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Evangelical Catholicism Redux PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Wednesday, 29 August 2007 10:42
John Allen, senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, has a very interesting article on evangelical Catholicism, which you can link to in the title above. He points out that the last two popes, along with many of the bishops they have appointed, are evangelical in outlook. "Beginning with the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978, Catholicism has become a steadily more evangelical church -- uncompromising and unabashedly itself. Evangelical Catholicism today dominates the church’s leadership class, and it feeds on the energy of a strong grass-roots minority."

Back in April Sherry posted on the "Evangelical nature of Catholicism" [http://blog.siena.org/2007/04/evangelical-nature-of-catholicism.html] and that post generated many, many comments, some of which denied the possibility of using the word "evangelical," and implying that to use it was to separate Christ from the Church, or "protestantize" Catholicism. What Sherry was arguing was that the mission of the Church is both the worship of God and the spreading of the Gospel. Unfortunately, I believe most Catholics have focused almost exclusively on the first and forgotten the second since the Council.

Allen goes on to write, "The evangelical impulse isn’t exactly “conservative,” because there’s little cultural Catholicism these days left to conserve. Instead, it’s a way of pitching classical Catholic faith and practice in the context of pluralism, making it modern and traditional all at once.

David Bebbington, a leading specialist on Protestant evangelicalism, defines that movement in terms of four commitments: the Bible alone as the touchstone of faith, Christ’s death on the cross as atonement for sin, personal acceptance of Jesus as opposed to salvation through externals such as sacraments, and strong missionary energies premised on the idea that salvation comes only from Christ. Clearly, some of these commitments mark areas of disagreement with Catholics rather than convergence.

Yet if these points are restated in terms of their broad underlying concerns, the evangelical agenda Bebbington describes pivots on three major issues: authority, the centrality of key doctrines, and Christian exclusivity. If so, there’s little doubt that Catholicism under John Paul II and Benedict XVI has become ever more boldly evangelical."

Allen's article is interesting, but he may be failing to appreciate, I believe, a characteristic of a truly evangelical Catholicism. While, as Bebbington points out, Protestant Evangelicals may believe in "personal acceptance of Jesus as opposed to salvation through externals such as sacraments," that is not the case for Catholics. The evangelical thrust he's observing in the emphasis on authority, doctrine and the uniqueness of Jesus' sacrifice for our redemption within the Church also includes, I believe, a powerful commitment to the person of Jesus and a lived relationship with him.

For example, Allen mentions Pope Benedict XVI's recent book "Jesus of Nazareth" as coming from a concern for traditional Christology. That may be the case, but the book also flows from the Pope's reflection on the Scriptures and his relationship with his Lord. It is a product of prayer, as well as intellectual study.

Some may look upon Allen's description of evangelical elements in Catholicism as simply the triumph of a conservative agenda within the Church - and among those some will be dismayed, while others will be delighted. But I believe a true evangelical Catholicism - one which transcends the conservative or liberal label - is one which embraces the personal relationship with Jesus AND the sacraments. It embraces the authority of Christ over one's life, and is grateful for the guidance of Christ acting through the Church's magisterium. It is grateful for the offer of love and salvation that is given uniquely in Christ, and is willing to share that belief joyfully, patiently, and humbly with others - and is willing to incarnate that love as an instrument of Jesus, the Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI said in his first homily as Pope, "There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know him and to speak to others of our friendship with him." This is the heart of a truly Catholic faith. It is a heart surprised by an unmerited love, and desirous to share that love with others. It is a love which claims an authority over the beloved, who will accept no substitute for the Lover. It is evangelical - "Good News."
 
Nature Lover PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Wednesday, 29 August 2007 08:21


Sherry has been crowing about the beauty of Colorado, and I have to admit she's right. This is a beautiful state (as is Oregon, Utah, California and Arizona - all the states in the west in which I've lived). I had the blessing of doing some hiking in the Rockies last week with a friend of mine, Fr. Scott Steinkerchner, OP, who took a number of pictures of our adventures. I'm the small figure in the picture above.

That's part of the gift of hiking amid the mountains, streams, glacial valleys and alpine meadows of Colorado. I can't but recognize how insignificant my problems and concerns are in the presence of the majesty and beauty of God's creation. My background in geology and geophysics gives me an appreciation for the power at work in raising mountains, and the incredible span of history illustrated in the contorted beds uplifted before me, and the inexorable work of wind, water, ice and gravity in slowly tearing those mountains down. I find it comforting to be reminded that life doesn't revolve around me, and that the work I do, if it is at all successful, is not because of me, but because of the all-powerful Creator who chooses to work through me if I ask, and if I acknowledge Him as the one at work.

