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A Rationalist and the Thresholds of Conversion PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 31 March 2009 13:01
As Sherry has mentioned, we are gearing up for a special edition of the Making Disciples seminar for the archdiocese of Kansas City, KS and the diocese of Kansas City, MO - as well as our Colorado Springs Sunday evening - Thursday noon version July 26-30. As I was looking at e-mail in the library of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, where I'm giving a parish mission, I noticed a headline of the recent National Catholic Register titled, "From Atheist to Catholic: 'Unshakable' Rationalist Blogged Her Way into the Church." I thought it might be interesting to look it over to see if I might be able to identify any of the thresholds in her conversion story.

What an interesting experiment! While it's a short interview, there were some significant moments that bear mentioning. First of all, the interviewee, Jennifer Fulwiler, was a very intelligent young woman who grew up atheist and "was convinced that religion and reason were incompatible. Not surprisingly, she was also emphatically anti-Christian and, especially, anti-Catholic. 'Catholic beliefs seemed bizarre and weird.'"

The first threshold that someone like Jennifer has to cross is trust; normally, trust in a particular Christian. For her, that person was Joe Fulwiler (a non-practicing Baptist who later became her husband). She worked with him and got to know him and eventually began to date him. It wasn't until after she got to know him a bit that she found out he believed in God. Her description regarding how that effected her is important to note:
To me, belief in God was so unreasonable that, by definition, no reasonable person could believe in such a thing. I felt I could never be compatible with someone that unreasonable. Had I known that Joe believed in God, I would never have dated him.

interviewer: What was your reaction when you found out?

It gave me pause. Joe is too smart — brilliant, really, with degrees from Yale, Columbia and Stanford — to believe in something nonsensical. I also met many of his friends. They, too, are highly intelligent — some with M.D.s and Ph.D.s from schools like Harvard and Princeton — and believed.

None of this made me believe in God, of course, but I could no longer say that only unreasonable or unintelligent people believe.
I find it interesting that what she trusted was Joe's intelligence - not his faith; that would come much, much later. But this does point out that often effective evangelization is going to happen on the personal level and require a commitment to a real relationship over a long period of time (though not necessarily requiring marriage!)

I don't know how long she was at that threshold, but I suspect it was for awhile, because the next turning point in her conversion was triggered by a huge change in her life - the birth of her and Joe's first child.
I have always been a truth-seeker, which is why I was an atheist. But I had a prideful, arrogant way of approaching questions about life and meaning. I now realize that pride is the most effective way to block out God so that one doesn’t see him at all. Certainly, I didn’t.

The birth of our first child motivated me to seek the truth with humility. I can’t emphasize this point enough: Humility, true humility, is crucial to the conversion process.
Isn't it interesting that the story of the Fall involves the selection of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad (a semitic euphemism for "knowledge of everything") over obedience to God? Perhaps pride is, in a way, the first sin... But back to the story. Because Jennifer was intellectually oriented, the next threshold was particularly important. It is

And not just curiosity about the Church, or about the dogmas that Joe might have believed, but ultimately, curiosity about Jesus. Unfortunately, the interviewer didn't ask questions that could flesh out this threshold too much, but what Jennifer says is telling...
I had already begun thinking about the possibility of God’s existence.
I don't know if she was at the next threshold, OPENNESS, or not - there's not enough information in that statement. It may have been the beginnings of curiosity about Christianity.
After our son’s birth, I wanted to know the truth about life’s great questions — for his sake. For the first time, I was motivated to seek truth with true humility. For example, I began reading, studying, and thinking about the great minds. Most, if not the majority, believed in some other world, some higher power, a god or gods — something. Even the great pre-Christian thinkers like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates believed.

Another avenue of exploration: I always revered the great scientists, including the founders of the significant branches of science. Very few were atheists. Indeed, some of the greatest were profoundly believing Christians.

It could be argued this was because they were steeped in the Christian culture and beliefs of their times.

That ignores a larger question I began asking myself: Is it really likely that great minds like Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Descartes and others didn’t know how to ask tough questions? Do these people seem to be men who didn’t know how to question assumptions and fearlessly seek truth? Of course not.
It seems her intense curiosity and respect for the intelligence of the scientists she mentioned compounded to move her toward openness to the possibility of God's existence. But it sounds like she was at the threshold curiosity for awhile.
Was there ever an aha moment that finally made you abandon atheism?

Several, but one in particular actually shocked me.

