Me and Willy are about to hit that open highway (well, open skyway) again. . .
The CSI gang has been very busy this month. So far, 1,000 Catholics have gone through the Called & Gifted workshop this month alone and we have 11 more workshops scheduled before the end of February. No wonder I needed that 4 hour nap yesterday!
Next week, we'll be doing a specially modified seminarian's version of the Called & Gifted workshop for the student body and some of the faculty at St. Mary's seminary, Houston. Sorry, but this one isn't open to the public.
Take a look at this thoughtful post over at Gashwin Gome's place on the reluctance of most Catholic mission groups to proclaim Christ. As a native Indian and Hindu turned Catholic as a young adult, Gomes's comments are particularly interesting.
Gashwin and I had dinner and a chance to talk at the Paulist house in DC in November and it was pretty clear, even after a short conversation, that here was a man with a charism of evangelism. Gashwin burns with the desire to proclaim Christ and yet is not fundamentalist at all in either theology or approach. My experience in the past is that Catholics with a charism of evangelism feel extremely isolated. Because Gashwin, (like myself) was not born and raised Catholic, he hasn't absorbed the wide-spread Catholic cultural norm that evangelism is not Catholic and simply isn't done. So he talks about it openly. Quell horror!
Among most Anglo cradle Catholics, it is culturally so unacceptable that we gradually noticed that the charism of evangelism literally goes underground and is most commonly exercised under other, more acceptable labels like education or catechesis or administration. I"ve taken to calling evangelism the "stealth Catholic charism" because Catholics almost always want to call it something else and pretend that they aren't doing the "E" thing.
A couple of examples:
I was interviewing a Catholic school principal who scored high in administration on her Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory (the inventory that we give everyone who goes through the Called & Gifted process as a quick and dirty way to sort through their life experience and indentify areas that show evidence of a charism at work). So I asked her to talk about her experience with administration. Three times I asked her to talk about administration and three times she told me stories of bringing parents of her students into the Church.
Finally I had to point out to her that she consistently talked about evangelism every time I asked her about administration. The principal gasped in horror. "I couldn't be evangelizing! I'm an administrator!" Yes, she was. An administrator who spent a good deal of her office time evangelizing and whose charism of evangelism is coloring and shaping her administration as all charisms do.
I had another memorable experience in a different southern diocese. I was training a group to do "gifts interviews" - the one-on-one sessions in which we help individuals do another level of discernment by listening to their stories of using their charisms and pointing out patterns that they may not yet recognize. In the course of the training, one brave soul gets up and tells their stories in front of the rest so they can practice listening for patterns. On that day, the hardy volunteer was a young black woman who was an unapologetic disciple. (I'll call her Carol)
Again Carol's high score was in administration so I asked her about her experience in that area. She crossed her arms, crouched down in her chair, and a scowl on her face, talked about administration like it was a battlefield. Although I approached it from several different perspectives, Carol's experience of administration was clearly negative. But when I asked her about evangelism, her face lit up, her whole body relaxed, and she became absolutely lyrical. The other trainees were beside themselves with delight as they pointed out to her the dramatic difference in her body language. I finally had to point out that the evidence strongly suggested that the gift in question was not administration but evangelism.
Carol was thunderstruck. The next day, Carol told me (and I quote)
"I couldn't sleep. I've been up all night thinking about this. Damn, that's powerful!
There is no single gift I've ever helped someone discern that causes as much astonishment or initial discomfort, that turns a cozy little interview into a life-defining moment as the recognition that a Catholic was evangelizing all along under another, more respectable label.
The primary mission of the Church is the very activity many of us can't bear to think about or name as Catholic. No one seems to know exactly how this cultural norm became so firmly rooted among Catholics. But young Catholics like Gashwin (who feels strongly called to the priesthood) are a wonderful sign that the norm may be changing.
The following quote comes from an interview by the diocesan newspaper with the vocation director of a the diocese. It is interesting and somewhat worrisome in the assumptions that are proposed. It's also a bit different from the approach taken by my own Dominican Province.
While striving for quality candidates, the vocations office still has "wide open arms" to young men on fire for Christ who believe they may have a vocation to the priesthood, but given their age, may not be as certain as older candidates often are. "The place to test a vocation is in the seminary, not in a culture where you're not supported. If there are seeds of a vocation, it's going to be stifled in the world."
