feeling tired and disheartened; they began, he said, with great dreams of changing the world, many of which have not been realized. What message, he asked, does the pope have for them?

Benedict began by describing Vatican II as a magna carta for the future of the church, which remains "very essential and fundamental." He also noted that historically, councils are always followed by turbulence. St. Basil, he recalled, compared the situation following the Council of Nicea to a naval battle at night, when nobody can recognize who's who and so the fight becomes all against all. St. Gregory Nazianzen, he said, actually refused to participate in the First Council of Constantinople for precisely this reason.

Benedict argued that the post-conciliar period was framed by two great historical turning points. The first was the explosion of revolutionary energies in 1968, which the pope said triggered a cultural crisis. The "new, sane modernity" envisioned by the council found itself facing a Marxist-inspired violent break with the past. Some Catholics, he said, read the council as a warrant for cultural revolution, while others rejected the council for the same reason. Then came 1989 and the implosion of Marxist utopian dreams, which left skepticism and nihilism in its wake. In that context, he said, "the timid, humble search to realize the true spirit of the council" was often overwhelmed.

Yet, Benedict said, while falling trees make noise, growing ones are silent. In just that fashion, he said, it's possible today to see new growth resulting from the council. He pointed to Brazil, saying that when he went in May he knew about the explosion in non-Catholic religious movements in the country, but what he didn't understand was the growth taking place inside Catholicism. He said that almost every day in Brazil, a new religious order or lay movement is born. That growth is not enough to "refill the statistics," he said, but he called that a "false hope," adding that "statistics are not our divinity."

Despite the vicissitudes of recent history, Benedict argued, Vatican II provided "a great roadmap," allowing the church to move forward "joyously and full of hope."
The Gloria! update PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 27 July 2007 10:06
I wanted to keep abreast of developments re 11 year old cancer patient Gloria Strauss that I wrote about here.

According to the Seattle Times reporter who is doing a series on Gloria and her devoutly Catholic family:

Gloria is doing even better now. For the fifth straight day, she was on her feet today. Of course, the spirits of her parents are soaring.

They're not fooling themselves. They know Gloria is still in a lot of pain, but they're appreciating this positive sign. On Sunday, Gloria went to Mass and wowed the congregation, Doug reports.

I'm thrilled for the family. It needed this. Doug called me early this morning and sounded more excited than I've ever heard him. He told me I have a gift for this type of storytelling, which meant more to me than I could express to him.

I've worried so much about misrepresenting this story. I've never focused more on ensuring a proper tone than I have while writing this series. I'm finding that the stories are reaching people on many levels.

People who don't have similar religious beliefs have been e-mailing to tell me that they're considering this a story about love. I'm glad they can take that from the series. There's definitely a lot of love in the Strauss family.

I had one reader -- who can't stand the suffering -- send an e-mail calling us "cruel" and "voyeuristic vultures" and someone who is "pimping tragedy" today. It was upsetting, but there were 200 other e-mails from people who got the message.

We're all entitled to our opinions, and his disgust came from not wanting to see a child hurting. So I don't want to argue with the guy or condemn him for disagreeing with the series. I think I've spent plenty of time in this space talking about my motivations and the Strausses' motivations for doing this story, so I'm not going to repeat myself again.

In the series, I have presented what the Strausses believe and how it moves through every fiber of lives. I have done so without judging them and without lionizing them. So I'm not going to judge or ridicule a cynic.

This story is about believing, or having faith. You can believe what you want. But are you strong enough to put yourself on the line for it?

The Strausses are. That's their charm. That's their burden. That's their life.

And right now, life is good. Gloria is active. One prayer has been answered.

Time to Get Over the 60's PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 27 July 2007 07:08
There is a brutal essay by Damian Thompson in the London Telegraph this morning about the announcement by the Bishop of Lancaster that he is planning to close down dozens of parishes, including their great showplace, St Walburge’s, which was built after Catholic Emanicipation in the mid 19th century and is the tallest spired parish church in England.

The statistics that the Bishop released to support his decision are startling.

"The latest figures released by the diocese show that the number of worshippers has dropped from 17,023 in 1974 to 6,427 in 2004." (That's a 2/3 drop in 30 years)

"By 2020 it is estimated that there will be 4,500 faithful Catholics in Lancaster." (To put this in perspective, the average parish in California has 10,000 parishioners! It would be unthinkable to have a diocese of only 6,427 people in the US.)