I asked myself two questions: What is information? And: Can information ever come from a non-intelligent source?

It was a shocking moment for me because I had to confront the fact that DNA is information. If I remained an atheist, I would have to believe that all the intricate, detailed, complex information contained in DNA comes out of nowhere and nothing.

But I also knew that idea did not make sense. After all, I don’t look at billboards — which contain much simpler information than DNA — and think that wind and erosion created them. That wouldn’t be rational. Suddenly, I found that I was a very discomfited atheist.

Is that the point at which you began to believe in God?

No. But now I was a reluctant atheist.
I find the interviewer's comments and questions interesting. She seemed earlier to suggest that perhaps Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and other believers might have been "cultural" Christians - and Jennifer presumed that they were too intelligent to simply believe without questioning. Then, the interviewer seems to hope that the discomfort Jennifer experienced over the apparent design of creation would lead immediately to belief. The story demonstrates the incredible patience required in personal evangelization. A kind of commitment that perhaps only a disciple - and a genuine, loving, friend - will be able to make.

Her story illustrates very well, I think, the transition from curiosity to OPENNESS
I had lots of questions but knew no one who might have answers: I had always consciously, deliberately distanced myself from believers. So, coming from the high-tech world, where did I go for answers? I put up a blog, of course! I started posting tough questions on my blog.

One matter stood out from the beginning: The best, most thoughtful responses came from Catholics. Incidentally, their answers were consistently better than the ones from atheists. It intrigued me that Catholics could handle anything I threw at them. Also, their responses reflected such an eminently reasonable worldview that I kept asking myself: How is it that Catholics have so much of this all figured out?
It's important to note that what happened here was Catholics weren't catechizing in a vacuum, but responding to the real questions that she had. The answers impressed her so much that she shared them with her Baptist husband, who was, in some ways, even more anti-Catholic (but ignorant of Catholicism) than she was. Both of them became intrigued and began to explore even more.

Unfortunately, the interview skips to the present, in which Jennifer speaks of her appreciation for community life within the Church - something she didn't experience as an atheist. It would be interesting to know how she crossed the thresholds of SEEKING (i.e., seeking a relationship with Christ and the Church) and the conversion that led to DISCIPLESHIP, which is expressed beautifully in this quote, “Conversion is the acceptance of a personal relationship with Christ, a sincere adherence to him, and a willingness to conform one’s life to his. Conversion to Christ involves making a genuine commitment to him and a personal decision to follow him as his disciple.” National Directory for Catechesis, p. 47,48

If this idea of thresholds of pre-discipleship intrigues you, and you'd like to know more about them - and learning practical ways to help people like Jennifer respond to God's grace and move through them - consider attending Making Disciples in beautiful Colorado Springs!
Condoms & the Church's Bold Vision PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 31 March 2009 10:04
This is interesting and definitely not something that most Catholic bloggers would expect.

The Director of the African Jesuit AIDS Network, Michael Czerny, SJ, has written an essay on Pope Benedict's comments about condoms made while on his way to Africa. It is long but worth reading in its entirety. Here are some highlights.

Vatican officials estimate that around the world the Catholic Church now provides more than 25 percent of all care administered to those with HIV/AIDS. The proportion is naturally higher in Africa, nearly 100% in the remotest areas. Let an HIV-positive Burundian on antiretroviral drugs explain the service:

When we go to other places, they only see numbers in us. We become hospital cases to be dealt with. We are problems. We lose our sense of dignity and worth. Yet we never feel that when we come to our Church programme. This is because we get a complete approach to our problems, whether spiritual, medical, mental, social or economic. (Personal testimony)


Not to undervalue this contribution, let us recognise that public policy and programming function as a lowest common denominator, a minimum which every citizen has a right to. Public health policy deals with figures and trends – not with human faces and persons.

The Christian vision includes all that, but goes broader and deeper than policy. With a holistic vision, the Church sees each person as a child of God, as brother or sister, each one capable of both sin and holiness. Now, such unique, whole and holy persons are not readily detectable in tables of averages. But they are the real people of real life. As believers, they are the pillars of communities, the silent agents of deep transformation. So the Church’s work of addressing, forming, guiding and challenging persons is more ambitious than public health, deeply different in quality and spirit.

Facing not only AIDS but multiple crises in most corners of the continent, Africans have good reason, based on experience, to believe in the Church’s bold vision for them.


