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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

What would you like to say to Thomas?


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

The responses to Forming Intentional Disciples are still streaming in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

We are now shipping freely while Amazon is still out of stock. And we beat Amazon's prices for bulk orders of 50 or more. Place your orders here:
The Feast of the Second Breakfast PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 10 September 2012 06:52

Only 11 days, 5 hours and 12 mintues to a really important Feastday!

The 75th anniversary of the publication of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit.  A global "Second Breakfast" celebration is in the works and you and your friends can take part!

11 am (sharp!) on September 21:  eat, drink, and be merry!  Recipies, inspiration, and accessories are all available online.


The Near Universal Delusion: "That Heaven Follows Life on Earth Almost as a Matter of Course" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 06 September 2012 08:00
Here's an oh so true essay on a very important topic: the practical near universalism that shapes almost all our pastoral choices, practices, and discussions these days.

'To imagine that heaven follows life on earth almost as a matter of course is to delude oneself."

In my experience, it is true across the theological spectrum - just as true for "traditional" Catholics as for "liberal" Catholics. The roots of this working assumption is deeper than our theological and ecclesial debates

"Second, there has been a loss of any distinction between the life of nature and the life of grace. Much teaching and pastoral example today implies that being a Catholic is simply one way to cultivate civic virtue and good manners. What has largely been forgotten is the meaning and importance of sanctifying grace, by which we become adopted children of God, enjoying the gift of second-person relatedness to God, the ultimate fruit of which is to enter the communion of saints in heaven"

As I wrote in Forming Intentional Disciples, "the common working assumption that we encounter is that personal discipleship is a kind of optional spiritual enrichment for the exceptionally pious or spiritually gifted. . . Personal discipleship will inevitably be treated as a kind of optional accessory in a Catholic community where less than half are confident that they can have a personal relationship with God and nearly 30 percent don't believe in a personal God at all."

If you believe in an impersonal God, the whole concept of becoming an adopted child of God and heaven as dwelling in His Presence with his saints and together contemplating God in the Beatific Vision is completely incomprehensible and meaningless.

And so our debates inevitably become all about earthly ecclesial structures and practices with little or no awareness of the what the structures and practices were instituted to accomplish in the first place.

When we lose sight of the final purpose of all temporal Church structures - the salvation of immortals for who the second person of the Trinity became incarnate, lived, suffered, died, and was raised again - ALL our debates will be and must be fatally distorted.
More News from the Front Lines: Christocentric Discipleship PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 04 September 2012 10:16

I received another group of excited e-mails from readers of Forming Intentional Disciples this weekend.  Here's a taste:

From a lay parish leader in the southeast:

I'm just finishing your wonderful book, "Forming Intentional Disciples." It has been a great read, highlighting some trends I have experienced and finally offering me some terminology for certain phenomena that I didn't know how to describe. Thank you!

Our pastor and religious education director have read the book - and are running with it! Our pastor has given it to the parish council, the RCIA team, all the school-age catechists, and seemingly anyone he can thrust it upon. I know they just put in another order. My husband is on the parish council, and the last meeting was spent almost entirely discussing some of themes in the book and how we can transform existing ministries and form new ministries using the suggestions in the book.

The emphasis is heavily on catechesis in our diocese -and our parish - and it is very solid. But we are sadly lacking in the first steps of encountering Christ and personal conversion. I don't think this is surprising given that it is such a well-educated area of the country. Emphasis is naturally put on the intellect around here. I think many people in our parish are ripe for a real encounter with Christ, though, and I know my pastor is dying to lead folks to Him!


From the DRE in the southeast:

I heard you were wondering who was buying the multiple copies of your fabulous book—we are the culprits!  I bought 55 copies in July and have been offering it to our catechists…all who have had a chance to read it, myself included, have been greatly affected by your work and are looking for ways to change how we minister.  I think it’s safe to say we’re all redoubling our efforts at the interior life, as well!


From a Catholic school teacher in the southwest

I wanted to write to thank you for writing "Making Intentional Disciples."  I read it over the past few weeks, and I couldn't put it down.  I'm so excited about the message found in this book that I'm going to be sharing about discipleship and the thresholds of conversion with my entire theology department and everyone on the core team for our youth retreats during one of our upcoming in-service sessions.   You see, I work at a Catholic high school in teaching 9th grade religion.  It is, as I often say, the best job in the world!  I'm really lucky, too, because my religion department all have the same goal, making disciples of Jesus Christ.  I know that I've even started to incorporate the main idea of the book into my lesson plans: with each lesson I'm asking myself, how will I call my students into a loving relationship with Jesus Christ in and through his Church today.  So thank you for writing a book that challenges me to a deeper level of conversion myself and to be open to calling my students for an active decision to follow Jesus Christ!


From a seminarian in the midwest:

First off let me say thanks for writing and publishing Forming Intentional Disciples. It is relevant to so many discussions I've had with my brother seminarians over the last year, and it has given me a language to articulate what is at the heart of the crisis in so many parishes today. It has also clarified my vision of how I want to shepherd the flock someday. My own conception of priestly ministry has been recently drifting in this direction – of focusing on intense Christocentric discipleship – and reading the testimonies, theology, and analysis in FID has confirmed that.