"The review claims that by 2020 the diocese will have 10 priests under the age of 65. At present there 110 Lancaster priests, only 30 of whom are under 65. According to the proposals, the number of parishes in Fylde, which includes the seaside town of Blackpool, would be cut from 27 to 13 by 2020. In Preston, meanwhile, 25 parishes would be clustered into 12. Ten of the city’s 24 churches are to be closed."

Consolidation is a story that I'm hearing all over the US. While the numbers of Catholics in the US continues to grow (due to immigration and to the highest level of conversion in the west) and we currently enjoy a level of Mass attendance which is unmatched in the western world outside of Poland and perhaps Ireland (although attendance is dropping there like a stone), we don't have the priests to deal with it.

In the past two months, I've heard the details of consolidation plans of various mid-western dioceses. One with 271 parishes is making plans to reduce to 76 "pastorates" of 2 - 12 communities which will be overseen by a single circuit riding priest.

Thompson's verdict:

I know I can bore for Britain on this subject, but how much proof does the Pope need that most English bishops couldn’t run a corner shop, let alone a diocese?

St Walburge’s congregation has shrunk to 100 a week. That number will halve in 10 years’ time, says the diocese. Really? And whose fault will that be?

The bishops, with their dreary Leftist mindset, think in terms of managing decline. They are unaware of a huge body of academic research showing that, if you provide charismatic pastors and high-quality services, PEOPLE WILL COME BACK TO CHURCH.

Happy-clappy religion sets my teeth on edge, but you have to hand it to evangelical Anglicans: when they see an empty church they don’t lock the doors and trudge off to look for more modest premises; they start making plans to fill it again. And they do so by recruiting lively, talented and pushy people who aren’t afraid to take risks.

Note the assumption: that to be evangelistically proactive and creative is to be "evangelical". It's smart and its effective and we're not - but it isn't Catholic. It is being forced by circumstance to adopt an attitude and methology that is intrinsically "foreign".

One of the fascinating things about the "Generation of Saints" in France that I've written about here , here and here is how free they felt to be evangelically and pastoral innovative without any fear of being less than Catholic.

When St. Francis de Sales set out on foot to personally re-evangelize an area of France in which all the Catholic churches had been padlocked for 60 years, it was unheard of because the working assumption then was that the religion of the ruler must be the religion of the people - but no one accused him of adapting "Protestant" methodology. When St. Vincent de Paul sent his priests to put on great missions in areas of rural France that had, in the opinion of many historians, never been evangelized before, no one regarded it as an "evangelical".

That's because Protestants weren't doing that sort of evangelism yet. The sort of agressive missionary and evangelistic efforts that we now associate with the evangelical world didn't begin until much later - the last 18th and early 19th centuries. It was Catholics who were the great evangelizers and missionaries of the 16th and 17th centuries. The letters of St. Francis Xavier from Asia and the Recollections of the Jesuit missionaries in early America were read widely by devout Catholics and set their hearts afire with missionary zeal.

There are pros and cons to the current "ecclesiology of identity" that so emphasizes Catholic distinctives in contradiction to the practices of other Christians. But one problem is that our sense of what is uniquely Catholic is so parochial. What we mean by "Catholic" is defined by what passed for normative Catholicism and Protestantism in the mid-20th century in the US. And a central part of our self-definition is negative: we are "not Protestant"

But we have fallen into the trap of defining ourselves against a movement (evangelicalism)that is only 60 years old. In so doing, we have jettisoned centuries of evangelical and apostolic practice and wisdom by great saints and doctors of the Church that is just as much a part of our heritage as the liturgy.

It is so time we got over the 60's. The battles of that era looms so large that we still can't see anything else. It is here that we can really benefit from the wisdom of the "generation of saints" who had lived through a much more dire upheaval - decades of religious civil war. They were a post-conciliar generation just like us but they lived amid a level of clerical corruption, indifference, and careerism that we can hardly imagine. (Vincent de Paul was ordained a priest at 20. It was the traditional path to financial security and responsibility for a peasant boy and his family. His conversion came after ordination.)

But this remarkable group of friends were possessed of an abiding faith in what the Holy Spirit had revealed through the Council and they had no qualms at all about being innovative in the implementation of that revelation. We'd do very well indeed to model our own response to the challenges of our day after their spirit of faith, hope, and love.
Entrepreneurial Social Action PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 26 July 2007 16:47
I am preparing a talk for a father/son retreat this weekend and was looking for a good story to tell about a man living out his royal office in the workworld. Fr. Paul Wicker, the priest I live with when I'm in Colorado Springs (as I am now) turned me on to a local story of a fellow named Steve Bigari - a friend Fr. Paul calls a "street saint." You can read the full story by clicking here, but here are a few excerpts with a few comments from me...

