I'm in Houston caring for my sister, Becci, who is a cancer patient there. Hence, little blogging.
But I did notice the new 2009 figures for Catholic growth came out of the Vatican yesterday. The estimate:
15 million new Catholics as of the end of 2009. Which is actually a drop from the 19 million new Catholics in 2008. In two years, 2008 - 2009, we've seen 34 million additional Catholics join the Church. But such are the numbers we deal with.
A total of 1.181 billion Catholics on the planet as of 14 months ago. At that rate, our numbers are almost certainly closing in on 1.2 billion as I write this post.
Last year, I posted this little thought experiment which is worth repeating. Take a moment to contemplate:
15 million additional Catholics entered the Church in 2009: Most are baptized infants. But perhaps a million could be older children or adult converts.
If brought together in one place, these new Catholics would produce a Catholic Cairo, Egypt:
That means 41,095 additional Catholics or a new Edmonds, Washingon every day.
That means 1,712 additional Catholics every hour.
29 additional Catholics every minute.
15 million immortals 15 million people created by God 15 million people redeemed by Jesus Christ 15 million members of the Body of Christ 15 million people who need to encounter Christ personally and respond to his call to follow him 15 million people anointed by Christ himself for a vocation, to play a unique part in his redemption of the world 15 million people given charisms for the sake of others (and most people are given more than one!)
15 million people who need to be loved, prayed for, fed, housed, clothed, educated, evangelized, catechized, to receive the sacraments, have a place to attend Mass regularly, receive help in discerning and answering God's call, and to be encouraged along the journey.
At the current 0.0348% percentage of priests (just under 3.5/100ths of 1%) in the Catholic Church those 15 million would include roughly 5,215 priestly vocations.
Can we take this in? What is God doing? What are we called to do? What implications do you see?
It's worth thinking about. Cause we are going to find that another 15 million or more will have joined us in 2010.
Here's a few thought-provoking snippets, cast in what is very much "marketplace of ideas" language:
Everybody's losing members in this country, some even more than Catholics. In percentage terms, Catholic losses are not out of line with other groups. It's on the recruitment side that Catholics are not doing as well. Protestants are losing lots of members too, but for every four Americans who are no longer Protestant, there are three who are Protestant today who were not raised that way. Protestantism is declining as a whole, but the recruitment rate is pretty good. Catholics are not replenishing their ranks through conversion in the same way.
Smith: One of the things I was struck by, especially with regard to the Catholic church, is the degree to which apparent stability masks enormous change just below the surface. If all you look at is the percentage of the population who told us they're Catholic, it's exactly what we've found for four decades, and you would think nothing much is going on. Nothing could be further from the truth.
But one of the points of the report is that to understand the dynamics of American religion, you have to see retention and recruitment together. It's the churn, the ratio of leaving to joining, which matters. It's the recruitment side that sets Catholics apart. Four people leave Catholicism for every one who joins, and there's no other religious group where you see a similar ratio. Baptists, for example, also have more people leaving than joining, but their ratio of 2-1 is twice of what we see for Catholics.
The article also covers that religious change is normal in our culture across the spectrum; the "two track" reality - that Catholic who leave to become Protestants are motivated differently from those who leave to become nothing - and that most religious change happens early in life, by age 24.
It is worth reading the whole piece. 21st century American cultural winds are, oddly enough, supporting religious groups who actively go out and evangelize and penalizing groups that depend largely upon inherited faith and culture to maintain their numbers.
Just one note: remember, the topic here is the retention of religious identity, not how often people who still regard themselves as Catholic actually attend Mass. Around the Catholic blogosphere, we tend to conflate the two issues but the Pew study addresses both separately and John Allen is focusing on the first issue of religious identity in this interview.
The interview is about the roughly 32% of American adults who were raised Catholic and now call themselves something else and the 2.6% of American adults who are converts to Catholicism from some other background.
I won't be blogging this week. I have to focus on a big writing project which needs to be substantially done before I leave on February 15 to spend two weeks caring for my sister, who is a cancer patient in Houston. I hope I'll be able to post some while I'm there.
I'd very much appreciate your prayers for my sister, Becky!
The MTS program at DSPT is unique because it takes seriously the professional experience of its students, and weaves that experience into the ongoing philosophical and theological conversations of our community of scholars. Our MTS students experience their profession as a vocation for Church and society. They work in areas such as business, health care, education, social work, fine arts, the Church, and other related fields. They are willing to ask the deeper questions – questions about how their professional experience interfaces with the life and mission of the Church.
