Although the story of St. Dominic receiving the Rosary directly from Our Lady is pious legend (it was a Dominican in the 15th century who led the drive to popularize the Rosary),early Dominican devotion to Mary is not. For nearly 800 years, Dominicans have sung the Salve Regina at the end of Compline.
As for Dominic himself, whenever he met with any difficulty along the road he loved to intone the Ave Maris Stella (Bologna, 21). He also chose to retain the custom of reciting the liturgical office - or, para liturgical in modern terms - of the Blessed Virgin, as was done at Citeaux and Premontré. He arranged this in a special way, however. So as not to make the liturgy burdensome, but to prepare for it and place it under the protection of the Mother of God, he had the brethren say the Hours of the Virgin Mary before the canonical Office. Thus they recited Matins of the Blessed Virgin in the dormitory on rising (Primitive Constitutions, Dist. I, 1) and the other hours before those of the office.
In this way Mary was ever present in the life of the brethren. Singing her litany at the end of Compline on Saturdays was a devotion the brethren transmitted to the lay confraternities of the Rosary in the sixteenth century. During the first half of the XXth century Dominicans added to it the invocation, "Queen of Preachers, pray for us.
This image of Mary was transferred by St. Dominic to San Sisto, the first monastary of Domincan nuns in Rome.
Many know that the Dominican Order is distinguished by its commitment to evangelistic preaching informed by study. The early Dominicans were remarkable for many things, among them
1) being nearly all literate (lay brothers might not be literate) in a time when the vast majority of Europeans were not.
2) preaching was their primary mission. At that point in Catholic history, preaching was regarded as a bishop's province, not that of a priest. Dominicans did not run parishes. In fact they were forbidden to take on parishes. Their call was not liturgical preaching as we know it today but evangelistic preaching, directed especially to those outside the Church or on the margins.
3) Possessing books - hand copied editions of a gospel, for instance, that they carried around with them on their preaching tours. This was extremely rare since printing had not yet been invented and books were expensive and rare.
If you know the above, you'll grasp the significance of this vignette from St. Dominic's life more clearly.
In 1191, when Spain was desolated by a terrible famine, Dominic was just finishing his theological studies. He gave away his money and sold his clothes, his furniture and even his precious manuscripts, that he might relieve distress. When his companions expressed astonishment that he should sell his books, Dominic replied: "Would you have me study off these dead skins, when men are dying of hunger?"
This utterance belongs to the few of Dominic's sayings that have passed to posterity.
This bust of St. Dominic was commissioned by Pope Pius XII, who was a Dominican tertiary, and is based upon measurements of his skull.
One of the early Dominicans, Sr. Cecilia, left this vivid description of Dominic:
He was of middle height, his countenance beautiful with little coloring, his hair and beard very fair, and his eyes strikingly fine. A certain radiance shone from his forehead and from under his eyelashes attracting love and respect. His hands were long and beautiful, and his voice strong and sonorous...He was always radiant and joyful, except when moved to compassion by some misfortune of his neighbors.
The Christian gospel has many humble and practical applications but, at its core, it contains a vision extravagant in range and scope. Well worth remembering, therefore, and especially in an age of new evangelization, are these words from Eric Hoffer's book, The True Believer. Hoffer writes : "Those who would transform a nation or the world cannot do so by breeding and captaining discontent or by demonstrating the reasonableness and desirability of the intended changes or by coercing people into a new way of life. They must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope." It was no accident that Pope Paul VI, when he was reflecting on the mystery of Christian hope, chose to define it as "hope for something that is not seen, and that one would not dare imagine." The Christian gospel is a gospel of vision or it is nothing at all.
From Dominicans and the Wine of New Hope by Paul Murray, OP
Fr. Mike, of course, is a finalist is the "Mr. OP Universe Contest" which will be covered by ESPN once again this year and Br. Matthew Miller is a Dominican in training. And of course, Fr. Anthony and Clara, our Australian Co-Directors, are both OPs (Clara is a third order Dominican).
If any of them have time on this feast day, I will try to chivvy them into posting. As far as I'm concerned, if they abandon the airwaves to She-who-is-not-OP, they deserve what they get.