As a young man discerning whether I was called to priesthood and religious life, my intuition was a little different. Having grown up seeing posters encouraging priestly vocations, and as an active member in a local parish, I was concerned that if I let it be known that I was considering priesthood, I would be subtly - and not so subtly - pressured into entering the seminary. My intuition may have been all wrong, I suppose, but when I did enter the Dominican seminary, my former university advisors - both geophysicists and non-Catholics - told me that if anyone had suggested to them that one of their students would enter ministry, they would have assumed it would be me.
I would presume that a young man entering seminary is going to be doing so from a parish, and that he would be engaged in the life of that parish. I would hope that that environment wouldn't stifle a vocation. In fact, one of the great religious reformers of seventeenth-century France, Jean-Jacque Olier, established a seminary that was attached to his parish of St. Sulpice in Paris. At the time, it served the roughest, most irreligious sections of Paris. His seminarians, who came from all over France, were engaged in parochial work, and the priests who served in the parish were meant to become models for diocesan clergy throughout France.
The parish was divided into eight districts, each under the charge of a head priest and associates, whose duty it was to know individually all the souls under their care, with their spiritual and corporal needs, especially the poor, the uninstructed, the vicious, and those bound in irregular unions. Thirteen catechetical centres were established, for the instruction not only of children but of many adults who were almost equally ignorant of religion. Special instructions were provided for every class of persons, for the beggars, the poor, domestic servants, lackeys, midwives, workingmen, the aged etc. Instructions and debates on Catholic doctrine were organized for the benefit of Calvinists, hundreds of whom were converted...The poor were cared for according to methods of relief inspired by the practical genius of St. Vincent de Paul. During the five or six years of the Fronde, the terrible civil war that reduced Paris to widespread misery, and often to the verge of famine, M. Olier supported hundreds of families and provided many with clothing and shelter. None were refused. His rules of relief, adapted in other parishes, became the accepted methods... [Catholic Encyclopedia]
Part of the genius of Olier's seminary was the insertion of those preparing for ministry into the life of the parish. I was walking the halls of an archdiocesan seminary last year and noticed that nearly all the pictures on the walls were of cathedrals and historic churches, mostly from Europe. The only pictures of people were those of the graduates from past classes of seminarians. It could be easy to forget that seminary is the place for cultivating a life of service to God's people, since there were no reminders of them on the walls!
The Western Dominican Province encountered the phenomenon back in the 50's, 60's and early 70's that recently ordained friars, who had spent seven years in formation within the safe confines of our house of studies, were leaving the Order and priesthood. These men complained that the life they had lived and enjoyed in seminary was not what they experienced when thrust into ministry.
In response, my Province established what is called a "residency" year, in which a friar in formation works in one of our parishes or campus ministries after their first year of theology (which is their fifth year of formation, since that year of theology is preceded by a year of novitiate and two years of philosophy, typically). It's an important part of the discernment process, as it gives the seminarian a better sense of religious life in the context of full-time ministry and its demands. It also serves to remind the friar that all of his academic work is directed towards a purpose - the salvation of souls.
The interview with the vocation director continued,
Planting seeds must start young and involve the whole community, including the bishop, priests, parents, schools and other church ministries. In dioceses where there is a strong culture of vocations, "it's a totally normal part of the culture that if you're a Catholic man you should seriously consider priesthood at some point."
Other ministries involved in building up that culture include ministry to young adults. "The diocese has invested heavily in young adult ministry. We wanted to build up a lot of places where we could go fishing for these guys."
Having young priests and seminarians involved in activities like the Young Adult Mass, Catholic Challenge Sport and Theology on Tap. Young men can see that "they talk, they breathe, just like me. But they're in the seminary. Success builds on success," he said, "The more seminarians we have and the more visible they are, the more other young men can see themselves doing it.
I agree that the planting of the seeds of priestly and religious vocations is the work of the whole Christian community. But so is the work of planting the seeds of all vocations. Until we fully accept the truth that God is calling each and every one of us to some work of love and service of others that is unique to us, we will not be doing our best to foster priestly and religious vocations. The way the vocation director describes a culture of vocation is precisely the way we should be thinking about a culture of discipleship. We need to talk about discipleship as normative. Too often disciples are seen as unusual - on fire in a way other Catholics aren't - and thus automatically candidates for priesthood or religious life. We need to be able to witness discipleship in our parishes, celebrate it, preach about it, and make it the goal of all of our ministerial efforts.