In the silence I hear the Lord calling me to set my burdens down and to simply rest in him. That invitation is so hard to hear in the roar of car engines on the road outside the room where I'm writing this, or in the brightly lit Safeway store with its Muzak-inspired siren song to "buy, buy, buy." The warm sunshine on my back and shoulders reminds me of the ever-present gift of grace that he's offering me. Laying back in the grass and looking up at the clouds as they morphed from one fantastic shape to another brought me back to the simpler days of my childhood, when being was more important than doing.


So many people I know say they find God in nature. I certainly won't deny that, since the Artist is present in some way in His art. Some will say, "yes, but nature doesn't make any demands upon us, the way God does in Scripture, or in liturgy, or in doctrine."

But I cannot agree with that statement completely. Jesus invites us to look at the birds in the sky and the flowers of the field. He points out, "they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?" (Mt 6:26-30)

The urge to be busy and productive, to achieve (and, more importantly, be known as an achiever) can be a sign of my lack of faith. This is especially true when my busy-ness is precisely that: MY business, rather than the Lord's. Getting out into the wild, untamed natural world, even if it's the mini-jungle of your backyard or the local park, and paying attention to the uncountable blades of grass, the tenacity of the weed popping through the cracked sidewalk, or the songbird giving voice to its ancient melody, challenges my sense of importance. The spent dandelion, with it's proud, bald head, reminds me of my mortality, and that my call from God is to be fruitful for His kingdom in the way he has established for me.

Perhaps we don't spend more time enjoying nature precisely because it challenges our self-importance and permanence. Yet if we remember the words of Jesus, "will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?" we may discover reminders that in spite of our insignificance compared to the whole of creation, we are still more than cared for, and more than precious in the eyes of our loving Creator.
 
Children as Mirror PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Monday, 27 August 2007 15:07
An old friend from my first ministerial assignment, Rob Drapeau, has a blog called, "The Natalist Diaries". He describes it as a sort of field journal of his domestic safari. He and his wife Amy have five children under the age of eight, so I suppose there is a fair share of wildness within the walls of their home.

He has a wonderful post titled "of hooks and mirrors," that chronicles a recent nightmare of his oldest, and here's the punchline (the Queen, by the way, is Amy, his wife):

"What amazes me is that as crazy as my kids can be, they always hold a mirror to my own irrationality. It seems each of our kids embodies some of the good and bad traits of Mama and Papi. This makes for a pretty entertaining home life, but it also serves as looking glass for the Queen and me to see our own faults and strengths."

It takes a lot of insight to realize this, and then courage to keep looking at our kids in such a way as to see our own foibles.

Good friends, especially spiritual friends, can do the same, albeit a bit more directly. If we're willing to listen and see, that is.
 
Deep Colorado PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 27 August 2007 14:45
It's hard when you have 5 children, ages almost 3 to 12, to drive long distances but I did manage to get the gang a hour west to Wilkerson Pass about which Mark wrote below.

It is frustrating when guests come all this way and yet can't manage a two hour drive to the Continental Divide because the Springs, as lovely as it is, isn't, well, deep Colorado.

I was pleased with the trip to Wilkerson Pass but had to explain as the Sheas and Curps were oohing and aahing that this isn't really particularly spectacular scenery by Colorado standards.

What would "spectacular" be? Dave Curp asked me.

"The Million Dollar Highway through the San Juan mountain in late September" was my instant answer. Alas, we are one month early and it is a 6 hour drive from here so I can't let my guests see it for themselves.

Then just now, I found this absolutely wonderful slide show of the Million Dollar highway in autumn. What is striking is that the photographer, Weldon Schloneger, managed to capture the brilliance of the aspen at their height which is quite difficult to do.

The high country in late September is as close to the beatific vision via natural beauty as I expect to come in this mortal life.



Million Dollar Highway, Autumn
 
Ya Gotcher Basic Poiple Mountain Majesties Above Da Frooted Plain Goin' on Here PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 27 August 2007 08:09



All us vacationers made the haj to South Park yesterday. No, not that South Park. The South Park that is an awesome vista consisting of an immense valley in the interior of the Colorado Rockies, surrounded by huge mountain peaks. It's the sort of place that should still having living dinosaurs in it.