There is a must-read essay in the February, 2011 edition of Homiletics and Pastoral Review that I will be distributing to everyone I know: Why Vocation Programs Don't Work. The author is Fr. Damian J. Ference, who is currently a professor of philosophy and member of the formation team at Borreomeo seminary in Ohio.
Here's a taste:
The root of our current vocation problem is a lack of discipleship. Of course, a disciple is one who encounters Jesus, repents, experiences conversion and then follows Jesus. All too often those of us in positions of Church leadership presume that all the folks in the pews on Sundays, all the children in our grade schools, high schools and PSR programs, all the kids in our youth groups, all the men in our Men’s Clubs and all the women in our Women’s Guilds, and all the members of our RCIA team are already disciples. Many are not. (The same can be said of staffs and faculties of Catholic institutions.) Our people may be very active in the programs of our parishes, schools and institutions, but unfortunately, such participation does not qualify for discipleship.
First, an important principle to keep in mind is that disciples beget disciples. In other words, if we are really serious about fostering better marriages, holier priests, more devoted religious, and generally a more faithful and dedicated Church, then those of us who are already married, ordained, and consecrated, and who identify ourselves as Catholics must take a good, hard look at our own lives and evaluate how our discipleship measures up. How long has it been since we last experienced real conversion and transformation? How often to we repent of our sins? Do we really allow Jesus to rule our lives, or have we fallen into the ancient trap of Pelagianism, ultimately believing that we save ourselves? Do we really know Jesus? Do we allow him to really know us? These questions are important ones, for unless we as a Church can offer true models and exemplars of discipleship with our own lives, very few will seriously consider living the kind of life we live.
Second, we need to reevaluate how our parish groups, ministries, and programs operate. We have to ask if these groups are truly fostering discipleship, or if they are simply social groups that happen to meet on parish grounds.
And there is so much more.
Read the whole thing. Pass it on. Tell us what you think.
This will give you a taste of some of the material I will be covering in depth at the Making Disciples training the trainer weekend in early March.
There was a goodly bit of discussion around St. Blog's three years ago about Robert George's passionate plea at First Things:Danger and Opportunity: A Plea to Catholics I'd like to use a few of his comments as a chance to pull out some realities that are not usually mentioned in a discussion of this sort:
Robert George: What is in need of transformation is not the teaching of the Church but the human mind and heart to which these teachings are addressed. Christianity is a religion of transformation. No one is literally born into it; even infants at baptism are converted to it. There is not a Catholic on the planet or in the history of the Church who is not a convert.
Sherry's comments: Thank God, someone is saying this loud and clear! Absolutely.
One huge evangelical gap for Catholics is our failure to give serious attention to the development stage when our children, who were baptized as infants, must become "converts", that is, they must enter intentionally into the process of conversion which is required of all. We've tried to use Confirmation prep to do this in a half-hearted way but now that many dioceses are lowering the age of Confirmation, even this is being taken away from us.
Our catechetical practice is much more informative than transformative. We are much likely to offer concepts than Christ but it is the encounter with Christ that sets transformation in motion.
Robert George: Conversion is effected, by God’s grace, by transformative acts of the intellect and will.
Sherry's comments: George is using a sort of Thomistic short-hand here because he presumes that his theologically literate First Things audience can fill in the blanks.
But our experience is that many, many Catholics who are literate in other areas of the faith can't fill in the blanks when it comes to understanding or describing how God's grace that flows from Christ's self-giving love and our personal faith and assent work together to produce personal transformation. They can't fill in the blanks because no one has ever described the process to them in a meaningful way and especially because they have not seen it lived out in a compelling way.
The phrase "transformative acts of the intellect and will" actually falls far short of conveying all that the Council of Trent taught about the process of coming to faith for those who have reached the age of reason. And in a post-modern era, in which almost all the theological underpinnings presumed by George are missing, talking about the process of salvation in this way can be profoundly misleading.
Post-modern Catholics can and will readily assume that we are describing a completely impersonal and mechanical process - a sort of salvation by the "triumph of the will". No wonder when Peter Kreeft asked his Catholic students at Boston College why they should go to heaven, nearly all of them responded that they were saved because they were basically good people who did good things and hardly any of them mentioned Jesus Christ at all.