Currently, with our vocational language centered almost entirely around priesthood and religious life, we give the impression that those are the only vocations. We seldom even speak of marriage as a vocation, much less dedicated single life. We don't speak of vocations beyond state-of-life, so the implication is once you've settled on that, you're finished. You can go ahead and live your life as our non-Christian culture proposes, and pursue a lifestyle of individually oriented personal consumption.
The well-intentioned vocation director I'm quoting sees young adult activities as a potential source for priestly vocations (and, I presume, religious vocations for young women). I would rather see them as schools of discipleship, just as our Catholic schools and parishes should be. The call to any vocation, state-of-life or otherwise, comes from Jesus. How can I expect to hear that call if I am not consciously following him? Discipleship - the intentional, conscious, daily following of Jesus - is the ultimate root of every vocation. Our approach to vocations seems to be one of short-cuts.
The reality is not that we are more forgiving: It's that we are more excusing. We have created, for better or worse, a culture that excuses acts that our ancestors would have seen as appalling sin. We have figured out stratagems for avoiding feeling the sinfulness of sin. But when something does break through our comfortable numbness and cosmopolitan relativism, we are as ready to shout curses to the heavens as they were.
As Christians, of course, we cannot give our voice to such cursing. Jesus has very clearly told us that we must love our enemies and bless, not curse, those who despitefully use us. But that does not mean the Old Testament curses are bad or without value. In them, if we know what we are looking for, we see outrage at evil in chemical purity and know it as a gift of God. For righteous anger is not sin if we use it as God intended: as fuel for the engine of moral action. Anger only becomes a sin when we do not put it in the gas tank of action, but instead pour it on ourselves and others and set it on fire. Then it consumes us. The use of anger, like the use of gasoline, is not to bathe in it and drink it, but to turn it toward pursuing the redemptive, active love of God.
The one caveat I would have is that for many of us, our outrage is carefully political. We do get outraged but only at the things our people get outraged about. So many liberals are "outraged" at environment issues and simultaneously "outraged" at the sort of pro-life essay that Dr. Blazek wrote.
And many conservatives get "outraged" over life issues like abortion but sing a very different tune about torture which is also an intrinsic evil and can never be otherwise, no matter what the circumstances. How many of us find ourselves pulling back when "tempted" to be outraged over something that doesn't toe our particular party line? How many of us realize that our outrage is fueled not by genuine moral judgement but by the group energy of our crowd and our desire not to be isolated from them? Political correct outrage is just as operative on the right as on the left.
And that it is fear of loss of our crowd's esteem that makes it so difficult to think of truly loving the politically correct enemy and forgiving the politically correct evil.
Thank God that being open to revelation and attempting to think with the Church can help liberate us from fear of the crowd and enable us to think seriously about moral issues.
Can, I say, because it is obvious as I travel around the Church that Catholic versions of liberal and conservative political correctness have mighty strongholds in parishes and dioceses everywhere. I remember acutely one instance when I was asked to be part of a Catholic university consultation on the formation of disciples. I quickly sensed as soon as I walked into the room that political correctness of a very particular stripe was the order of the day and I was an outsider.
I struggled to grasp the exact nature of the powerful unspoken consensus about me as the day wore on and to determine how I might actually contribute something meaningful to the conversation despite my "deviancy". The most revealing moment occurred in the afternoon when, in some desperation, I finally said:
"But what unites us beyond our differences is the following of Christ."
Complete, horrified silence. I actually heard a stifled gasp from a corner of the room.
If we are women and men of Christ, intentional disciples, we will seek to love what and who he loves - all of it - regardless of where it falls on our political spectrum and our outrage will be the result of seeing those whom he loves being violated. And because we love what he loves, we will also seek to return good for evil, to forgive those who outrage us and others while simultaneously doing all we can to ensure that the justice and love of Christ pervades our particular bit of time and space.
There is a saying that I have heard attributed to St. Francis (that wonderfully iconic character to whom we like to attribute many things, with or without historical foundation). Whether it is genuinely Franciscan or not, it certainly is of his spirit.