I'd like to start with excerpts from a simply wonderful talk by Paul Murray, OP: Dominicans and the New Wine of the Gospel about the Wine of Gospel Joy": the role of passion, joy, and enthusiasm in early Dominican preaching and spirituality.
Blessed Cecilia has also handed down to us another story concerning Dominic in which a great burst of laughter is recorded. What provoked the laughter was an unusual miracle he worked in the Church of St Sixtus. According to the ancient account, Dominic, with unrestrained enthusiasm, unmasked the Evil One who had come flying into the Church disguised as a bird in order to prevent him preaching. All the Dominicans who were present, both the brethren and the sisters, at once burst out laughing (subridentibus fratribus et sororibus). Although many saints, over the centuries, have worked miracles which have moved crowds of people to wonder and amazement, in all of Christian hagiography, I have never heard of a miracle which provoked immediate and joyous laughter among those present. Blessed Cecilia, in her Legenda, refers to it as "iocundum miraculum," "a laughter-stirring miracle."
Laughter was by no means always approved of in the Middle Ages. For example, the medieval contemplative, Mechtild of Magdeburg (who enjoyed for many years a close connection with the Dominican Order) admits that up to a certain stage in her life she considered laughing not only frivolous but "wrong". What changed Mechtild's mind on the subject was a vision she received once on the feast of St Dominic. The Lord explained to her, first of all, that Dominic was a great example of moderation, that he never troubled his fellow Dominicans "with things arising from some whim of his own" and that, in fact, "he often improved the food to help and show affection for his brethren, so that the young brothers might not think back on the world and so that the older ones might not succumb on the way." But then, addressing directly the subject of laughter, the Lord added, and the sentence is memorable, "Whenever Dominic laughed, he did so with the true delight of the Holy Spirit." Another German, the great Dominican, Meister Eckhart, also dares to speak of God's laughter and of "laughter" at the very heart of the Trinity. In an astonishing passage he writes : "the Father laughs at the Son and the Son at the Father, and the laughing brings forth pleasure, and the pleasure brings forth joy, and the joy brings forth love."
From the delightful 13th century illustrations: the Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic. Dominic was a great intercessor and his early followers observed his gestures closely when "he was inspired by God to know that something great and marvelous was to come about through the power of his prayer".
Our holy father, Saint Dominic, was also seen to pray standing erect with his hands and arms outstretched forcefully in the form of a cross. He prayed in this way when God, through his supplications, raised to life the boy Napoleon in the sacristy of the Church of Saint Sixtus in Rome, and when he was raised from the ground at the celebration of Mass, as the good and holy Sister Cecilia, who was present with many other people and saw him, narrates. He was like Elias who stretched himself out and lay upon the widow's son when he raised him to life.
In a similar manner he prayed near Toulouse when he delivered the group of English pilgrims from danger of drowning in the river. Our Lord prayed thus while hanging on the cross, that is, with his hands and arms extended and "with a loud cry and tears ... he was heard because of his reverent submission" [Hebrews 5:7].
Nor did the holy man Dominic resort to this manner of praying unless he was inspired by God to know that something great and marvelous was to come about through the power of his prayer. Although he did not forbid the brethren to pray in this way, neither did he encourage them to do so. We do not know what he said when he stood with his hands and arms extended in the form of a cross and raised the boy to life. Perhaps it was those words of Elias: "O Lord, my God, let the soul of this child, I beseech thee, return into his body" [III Kings 17:21]. He certainly followed the prophet's exterior manner in his prayers on that occasion. The friars and sisters, however, as well as the nobles and cardinals, and all others present were so struck by this most unusual and astonishing way of prayer that they failed to remember the words he spoke. Afterwards, they did not feel free to ask Dominic about these matters because this holy and remarkable man inspired in them a great sense of awe and reverence by reason of the miracle.
In a grave and mature manner, he would slowly pronounce the words in the Psalter which mention this way of prayer. He used to say attentively: "O Lord, the God of my salvation: I have cried in the day and in the night before Thee," as far as that verse "All the day I have cried to Thee, O Lord: I stretched out my hands to Thee" [Psalm 87:2-10]. Then he would add: "Hear, O Lord, my prayer give ear to my supplication in Thy truth . . ." He would continue the prayer to these words: "I stretched forth my hands to Thee . . . Hear me speedily, O Lord" [Psalm 142:1-7].