In the Decree on Justification, the council taught that there was a progression of spiritual "movements" on the journey to salvific faith for adults and those children who have reached the age of reason. And we must remember that what the Church is describing below is non-negotiable pre-baptismal faith, not Christian maturity.
The adult ready for baptism is described in this way:
1) Moved to initial faith by hearing the kerygma (the basic summary of the saving purposes and work of Christ in which initial faith is placed)
2) Moves freely toward God as a result of #1
3) Believes all that God has revealed to humanity through the Church a.Especially that we are justified by God’s grace through the redemption in Jesus Christ
4) Knows themselves to be a sinner
5) Trusts in the mercy and love of God for Christ’s sake
6) Repents of his or her sins
7) Resolves to receive baptism
8) Begins a new life by seeking to obey the commandments of God (the obedience of faith)
If we mentally and verbally collapse this journey to "acts of the intellect and will", we effectively render points 1, 2, 3a, 4, 5, 6 invisible to ourselves and to those we seek to evangelize.
Robert George: And the process of conversion is lifelong, whether one begins it a few days or weeks after birth or on one’s eighty-fifth birthday. Christ is constantly calling us to conversion and making available to us the divine graces that are its fundamental resources. We falter and fail; he lifts us up and puts us back on track. We grow in him, so long as we are faithful in responding to his acts of love for us by our acts of love of God and neighbor.
Sherry's comments: I would agree with George absolutely. With one caveat. The journey of lived conversion that George describes so clearly here begins when we say an intentional, personal "yes" to the Lord who bestowed upon us the baptismal and other sacramental graces that most of us received as infants. Our strong tendency is to presume that this intentional "yes" has been given because we were baptized even when the evidence of millions of lapsed Catholics tells us otherwise.
"The trick will be not so much to remain orthodox (that’s fairly easy, considering how dreadfully dull the theological legacy of the Pepsi Generation is). Rather, the trick will be avoiding becoming a bitter Pharisee who turns Catholic faith into a particularly nasty and uninviting sort of Protestantism.
What do I mean? I mean that you cannot build a life on protest, not even a protest against heresy. If your Catholic faith is primarily a reaction against Those People Over There (whoever They are) then it is not about Jesus Christ, but about anger over some human hurt you have received (like the hurt of getting drivel from teachers who have betrayed their office and used it to subvert the gospel). The Catholic faith is not a mere reaction to this world. It is about God breaking into this world with joy in order to save it. It is hell, not the Faith, that is on the defensive. That’s why “the gates of hell” (a defensive image from siege warfare) shall not prevail against the Church. So the trick is to be joyful, not angry and bitter, in your work of subverting the dominant paradigm. Have worldly teachers sold the Faith for a pot of heterodox message? Sure! What did you expect the world to do?
But the good news is, not only is that project failing, but the gospel is emerging stronger than ever because Jesus Christ lives. Brickbats and crosses it shall endure till That Day, but it remains full of joy, not bitterness, till then. So the approach we take is not the mere anger of the Revolutionary against the Old Regime, but the gladness of the saint. As Jesus put it:
I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20)
This mistaken focus on defeating the spirits rather than rejoicing in Heaven is the central mistake that many of those concerned about retrieving the Tradition from the vandals have made. They have become so focused on their anger over the vandalism that they have forgotten that it’s not about defeating Hell, but about rejoicing over the triumph of a Heaven that has already defeated Hell on Easter.
So do your subversive work joyfully, fixing your eyes on heavenly things and not on earthly ones. You will receive all the opposition and hostility that are the saint’s badge of honor. Take it to God and do not let Hell take away your joy. It’s your birthright in Baptism."
"Joy is the serious business of heaven." - C. S. Lewis
"I am not a Christian because it “makes sense” or because someone sat down and diagrammed it for me. I am a Christian because I have been loved deeply and unconditionally by Christians.
Some of them — like Fr. McCaffrey — troubled me with hard questions. But all of them loved me when I did not love them. And I have come to believe, over many years and through many struggles, intellectual and otherwise, that the God of these Christians — that is, God as incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth — is real and alive and even loves us. Despite the pain and weariness of life, despite the very real evil in the world, despite my moods and frustrations and endless head games.
I did not presuppose God or God’s love, believe me. These, especially the latter, are among the least intuitive realities imaginable.
