O RADIX Iesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, who stand as a sign for the peoples (Isaiah 11:10), the kings of the earth are silent before you (Isaiah 52:15) and the nations invoke you: come to free us, do not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).
O ADONAI, dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extenso.
O Lord (Exodus 6:2, Vulgate), leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2) and on Mount Sinai gave him the law (Exodus 20): come and free us with your powerful arm (Exodus 15:12-13).
On January 9, the people of southern Sudan will vote on whether or not they wish to become Africa's newest nation: Southern Sudan. Southern Sudan is only 20% Christian but a Catholic radio station, which made its first broadcast on Christmas Eve 2006, has become a kind of de facto national parliament.
Feisty Radio Bakhita, a project of the Archdiocese of Juba, has incurred opposition from government officials and even sparked a rebuke from church leaders, yet its director, Mexican Comboni Sister Cecilia Sierra, says the station will continue helping people construct a new nation in the wake of decades of war.
"With a highly illiterate population and poor infrastructure, the only way to effectively communicate with people in Southern Sudan is radio. Yet, more than just giving people information, we offer a platform for people to communicate among themselves, a place for them to express their views and opinions and feel like active members of whatever is taking place," Sister Sierra told Catholic News Service.
The station is named after Josephine Bakhita, a slave girl from Darfur who went on to become Sudan's first Catholic saint, the station broadcasts in a local version of Arabic, as well as in English and a host of local languages
Sister Sierra, who studied journalism in the US, has been threatened by government officials but refuses to back down.
"Earlier this year, Sister Sierra said, a security official and a contingent of police came to the station and order it closed. Although she was not directly reprimanded by the head of state security, who chastised a representative of another station in front of her, a lower-ranking official lectured her.
"He told me, 'You heard the message. No more politics.' I said nobody had told me anything. The guy responded, 'He told you not to get into politics. If you get into politics again I will come and close the radio again.' He was so upset he wanted to beat me. He raised his hand. Fortunately, there was a priest there and he didn't, but he felt inferior because I was a woman and I was talking back to him."
Pray for the brave pioneers of Radio Bakhita and the people of southern Sudan as they near the vote on independence.
The last week of Advent and with them come the wonderful "O" Antiphons, chanted by Dominican students
O SAPIENTIA, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, who come from the mouth of the Most High (Sirach 24:5), you extend to the ends of the earth, and order all things with power and sweetness (Wisdom 8:1): come and teach us the way of wisdom (Proverbs 9:6).
Based upon all the work we've done here for Making Disciples, (it's fresh in my mind having just finished finalizing the content for a 500 per son Making Disciples weekend in LA in January) I 'd just like add a few things to the conversation:
1) The single most important overall finding of the Pew US religious Landscape survey is that the majority of Americans of "all backgrounds" have chosen to leave the faith of their childhood at some point in their life - usually as a teenager or young adult. (Most Catholics are gone by age 23, the majority by age 18.) It is true across the board. It isn't just a Catholic thing. Roughly 53% of US adults have done and only about 9% "reverted" back later.
It is a universal cultural wind that basically means that the majority of our young adults feel that it is part of becoming an adult to re-evaluate the faith (or lack thereof) they were raised in and find one for themselves - one that "fits" their understanding of the world.
Sometimes this dynamic works for us. Among those raised without any faith, it means the majority (54%) will choose a faith for themselves as an adult.
Sometimes it works against us. Among those raised with a faith, it means that they probably won't simply "accept" the faith in which they were raised but will pass though another stage of personal discernment and decision-making which for the majority, involves leaving.
Overall, it means that faiths who evangelize - that is, who intentionally foster the personal faith commitments of individuals rather than depending upon inherited identity and culture to retain membership - are doing much better than those who depend upon inherited faith to retain loyalty. It means that "cultural" Catholicism and "cultural" Lutheranism are equally vulnerable.
2) A Lutheran leaving for a Methodist - linked congregation is NOT equivalent to a Catholic becoming an evangelical or "nothing". For the majority of Protestants, it is the spiritual and experiential equivalent of moving from one Catholic parish to another for us.