This example of our father's prayer would help devout souls to appreciate more easily his great zeal and wisdom in praying thus. This is true whether, in doing so, he wished to move God in some wonderful manner through his prayer or whether he felt through some interior inspiration that God was to move him to seek some singular grace for himself or his neighbor. He then shone with the spiritual insight of David, the ardor of Elias, the charity of Christ, and with a profound devotion, as the drawing serves to indicate.
When St. Dominic went to Rome, presenting a plan for an Order of Preachers to the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. At first, this was not possible, as the council had prohibited the formation of any new religious orders. But Dominic got around that by choosing the Rule of Augustine for his order, and in 1216 the official sanction came from Honorius III.
On his trip to seek authorization, he reportedly received a personal tour of the Vatican's treasures by the pope. "Peter can no longer say, 'Silver and gold have I none,'" said Innocent III, referring to Acts 3:6.
Dominic, now wholly dedicated to his life of poverty, replied, "No, and neither can he say, 'Rise and walk.'"
But St. Dominic could and did. Among other things, he raised a boy from the dead in the presence of numerous trustworthy witnesses who testified to that fact after his death.
Take a look at this extraordinary editorial in today's Asia Times about the global implications of the Rise of Christianity in Asia. It expands on the John Allen article that Fr. Mike blogged about last week.
Ten thousand Chinese become Christians each day, according to a stunning report by the National Catholic Reporter's veteran correspondent John Allen, and 200 million Chinese may comprise the world's largest concentration of Christians by mid-century, and the largest missionary force in history.  If you read a single news article about China this year, make sure it is this one.
I suspect that even the most enthusiastic accounts err on the downside, and that Christianity will have become a Sino-centric religion two generations from now. China may be for the 21st century what Europe was during the 8th-11th centuries, and America has been during the past 200 years: the natural ground for mass evangelization. If this occurs, the world will change beyond our capacity to recognize it.
People do not live in a spiritual vacuum; where a spiritual vacuum exists, as in western Europe and the former Soviet Empire, people simply die, or fail to breed. In the traditional world, people see themselves as part of nature, unchangeable and constant, and worship their surroundings, their ancestors and themselves. When war or economics tear people away from their roots in traditional life, what once appeared constant now is shown to be ephemeral. Christianity is the great liquidator of traditional society, calling individuals out of their tribes and nations to join the ekklesia, which transcends race and nation. In China, communism leveled traditional society, and erased the great Confucian idea of society as an extension of the loyalties and responsibility of families. Children informing on their parents during the Cultural Revolution put paid to that.
Now the great migrations throw into the urban melting pot a half-dozen language groups who once lived isolated from one another. Not for more than a thousand years have so many people in the same place had such good reason to view as ephemeral all that they long considered to be fixed, and to ask themselves: "What is the purpose of my life?"
The World Christian Database offers by far the largest estimate of the number of Chinese Christians at 111 million, of whom 90% are Protestant, mostly Pentecostals. Other estimates are considerably lower, but no matter; what counts is the growth rate. This uniquely American denomination, which claims the inspiration to speak in tongues like Jesus' own disciples and to prophesy, is the world's fastest-growing religious movement, with 500,000 adherents. In contrast to Catholicism, which has a very long historic presence in China but whose growth has been slow, charismatic Protestantism has found its natural element in an atmosphere of official suppression. Barred from churches, Chinese began worshipping in homes, and five major "house church" movements and countless smaller ones now minister to as many as 100 million Christians.  This quasi-underground movement may now exceed in adherents the 75 million members of the Chinese Communist Party; in a generation it will be the most powerful force in the country.
While the Catholic Church has worked patiently for independence from the Chinese government, which sponsors a "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association" with government-appointed bishops, the evangelicals have no infrastructure to suppress and no hierarchy to protect. In contrast to Catholic caution, John Allen observes, "Most Pentecostals would obviously welcome being arrested less frequently, but in general they are not waiting for legal or political reform before carrying out aggressive evangelization programs."
These realities have been written about by evangelicals for 25 years but are now just being acknowledged by Catholics and the secular press.
While we've been endlessly debating the Second Vatican Council and it's implementation and ramifications, the world has revolved around us - and we euro-centric western Christians, are no longer at the center.
