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9/11, A Homeless Man, A Bagel, & the Grace of God PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 31 May 2007 13:56
Over at Busted Halo, newly ordained deacon and staffer at CBS News, Greg Kendra tells his wonderful conversion story:

It started around the time my parents died, in the early 1990s, and I began to feel asense of my own limitedness—my own mortality. And the cavity grew in the wake of 9/11. After the towers fell, I spent two days in New York City, writing special reports for CBS News, unable to make it home because all the roads and subways were closed; in the days that followed, between the candlelight vigils and photocopied pictures taped to bus stops and the endless funerals accompanied by bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace,” I had a growing sense that there had to be something more. My cradle Catholicism had faded into indifference; mass was something I attended when I felt like it. My faith, if you can call it that, was patchy at best.

But after 9/11, I realized with a blinding clarity that the tidy life I’d established for myself could vanish at any moment. Then, one day, on the way back from picking up bagels, I passed a homeless guy on the subway, begging for money. I offered him a fresh bagel. He thanked me with so much enthusiasm, you’d have thought I’d given him a fresh cut of sirloin. When my train came, I looked over my shoulder to see where he’d gone. And there he was, at the end of the platform: he’d broken his bagel in half and was sharing it with another homeless man.

This withered old man who had next to nothing gave half of what he had to someone who had even less. Deep in the recesses of my Catholic memory, something stirred. “And they knew him in the breaking of the bread.” Something began to speak to me.

I realized: I’d been given much. What could I give back?


While on retreat at a Trappist monastery in 2002, I found my answer. There, I stumbled on something unusual: a deacon. He was from England, but at that time was living in France. I’d never met a deacon before. I’d heard about them, and once or twice I’d seen them, but my parish back in Queens never had one, and I was intrigued. (Deacons, I discovered, are married, and they have jobs outside the church. They are part of the Catholic clergy, and receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. They preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals, and can proclaim the gospel at mass and preach.) We spent a long afternoon talking about the diaconate, and I was amazed to learn that he also worked in broadcasting, for the BBC. He’d done some freelance work for CBS, too, and we knew a lot of the same people. Was God trying to tell me something?

The next day, I saw the deacon in action, serving mass in the abbey church and preaching a wonderful homily in three—yes, three—different languages. And it was then that it struck me. Here was a man much like myself, doing what I did for a living, and elevating his life to God in a way that was, to my disbelieving eyes, quite beautiful. Could I do this? As I sat in the abbey and heard the chants and watched him elevating the chalice, it dawned on me: Yes. Yes. You can do this. You should do this.

Catholic-Orthodox Conversation on Lay Formation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 31 May 2007 07:48
Fr. Gregory, an Orthodox priest and campus minister over at Koinonia and I have started up a interesting conversation on the difference between (and what we can learn from)Catholc and Orthodox approaches to lay formation.

Take a look and feel free to join in.
A Christian Craig's List PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 31 May 2007 04:06

Craigslist is a centralized network of online urban communities, featuring free classified advertisements (with jobs, internships, housing, personals, for sale/barter/wanted, services, community, gigs and resumes categories) and forums sorted by various topics.

It was founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark for the San Francisco Bay Area, and as of November 2006, Craigslist had established itself in approximately 450 cities all over the world.

Sam, the Chief Operating Officer at Holy Apostles parish here in Colorado Springs turned me on to a very interesting and potentially useful tool for parishes similar to Craig's List. It might be valuable for parishes that are trying to move into a more 'mission focused' ministry.

Ark Almighty is connected to the new movie, Evan Almighty, which apparently is about God calling a character from the Bruce Almighty movie to become a contemporary Noah, complete with heavy beard and plans for an ark. Youth Specialties, Willow Creek Association and the International Bible Society, three religious groups apparently within the evangelical world, partnered with Universal Pictures and Grace Hill Media to shape the ArkAlmighty program.

The website is linked in the here.