Peter Shea

We had a loverly leisurely walk with the kidlets on a nature hike trail and looked for various plants and critters. We ate donuts. We cruised past the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center (which we plan to visit today with our guys). We experienced the pleasures of mild hypoxia (I come from the land of oxygen-thick air right at sea level). And we sat out on the patio in the cool of the evening and watched the full moon rise. God is good.




Sean Shea


Two more days and then I give a talk for Siena and the Diocese on the Care and Feeding of the Lay Catholic Apostle. Three more days and we have our soiree on Discipleship and Community. Looking forward to meeting all y'all! Till then, our boys have more fossils to check out (and I don't mean me).



Sherry Curp (AKA "the other Sherry on ID)



Curps on a Rocky Mountain High (Miriam, Dave, Helen, and Elizabeth who was calling herself "the mountain star" at that moment.)
 
Family as Sign PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 24 August 2007 09:47

Written by Keith Strohm

We hear a lot today about the differing variations on family. We have single-parent families, same-sex parent families, blended families, and the steadily diminishing original two-parent families. It's easy, with all of this variation, to walk away with the notion that the human family is merely a biologically pragmatic arrangement or helpful social construction--the basic building block of human society.

These are, in a very certain sense, truths. However, to say that these elements define the notion of "family" in its totality is to reduce the rich significance of the family in the fullness of human life and denude its very real power for the world today. Family is not just a biological reality and a building block of society, it is also a participation in the Trinitarian Life of God Himself--particularly when it flows from the sacrament of marriage. David over at Cosmos--Liturgy--Sex has an insightful post on the rupturing effects of divorce on the family. In it, he highlights the very real sacred dimensions of marriage and family:

A family relationship has an existence, an ontology, that is more than simply the sum of its parts. It is not simply an aggregate of the multifaceted relationships among the various members of the family. The family relationship has its own existence. Its foundation begins with the marital union between wife and husband. Its ontology arises from the fact that marital union is the most unique and perfect interpersonal bodily participation in Trinitarian Communion. The marital relationship gives rise to the potency for integrating other persons (children) into it, but this marital relationship is the foundation for the entity known as the family. Thus, while the rupture of other relationships within a family can damage its over all health, the rupture of its ground–the marriage– destroys the whole. What is left is only the possibility for individual relationships. There is no whole left by which all of the multipersonal relationships can be integrated.

This is why the Apostolic Tradition speaks of a family as the domestic Church, and it is precisely because of this ontology that John Paul II said that the grace of God flows through the family. Like the Universal Church, the family is a sign and sacrament of God's love, one that can help accomplish what it signifies. God's love is made present to the world through the family united to Him and each other.

Therefore, part of the work we are called to do (transforming cultures and social institutions to render them more just and human) includes supporting the discernment and living out of solid, godly marriages, where men and women are prepared for the vocation of self sacrifice and giving, and helping the growth and nurturing of family life.

In a culture that often views multiple children as a burden rather than blessing, this is no easy task.

Yet the call remains.
 
Atheists Whose Deepest Yearning is to Be Wrong PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 24 August 2007 08:42
John Allen's All Things Catholic just came out and is dedicated to the remarkable relationship between the famously atheistic Oriana Fallaci and the Catholic Church.

It's all fascinating but two quotes in particular struck me as fodder for a larger discussion:

Allen begins:

"Conventional wisdom has it, "There are no atheists in foxholes." In truth, atheists can be found even in foxholes, but often they're atheists whose deepest yearning is to be wrong."

And continues with a long passage from the man whom Fallaci asked to be at her side as she died: Bishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Lateran University in Rome:

During those days, a phrase came into my mind from the posthumously published book of Ignazio Silone called Severina. The protagonist is a sister who had left the convent, who is now dying from a wound she received during a protest. At a certain point, one of the sisters from the convent comes to her deathbed and takes her hand, saying, 'Severina, Severina, tell me that you believe!' Severina looks at her and says, 'No, but I hope.' I believe we Christians have a great responsibility to talk about our faith with the language of hope. Quite often, people won't understand us when we talk about the content of our faith. But without doubt, people of today can understand when we talk about hope, if we talk about the mystery of our existence and the meaning of our lives …

Post-modern people are much more intrigued by our hope than our doctrine. Until our existential hope, our serenity, our wholeness, our love, our sanctity is visible, they won't listen to our propositions.

How can we live in such a way that atheists who long to be wrong find in us a compelling reason to doubt their conclusions about the universe and the one who holds it in being?
 