Of course, Africa and South American will also be vigorous centers of 21st century and beyond Christianity, so Sino-centric Christianity is hardly a slam dunk. And the US will remain the largest Christian nation in the world through 2050.
But as Catholics, we have to grasp that our fixation on the intra-western cultural battles of the past 40 years is only one important debate within true global Christianity. It has to be at least matched with an awareness of the fact that non-western Christianity is going to be at least as important, if not more so, in the next few centuries.
Randy, one of our Making Disciples participants and a DRE in St. Paul, MN, sent me an interesting article on the response to the clergy sexual abuse scandal. I've asked him for the link to the website from which it came, but until then, you might find the article worthwhile in itself.
Total Reform by Dr. Jeff Mirus August 3, 2007
At the June 8th meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America, Christopher Ruddy addressed the “ecclesiological issues behind the sexual abuse crisis.” I haven’t been a fan of the CTSA, but Ruddy is right on target. He says that things won’t get better if all we do is address abuses. We need a more deeply-rooted reform.
Reform that Matters
Ruddy, an Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, is inspired in his analysis by a book by the Dominican Yves Congar entitled True and False Reform in the Church. Congar was one of the most brilliant theologians of the twentieth century, a man to whom John Paul II was sufficiently indebted to make a cardinal shortly before his death in 1995. His prescient book on reform was written ten years before Vatican II.
Congar distinguished three types of reform: reform of abuses, which is necessary but never sufficient; doctrinal reform, which is contrary to the Faith and must be rejected; and reform of “the state of things”, a “deep resourcing into the truth of things, a renewing of the spirit from the foundations.” As Ruddy sees it, what we need now is a thorough reform of the state of affairs in which we find ourselves as Catholics.
In this he is undoubtedly correct, and he identifies in particular three key words which need to be integrated into the life of the Church in order to stimulate this “big picture” reform: “accountability for bishops, identity for priests and adulthood for the laity.”
With respect to the bishops, Ruddy argues that the bureaucracy of the Church tends to favor the creation and promotion of bland bishops well-prepared to function as CEOs rather than as creative and inspired pastors. Everything from the way bishops are selected to how they schedule their time in today’s mega-dioceses tends to reinforce the CEO model, which in turn distances the bishop not only from his people but from his priests. As Ruddy puts it, “If a bishop is not regularly preaching, celebrating the sacraments (especially confession, preferably in his cathedral or another parish) and performing corporal works of mercy, his life and ministry are going to suffer.”
The resulting bureaucratic anonymity, says Ruddy, is disastrous. The bishop loses all normal accountability to his brother bishops, his priests, and his people, and accountability to the Vatican is often only a distant and manageable threat. It is nearly impossible to have incompetent or morally bad bishops removed, even in the new era of zero tolerance for sexual abuse, which can see priests removed on the basis of a single unsubstantiated charge. In the age of transparency, bishops have remained masters of stonewalling, and of hiding.
Interestingly, both conservatives and liberals agree that the current system too often elevates and perpetuates plain vanilla, look-alike bishops who don’t make waves. Most people will agree that the number of dioceses with any sort of striking leadership can be counted on one hand. This does not mean that all other bishops are inadequate, but it may be indicative of a larger problem.
Ruddy correctly points out that the post-conciliar situation for priests has been extraordinarily difficult. In contrast to the period before the Council, when the vocation of priesthood was elevated and cherished, following the Council “marriage was valued as an equal state of life, and optional celibacy seemed imminent, repression was jettisoned under the influence of humanistic psychologies but inadequately replaced and the supportive environment quickly eroded even in the church.”
After decades of drift, formation for celibacy has become critical. But to be formed for celibacy, the candidate for ordination must be given a strong sense of priestly identity. Vatican II itself devoted far more attention to bishops and laity, so that even where the Council has been properly implemented, the theology of the priesthood has developed very little. Instead we have had various secularized frameworks and models for priesthood superimposed from outside the Church. Is the priest merely the one who presides? Is he merely the servant of his flock?
Ruddy is hopeful that this situation is on the verge of change. He looks toward a “deeper theology and spirituality of priesthood, one that can fruitfully hold together both the priest’s distinctive identity and his thorough relatedness to other believers in the church.” This is clearly necessary to foster a healthier sense of identity for priests today.