THE INSPIRATION: "Doing kind deeds for others isn’t a new phenomenon. Fourteen years ago, Pastor Steve Sjogren inspired thousands of people to engage in random acts of kindness in his ground-breaking book, Conspiracy of Kindness: A Refreshing New Approach to Sharing the Love of Jesus with Others. The book ignited a flurry of selfless, unexpected acts of kindness intended to help others understand God’s gift of love and grace to all people.

ArkALMIGHTY takes Sjogren’s ideas one step further by actively seeking out people in need and connecting them with those who are willing to help. Inspired by the themes in the upcoming film, Evan Almighty, ArkALMIGHTY seeks to follow God’s call for Christians to always do good - to friends, to neighbors, to family members, to strangers, even to those who don’t like us.

What makes ArkALMIGHTY unique is that it harnesses the power of the internet to effortlessly match needs with the skill sets of everyday people. The impact of ArkALMIGHTY is boundless – first by meeting the needs within the church, it can easily expand its reach into neighborhoods, communities, and beyond."

The idea behind the website is that church communities can sign up and have their own page in which parishioners or people from the local community can post requests for help, ranging from walking the family dog, helping repair a fence, to forming a prayer group. People in your church community can see the requests and then respond with offers of help.

Sam showed me the free starter kit that he was sent - a 3x6 foot vinyl banner, four t-shirts, four baseball caps, 200 door hangers, 200 flyers, a bunch of small buttons, a CD with instructions, a BOOK, a teen's guide to arkalmighty, etc. He was astounded at the haul - probably worth $100.00, he estimates.

"There's some money behind this," he said. I have to agree. I mean it's not every website that has John Goodman walk across the page and make a pitch to "get involved."

This seems to be a new way of promoting a movie, one that actually helps people in the process. It's also a very media-savvy way for churches to reach out to the unchurched. Included in the website are some "success stories" in which people tell how they benefited from the kindness of others through the website.

Check it out!
The Iraq War is Hitting Home PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Wednesday, 30 May 2007 20:51
In the last few weeks I've met two young men who are going to go to Iraq. Sean has just graduated from high school, where he was on the wrestling team. He's fiercely proud of his high school. His pastor commented to me last year on how much he had matured in the last few years, and that his participateion in the youth group had really helped him in that process.

Tonight I offered a home Mass for a couple whose eldest of two sons, Patrick, leaves for California tomorrow to prepare to go with his Marine battalion to Iraq in August. He's part of a rapid response team that will be working in a city that is known as a gathering point for insurgents, and from which they are sent to other parts of Iraq. He was telling some of his friends at the dinner after Mass that he had been told that the previous tour of his battalion had been exceptionally quiet, but that this tour would be just the opposite.

He was not grandstanding, or bragging. When asked if he felt prepared, he said, "Yes, of course."

Patrick will be nineteen a few days before he leaves for Iraq. Sean's eighteen. Patrick might weigh 140 lbs. I don't think he shaves. Sean can manage a bit of fuzz around his chin, but that's about it.

I don't know how anyone can be prepared to be in an environment where anyone not in uniform could be a potential assassin; where the body of a dead comrade could be booby-trapped to maim or kill a soldier who comes to retrieve it. How can eighteen and nineteen year-olds expect to be prepared to see their friends bloodied by shrapnel? How will they respond if one morning they find the body of a child they'd befriended?

I know the military does its best to prepare these adolescents - many of whom no doubt have seen their share of carnage on TV, movie and computer screens - but Iraq is not a videogame.

I mourn for Sean and Patrick, and the thousands of youths like them who are in Iraq or headed there. They will be forever changed by their experience, like their brothers and sisters who have gone to war before them. Some come back stronger, more resilient, more confident, more aware of the complexities of the world and politics. They sometimes become wonderful leaders.

Others come back broken in body or spirit, innocence lost and replaced with cynicism or fear or worse. They don't make us comfortable, and too often we subtly shun them, or lose them in some bureaucracy. They take some of the imagined glory out of war. Some of them end up in our soup kitchens and we judge them without knowing their story or their sacrifice.