Outward Bound and Looking In PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 24 August 2007 07:27
A distressing and moving multi-media piece in the New York Times this morning on Iraqi war vets seeking to gain strength for re-entry into civilian life by becoming part of a tough outward bound course near Leadville, Colorado.

"I don't know how to relate the experience of war and conflict to someone who hasn't been through it."
 
Reciprocity & Religious Freedom PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 24 August 2007 07:13
John Allen posted an intriguing piece yesterday about how the changing global make-up of Catholicism is changing how ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue is understood.

In the immediate post-Vatican II period, the architects of Catholicism’s relationships with other churches and other religions were mostly Europeans, many of whom carried a sense of historic guilt for sins of the past, from the Crusades to the Wars of Religion, and in particular they were haunted by the Holocaust. Their approach was therefore dominated by the need for an examination of conscience, and a spirit of reconciliation.

Tomorrow’s trailblazers will be Africans, Latin Americans and Asians, who are often more likely to regard themselves as victims rather than perpetrators of religious intolerance. In the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia today, Catholics suffer under aggressive forms of Islamicization, while Catholics in India are reeling from militant Hindu nationalism. In Latin America, Catholics often see themselves as targets of aggressive proselytism from Pentecostal and Evangelical movements.

In such contexts, self-defense rather than deference becomes the leitmotif. Two stories this week, both from the Indian subcontinent, help make the point.

Snip.

None of this means that ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue is headed for extinction under Southern leadership. On the contrary, the Catholic bishops of Asia have pioneered a flourishing “triple dialogue” with the cultures and religions of Asia and with the continent’s poor. In much of Africa and the Middle East, relations among Christians are close, in part because they face a common threat vis-à-vis radical Islam. Anglican/Catholic relationships in Africa may be stronger than anywhere else on earth, as both share a sense of revulsion about liberal moral tendencies among their co-religionists in the North. In Latin America, Catholics and Pentecostals are making common cause against the stirrings of secularization, especially in the legislative arena.

Demographic shifts in Catholicism are nevertheless reorienting the ecumenical and inter-faith outreach of the Catholic Church in two important ways.

First, reconciliation and mutual theological understanding are yielding pride of place on the inter-faith agenda to reciprocity and religious freedom. If the top post-Vatican II question was how Catholicism can be reformed to make space for a positive view of others, the question more likely to drive the 21st century is how other religions, and the societies they shape, can be reformed to make space for Christianity.

Second, the monopoly of “dialogue” as virtually the only way Catholicism relates to other Christians and other religions is giving way to more complex forms of engagement. Dialogue will remain important, but the 21st century is also seeing a comeback of apologetics, meaning a principled defense of the faith, and proclamation, meaning explicit efforts to invite others to conversion. Both are a reflection of the fact that many Southern Catholics are less inclined to tip-toe around the sensitivities of others, because they don’t feel responsible for creating those sensitivities in the first place.


Comments?
 
Intentional Disciple Elves Hard at Work PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 23 August 2007 07:42
Mark Shea here again. The little elves of the Siena Institute are (between going to the Uncle Wilbur Fountain, visiting the Cave of the Winds and hanging off of cliff dwellings) getting revved up for our soiree next week. It's been a peculiar combination of goofing off (for us visitors from Ohio and Washington) and working (for Dave Curp and Sherry W.).

Sherry is toiling away on the prep for the Building Community meeting on the 31st. We had a good long talk into the evening and got a bit of a preview of things to come. I think those who are coming will be happy with the chewiness of the content. Sherry is not fluffy.

Here on the Shea front, sleep seems to have been interrupted last night. I got in about four hours and then woke with a headache, so I talk a long walk at dawn and had a lovely view of the prairie stretching away off to the east from Colo. Spgs. I also got in a decade of the Rosary and spent the walk sort of venting at God and trying to listen a bit. Jan and the kids are still in bed, which is a switcheroo since I've been the slugabed.

I've been laboring to not think deeply about things much, which I find is disturbingly easy. That said, I've also been enjoying our time here. I've got some big decisions I need to make and not having other things pressing has been good. Especially good has been the chance to, 'ow you say?, "pursue God in the company of friends" (a phrase of which you shall hear more on this blog presently). It's been really wonderful having a chance to re-connect with Sherry and the Curps (and the little Curplings). Simply the chance to hash out things out loud is really sweet, since we all have our various struggles and trials to deal with. So I am grateful.