On the theme of “adulthood” for the laity, Ruddy does not have in mind only the deficiencies of the laity but even more the besetting sin of clericalism, by which the laity are often reduced to a passive audience with no role to play in the building up of the Church. In a clericalist atmosphere, problems raised by lay people are stonewalled or simply dismissed. When the problems involve clergy, the wagons are automatically circled, and it too often becomes “us” vs. “them”. I have long referred to this as the “clerical club”. Ruddy rightly calls clericalism “a sin against baptism and confirmation”. Contributing to this problem is the incredible ignorance of the Faith on the part of lay people, in part because the clergy have not taught them, and in part because the laity tend to regard such knowledge as unimportant. On both sides, a profound ignorance appears to be acceptable with regard to the Christian life which would not be tolerated for a moment in any other pursuit. Lay people need to be formed and educated in a manner which enables them to live out their baptism and confirmation, joining with the clergy to play their own part in a true renewal of the Church.
Referring unfavorably to a recent book entitled The Lay-Centered Church, Ruddy comments that this simply replaces one dominant group with another. “We need instead The Baptism-Centered Church,” he says, “one that situates distinctiveness within the identity and mission that all believers have in common.” He also notes that participation in the life of the Church, properly understood, is not the same as democratization.
Conditions for Reform
Yves Congar stipulated four conditions for true reform: the primacy of charity, the need to maintain communion with the entire body of believers, patience, and a return to the sources of tradition. Louis Bouyer suggested a fifth condition which Congar accepted, namely, common sense. Ruddy makes all five points his own and also suggests three other ingredients for a successful reform. The first is that the ordained need to be defined primarily “by their relationships to other members of the church rather than simply through their possession of special powers.” This can help overcome clericalism. The second is that the Church needs to “foster habits of truthfulness and boldness.” We must not shy away from unpleasant or unfashionable realities. Since the sexual abuse problem was the occasion for Ruddy’s reflections, he notes as his prime example the 600 percent rise in priestly abuse against boys between ages 11 and 17 at the same time as sexual abuse against girls was declining steadily. He concludes that this should tell us something, and that we must not be afraid to engage in a frank discussion of homosexuality.
The third is that trust is essential to the effective exercise of authority, “and trust is precisely what was broken in the sexual abuse crisis.” Ruddy argues that trust cannot be restored merely by structures and procedures, though these are important. In addition and more importantly, there must be a “a renewal of evangelical poverty.” As Congar pointed out, “it is impossible to think wholly evangelically if one’s condition or manner of life is not evangelical.”
I’ve summarized Christopher Ruddy’s presentation at length because I believe he has things just about right. There is a tremendous need in the Church to concentrate on something more than merely fixing abuses. In the wrong atmosphere, fixing abuses becomes the equivalent of ecclesiastical whack-a-mole. We need instead exactly what Yves Congar, Vatican II, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI have called for all along: A deep examination of the truth, a renewal from the foundations.
Fr. Mike's comment: Of course, I'd add "intentional discipleship" as the primary need for both clergy and laity, and the necessary foundation for any true reform. I'll have to read Congar's book myself. It sounds very timely.
Last week at "Making Disciples" in Colorado Springs we introduced the forty+ participants from 20 dioceses in the U.S. and Australia to the idea of having conversations with people that aim at learning about their relationship with God. In listening to these responses, we might hear moments of significant insights, conversion, as well as disappointments and disillusionment. But by entering into the story of their relationship with God we can have a better sense of what their perspectives and questions are with regard to faith.
We thought it would be good to let them witness such a conversation (and then to have one with a volunteer from the Colorado Springs area), so I invited my friend, Daniel (of whom I've blogged before (see: http://blog.siena.org/2007/02/totalitarian-faith-enfleshed.html). Daniel had a powerful conversion about two and a half years ago, and my friendship with him has had a profound effect in my spiritual life.
At any rate, I asked Daniel the basic question we were encouraging people to ask, "Can you briefly describe your relationship with God to this point in life?" Now, of course, there are a whole series of specific questions that can follow that basic question, depending upon whether you're talking with an atheist, an agnostic, a non-Christian person of faith, a Protestant, a New Age devotee, a Catholic. And within faith traditions there are many questions depending upon whether or not they "practice" or not. The purpose of the conversation, however, is to listen well, and to hear the person express their experiences, and to try to hear whether or not certain "thresholds" that precede intentional discipleship have been crossed or not.