On the second issue of a strategy for whole populations, there is widespread belief that condom-use programmes are effective in reducing HIV infection rates. However, this proves true only outside Africa and amongst identifiable sub-groups (e.g. prostitutes, gay men), not in a general population. There is no evidence that condoms as a public health strategy have reduced HIV levels at the level of the whole population.[3] Indeed, greater availability and use of condoms is consistently associated with higher (not lower) HIV infection rates, perhaps because when one uses a risk reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) because people take greater chances than they would without the technology.

Therefore at the public level, an aggressive condoms policy ‘increases the problem’ as it deflects attention, credibility and resources from more effective strategies like abstinence and fidelity – or in secular language, the postponement of sexual debut and a reduction in the proportion of men and women reporting multiple sexual partners. Abstinence and fidelity win little public support in dominant Western discourse, but they are vindicated by solid scientific research and are increasingly included, even favoured, in national AIDS strategies in Africa.

The promotion of condoms as the strategy for reducing HIV infection in a general population is based on statistical probability and intuitive plausibility. It enjoys considerable credibility in the Western media and among Western opinion makers. What it lacks is scientific support.


Springing up out of Catholic faith and tradition, the Pope’s whole and indeed holistic message is for the people he is visiting. It connects thoroughly with the human reality on the ground. A Congolese Jesuit wrote to me, ‘Over here we are following the visit of the Pope with great interest, as well as the speculation in the press about the question of condoms arising from the Holy Father’s wise statement before touching down in Africa. What a shame that so far people don’t realise that the solution to AIDS won’t come with distribution of these things, but by handling the whole question as a whole.’

4. The Holy Father concludes by answering again the journalist’s allegation of ‘unrealistic and ineffective?’: ‘It seems to me that this is the proper response, and the Church does this, thereby offering an enormous and important contribution. We thank all who do so.’

According to my experience, most Africans, Catholic or not, agree. To them, what the Holy Father said is profound and true. He is reiterating what they have been experiencing for years and what they continue to expect. They too thank those who implement the Church’s strategy.

Theology & Making Disciples PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 31 March 2009 07:52
My task for today is to work on finalizing the readings, texts, and class outlines for the 3 credit graduate course in The Theology of the Laity that Fr. Michael Sweeney and I will be teaching at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, May 26 - Jun5, 2009. It will be open to STL, MA and MAPS students.

I'm coming across some really interesting stuff which I will probably blog on today as well.

This weekend, Fr. Mike and I will be offering an experimental weekend version of Making Disciples for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas. The participants include pastors and leaders from 4 different parishes, staff from the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis and a couple of diocesan staff from the Archdiocese of Omaha.

Alas, this one is not open to the public but our Colorado Rocky Mountain High version of Making Disciples is another story. (Wait for 30 seconds for the brochure to come up after clicking. For some reason, it is taking its time)

Picture this: July 26 - 30, 2009: You are 7,000 feet high in the Colorado Rockies in a Francisco Retreat center a half mile from the Pike National Forest where humidity and mosquitoes don't exist but deer herds (and baby fawns) roam freely. And you get to spend four life-changing days with other enthusiastic Catholic leaders from around the country (and elsewhere) learning a set of gentle, non-weird, real-life evangelistic skills that you can use in any kind of ministry situation or with family, friends, co-workers and neighbors.

And early risers get to witness dawn at the most spectacular city park in the US: the Garden of the Gods.

You know you want to go . . . Go ahead and drop Austin an e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
"Jesus, Jesus, Jesus" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 30 March 2009 14:46
'Tis the season . . .

From Rochester comes this encouraging RCIA story:

A couple of years back, John Jerabeck set out in earnest on a spiritual quest. Though intrigued by such non-Christian faith traditions as Buddhism, he knew deep down there was more distance to cover on his journey.
"All the time, in the back of my mind, I felt, 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.' I tried to do whatever I could to shut it out, and it just wasn't going away," he recalled.

The call to follow Christ eventually brought Jerabeck to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the process by which people join the Catholic faith. As he prepares to be received as a Catholic during the April 11 Easter Vigil liturgy at Rochester's St. Boniface Church, Jerabeck said that "I just know the Catholic Church is where I'm supposed to be."

Jerabeck, 23, acknowledged that he went through "a very kind of rough teenage years; I got involved in things that really weren't the best for me." However, he has experienced considerable growth since becoming involved in RCIA.