"Low-wage workers in the United States are often one crisis away from extreme poverty. Steve Bigari recruits employers to take a lead role in addressing the problems that make workers vulnerable, breaking the cycle of persistent poverty by helping workers achieve personal stability and develop the skills they need to get a foothold on the ladder to the middle class."

This has been an ongoing problem for some time. I remember the shock I had when, as a novice over 23 years ago, I stayed overnight on a regular basis in a homeless shelter run by a Catholic organization in Oakland, CA. What was so surprising? The fact that I had to wake a number of the men and women who stayed there anywhere between 4 and 5:30 a.m. so they could get ready for work! They didn't make enough money, or didn't have the skill set necessary to manage what they earned, to provide housing for themselves.

Today, "a quarter of American workers—27 million people—earn less than $8.70 per hour, much too little to support a family. Only 18 percent of the working poor get health insurance through their job. Only 25 percent own a computer. Most pay over half of their income to live in substandard housing, and many lack the reliable transportation they need to get to work each day and to attend education and training programs.

All of these factors make it more difficult for these millions of workers to develop essential job skills. Without adequate transportation, affordable housing, child care, health care, access to technology, and the time and money for education and training, low-wage workers cannot achieve the stability they need to succeed in their current jobs and advance to better ones.

They are stuck in a vicious cycle: The problems that cause them to miss work make them poor candidates for advancement; employers are not motivated to help workers solve these problems because they can’t count on them to stay on the job. As a result, low-wage workers drift from one unskilled job to another, unable to sustain employment and move from poverty to the middle class."

Mr. Bigari went to work at a McDonald's franchise as a vice president and operations manager for a friend of his. When the friend died, Mr. Bigari bought the franchise and expanded it to twelve in twelve years, often creating innovative ways to increase the productivity of each store. During the 19 years he was involved in those franchises, he witnessed the effects of shifts missed due to car problems or a sick child. Like many employers in the service industry, he saw productivity decline due to the rapid turnover of workers.

Unlike most employers, however, he chose to find a way to help his employees gain stability, rather than believe they weren't worth the effort because of the possibility of their leaving the job. He loaned over $500,000 to solve a wide variety of problems that threatened the security of employees and the success of his business. During that time, he learned some things about what does and doesn't work when it comes to helping people.

He is proving that helping workers find financial stability is in the employer's best interest. How does increase the stability of his workers? He founded America's Family ( to partner employers, workers, and social service providers to meet employees’ essential needs of health care, transportation, child care, housing, and education. His program offers a coordinated continuum of services, ensuring that low-income workers have the resources they need to stay on the job and succeed at work.

"America’s Family has created an innovative plan to provide health care to low-wage workers. Steve persuaded Community Health Centers, a provider of high-cost emergency care, to create a Healthy Workforce program for workers with an emphasis on prevention and health education. To pay for the program, he instituted a payroll deduction/employer match system. In this way, employees gained access to affordable health care, while Community Health Centers gained a new source of revenue. Furthermore, because the Community Health Center program emphasizes the prevention of illness and maintenance of wellness, it dramatically lowers workers’ dependence on costly emergency services.

Through their work with Steve and his organization, hundreds of workers obtain computers, affordable childcare and housing, reliable transportation, and online access to education. Clients of America’s Family can purchase low-cost computers through a payroll deduction program; they receive their computers when they pay 50 percent of the cost, and get free Internet service as a bonus.

America’s Family recently partnered with citizen groups and a government housing provider to create a 100-unit hotel providing its members with low-cost transitional housing. America’s Family also works with car dealers and banks to help employees establish credit and qualify for loans, and trains employees to manage these loans through an online course on personal finance.

Today, 100 percent of the 1,200 clients of America’s Family have access to affordable housing, child care, car transportation and email. Many have progressed from subsidized to private health insurance.

Proven benefits to employers’ bottom line positions America’s Family to change the way the service industry treats low-wage workers. Steve piloted the program in four McDonald’s franchises, carefully tracking profits and measures of employee performance. When he began his study, his franchises were plagued with the high rates of turnover and absenteeism that pervade the service industry. After a year under the America’s Family program, profits improved by $300,000. Turnover rates were 63 percent lower after one year and an additional 29 percent lower after two years."