God bless and protect you, Sean and Patrick. God bless all of our troops in Iraq. May you come home safely, and soon. May peace come to the Iraqi people soon, too.

Over 3500 American soldiers have been killed, and another 25,000+ wounded. Sixty-four to seventy-thousand Iraqi civilians have also died.

Let us pray for them all, and for an end to this conflict.
Vox Nova Again PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 30 May 2007 19:28

Written by Keith Strohm

I know that Br. Matthew has highlighted the folks over at Vox Nova before, but I wanted to throw in my two cents!

I know that I often point readers of this blog over to Michael and Katerina over at Evangelical Catholicism. Their blog is by far one of the most articulate and rigorous attempts at examining the issues of the world through the lens of Revelation. Now, Michael and Katerina have joined a group blog with other men and women who seek to expand the conversation regarding the evangelization of social structures and cultures. According to its Purpose:

Vox Nova is a response to the ecclesial mandate to promote the common good in every sphere of human existence. We come from varying backgrounds and carry diverse social outlooks, traversing a wide range of demographics and political sympathies. Vox Nova is free, to the furthest extent possible, from partisanship, nationalism and demagoguery, all of which banish intellectual honesty from rational discourse.

United in our Catholic, pro-person worldview, yet diverging in our socio-political opinions, we seek to provide informed commentary and rigorous debate on culture, society, politics and law, all while unwaveringly adhering to, and aptly applying the principles of Catholic doctrine. We are not intellectually wedded to any single political ideology. Following the example of the rich tradition of Catholic social doctrine from Pope Leo XIII to Pope Benedict XVI, we do not forge artificial blockades between "faith and morals" and "social judgments." We do not and will not filter Catholic doctrine and morality through contrived categories in order to morph our Catholic faith and practice into some ideologically acceptable form.

I have found the posts at Vox Nova to be uniformly thoughtful, thought-provoking, rigorous, reflective, and completely engaging. It is a current example of how faithful Catholics can have varied views on how to apply the Church's Teaching to the world.

I absolutely can not recommend it enough!

Living the Resurrection PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 30 May 2007 08:44
Wow. What a story.

At 17, Kristen Anderson lay across the railroad tracks a few yards from her parents' house and let 33 freight train cars pass over her at 55 miles per hour. She had lost several friends, her grandmother, and then had been raped. She wanted to die.

But, inexplicably, she didn't - although her legs were severed.

"Kristen knows there is no logical explanation for her survival.

"It was a God thing," she says.

Kristen celebrates the anniversary of her suicide attempt the way most celebrate a birthday.

She calls it her "rebirthday," a symbol of the spiritual change after painful months of recovery.

The experience prompted her to turn her life over to God, and in the process, Kristen began reaching out to teens who felt as hopeless as she once had.

Kristen underwent a conversion after leaving the hospital and now has a ministry of outreach to those who are considering suicide. I'll bet they listen.

"When I first started this, I was surprised by how many people thought about or tried to kill themselves. Nothing surprises me anymore."

You can visit her website here.
Today in My Town PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 30 May 2007 07:49

This is the sort of annual event that only two other cities in the US, Annapolis, Maryland and Newburgh, NY, witness: The annual military academy graduation with it's dramatic fly-overs over the town.

It is Air Force Academy graduation day - in this heavily military town, in the midst of a long war.

The war in Iraq is not an abstraction here. Thousands of local residents are in the middle of or preparing for their third tour of duty in Iraq. Liz, who is very active in my parish and generously loans Fr. Mike her car "Lazarus" when he is in town, is also a Colonel and has served in both Iraq and Kuwait. Men and women in military fatigues are a common sight - at Mass and around town.

On many flights back to Colorado Springs, I have sat near returning soldiers or watched their eager families waiting to greet them. As I watch and listen to them, I wonder:

How do you deal with the pressures of separation and possible injury and death? How do you deal with what you see, hear, and do on the battlefield? How do you, as a lay apostle, responsible for issues of government and war and peace, find your way through the minefield of moral and spiritual dilemmas involved?