Sherry is going to need the computer pretty soon and I have to decide whether to crash or go to today's expedition, so I'm logging off for now. But I will check in later.

Ciao!
 
Inside Baseball vs. Evangelization PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 22 August 2007 16:00
Challenging words From Oswald Sorbino's blog, Catholic Analysis:

Inside Baseball vs. Evangelization

When you blog on Catholic topics, the natural and understandable tendency is to spend a lot of time on what one could call "inside baseball"--arguments about liturgy, Catholic problems, charisms, etc. But, once in a while, it is good to set forth the Good News so that non-Catholic or non-Christian visitors can see what is surely most important: Jesus Saves.

Jesus not only saves; but, as I have heard others say, Jesus loves to save. And "saving" includes healing of all kinds, not just spiritual but also emotional, psychological, and physical. Saving includes healing all wounds, even those from a very long time ago. Saving also includes forgiveness so that one can start again and be born anew from above (if you have already received the Sacrament of Baptism, then it is a matter of activating again the new birth you have already received).

Saving also includes empowering to live in the Holy Spirit in joy and peace. Saving includes the power to do the right thing, not to be crushed by impossible moral ideals that we, on our own, can never meet. Saving also means making us part of the Body of Christ where we can be refreshed with the sacraments, the prayers, and the communion of our fellow Catholics. Saving means we enter a new family united in the joy of praising the Lord Jesus and bound together by a bond that can surpass even biological ties to others.

The formula is basic: repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. But notice that repent is not just regretting this sin or that sin. The Gospel call to repentance, in the original New Testament Greek, has the sense of turning ourselves around, of changing our hearts and minds, of surrendering control to the true Sovereign and Lord. If you are non-Christian, you hand over your life to Jesus and begin instruction for receiving the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist). If you are a non-Catholic baptized Christian, you receive instruction to receive the Sacraments of Penance, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. If you are already Catholic, you rededicate your life to Jesus and seek out the Sacrament of Penance, also called the "Sacrament of Conversion." The end result is the happiness that never dies.

Yes, sometimes we have to take a break from all the "inside baseball" and talk about the crucial arena of our lives because the stakes are too high for all of us and because we may forget that many are desperately seeking Jesus.


Comments?
 
Running the Race PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 21 August 2007 15:49
Take a look at this interactive slide show of the Pike's Peak Ascent that was run last Saturday. Then remember the reading from Sunday:

Brothers and sisters:
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us
and persevere in running the race that lies before us
while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,
the leader and perfecter of faith.
For the sake of the joy that lay before him
he endured the cross, despising its shame,
and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.
Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners,
in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin
you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.
Hebrews 12: 1-4


How does one run the race?

With the grace of God and the selfless and faithful help of friends like the volunteers portrayed in this slideshow of those who helped the runners on Pike's Peak.

Longing to pursue God in the company of friends?

Consider attending our Building Intentional Community day August 31.

No one finishes the race alone.
 
Greetings from the Sheas of Colorado! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 20 August 2007 12:54
Mark Shea here. Chesterton said that inconveniences were only adventures wrongly considered. On that accounting, I have had a weekend of adventures! After I saw Jan, Peter and Sean off on their flight to Colorado Springs, my flight to Amarillo was canceled, so I caught a redeye and was up all night. I got into Amarillo shortly before I was to speak, gave my first talk, then crashed in my hotel room with a wakeup call for 15 minutes before the next talk. Both talks seemed to go well (though it's typically hard for me to tell). I got to meet the bishop of Amarillo (a very good man named Yanta, a Pole who has, among other things, given Priests for Life a sort of headquarters and house of formation, not to mention coordinating a bunch of laypeople in a prayer campaign which has shut down 18 out of 20 abortuaries in the diocese. Speaking of Priests for Life, Fr. Frank Pavone was there this weekend and he kindly gave me a little tour of the new facilities for his apostolate. He seems to know what he's doing in terms of organization and creating a long-term ministry that will be fighting for the rights of the unborn for a long time. Also, he preached the Mass yesterday and was, as usual, terrific.

The flight to Colorado Springs was also full of adventure. The plane to Denver was inexplicably late by an hour, so I wound up missing my flight to Colorado Springs. However, I was able to catch a later flight and so arrived safe and sound and delighted to see Jan (who came and got me) and Sherry Weddell and the Curps (old friends all) as I stumbled through the front door of the house.