I grew up in a church and in a tradition that I have come to re-embrace, and it is always easy for others to suggest that I have simply reverted to the theism of my youth and the “theism of the civilization” (?) out of insecurity (Chris did not say this, granted, but IMO it was there as subtext). But that kind of psychoanalysis removes any possible meaning from what any of us says, because it would be highly disingenuous to claim that skeptics and freethinkers are not part of a long tradition themselves, yet I would never claim that they are just unwittingly clinging to that tradition. We must take each other’s words seriously without deconstruction or psychoanalysis.
Reason is a wonderful tool, but it is weak force for deep change in human beings. Faith, hope, and love are not tools; they are virtues, powerful and exceedingly difficult to embody, and much more efficacious than reason for changing lives."
Fr. Benedict Groeschel, long ago, pointed that it has long been understood that people seek and find God under different realities: some as the True, some as Beauty, some as The Good, some as The One. And how important it is that we honor those differences.
Around St. Blog's, the overwhelming paradigm that I've heard expressed is seeking God as the True. In liturgical discussions, I will also hear references to God as the Beautiful. But I can't think of a time when I have heard a Catholic say:
I am a Christian because I have been loved deeply and unconditionally by Christians.
How powerful, and in my experience, how rare. A naked statement about the transforming impact of being loved by a community of Christians without the inevitable modifier (at least around the Catholic internet) of "kumbaya", usually closely followed by "happy clappy".
And this sentence is full of profound wisdom:
Reason is a wonderful tool, but it is weak force for deep change in human beings. Faith, hope, and love are not tools; they are virtues, powerful and exceedingly difficult to embody, and much more efficacious than reason for changing lives."
Loved deeply, deep change, powerful virtues, changing lives. Wow. Yes. He is a blessed man.
Your thoughts? Have you experienced something similar? We'd love to hear your stories.
The good news for those of us who live somewhere in the 2,000 mile stretch of the country that is freezing to death - or soon will be - is that tomorrow is February 2.
February 2 is now celebrated as the Presentation of the Lord (the infant Jesus in the Temple). In earlier centuries the focus was on the Presentation or "churching" of the Virgin Mary after the birth of Jesus. In large parts of Europe, February 2 was traditionally called Candlemas Day and has many customs associated with it.
Good weather at Candlemas is taken to indicate severe winter weather later: "If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, / winter will have another bite. / If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, / winter is gone and will not come again."
So bad weather is good news! No danger here. There is a minus 35 F windchill going as I write this.
There is a breadth of popular traditions associated with this day: Groundhogs in the US. The New York Times has a fun article on the Mexican practice of elaborately dressing statues of the infant Jesus as celebrated in Brooklyn. They are still singing Christmas carols in Poland today because Candlemas is the traditional end of the 40 day Christmas season. In Guatemala, Candlemas is celebrated with Tamales.
But the celebration of this feast also has other associations: Margaret Clitheroe, a young butcher's wife and mother in York, was arrested in 1586 by the English (Protestant) authorities, when evidence of a Candlemass Mass was found in her house. Hers is a moving story which I wrote up years ago for a local Catholic newsletter in Seattle:
The urban center of northern England is the ancient and fascinating city of York. Still surrounded by 500-year-old walls and gates (called bars), filled with tiny stone streets and crooked medieval houses, and dominated by the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, York is one of my very favorite places in England.
When I visited York years ago, I was going as a pilgrim, following in the footsteps of two other Weddell women, who had lived there four centuries earlier. I had discovered them entirely by accident while reading about the life of St. Margaret Clitherow, York's most famous female citizen.
Those distant Weddells made it into a little-read history book in the University of Washington library because they had been imprisoned with Margaret Clitherow for the same crime: practicing the Catholic faith at a time when the penalties in England for such daring included imprisonment and death. It may strike us as almost unbelievable, but Margaret Clitherow was in fact martyred by the English government of her day for the exercise of a charism that we tend to think of as a thoroughly innocuous: the charism of hospitality.
The charism of hospitality empowers a Christian to be a generous channel of God's love by warmly welcoming and caring for those in need of food, shelter, and friendship. Why would any government possibly object to such a simple and inoffensive activity? Because among the guests that Margaret Clitherow warmly welcomed were Catholic priests who were risking their own lives so that lay Catholics might have access to the grace and consolation of the sacraments in the midst of persecution.