A couple weeks ago, a retired military man gave his testimony at our parish. In passing, he mentioned that he had been away from the Church for many years before returning to the practice of the faith after retirement. One reason? For years, he had carried the keys to nuclear missiles around his neck and he felt he could not do that and practice his faith at the same time.

It is the sort of story you hear in a town like this. Where the local paper produced this moving on-line memorial to local soldiers who have died in Iraq since 2003.

All 219 of them. As of Monday.
An Apostle for Bhutan PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 30 May 2007 06:58
What a fascinating story. Via Asian Catholic news.

The only Bhutanese convert to Catholicism today is a Jesuit priest, Father Kinley Tshering, who discovered his vocation when he found himself sitting next to Mother Teresa of Calcutta on an airplane.

He encountered Christianity as a student in a Jesuit school in Darjeeling, India. He wanted to become a Catholic but the Jesuits refused to baptize him. Finally, a Salesian priest baptized him in the 9th grade.

"He wanted to become a Catholic priest, but some missioners dissuaded him saying he could serve the Church better as a married layman in Bhutan.

All this changed after a chance meeting with Blessed Teresa of Kolkata during a flight in 1985. The young Bhutanese executive sat next to the founder of the Missionaries of Charity. "She convinced me that I had a religious vocation. Then nobody could stop me."

Today, he is headmaster of the school in Darjeeling that changes his own life. But he is waiting for democracy to be established in Bhutan so that he can return there and minister as a priest.

"Father Tshering says he can "literally count" the number of Christians in Bhutan. "They are mostly Indians and Nepalese, and are considered outsiders." Protestants outnumber Catholics."

Father Tshering says his faith in Christ has never wavered. However "so many dissenting voices in the Catholic Church" worry him.

At the time of his conversion, he wanted to preach the Gospel in his country. "After so much training, we get confused," he said, adding that "only Christ" remains unchanged. "It is a real challenge to be a Catholic. It is one's basic conviction in Jesus that keeps one's faith (alive)," he added.

Sherry's note: The World Christian Database estimates that Bhutan has 17,000 Christians out of a population of 2.1 million. 1,000 are Catholic, 5,000 are Protestant, 11,000 are Independents.
The Fall of Constantinople - 1453 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 29 May 2007 13:25
Today is the 554th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Turks and Paul J. Cella III pays homage here.

As he points out, at that moment, the centuries of bitterness between Greek and Latin Christians simply evaporated:

A mass was said at Holy Wisdom on Monday, May 28; at last, in this final hour, Catholic and Orthodox joined together in worship of the Risen Lord. Greeks who had sworn oaths never to darken the doors of a church contaminated by Romish heretics heard liturgy next to Italians who had declared the Orthodox more loathsome than the infidel Turk. There, in that last agony of the Roman Empire, Christendom was unified, and the Church breathed with both her lungs. There, in the person of the ragged remnants of Constantinople's defenders, the sons of the Church Universal joined in true fellowship. There, in this greatest of tragedies, and only at the bitter end, was a true Christian brotherhood of Greece and Rome.

The lineaments of the Emperor's final speech are known to us. John Julius Norwich gives us perhaps the most moving construal:

He spoke first to his Greek subjects, telling them that there were four great causes for which a man should be ready to die: his faith, his country, his family and his sovereign. They must now be prepared to give their lives for all four. He for his part would willingly sacrifice his own for his faith, his city and his people. They were a great and noble people, the descendents of the heroes of ancient Greece and Rome, and he had no doubt that they would prove themselves worthy of their forefathers in the defense of their city, in which the infidel Sultan wished to seat his false prophet on the throne of Jesus Christ. Turning to the Italians, he thanked them for all that they had done and assured them of his love and trust in the dangers that lay ahead. They and the Greeks were now one people, united in God; with his help they would be victorious. Finally he walked slowly round the room, speaking to each man in turn and begging forgiveness if he ever caused him any offense.

Why must we wait for the bitter end to embrace our brothers and sisters?
The Vocation of Business PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 29 May 2007 10:35
Mark Shea posts about a new book of interest to lay apostles:

John Medaille's The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace published by Continuum Press.