"Honestly, if I had to go through everything again I'd do it all over," Jerabeck said, noting that as the Easter Vigil draws near, "I have a peace in my heart."

Chaput on Vitriol, E-mail, and Being Lambs, Not Wolves PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 30 March 2009 14:28
I found this very interesting in light of what I heard Archbishop Chaput say in Detroit about the e-mail he often gets and how strongly he urged his listeners to be charitable when they write:

From the Boston Globe's website about a meeting between Chaput and journalists on St. Patrick's Day in Washington, DC.

Another exchange that caught my attention came between Chaput and Patricia Zapor, of Catholic News Service, who asked the archbishop about the vitriolic nature of so much e-mail about Catholic issues -- something I experience in the comments on this blog.

This is what Chaput said:

"I used to get some hate mail before I was online, but not nearly as much as I did afterwards. I think the way that we have immediate access, which means we immediately speak out of our emotions rather than write a letter, send it the next day, you might change your mind. Instead you write it and you push the button to “show them,” you know, that kind of thing.

So I think our immediate ability to communicate has led to a coarsening discourse for one thing. I gave a talk recently – I think it may have been when I was in Toronto, where I said that the Lord reminds us that we are sheep among wolves, but it’s important for us not to become wolves ourselves because of our experience, and I think that often happens.

Some of the worst emails I get are from Catholic conservatives who think I should excommunicate and refuse communion to Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado and to former-Sen. [and now Secretary of the Interior] Ken Salazar of Colorado, and why aren’t you doing this? I mean, just awful kind of stuff that they write. Sometimes, I must admit, that when I write back, I’m not as friendly as I should be. But I try not to be mean."

And then, reflecting on the difference between e-mail from liberals and conservatives, he said:

"The left mail I get will use terrible words but be less vitriolic. They use the F-word and things like that, call me names like that. But the right is meaner, but they’re not as foul."

Urbana 09 for Catholics PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 30 March 2009 11:20
Urbana, a sort of World Youth Day of missions for college students, is taking place again the last week of December, 09, in St. Louis.

Urbana is staggering - 4 days of the the highest level missionary presenters on a wonderfully creative and wholistic set of tracks. International students, international poverty, domestic poverty, world religions in light of evangelization, the global church, evangelism, environmental stewardship, art & media, business as mission, healthcare as mission, spiritual disciplines & mission.

22,000 attended from 140 countries at the last Urbana in 2006. Even though Urbana is sponsored by the evangelical movement, Intervaristy, a lot of Catholic students attend. Not only is there no pressure on Catholics to cease to be Catholic, there seems to be a new and exciting openness among these mission-minded evangelicals to Catholicism as a true and beautiful form of the faith.

For instance, the Urbana website features Sarah Vanacore's story of becoming Catholic as a student from an evangelical background. And one of the 5 video's that highlight Urbana "grads" is the story of a young women working with a mission agency in Perugia, Italy. Note that her language is very appreciative of the very Catholic imagery and beauty in which she finds herself immersed. Notice that the soundtrack begins with the Salve Regina. But also listen to her observations on how divorced from the faith most young Italians are.

It is time that Catholics were part of this conversation as Catholics together. I'm seriously praying about attending Urbana myself this year (as part of the pastors/leaders track) and I would like to have other Catholics come with me so we can process the challenges and the divergences from a Catholic perspective together. This would be a great opportunity for Catholic students or seminarians or leaders really interested in evangelization and global mission.

Check out the website, pray about it, and if you are interested in going, drop me a line at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Report from Corpus Christi PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 29 March 2009 15:48
This is my first post from Corpus Christi. I'm taking advantage of the free wi-fi in their cozy little airport while I can. The craziness of Houston still lies before me. (Yikes, they just announced that the plane that was to take me to Houston won't arrive until after 6pm and that we won't make it to Houston till 7:30pm Fortunately, my connection to Colorado Springs isn't until 9pm. It's gonna be another long night.)

Due to the blizzard on Thursday and my futile attempts to avoid it, I didn't get to CC until 11pm Friday night so had to cram all of interviewer/faciliator training into one long 12 hour day. The hardy band of trainees did well. One woman admitted later that she had been dreading it but that the day had flown by.

This is the second group that we have trained in a month in anticipation of the large Called & Gifted to be held April 17/18 at the Cathedral in CC. There is a lot of excitement building up.