All of this work flows from Steve's life of faith, and is an expression of that faith. He recognized he was making money while his employees were often struggling to make ends meet. They'd go to work, do everything right, and return home each night to poverty. Through his experiences, creativity, and compassion, he is now in a position to change the way service workers are treated.

He is not only doing well, he is doing good!

In fact, by harnessing the power of private enterprise, non-profit organizations, and government initiatives, Steve and America's Family have as their goal to eliminate poverty for working Americans by 2025. This is a huge vision for a man who, among the many awards hanging on his office wall, has this prayer framed:

"Slow me down, Lord! Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time.

Give me, amidst the confusion of my day, the calmness of the everlasting hills..."

It is amazing what one person can begin, if they begin in God.
Getting Over Ourselves PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 26 July 2007 15:31
Our Sunday Visitor has a great editorial this week. Via Catholic Online.

The emphasis is mine.

Getting over ourselves
Our Sunday Visitor (

Throughout its long history, the Catholic faith has been in a state of dialogue, and often dynamic tension, with whatever society in which it resides. At times, as in China or Zimbabwe today, Catholics are seen as outsiders and a threat. In other countries, Catholicism is often so integrated into the social structure that the Church seems almost an extension of the state.

Most often, a local church is neither in opposition to, nor swallowed up by, the larger society. Rather, it tends to reflect the prejudices and shortcomings as well as the strengths of the surrounding culture.

In the United States, Catholicism struggled for more than a century to win acceptance by the dominant, Protestant culture. This newspaper, in its early years, sought to defend Catholics – who were primarily immigrants – from the prejudices and anti-immigrant xenophobia of the wider society. In seeking respect, Catholics often tried to portray themselves as fully American, subsuming their Catholic identity.

The successful integration of U.S. Catholics into American society was popularly symbolized by the election of John F. Kennedy as the first Catholic U.S. president. Scholars and social critics noted that this may have been the moment when Catholics began to lose their identity, becoming virtually indistinguishable from their fellow Americans in terms of behavior, politics, prejudices and beliefs.

It is not only our Catholic identity that was threatened by the success of our assimilation. As an immigrant church, Catholics in this country often had a strong sense of the wider church outside. Appreciation for the missions was common. This identification with the Catholics of other lands was a way of acknowledging the larger church to which we were connected.

But material and political success may have brought with it a greater provincialism. We tithe less than other faiths. We pay scant attention to the church in other parts of the world. We have almost completely lost our commitment to the missions. Evangelization has become just “church talk.” Though we were an immigrant church, many of us rail at the immigrants. And though we no longer produce enough vocations, many of us grumble when our bishop sends us a priest from Africa or Asia because he has no one else to send.

Yet, these shepherds from far away shores are reminders to us of a greater church than what exists in our parish, or diocese or even nation. The billion Catholics in the world today are a vibrant testimony to the diversity of the church and the universal glory of our savior. For U.S. Catholics in particular, acknowledging that we are all parts of one body – African, Asian, Latin American, European, Eastern rite and Roman rite, immigrant and native born – is an absolutely critical awareness if we are not to be blinded by our own pride, power and wealth.

Many young Catholics already get this, in part because of the amazing phenomenon of World Youth Day. In 2008, it will be held in Australia, and this will be another tremendous opportunity for Catholics to join with their fellows from around the world.

Americans, bounded by two oceans and seemingly a world apart, have always tended toward isolationism. For Catholics such a temptation is to be resisted. We are many members, but one body. Perhaps the priest shortage and the influx of foreign-born priests, like the immigration crisis, are invitations for U.S. Catholics to get over ourselves and see what a Catholic world it truly is.
Friendship & the Parish PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 26 July 2007 14:04
My friend Mark has been meditating on Fr. Raniero Cantalemessa's reflection upon friendship:

"I've been reflecting a lot on friendship the last few days, so this is timely for me. I particularly like this:

It is a mutual attraction and deep understanding between two people, but it does not have a sexual component as does conjugal love. It is a union of two souls, not two bodies. In this sense the ancients said that friendship is to have "one soul in two bodies." It can be a stronger bond than that of family. Family consists in having the same blood in one's veins. In friendship one has the same tastes, ideals, interests.

It is essential to friendship that it is founded on a common search for the good and the true.

I had dinner the other night with Fr. Bernhard Blankenhorn, my pastor, and another friend of mine. In the course of the conversation, we discussed various things, including the different ways in which cradles and converts relate to the Church.