The overriding theme of this book is that the original unity of distributive and corrective justice that prevailed in both economics and moral discourse until the 16th and seventeenth centuries was shattered by the rise of an individualistic capitalism that relied on corrective justice (justice in exchange) alone. But an economics that lacks a distributive principle will attain neither equity nor equilibrium and will be inherently unstable and increasingly reliant on both government power (Keynesianism) and consumer credit (usury) to correct the imbalances. Catholic social teaching, by contrast, emphasis a greater equity in the distribution of land and other means of production, and the just wage, and thereby leads more naturally to economic equilibrium and social justice. Finally, the book shows many examples of functioning systems, both large scale and small, that operate on the principles taught by the Church and produce a high degree of both equity and equilibrium.

And here are some very positive "blurbs" about the book:

'In this remarkable book John Médaille succeeds in showing how the more radical elements in Catholic Social teaching can be turned into really practical projects for building an alternative to capitalism. He shows that the key is to alter the culture of the business and the corporation in order to ensure that political and economic purposes, distributive and corrective justice become once again integrated, as classical philosophy and Christian theology alike demand. *The Vocation of business* supplies us at last with some keys for the turning of Christian critique of liberalism into a new from of effective practice.'

John Milbank University of Nottingham

"John Médaille has produced a tour de force - a book that manages to give the reader just enough insight into the various thinkers and subjects treated without overloading the reader and without missing anything important out. The careful yet unequivocal judgement on neoconservatism and the chapter on Distributism are particularly good."

Helen Alford OP, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Angelicum

Looks very interesting! Check it out.
Who Are Our Untouchables? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 29 May 2007 09:12
Several thousand tribal and Dalit Hindus in India have converted en masse to Buddhism at a ceremony in Mumbai. The converts hope to escape the rigid caste system in which their status is the lowest. You can read more about the event in a BBC article linked in here.

It makes a lot of sense that those of low caste might wish to "cast off" the shackles of a religion that keeps them marginalized within their own culture. Indeed, the hope of new opportunities, a new life, have always been a part of religious conversion.

St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1Cor 1:26-29) would indicate that that community wasn't composed of elites. "Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God."

The Gospel was first embraced by those who had become marginalized within traditional Judaism - known sinners and women. Of course, the Gospel still must be proclaimed to sinners, which includes each one of us. But beyond that commonality, to whom else might the Gospel be effectively addressed today?

When we think of evangelization within our own communities, we need to consider those who might be most open to the Gospel may not be the wealthy, the educated, the powerful, but, instead, the poor, the unemployed, and those who are marginalized because of disability, sexual orientation, marital status, or the lack of education. These may well be our own "untouchables."

Yet when I think of the communities in which I have served, I have to admit I don't know how well the homeless, the single parent, the hearing impaired, or the person with a homosexual orientation were embraced. It is not enough to preach about welcoming these individuals, that welcome has to be extended by people in the pews, and that means often stretching beyond ourselves, and seeking to find the Lord where we might rather not look.

I'm guessing that throughout the history of the Church, the people who have been most open to receiving the hope-filled Gospel of new life and conversion have been precisely the sort of people "respectable folks" are uncomfortable around.

These days would a recent Hispanic immigrant (illegal or not) find welcome in our parishes? Or a middle-eastern Catholic? Why do so many of our parishes look so homogeneous? Why do we tolerate the fact that in our dioceses some parishes have gleaming physical plants and all the electronic bells and whistles imaginable, while Our Lady of Deferred Maintenance barely survives financially from month to month, and has a skeleton staff?

Which of these parishes, do you think, would have a community like that described by St. Paul?

We who are "respectable" in the eyes of the world may not be as converted to the Lord as we think. We may need to be reduced to nothing.