Mass this morning was like CC: a cheerful, Christ-centered mixture of what the Catholic blogosphere usually considers to be mutually exclusive; oil and water. A large new church with traditional statues, the tabernacle prominently displayed beyond the altar *and* state of the art lighting and giant drop down screens. No missals. Latin prayers projected on giant screens. The cantor was a woman with a wonderful voice. 8 Masses every weekend. Some are "traditional". One Mass is openly charismatic. One is boisterously Hispanic. The associate is Polish and introducing the Polish custom of the blessing of Easter food baskets.

A sea of dark heads. Many families of mixed cultural background. I sat next to a young family from India. Not the endless blondes one sometimes sees in California. The congregation was dressed a tad more formally than most congregations I encounter. Some jeans but they were all clean and worn with carefully ironed shirts, etc. The deacons do not wear collars but coat & tie at the bishop's request.

The consecration was done ad orientam facing the tabernacle (as a Lenten practice which will end at Easter) while the homily was preached while the pastor walked around the sanctuary, Bible in hand, and included copious amounts of the basic kerygma. The celebrant and altar servers held hands at the Our Father. They sang songs that many bloggers love to hate, e.g. "We create ourselves anew" alongside Latin chant. The Mass ended with the acknowledgement of birthdays and anniversaries. The strongly extroverted pastor never finished his recessional because he was busy shaking hands and chatting.

As I said, this is not a destination for liturgical purists. But if you are interested in evangelization, practically every parish in the US could learn from Most Precious Blood parish in Corpus Christi.

MPC runs the largest evangelization programs that I have ever encountered in a parish. Encounter, a home-grown ten week Catholic variation on the Alpha process. Something like 600 -800 people a year go through and the results are transforming This parish has the highest number of parishioners who have recently gone through a personal conversion of any parish I have ever worked in. The man who I interviewed in the "mock" interview turned out to have gone through a major spiritual awakening 1 1/2 years ago. But most of the people I met had had a similar experience within the past five years. When you are in a parish where something like 3,000 members have been through an experience like that, the topic of conversion comes up naturally.

It would be interesting to explore what percentage of their active parishioners are intentional disciples. Certainly it is far higher than the discouraging 5% that participants in our Making Disciples seminar have routinely estimated. In a few more years, this parish might just become the first parish I have visited where a majority of the active parishioners are in later, active thresholds of spiritual development. Active seekers or intentional disciples.


And they are engaged in the Catholics, Come Home media campaign this Lent. No word yet on the impact of that yet.

Just consider this another report from the new Catholic heartland. Corpus Christi is 70% Catholic and has the highest proportion of Catholics in the area's population of any diocese in the US. What is happening here is at least as important for the kingdom of God as the dramas that have occupied the attention of the blogosphere over the past month.

It won't be the first time in Christian history that the most significant events happened on the periphery, in Nazareth.
Called & Gifted in Singapore PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 27 March 2009 13:20
Our first live Called & Gifted is happening in Singapore at Holy Spirit parish this weekend, courtesy of Lydia and Winifred and some other C & G "alumni" there.

Country number eight. Very cool.

Blessed be God in all his gifts.
New Mexico Outlaws Death Penalty PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 27 March 2009 10:08
Whispers has blogged about another important US landmark in the matter of life that has gotten little national press: the Catholic governor of New Mexico has just signed a bill outlawing the death penalty. With a Basilian friar at his side.

AA the governor put it " you can get an innocent person out of jail but not out of the grave."

This is a good thing, not a "liberal" thing, folks. It is a victory for life.

If we are truly pro-life, truly Catholic in our heart and mind, we should be rejoicing and considering how to build upon this small victory to foster discussion and further conversion about the sacred nature of all human life.
Protest and Evangelization PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 27 March 2009 06:59
Kevin Jones asks a profound question over at Amy's new blog, Via Media:

Isn’t protest in some ways the opposite of evangelization?

It is - unless we live lives of such integrated, sacrificial, compelling discipleship that we become simultaneously witnesses and calls to conversion. Then protest and evangelization become one.

The great lay disciples of the early 20th century: Dorothy Day, Catherine Doherty, Peter Maurin were such witnesses. But they were also extremely radical figures before the Vatican Council. So far to the left on the spectrum that you could hardly see them. As Catherine Doherty noted: In the 60's, her community woke up to find that they had suddenly become "conservative". Madonna House hadn't changed a hair but the entire Church had revolved around them - seemingly overnight.