This led on to other reflections. One thing I got thinking about was the way in which Evangelicals seem to be so good at creating community and Catholics so lousy at it. I'm sorry, but I've never chalked that up (as cradles are wont to do) as simply and solely (or even primarily) due to some supposed Evangelical "emotionalism" that stands in negative contrast to the Deep Maturity of Catholics. This excuse may satisfy Catholics in profound denial over the intense loneliness many Catholics feel, but it remains an excuse. The fact is many parishes are crappy at giving their members a living experience of the love of Christ.

What got me thinking is that I am very grateful because I *have* been given a living experience of the love of Christ, both as a Protestant and as a Catholic. That experience has taken place, since entering the Church, largely at Blessed Sacrament parish."


"Part of it, I think, is that the parish is, like everything in the Catholic tradition, rooted in a "grace perfecting nature" mode of thought. Parishes presume a pre-existing human community with some stability: the village, town or polis where people are born, live and die and everybody knows each other. With that sort of natural soil you can get a parish which builds on the natural familial relationship to the divine familial relationship of the Body of Christ.

But what happens when the parish is placed in a culture like ours that is profoundly mobile and transitory. The soil gets pretty thin. And the attempt to fix the problem often results in things like my old parish: lots of plastic bonhomie and fake glad-handing of the "We are Community!" variety. Real communities don't have to organize rallies to remind people that They Are Community. They are too busy living the communal life, which is about something else and not about itself.

The surest way to destroy communal life is to try to make it be about communal life, just as the surest way to kill any hope of conversation is to stare into somebody's eyes and say, "Let's have a really good talk" and the surest way to induce illness is to obsess over your health. Healthy community is a by-product of a life lived toward some other end. And the end toward which the Church is supposed to living is God, not itself.

So what about Evangelicals then? Why do they do so much better? Well, they do and they don't. At their best, Evangelicals are freed by not needing to follow a parish model. They do not need to build an ecclesial community on the paradigm of a family, so they often wind up building communities that instead specialize in friendship, which is another form of love.

Partly this has to do with the congregational nature of Evangelical communities. Catholic communities tend to be like block parties. Protestant ones tend to be about bringing like-minded people together around a particular set of ideas. That can be fractious, but it can also produce close friendships as people with a common vision speak the essential words, "You too? I though I was the only one!"

Friendship can be a love every bit as intense as eros in some ways. Indeed, in our sex-soaked culture it is often identified with eros. And that, in turn, hampers friendships from happening, because there is a sotto voce fear that a close friendship will be identified as somehow homosexual. But real friendship has nothing to do with sex. It is, as Fr. Cantalamessa says, "a union of two souls, not two bodies". To have known true friendship, even once, leaves a mark of gratitude on the heart that cannot be erased.

That's why I've been thinking about my experience at Blessed S. God graced me with so many different experiences of love there. Familial love. Real experiences of friendship. Even fatherly love through a priest who had a profound impact on me.

I'm still sorting it out. But I think this experience of Church as family and the experience of the Church via friendship is very important. I will have to give it more thought."

And a commenter,Joe Roberts, made these observations:

"My .02: I'm a revert. One of the differences I note between the evangelical congregations I went to and the Catholic parishes I've been to is the essential disposition of the people vis a vis Jesus Christ

In the Greenfield Church of Christ, in which I was (re-)baptized by full immersion in my early 20s, every single adult had made a definite and defining decision to accept Jesus and follow him. Each could name the time and place this decision had been made. In my parish today (I'm now in my late 40s and back in the fold for around 20 years), I have a hard time knowing why many of the people are there at Mass. Lots of them neither pray the prayers, nor sing the hymns, nor pay attention to the homily. Not all, mind you, but more than just a few.

but I'll bet most of your readers know exactly what I'm talking about. You just don't see that sort of passivity, that sense of dry fulfillment of drudgery duty, in your average evangelical-Protestant church.

"It's ironic, really. We've got a full banquet in front of us, the fullness of truth and the Body of Christ, and we accept it with a shrug. They've got the appetizer tray, a key piece of the banquet but a very limited one, and they're excited about it as all get-out.

Evangelicals are mostly intentional disciples, to borrow a term from Ms. Weddell. They make friends with one another very naturally, almost exactly in accord with Fr. Cantalamessa's definition of friendship. Catholics are largely bored spectators. Neighbors, yes; friends, not so much."

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