My friend, Pat Armstrong, occasionally sends me these interesting articles from the BBC and the Irish Times, and for that I'm grateful!
The Eight Cent Bible in Vietnam PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 29 May 2007 08:20
I love creative local initiatives like this, reported by Asia News (hat tip: Amy Welborn)

In a small parish in Vuon Xoai (Central Vietnam) someone came up with the idea of selling small Bibles at the price of 2,000 dong (US$ 0.08) or giving them away for free to those who could not afford even that much. So now, every Sunday, at the end of mass, a small table is set up in front of the church with Bibles and a collection box. The area might be poor and life hard, but Catholics lead a life of faith and have not renounced the idea of spreading the word among the residents of nearby hamlets and villages.

The idea has caught on so much that it is now being implemented in some parishes in Ho Chi Minh City. It is also informed by a belief that if the six million Catholics of Vietnam read the Bible, led their lives according to its principles and devoted themselves to mission, in two years they should be twice as many.

The apostolic underground is taking root everywhere.
Iraqi Christians Online PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 29 May 2007 07:49
Stroll on over to Chaldean Thoughts, the blog of a Catholic Iraqi woman, now married to an American and living in Beaumont, Texas.

Fayrouz (the name of a very famous Arab woman singer) is a good source for news of the Christian community in Iraq. If you scroll down, she also has links to other Christian Iraqi blogs on the right hand side.

And if you'd really like to go cross-cultural, check out this website for Fayrouz, the Lebanese singer and listen to clips from her cd's.
Iraqi Women Paying the Price of War PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 29 May 2007 07:13
The New York Times has a heart-breaking story this morning about Iraqi women refugees now dominating the sex trade in Syria.

Back home in Iraq, Umm Hiba’s daughter was a devout schoolgirl, modest in her dress and serious about her studies. Hiba, who is now 16, wore the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, and rose early each day to say the dawn prayer before classes.

Maraba, a suburb of Damascus, has become a hub of prostitution.

But that was before militias began threatening their Baghdad neighborhood and Umm Hiba and her daughter fled to Syria last spring. There were no jobs, and Umm Hiba’s elderly father developed complications related to his diabetes.

Desperate, Umm Hiba followed the advice of an Iraqi acquaintance and took her daughter to work at a nightclub along a highway known for prostitution.

During the war we lost everything,” she said. “We even lost our honor.” She insisted on being identified by only part of her name — Umm Hiba means mother of Hiba.

And this little excruciating detail:

Even in central Damascus, men freely talk of being approached by pimps trawling for customers outside juice shops and shawarma sandwich stalls, and of women walking up to passing men, an act unthinkable in Arab culture, and asking in Iraqi-accented Arabic if the men would like to “have a cup of tea.

Sherry's note: If you haven't spent time in the Arab world, this won't make sense - but it is literally unthinkable. Simply meeting the eyes of a man is enough to convey the message that you are "available". I once had to stand across the street from a mosque outside Jerusalem's Damascus Gate for 45 minutes waiting for a ride. Forty five minutes of fruitlessly trying to hide behind a telephone pole with my eyes absolutely glued to the ground as man after man walked up to me and tried to start a conversation in Arabic (My standard answer being "La, la shukran") Until a pair of shoes walked up to me and started talking in Hebrew (Damn! I thought, "now its the Israelis!) and I responded in English, "I'm sorry,I don't speak Hebrew" - only to have the voice respond in familiar American English. So I slowly let my eyes travel up until I saw the gun he was carrying . . . Life on the West Bank just isn't American suburbia.)

This is one of the prices that women of all cultures and times have paid for war, poverty, societal collapse, and abandonment. Those of us who won't be pushed into such a life if we lose our parents or are born into poverty or abandoned by a spouse or never married or can't find a job in a bad economy are incredibly privileged.

And those of us who are privileged owe something to our sisters who are fighting for their lives and the lives of their children.

Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf is a Syrian nun at the Good Shepherd convent in Damascus, which helps Iraqi refugees. She tells of an Iraqi family she just met:

“I met three sisters-in-law recently who were living together and all prostituting themselves. They would go out on alternate nights — each woman took her turn — and then divide the money to feed all the children.”

More on this later.
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