"I want what God wants. That's why I am so merry."
Merriment, not politically correct outrage, is the sign of God's saving presence in our lives.
The cat has thrown up three times this morning and I'm feeling what my grandmother used to call "puny". (She also used to look at my brother and I and say we looked "peaked". Just how she arrived at this conclusion looking up at our respective 6'0" and 6'8" heights always eluded me, but it doesn't do to argue with your grandmother.)
So I'm going to bed with Raymond de Capua. (To which Fr. Mike responds:"You do know that he's dead?") Dominican humor. Sigh.
More explicitly, I'm going to rest my puny frame while trying to plow through Raymond de Capua's life of St. Catherine of Siena in preparation for planning our April, 2009 tour of Rome, Siena, Florence, and Tuscany: In the Footsteps of Catherine of Siena. More about that adventure later.
This way I can still be working on some higher, spiritual plane while my body gets a break before we blast off to Riverside this weekend.
All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well - if only the cat doesn't puke on the bedspread again.
I watched Shakespeare in Love again recently and was struck by the similarity of the Elizabethan theatre business and the small time 21st Century Catholic non-profit ministry business;
Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do? Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well. Hugh Fennyman: How? Philip Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.
If proposed Colorado House Bill 1080(HB 1080) passes: lt “limits the applicability of the exception from compliance with employment nondiscrimination laws for religious corporations, associations, educational institutions, or societies when employing persons to provide services that are funded with government funds.”
The bill itself is short, taking up only twenty three lines. It amends the present blanket religious exemption by requiring every religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society that “accepts government funds to provide services” to comply with anti-discrimination laws. As listed in the Colorado Revised Statutes, characteristics protected by the anti-discrimination regulations include “disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin, or ancestry.”
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, criticized HB 1080 in a January 23rd column titled “How to write a really bad bill.” He said the proposed law would attack the religious identity of non-profits and compromise Catholic organizations that co-operate with government agencies in providing necessary social services.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver, the archbishop notes, is the largest non-governmental human services provider in the Rocky Mountain West.
HB 1080, the archbishop believes, would hinder Catholic non-profits from hiring or firing employees based on the religious beliefs of the Catholic Church. Though recognizing that many non-Catholics work at Catholic Charities, Archbishop Chaput said the bill would remove the ability of the non-profit to maintain a Catholic leadership.
“…the key leadership positions in Catholic Charities obviously do require a practicing and faithful Catholic, and for very good reasons. Catholic Charities is exactly what the name implies: a service to the public offered by the Catholic community as part of the religious mission of the Catholic Church,” the archbishop wrote.
The need to preserve Catholic Charities’ Christian identity was so important that the archbishop warned that the non-profit’s cooperation with the government would cease if regulations impeded its Catholic mission. Speaking of Catholic Charities, he wrote, “When it can no longer have the freedom it needs to be ‘Catholic,’ it will end its services. This is not idle talk. I am very serious.”
His topic? "the mechanisms whereby we kill ourselves, other people, and the Church. We kill ourselves in turning away from the God-given purpose of our existence. We kill others in our destructive ruminations, violent words and physical attacks. We kill the Church in dismissing her officials and publicly dissenting from her teachings without carefully examining her arguments."
Note well: when discussing abortion, one sometimes hears, “You will never change anyone’s mind about this. People think what they think.” If the abolitionists and suffragettes had denied the possibility of change in their fellow citizens’ opinions, this country would still have slavery and women without the vote. Denying the possibility of conversion is to deny the possibility of grace: it plays into the hands of the enemy of our human nature.
Last Spring, I asked several medical students in a seminar whether they rejected Catholic teachings regarding reproduction and artificial contraception. Several raised their hands. I prompted them to articulate the position and to give their critique of it. Conversation languished for some while. None in that group of graduating physicians had an answer, yet these well-educated role models were willing to publicly disagree with an argument they could not explain.
Note: Dr. Blazek teaches at the Georgetown School of Medicine.
The hat tip goes to Gashwin Gomes As Gashwin points out, most of the comment responses to his essay so far have been overwhelmingly negative. Why not go over and add your voice to the discussion?
Peace and conflict on an incredibly complex variety of levels is a distinctly lay responsibility - our "turf" -if you will. Bishops and clergy can give homilies and write papers on the Church's teaching on peace but they don't have the primary responsibility for it that we do.