We sat up talking till 1:00 and played a bit of catchup (we haven't all been together since the last trip to C. Springs in 2003). Then we drifted off to bed and (for me) the beginning of some serious sleep deficit payoff. Today we popped out to the library and brought home *ridiculous* numbers of books--ridiculous as in "people were laughing at the giant armload of books I was lugging out to the car".

C. Springs is All That. Clear blue skies and warm with the Colorado Rockies Right There and Pike's Peak looming over you. The streets in the neighborhood are all named for plants and flowers. It's like the classic American town in addition to being the Vatican of American Evangelicalism.

We're taking it easy mostly. The oxygen level here is half that of Seattle due to altitude. So I am dutifully taking my iron and drinking a lot of water to stave off headaches. The two Sherrys and Jan are planning Big Things (something I overheard as I slipped off into my afternoon nap (ah!). I have no big plans at all. That's my idea of vacation. We did bring along the Dangerous Book for Boys as a resource idea for fun stuff to do as father and sons and will probably consult that oracle in our next bit of down time. I'm going to push for swimming soon, because it's 83 degree indoors.

I may be popping in from time to time on this blog to say howdy and chronicle our adventures. And I look forward to seeing those of you who are coming to the Siena Soiree in a week or so! Till next time: toodles!
 
Raised to the Dignity of Being Causes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 20 August 2007 07:09
More stuff from the archives which haven't seen the light of day in a long time:

Some years ago, a uniquely silly phrase enjoyed its fifteen minutes of fame. For one brief, tarnished moment, license plates across Seattle urged me to “Commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty”. I confess that I found the words “random” and senseless” to be intensely annoying.

I could not believe that someone was actually proposing that we put intentional acts of kindness in the same category as a sudden whim for a pickle and peanut butter sandwich or that we believe that the creation of beauty is a meaningless gesture that required neither sense nor skill. I hoped that no one was expecting torrents of completely artless kindnesses and spontaneous beauty to start pouring forth from my remarkably ordinary heart and soul. If the human community was waiting for me to become an unconscious fountain of inspired creativity and warm fuzzies, it might as well make itself comfortable. We’re gonna be here awhile. I may be accident-prone but I am not prone to either accidental niceness or artistic brilliance.

Thank God, our hope lies in something stronger than our personal whims of the moment. It lies in our freedom to make thoughtful, deliberate choices that have real, historical consequences. As Blaise Pascal observed, God has raise us, far beyond our merits, “to the dignity of being causes.” We are not random causes or senseless causes, but graced, intentional, prayerful causes.

A priest at a recent Called & Gifted workshop asked me a most interesting question. Why, does God give certain charisms only to a few? For instance, if a few people having the gift of healing is a wonderful thing, why not give the gift to millions? Of course, we don’t know why God distributes the gifts the way that he does. Such questions are natural and intriguing but they can distract us from a far deeper mystery: why does God bother giving us any gifts at all?

Why delegate any real power to us to affect things for good or ill? Why not just heal all our wounds and forgive all our sins by divine fiat? Why does God insist on raising us to the dignity of being causes? And not just causes of trivial things but of ideas, decisions, actions, and movements whose consequences ripple through the lives of million over the centuries and right into eternity.

When we ask such questions, God does not respond with an answer. Instead, he gives us a mystery: the Incarnation. The Church has long recognized that God did not have to take on our humanity in order to save us. He freely chose to redeem us as a human being through the medium of a fully human life and death. Further more, he choose to become incarnate by means of the Holy Spirit working with the consent and cooperation of a human teenager. In his major work, Against the Heresies, written in 190 AD, St. Irenaeus uses extraordinarily strong words to describe the consequences of a decision made over two hundred years previously by a young woman named Mary:

“Eve. . .having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race, so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless till a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.”

Recently, a friend and I were talking with great energy about the need for lay Catholics to be "conscious, intentional" disciples. At the end of our conversation, he was silent for moment and finally commented, with the air of one giving into the inevitable: "Well, I guess it's ok if most Catholics are unconscious".

But it is not ok. God will not save us without us and he has chosen not to save the world without us either. There are no random saints or accidental apostles. As Christ began, so he continues to work today. He continues to pour out the graces of his redemptive sacrifice freely through fully human ways. We could never have earned these graces but we must deliberately choose to cooperate with them. We will not be transformed ourselves or become a channel of this grace for others without our free consent and intentional cooperation. God does insist on raising us to the dignity of being causes. If this is true, how many people's lives and salvation, how many communities, organizations, families, and cultures - history itself and its eternal significance - hang in the balance on the life choices of ordinary Catholics?
 
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