Here Catholics are at something of a disadvantage. At the parochial level where 99% of all Catholics live, the current generation of American Catholics don't have a strong tradition of either protest or evangelization. Since talk of human rights, liberty, and protest were associated with revolution and anti-clericalism in the 18th and 19th centuries and because we felt vulnerable in a country with a tradition of popular anti-Catholicism, bishops, pastors, and faithful Catholics usually regarded the idea of protest with distrust and stressed obedience.

At the parochial level, neither do we have a strong tradition of anything as evangelization. (it is fascinating to be around fellow evangelizers as I was in Detroit last weekend and hear them confirm the same dynamics that we have encountered: de facto universalism and pelagianism everywhere, the conflation of catechesis and evangelization, no imaginative category for intentional discipleship etc.) Evangelization was the responsibility of religious orders specifically dedicated to that purpose: the Paulists or Mother Cabrini's sisters who worked to help Catholic immigrants return to Mass and the sacraments.

Certainly not protest as evangelization.

What would protest as evangelization look like? In the current situation where economic fears are driving women and even married couples to choose abortion in larger numbers than ever, how about this?

What if the USCCB in collaboration with all the major pro-life groups and support of parishes and million of Catholics were to announce a national initiative:

That we are committed to ensuring that no woman or couple feels compelled to choose abortion out of fear. If you need financial support, we stand ready to give it. If you need a home, a supportive community, medical assistance, whatever to bring this baby to birth, we will be there. We have hundreds of thousands of adoptive and foster parents ready to help. We will not let you drown. We will back this up with our lives: our parishes, our networks, our institutions, our money, our time and energy, our sacrifice. You don't have to be Catholic or Christian or religious. No bull. No judgement.

All you have to do is call or e-mail us today here (National website/toll free number)

A sort of national, high visibility, high priority, well financed, Nurturing Network supported by all dioceses, bishops, and parishes and millions of pro-lifers from all backgrounds. And then, of course, we actually did it.

Something like this has been done on a large scale around a different issue before in the US. But not by Catholics. By Quakers.

In 1688, a small Quaker meeting in Germantown, Pennsylvania became the first Christian body to, as a whole, repudiate slavery. Before the Revolutionary War, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, propelled by the life-long witness of people like the gentle prophet, John Woolman, had determined to utterly reject the owning of slaves. In 1780, the state of Pennsylvania, the heart of Quakerism in the US, passed an Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. Quakers, as a body, not only freed their slaves, many left their homes in slave areas (like North Carolina) to new territories like Indiana in order to be free to free their slaves. And many paid their former slaves back wages.

Richmond, Indiana, where I studied before I became Catholic, was founded by such Quaker families and the region went on to become a center of the Underground Railroad before the civil war.

The larger American abolitionist movement, involving many other Christian groups - but very few Catholics for the reasons I mentioned above - had going full steam by the 1830's. Although it was war that ultimately changed the national laws, without decades of popular agitation on the topic, it would never happened, By 1830, Quakers, who pioneered religious opposition to slavery both in the US and in Britain, had been firmly abolitionist for three generations.

The out-spoken "abolitionist", draw a line in the sand, fervor of some American Catholic bishops and lay people is apparently, unique in the Catholic world at this time. (As many have pointed out, even out-spoken champions of life like Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have given communion to and honored openly pro-abortion politicians. John Allen has observed the burning civil rights issue for Catholics in Italy is the death penalty, not abortion. In Australia, the most passionately orthodox pro-life leaders vote for candidates who are openly pro-abortion without a crisis of conscience. It's illegal to abstain from voting and there aren't any real pro-life candidates anyway. It is just not an issue in the same way. And in any case, Catholic doctrine is deeply under-developed in this area. Because the dynamics of democracy - which is the real issue here - are relatively new.)

What if American Catholics are called to play a role in the the development of an understanding of how respond to life issues in a democratic context within global Catholicism similar to the role that American Quakers played in the cause of the abolition of slavery? The prophetic catalyst.

But we won't do it by scolding or merely venting which seems to be our modus operandi at present. We seem to be re-fighting the battles of the 50's and 60's. The vast majority of US Catholics under the age of 65 are not disciples and are deeply post-modern in their worldview. The majority don't even darken the door anymore. But we keep trying to lecture them as though they were Polish parishioners listening to Father or Sister in a parish hall in 1950's Chicago. It didn't work all that well then. it really doesn't work now.