From a lay leader on the west coast:

My pastor and I are reading "Forming Intentional Disciples". Bravo. I am so impressed and I agree with your every observation.


Want to read the book that everyone is talking about? We have the last 100 copies of the first printing in captivity (while we are all waiting for the second printing to show up!) and we ship within 24 hours.

Start the conversation in your parish or diocese or among your friends.



A Small Torrent of Encouraging News PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 01 September 2012 17:19

A small torrent of encouraging news hit me yesterday in the course of a couple hours - just when I really needed it.

1.  My publisher told me that they are sending Year of Faith resource packets to all the bishop and that Forming Intentional Disciples will be part of that packet.  While it is true that someone of the Bishop's staff will probably determine whether or not he will ever see the packet, at least the book will be circulating around the Chancery so there's a fairly good chance that someone will actually crack the cover.  And it wouldn't be the worst thing if all that happens is that it ends up in the Diocesan library.

2.  A friend and pastoral leader wrote yesterday:

Yesterday, our associate pastor came walking out of his office after finishing the book and said to my pastor and I, "I'm scared." We asked why, and he pointed to the book and said, "this changes the whole paradigm." He is a young priest and is "all in."

He told me today that he believes the woman who styles his hair is a Seeker or at worst at openness.  He invited her to Eucharistic Adoration at our parish. He said, "just sit there for 5, 10, 15 minutes...whatever time you have. If you don't experience anything, that's totally fine. You can leave when you need to. But if you do experience anything at all, you HAVE to come and talk to me!" He then plans on talking with her about Jesus Christ, the doorway to the Father's love!

He gets it and is on board. He is preaching at a neighboring parish this weekend and is going to use their own mission statement to talk to them about intentional discipleship."

3)  Minutes later, another friend shared the story of another breakthrough:

You know God is at work when my crusty old pastor read (the book), and then on his own ,drops his copy in the mail to his buddy at a prominent parish with the words, "you must read this!" ...simply miraculous!

4) And to top it all off,  a few minutes later, I received a personal letter from a very famous and highly respected Catholic figure who said:

"I'm writing you because I agree that this is the absolute #1 priority of the Church in America and throughout western civilization:  they have been sacramentalized and institutionalized and even catechized without every having been evangelized!   . . . Your book should be required reading for every pastor of every parish in the nation."

One of the continual mysteries of this work has been how God has faithfully blessed it and opened doors like the book, which from the beginning (when my publisher bought the as yet unwritten book in 24 hours) has been entirely an initiative of God and not my idea at all.

All I can say is "Praised be Jesus Christ!  Now and forever!


Notes From the Front Lines: When Silence is Unbelievable PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 01 September 2012 12:56

This is a true story.  I have changed the names and a few details to protect the indentity of our operative who is embedded in a Catholic parish near you.


"I've known Amanda for almost 20 years. She's a church geek-- a Presbyterian pastor's kid. We met at a Catholic youth group.

“She IS the Christian that people claim the Catholic parishes are full of-- the one who has a deep, active life with Christ but is naturally reserved and humble so she doesn't talk about it. She is a private person, and goes out of her way not to offend. She is in church every Sunday. She's modest, generous, lives a life of service. She suffers from a chronic illness and never complains! - which is not actually funny, but it's funny that she fits the "secret disciple" stereotype to the letter (except for the Presbyterian part). She talks about her faith in context, stuff like how she feels about the new pastor, but not so much directly about lived relationship with God. It's just not her way.  She is reserved in her worship as well. These are sit-still-in-the-pews folk and I think their choir knows more Latin than ours does.

So when I quoted Forming Intentional Disciples on Facebook- the part about how outspoken Catholics are considered "Protestant"-- of course she asked me what it all meant.

She was speechless. It took a long time to explain to her because it was too unbelievable.  How is it Protestant to read the Bible? Do you mean, people really say, don't talk about Jesus like he is your "friend?" People really say, we can't all be Jesus? People really think it is prideful to talk about your relationship with God? You have been discouraged from talking about your experiences? In church, with people from your church?

I told her that there were Catholics who had deep or mystical experiences of God but felt compelled to keep quiet about them because it would be bragging, or elitist, to talk about experiences that other people hadn't had. Her reply was, "But you are supposed to share those experiences with people who have never had them, because that is how to bring them closer to God and help them know God. What if telling someone about it would make them interested in the Church, and you didn't tell them?" Hours later she was still bringing up the topic because of how shocked she was.

Just more proof that this is not even a cultural thing- it is a cultural Catholic thing. If my super-quiet, super-tolerant, very un-preachy, mainline Protestant friend, the one who asks for "good thoughts" instead of "prayers"-- if she thinks there is something abnormal about Catholic reticence to speak of relationship with Christ, then it's REALLY not my region vs. the Bible belt. Or happy clappy charismatic folks vs. serious believers. Or introverts vs. extroverts."


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