So often, we associate peace-making with marches and protests but just as the thousands who marched for life yesterday in Washington DC were only the tip of a vast iceberg of organizations, clinics, religious communities, legal and political efforts, and small local initiatives around the country working all year round to save lives, so "peace" marches are only the surface.
In the long run, it is lay apostles who are competent insiders and have earned respect, have credibility, and decision-making power, who will shape our nation's decisions and institutions that foster peace or make war. There is so much more to actually changing the course of conflict and fostering peace than "hell, no, we won't go" as one Vietnam era anti-war slogan put it.
The CPN seems to be one intelligent effort to build upon the wisdom and synergy of many. From their website:
Why a Catholic Peacebuilding Network?
The Catholic Church is blessed with many "artisans of peace", or peacebuilders, working at all levels to prevent conflicts from breaking out, resolve conflicts once started, and reconcile and rebuild divided societies after conflicts have ended. The CPN aims to serve and complement, not supplant or duplicate, these peacebuilding efforts by responding to four needs:
Deepening Solidarity. Too often, the Church's artisans of peace feel alone. The CPN convenes and connects peacebuilders from around the world in order to build and deepen relationships of solidarity with and among peacebuilders.
Sharing Best Practices. Much of the Church's work for peace, especially at the local level, is not well known or well understood. The CPN stimulates a more systematic sharing, mapping and analysis of the "best practices" of Catholic peacebuilding around the world.
Building Capacity. Catholic peacebuilders in conflict areas too often lack skills and resources. The CPN links peacebuilders to those who can provide the training, strategic planning, or other resources that might be necessary for the Catholic community to be a more effective force for peace in conflicted areas.
Developing a Theology of a Just Peace. Church leaders and others have called for further development of a theology of a just peace that is comparable in scope and sophistication to the Church's long tradition of moral reflection on the use of military force. Building upon this rich tradition, the CPN stimulates further development of peacebuilding as a conceptually coherent, theologically accurate, spiritually enlivening and practically effective contribution to the Church's broader reflection on and action for justice and peace.
While the CPN addresses the public policy dimensions of Catholic peacebuilding, this is not its principal focus, nor does it engage in advocacy on policy issues.
Actually, Notre Dame is running a series of clever marketing videos for the University building upon her traditional nickname: "the Fighting Irish" But now her students are portrayed as fighting against the odds, for security, human dignity, and the environment. One such video features the work of a Professor of Peacebuilding, John Paul Lederach in Columbia and ends like this:
The University of Notre Dame asks "What would you fight for?"
Fighting for Peace. We are the fighting Irish.
Fighting for peace is an old image. One of the terms used by 17th century Quaker to describe both their evangelistic efforts and their commitment to non-violence was "the Lamb's War". There are many Lamb's Wars in our world. The fight for life and the fight to stop violence and resolve conflicts are too sides of the same Catholic coin although it can be hard to recognize in the midst of the polarization of our culture.
Because the Lamb Who was slain is also the Prince of Peace.
The following reflection is from Bert Ebben, OP (Southern U.S. Dominican Province) who is the coordinator of community development projects for the Order in Africa. He wrote from Ongata-Rongai, Kenya, five days ago.
His observation is important for us in America, too. What is happening in Kenya could conceivably happen one day in our own country, if we do not reverse the widening gap between rich and poor, including the disappearance of the middle class.
After months of drought the parched land of Kenya thirsts for life-giving water. After years of oppression and exploitation the weary people of Kenya long for justice and peace. After four decades of independence the nation bleeds from a nearly mortal wound, while it reverberates with threatening accusations of tribalism, ethnic cleansing and genocide. This very morning yet another school and orphanage were torched in Mathare, Africa’s largest slum just a few kilometers from the Kware slums of Ongata-Rongai where I continue to facilitate various programs at VICODEC, a center dedicated to the promotion of human development.
Prompted by my Dominican Brothers in Raleigh I am writing this reflection, an attempt to respond to repeated questions from around the world. Why have 600+ Kenyans been so brutally massacred? Why have 250,000 people been driven from their homes and villages? Why are thousands more fleeing across the borders into Uganda and Tanzania? Why, this very day, are masses of Kenyans threatening to demonstrate in thirty cities and towns across the country? Because of an election, alleged by the opposition (Raila Odinga and his ODM Party) to have been fraudulent yet subsequently declared to have been free and fair by the Kenyan Electoral Commission, thus giving the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki of the PNU Party another five years in office? I don’t think so!