It's not my point to try to describe the whole process. Needless to say, Daniel got a chance to speak of his conversion experience and his relationship with God today.
Why this post has a connection to the other Sherry's post quoting Denise's reflection on heaven is that the conversation Daniel and I had ended with the question, "If you could ask God any question right now, and you knew God would answer right away, what would you ask?"
I expected Daniel to ask something along the lines of, "What would you like me to do with my life, Lord?" since that is a question that I know he would like answered.
Instead, Daniel thought for about five seconds, then looked me in the eye and asked, "What's for dinner?"
The room erupted in laughter and applause, and some of the participants stood in admiration of that amazing end to an amazing interview.
I was puzzled, however. Daniel doesn't take such matters lightly, so I knew he wasn't just making a joke - even though he likes to eat. Was he simply indicating that his trust in God was so complete that just knowing what was going to happen in a few hours was enough for him? Was it a reference to the Eucharist? Or was it something else?
So a few days later, over a burrito at Chipotle, I asked him the meaning of the question.
He said something along the lines of, "Well, Fr. Mike, you know that I want a one-on-one game of basketball with Jesus as soon as I get to heaven. But I figured we'd eat first, so I would want to know what we'd have." Then he told me his own image of the Paschal Feast of heaven.
That made a lot of sense, and fit the Daniel I've come to know and admire. As Denise indicated in the previous post, heaven does begin here, because our relationship with Jesus begins here. Daniel is consciously making the Lord a part of his everyday life; praying as he works as a carpenter/handyman (not unlike the Lord he loves and serves), praying for the people he talks with, and praying for guidance that he says what the Lord would want. No part of his life seems to be "out of bounds" in regard to his relationship with Jesus, including his love of sports.
Now Daniel doesn't have simply a "me and Jesus" approach to faith. He truly desires to know others who share a similar relationship, and participates in daily Mass and many other community events. He seems to have the charism of evangelism, so he has plenty of opportunities to gracefully share the love that he's discovered in very effective ways.
Daniel's response and vision might sound simplistic to some, but I don't believe it is. It is a function of a profound trust he has in Jesus' love and Jesus' will for him - and for each of us. While some of us (including me) say things like, "I have a lot of questions to ask the Lord about things that have happened to me," a person who really trusts the Lord may not have a need to ask questions. In that case, simply being with the Lord in something as intimate as a game of one-on-one hoops would be top priority.
As for me, I hope the Lord and Daniel are open to an occasional game of two-on-two. I always imagine St. Peter to be on the tall, stocky side, so I think the Rock and I could give them a good game.
But I'd want Our Lady to act as referee. I suspect Daniel fouls a lot.
"Macaroni and cheese!!" I exclaimed. A picture of an enormous bowl of Kraft’s most popular lunch choice for kids popped into my mind. Fork in hand, I stood staring at that bowl, wide-eyed, as white celestial clouds swirled around me.
“What is Heaven like?” I had asked my Mom. “It’s whatever makes you happy,” she told me.
Although excited about the prospect of a macaroni and cheese heaven, at six years of age I wasn’t yet ready for an eternity with my favorite food. I would miss my parents, grandparents, sister and soon-to-be-born baby brother here on Earth. As I grew up, I was too preoccupied with college and marriage to think much of God’s Eternal Plan. But now, 29 years after my initial cheesy thoughts, I look forward every day to getting to heaven.
What is Heaven really like? Do we know? Can we know?
Jesus gives us glimpses of heaven in the Gospels. There will be no marriage, no tears, no suffering and many rooms, one of which He prepares for us. Those that love God and each other, and care for God by caring for each other, will get to go. And once there, we will be the same yet different, as Jesus was the same yet different after His resurrection.
John’s book of Revelation also gives us this image of the saints that have washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb: they surround His throne singing and praising Him while incense burns at His altar. Catholic author Scott Hahn compares this image to our celebration of mass, which according to Catholic teaching, links the angels and saints in heaven to us here on earth in glorious praise of our Lord and His sacrifice for us. Saints such as the Therese of Liseaux (the Little Flower), St. Jude and Saint Anthony intercede there forever for us as part of the Communion of Saints.