Thirty years before Margaret Clitherow was born, King Henry VIII had broken with the Papacy and had declared himself the "Head of the Church in England" because the Pope would not grant him a divorce from his first wife. All the monasteries and religious houses in England had been suppressed and their inhabitants forced to leave and take up secular dress and life, and some priests and religious died as martyrs. By the time that Margaret Clitherow married at 15 (a common age for marriage at the time), it was illegal for an English man or woman to attend a Catholic Mass, to be reconciled with the Catholic Church, to go to confession, to be a priest or religious, or knowingly to offer hospitality to a priest or religious.
Since all English people were required by law to attend Anglican services at their local parish church on every Sunday and feast day, those who didn't attend as a matter of conscience were easily recognized and reported to the authorities. Margaret, who had been raised as a Protestant, had to go to elaborate lengths just in order to receive instruction in the Catholic faith.
A local doctor's wife who was a committed Catholic ran a sort of birthing center for Catholic women where they could be safely delivered of their babies, regain their health, and have the babies secretly baptized. When one of the hunted priests was in town, the doctor's wife would send Margaret a message that she "needed help with a birth" and Margaret would have the "cover story" which enabled her to leave home without arousing suspicion. Margaret was only 18 when she entered the Catholic Church.
While working with participants in the Called & Gifted process, I have noticed that hospitality is one of those gifts that tends to be under-appreciated. Like the charisms of helps and service, it is sometimes thought of as "nice" but not powerful, as comforting but not transforming, and certainly not as evangelistic or prophetic.
But like any other charism, hospitality is an exercise of genuine spiritual power and authority. Hospitality is, I believe, along with the gift of pastoring, one of the primary means by which God heals and strengthens individuals through the creation of Christian community. To create a safe, warm, loving environment in which many of the individual's needs for physical nurture, relationship, and spiritual companionship are met is a most powerful ministry of healing.
Indeed, the English Catholics of the sixteenth century were able to create such communities even in the prison where fifty or sixty serious York Catholics might find themselves at any given time. Wounded and bruised by rejection and persecution, uncertain of their future, the imprisoned Catholics would find themselves spiritually and emotionally healed and nurtured through the Catholic community life made possible by the very structures of oppression.
The doctor's wife who ran the Catholic birthing center in her home was reported to have temporarily lost her mind because of the many terrible blows dealt to her and her family. But in prison, amid the warmth of the Catholic community there, she was healed. In the hands of a pastoral evangelizer like Margaret Clitherow, who was always seeking out opportunities, despite the danger, to share her faith with her family and friends and to encourage the faith of her fellow Catholics, hospitality was far more than an exercise in bland politeness.
When the doctor's wife was arrested in 1581, Margaret offered her home to be the primary "Mass center" in York, a place where Catholics could secretly gather to attend Mass, where priests could be hidden as they passed through, and where liturgical furnishings could be stored. Margaret had a secret room constructed upstairs in a house that adjoined her own with a concealed passage running between the two homes.
Visiting priests slept in the room and all Mass gear was stored there. When safety permitted, Margaret delighted in feeding breakfast to all who had attended Mass in her home. She also offered space in her home to a Catholic schoolteacher to teach both her own children and a few of her neighbor's children. And all this she did, knowing that should evidence of her priestly guests ever be discovered, that she could receive the death penalty.
Finally in 1586, Margaret's house was forcibly searched by a band of local sheriffs. They found the schoolmaster at work with his pupils in an upstairs room. The schoolmaster managed to escape through the secret passage, but the searchers thought that he must have been a priest and arrested everyone in the house.
They took one of the children, a twelve-year-old boy, stripped him, and "with rods threatened him, standing naked among them, unless he would tell them all they asked." In his terror, the child led them to the secret chamber where they found the Mass gear and signs of recent occupation. That was all the evidence that was ever gathered against Margaret Clitherow. Margaret refused to enter a plea in order to prevent her children from being forced to testify against her.
The penalty for refusing to plead in English law was terrible. Margaret Clitherow was pressed to death by being covered with a heavy board while lying on the ground and then having 800 pounds of weights piled upon the board until she died. When she was declared a saint in 1970, a joint Catholic-Anglican service of repentance and reconciliation was held in York Minister in her honor. But the name and example of this hospitable woman has long survived those who put her to death. Today, she is known as St. Margaret of York, and the very house where she practiced her courageous ministry of hospitality is now a shrine dedicated to her memory.