I think it is critical that we understand that "denominational" loyalty among Protestants has lost most of its meaning among the majority of Protestants over the past 30 -40 years. For most Protestants today, it is almost always the quality of the local congregation, not the overall denomination, that is the key issue. Because when they refer to the "the church" they usually mean their local congregation while we mean the Church universal in communion with the Pope.
In any case, many denominationally affiliated local Protestant churches now obscure or even hide their affiliation. For instance, the famous Saddleback Church in southern California is nominally Southern Baptist but that is hardly ever mentioned. Almost everyone regards Saddleback as its own "brand". Hardly anyone involved would regard a family leaving Saddleback Church for Radiant Church because they moved from Orange County to Colorado Springs as "leaving" the Southern Baptist denomination. It wouldn't enter the equation for anyone - the family who are moving, the people who knew them at Saddleback or the pastor of the new church in Colorado Springs.
So while it is technically accurate to say that Catholics have more "brand loyalty" than say, Methodists, it really is apples and oranges. In our current climate, the only sort of intra-Protestant move which has the same significance as a Catholic leaving the Church would be a conservative or Pentecostal Protestant intentionally joining a liberal congregation or someone from a very liberal Presbyterian background joining an strongly evangelical congregation like University Presbyterian in Seattle. Increasingly only true denominational insiders and ecclesial nerds care much about "denomination" in the Protestant world. Average members look for a local congregation that seems to meet their needs and the needs of their family.
3) The really critical finding regarding Catholics are the generational findings (which I got from CARA and confirmed with Mark Grey on the phone.) Pew found that Catholics have by far, the biggest fall-off in attendance between the pre-WWII Builder Generation and Gen X (30's and early 40's) Millennial (teens and 20's) Catholics. And that results in more positive "all-ages" percentages that mask our real danger.
Per CARA, only 15% of Gen X Catholics and 17% of Millennial Catholics attend Mass regularly. The ones who do are, as a group, highly committed - the JPII generation. But over 80% of their generation is missing altogether - and we are talking about 80 % of the ones who have retained the identity, not those who were baptized but have dropped the name "Catholic" altogether and vanished.
Here's the real stunner: Pew stated that the best guarantee of regular Catholic church attendance as an adult was for a Catholic to become Protestant. About 63% of Catholics who become Protestant attend church regularly; only about 21% of cradle Catholics do so.
And here's the really critical factor that I found when looking very, very closely and that we never talk about. Mass attendance is directly related to and goes up and down with the number of Catholics who believe it is possible to have a personal relationship with God. This was a factor that Pew actually studied while CARA, to my knowledge, has not.
Only 40% of 20 somethings who have retained the name "Catholic" are certain that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God.
Post-moderns don't do things just because their parents did it. They do something because it is personally meaningful. Why show up at Mass if you don't believe in a personal God who desires a relationship with you?
And that's where we need to start in our evangelization efforts with the majority of Catholic young adults.
Detroit is the poster child for urban decay butYoungstown's population has also dropped more than 50% since the 60's and it is filled with abandoned buildings. Youngstown is a couple years ahead of Detroit in a similar plan to consolidate neighborhoods, pull down thousands of abandoned buildings, and focus upon building a smaller, better city than dreaming of restoring the past.
Meanwhile, Fr. Greg Maturi, OP is taking direct action. When an elderly couple were shot just outside St. Dominic's in September (the husband died and the wife had her leg amputated) it was the final straw.
Fr. Maturi is working with Youngstown's mayor in Operation Redemption:
Operation Redemption. The initiative is simple but aggressive - battle the recent violence by tearing down the abandoned homes that have become havens for criminal activity, then hope to stem the tide of residents fleeing the city.
To those who told Father that he has made himself a target through his activism, his response was simple: "This is what a priest does."
From Fr. Imbelli over at dotcommonweal comes this gorgeous and unusual 14th century Madonna of Childbirth. The artist is simply known as the Master of the Madonna of Childbirth.
It reminded me of a Christmas card from a friend and fellow CSI teacher that I received last night which shows him embracing his wife in the last stage of her first pregnancy. (She is due in early January.)
And here we are in the last weeks of Advent, in the last weeks of the year.