It all sounds both comforting and strange, wonderful but a bit out of reach, and also hard to imagine or understand.
My Medjugore newsletter spoke about one of the visionaries who was privileged to see heaven once when he was just a young boy. He described it as a place of immense light, peace, joy and unending space, where people who were dressed in pink, yellow and gray garments walked around praying. They all knew each other. My Mom, whose favorite color is blue, remarked, “I’m in trouble – but I guess I could settle for pink.”
I hate to admit it, but we both agreed that it didn’t sound that great.
These thoughts and feeling disturbed me. Shouldn’t I desire heaven more that anything? Isn’t Jesus supposed to be the most important thing in my life? Why don’t I feel that way? Perhaps this is why I was afraid of heaven: I needed a priority check.
Thankfully, God always hears and answers those kinds of prayers -- the ones where we want to know Him and His kingdom more. I sat one day at daily Mass, with my three children ages four, two and one. It was around All Soul's Day, 2005. The readings talked about heaven. The visiting priest to our church that day said that although we can’t know for sure, it seemed logical to him that heaven involves a continuation of the relationships that start here on earth, in God’s love. God, who is Love, created us out of Love, to love Him and each other. I thought of Genesis. Adam and Eve messed it up in the Garden of Eden, but God didn’t want that to happen. He wants us to choose Him. Through Jesus, heaven is the perfection of our relationship with God and each other in love.
I was totally excited at hearing that homily. So it starts here!! It’s not something that happens only after we die. We can begin to know heaven now – with each other, and of course, the Lord! I was swept up with the hope that I could take all the good people, friends, relatives, and memories with me to heaven. My childhood fears were abolished, and at that moment I felt relief about the whole thing.
In the months that followed, it seemed like this vision of heaven was confirmed. I knew I had to get to know Jesus more. I turned off Law and Order and began to pray the rosary. I shared my faith with people. I stopped worrying as much about everything as I began to trust Jesus more in my life, for even the small (which are actually the hardest) things.
I began to see heaven every day. It was with me when I looked forward to talking with friends and realized that even though I had to get back to the daily grind, I’d have plenty of time in heaven to continue the conversations. Being seven hours away from my parents and Gram, sister and brother, seemed less burdensome. I trusted that my deceased grandparents could see my kids and were with us. I mourned less the inevitable growing of my children, and the recent loss of one by miscarriage, and kept them in my heart for someday in eternity.
That was just the beginning! God is so good and so eager to shower us with blessings. He is happy to give us a taste of heaven on earth. Scott Hahn is right – mass is an experience of heaven if I let it be -- especially when I can sing the Gloria. How wonderful to praise God with old acquaintances and new friends while our children dance around us! The Community of Saints is found in our Catholic Moms group, where I’m sure Mary intercedes for us. We Moms have found wonderful friendship and healing. Three women were blessed with pregnancies they never thought they’d have, and we hold one of these babies almost every time we meet.
Being a part of God’s kingdom is an honor and responsibility. God’s kingdom involves inviting others to join, and I feel a deep sense of peace and joy when I can do so. As much as I can, I add little moments of joy to my heaven bank: sharing hugs and snuggles with my kids, taking time with my husband, contacting old friends and making new ones, walking at the beach, breathing in the waves and sunset, jogging, giving out Communion, skating on the bay, looking in on my peacefully sleeping children before I go to bed. Jesus is faithful to those who seek Him. If we all understood how much Jesus wants to give us, and not just when we die, I can’t see why everyone wouldn’t want to be starting heaven now.
My two older children, Elizabeth and Daniel, are five and three respectively. They are beginning to ask me about heaven. A couple weeks ago I told them that I used to think it involved a big bowl of macaroni and cheese. But now, I add, I think it really means sharing a humongous pepperoni pizza and Coke fridge pack with Jesus, our family, and the whole bunch of our relatives, friends and people we have yet to meet, including the Baby. There’s probably chocolate of some sort for dessert.
Do you care to join us?
“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has ready for those who love Him.”