What does speak to people in every generation, what reaches past distrust and politics and culture, what changes the nature of the debate, is a persistent, costly, loving witness that the majority cannot dismiss as mere self-interest. A faithful public witness beyond considerations of political success, a witness that incarnates what we say we believe.

A witness of communal, rather than merely individual, life where protest really does become evangelization.
Whiteout PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 26 March 2009 17:03
I'm back home after a four hour struggle to leave Colorado for Corpus Christi. Even though I tried to be very pro-active and switched my flight from Friday morning to Thursday at 4:30pm in order to escape the worst of the storm which wasn't supposed to hit until 3pm today and despite the fact that I left for the airport a hour early, it didn't make any difference.

It started snowing at noon and by 1:50pm, it was a total white-out. They say it is the biggest storm in 6 years and practically everything in the city is closed down. Schools, universities, churches

I have a seat on the 4:30pm Friday flight to Houston and please God, I'll be able to get out then, get into CC about 10pm and cram the training into one long Saturday.

It is only a 24 hour storm and will vanish quickly. It was just the wrong 24 hours.
Notre Dame: Making Like Elijah PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 26 March 2009 06:37
Todd over at Catholic Sensibility has a mordantly funny post up on Protesting like Elijah. Todd is someone that conservative bloggers love to hate but he is making real sense here and I hope that his words inspire some creativity.

Those protesting President Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame graduation think six-figure signatories is good stuff. I think they’ve been smoking something liberal. Of course the Republican idea is to rent an office. Give me a candle and a lame slogan any day over that one. Rent an office? Isaiah got branded on the lips by angels singing “The Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” and this is the best Randall Terry can come up with? Sheesh.

I confess. I laughed out loud when I read that last line.


The very least they could do is attend and engineer some silent protest, like wearing no shoe on their right foot in honor of the naked foot of the unborn child, but remembering the motto of the liturgist: explain nothing; let the symbols speak. The only Old Testament prophet that allowed himself to be run out of town was Elijah, but before that retreat was his one-on-450 smackdown of the priests of Baal. And on his return, we had the devouring of Queen Jezebel in Stephen King fashion in the streets of Jerusalem.

That’s not to say that we need trash talk and dog food in South Bend, but surely some imaginative ND student could come up with something. Imagine if they could have scored Bishop D’Arcy as a co-conspirator.

My guess is that a whole gang of imaginative ND students are working on it right now. But thanks for the push, Todd.
To Leave or Stay? Decisions in Fargo PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 26 March 2009 06:09
For nasty spring weather, Fargo is currently taking the prize.

Norm, a junior and RA at North Dakota State University in Fargo, writes at God is With Us:

The facts are that Fargo has 12 miles of sandbag dikes right now. If any part of the dike fails, that spells huge trouble as the record water levels will flow into virtually every part of the city. Even if the dike holds up to the Crest, the river could be at the level for between 3 and 7 days, which could take a toll on the structures. I am just not that optimistic right now that everything will be fine here on campus. We are only 12 blocks from the river, only about 8 blocks know that the flooding has started. If the dike fails, I am going to be under water because I am on first floor.

So my dilemma is this: do I leave or do I stay? On the one hand, it would be much safer for me to be miles away from here. On the other hand, if disaster strikes it would be important for me to be here to support my residents and those of the community who are in need. Who knows, maybe this is even the specific reason God put me back in RJ. Maybe he put me here for the sole purpose of being here when catastrophe rolls in because I know I would have left if I was still living at the house. But again, just thinking about the images of past disasters just makes me want to be nowhere near here.

Please pray for me as I contemplate this decision

Pray for Norm and all in the Fargo area who are contemplating such decisions: for guidance and protection.
It's Spring in the Rockies PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 26 March 2009 05:48
Ah - Colorado in late March.

I've got a lunch meeting today and a trip to Corpus Christi tomorrow and wouldn't you know that a huge winter storm is bearing down on us after weeks of spring weather. 6 - 12 inches of blowing now today and then more tomorrow morning. If I wasn't traveling, this would be fun - and over very quickly.

Of course, in Corpus Christi, it will be in the 70's! I am training 30 people to help others in their parish discern charisms. Will I be able to get out?

Update: Our forecast has been upgraded to a blizzard warning with cheery phrases like "life threatening".

Your prayers would be most appreciated!

By the way, the Other Sherry called yesterday to say that "Mountain Star" daughter, 7 year old Elizabeth is doing much, much better and her kidney function is going back to normal very quickly. Thanks for your prayers!
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