For those of us who aren't physically pregnant, how will Christ be birthed in us in 2011?
What great gift is the Holy Spirit about to give the world through us in the year to come? Am I ready? Will I say "yes"?
Just cause I should be working furiously on our huge, upcoming Making Disciples weekend in Los Angeles in January. Naturally, I am spending time looking for unusual Christmas carols.
Here are two that I find very striking. The first is a dramatic Byzantine chant in Arabic (with subtitles in English). The second is the gorgeous but relatively unfamiliar Huron Carol in Huron, French, and English.
Perfect for both snowy and snowless evenings in Advent.
This is the song of the hour, methinks. While I'm dreaming in a snowless Colorado Springs, friends in Atlanta (!), Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan regale me with tales of their winter wonderlands. We have snow in the mountains but I ordered some powder with my sunshine here in the lowlands!
I have been blessed with some of the most amazing friends who live in the most interesting places. One such cherished friend sent out her Christmas letter today which included a picture of a local camel race - complete with robot rider.
It seems that in 2005, UNICEF finally succeeded in pressuring the camel racing industry, to stop the practice of buying child jockeys from places like Pakistan for their camel races. The boys weren't fed much to keep their weight down, could be seriously injured or killed in a race, had no education, and basically lost their childhood. Of course, they were the children of the very poor and very poor children often never experience what we would consider to be a normal childhood. But the good folks at UNICEF stopped the practice and then, most importantly, followed up with those boys when they returned home and ensured that they received an education and vocational training.
So now cheap, 10 pound mini-robots ride in their place and are run by remote control. If you've been dreaming of a nice camel race robot for Christmas, take a few minutes to watch this UNICEF video:
In light of our recent election, you have got to watch this stunning New York Times piece on the level of electoral corruption in Russia. It is breath-taking. As is the very tough, amazing woman at the heart of the story, who is running for a regional office in Siberia. She faces down threatening male party operatives with a steely resolve but the results at several local polling places are mysteriously delayed and then it is announced that the ruling party wins with 80% of the vote.
One of the many ironies is that her party, "Just Russia", was created as a "fake" opposition party by the Russian government in 2006 to make the electoral process look better. But she and other Russian activists decided to use it to show that there was some real opposition to Putin in the provinces.
Like me, she is left weeping by the electoral process but for such a different reason. As I wrote on November 4, right after returning from voting:
Once upon a time I lived in Swansea, the old Welsh mining town and harbor where Dylan Thomas grew up. It was about Swansea that Thomas quipped: "This town has more layers than an onion and everyone of them can move you to tears."
I thought of Thomas' comment because I just returned from voting where I had a Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington-Jimmy-Stewart moment.
I returned strangely moved. Maybe it was the sheer dim, shabby, thread-bareness of it all. Maybe it was the dusty church hall, the battered tables, or the elderly volunteers with their lists and stickers. Or the cheap red paper signs reminding potential last minute campaigners (there were none) that they must stand 100 yards from the door to the polling place.
I think that what finally brought tears to my eyes was the earnest little woman who carefully stood where she could not see how I had voted and yet where she could direct me to the woman who would process my ballot and who also carefully did not look at what I had or had not marked on the simple cardboard sheet I was turning in.
For all they knew, I was voting against their candidates. For all they knew, I was delivering a blow to their most cherished civic ideals. And yet they devoted themselves to ensuring that I exercised my right to do so in complete freedom and anonymity. In thousands of precincts around America - in blue, red, and purple states - tens of thousands of other volunteers were enabling millions of my fellow citizens to do the same today.
All the frantic noise, the vast sums of money, the sturm and drang of the election had come down to this quiet, sober moment. Presided over by a humble, self-forgetful army of civic servants whose names most of us will never know.
I just had to say “thank-you for your service" to the woman who took my ballot. If it wouldn’t have disturbed the hush of the moment, I would have tried to thank all the volunteers present. We owe them. We owe all who ensure that year after year, our experience of voting is dim and threadbare and ordinary instead of violent or marred by corruption.
In the context of human history, that qualifies as a major achievement. God bless all who make it possible.
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