A recent (July 23) survey of 4000 Americans indicates a problem for us that stems from our individualism. While an overwhelming majority of us think of ourselves as well-informed leaders who are loyal and reliable independent thinkers who are making a positive difference in the world, there are apparently SOME of us who are bringing the rest of us down. Of course, because we are individualists and respectful of other's moral views, we aren't going to have the bad taste to actually try to convince them of the destructiveness of their views to themselves or to society!
"Sociologists have good reason to call this the era of hyper-individualism, according to data from a newly released study from The Barna Group. Based on interviews with a nationally representative sample of more than 4000 adults, the self-image of American adults came through loud and clear.
Most Americans think of themselves as leaders (71%) and believe they are well-informed about current events (81%). They almost unanimously view themselves as independent thinkers (95%), and as loyal and reliable people (98%). They also say they are able to easily adapt to changes and a whopping four out of five people believe they are making a positive difference in the world. Two out of three adults noted that they like to be in control of situations.
And while most Americans contend that they are free thinkers who are "very open" to alternative moral views (75%), a huge majority support traditional family values (92%), resulting in a large majority who claim to be concerned about the moral state of the nation (86%). Interestingly, though, only one out of four adults is concerned enough to try to convince other people to change their views on such issues."
I'll have a separate post on the statistic that two out of three adults like to be in control of situations.
John Allen has an interesting article on the growth of Christianity in China. If you're like me, it will be a surprise. I tend to think of China as an atheist nation, so it came as a shock to learn that it is the third largest Christian nation in the world. Having a huge population helps, and Christians are still a minority (and an often oppressed minority), but as Allen points out, there is a real hunger for meaning that is turning the Chinese to religion, even as the standard of living for many Chinese is improving.
But the growth of Christianity isn't happening in the Catholic Church, which remains divided between the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association recognized by the government, and other Catholics who were underground during the worst of the oppression. In a nutshell, Catholicism is keeping pace with the growth of the population, while Protestant Christianity, particularly Pentecostalism, is rapidly growing. Part of the reason is in the approach to evangelization. Allen writes,
"Much Catholic conversation about evangelization in China is usually phrased in the subjunctive: 'If China were to open up on religious freedom …' or 'If the Holy See and China were to establish diplomatic relations …' The implicit assumption is sometimes that structural change is required before Catholicism can truly move into an expansion phase.
Pentecostal talk about mission, on the other hand, is very much phrased in the simple present. Most Pentecostals would obviously welcome being arrested less frequently, but in general they are not waiting for legal or political reform before carrying out aggressive evangelization programs. The most audacious even dream of carrying the gospel beyond the borders of China, along the old Silk Road into the Muslim world, in a campaign known as "Back to Jerusalem." As Aikman explains in Jesus in Beijing, some Chinese Evangelicals and Pentecostals believe that the basic movement of the gospel for the last 2,000 years has been westward: from Jerusalem to Antioch, from Antioch to Europe, from Europe to America, and from America to China. Now, they believe, it's their turn to complete the loop by carrying the gospel to Muslim lands, eventually arriving in Jerusalem. Once that happens, they believe, the gospel will have been preached to the entire world.
Most experts regard that prospect as deeply improbable; Madsen said he doubts more than a handful of Protestants in China take the "Back to Jerusalem" vision seriously. Aikman is more sanguine, reporting that as of 2005 two underground Protestant seminaries in China were training believers for work in Islamic nations. In any event, it's revealing as an indication of missionary ferment.
One exception to the general Catholic hesitancy is Bishop Jin Luxian of Shanghai, a controversial figure because of his willingness to register with the government, but someone who enjoys the respect of many senior Catholic leaders internationally. Luxian, the subject of a flattering profile in the current issue of The Atlantic, is revamping his cathedral to draw upon traditional Chinese aesthetics, part of a larger program of forging an authentically Chinese expression of the Catholic faith.
'The old church appealed to 3 million Catholics,' he said. 'I want to appeal to 100 million Catholics.'"
Sherry has reported extensively on the tendency for Catholic missiologists to deny that Christianity is taking root in Asia. Allen's discussion raises an issue for me: what excuses do I give for not sharing how Christ has changed my life with others? Even more to the point - HAVE I been changed by a relationship with Jesus? That was a question raised in our new workshop, "Making Disciples."
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