However controversial this decision is itself, it does not radically explain how the normally tolerant, long-suffering and peace-loving citizens of Kenya were driven to perpetrate such horrific death and destruction upon their beautiful country, once thought to be the most united and democratic nation in sub-Saharan Africa. While the failed electoral process is, without doubt, the catalyst that continues to spark such devastating reactions, fear and violence, it cannot account for the ensuing explosive situation. The root cause can be found only in the poverty, inequality and injustice that have plagued this country since independence and that have been systematically incorporated into the structures of its society, ever widening the great divide separating the powerfully rich minority from the masses who languish in poverty and hopelessness. Bridging that divide seems to be so far beyond the reach of ordinary poor Kenyans that they regrettably resort to anger, bitterness, acrimony and despair.
In such an anti-gospel milieu, it appears almost impossible for the everyday Kenyan to accept that God’s reign does not reach down from the presidential State House, nor from the Parliament, nor from the heights of power and wealth, but that the God of peace only breaks through in real acts of compassion, healing and justice, only in the nonviolent liberation of the poor and oppressed.
Sharing the pain and anguish of my Kenyan brothers and sisters, I am pushed and pulled into the confrontation and indignation of their experience. But even more I am emboldened to pursue God’s promise of peace on earth. I am compelled to continue to confront my own country’s “wars on earth”. I am driven to resist the present U.S. administration’s militaristic and arrogant imperialistic ambitions around the world. I am persuaded to oppose handguns, the death penalty, abortion, racism, sexism, poverty, corporate greed and the environmental devastation of our spectacular planet Earth.
Even as I conclude this reflection, the skies suddenly break open to release a soft, gentle rain. I am reminded of Isaiah’s “Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum”(45:8) in which the prophet expresses the world’s longing for the coming of the just one. I pray that the refreshing rain, now at last gently falling on the parched earth of Kenya, is a prophetic sign of the coming of God’s “Just One”, showing all of us the way to that New World without war, without poverty, without injustice – peace in Kenya, peace in the world, peace at last!
Please say a prayer for Kenya, and for Br. Daniel Thomas, OP, a member of the Western Dominican Province who works there.
People at the 6:30 a.m. Mass were a bit surprised when I appeared wearing violet vestments today. I quickly explained that the U.S. Bishops have declared today to be a day of penance in commemoration of Roe v. Wade and the millions of children killed by abortion since. The following paragraph is from the Ordo for today's Mass.
In all the dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. The Mass “For Peace and Justice” (no. 22 of the “Masses for Various Needs”) should be celebrated with violet vestments as an appropriate liturgical observance for this day. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 373
Our penance might be fasting and/or abstinence, and certainly additional prayer on behalf of those who have died, those women who have had abortions and the fathers of their children, and those who perform or assist in the performance of abortions. But it might also be an opportune moment to take time from our busy schedules and discover what are the local resources for pregnant women. What do they do? What assistance might they need, financial or otherwise.
Another possibility might be to locate your nearest branch of Project Rachel, the Catholic Church's outreach to women who have had abortions, or find out when and where the next Rachel's Vineyard retreat for women suffering from post-abortion grief might be held and offering support. There may be opportunities to help them out in their ministries.
I mentioned in my homily that abortion is a sin that is also a symptom. While it is important to work to overturn Roe v. Wade, simply making abortion illegal does not deal with the complex issues and environments that make abortion desirable. This means understanding and acknowledging the effects of the sexual revolution (including our complicity as we and our children absorb the values found on Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, and the innumerable spinoffs of The Bachelor), dealing with the poverty that so many women face, and, in general, our refusal to evangelize our neighbor and to shape the institutions of our culture. All of this requires the cooperation of the clergy in teaching with the Church and really understanding Her position, and the laity bringing their expertise and understanding of the complex issues that underlie and promote abortion. This is a necessary and potentially fruitful area of collaboration between the laity and their priests and bishops.
While today is rightfully a day of penance and lamentation, for all those 35 and younger, it might also be a day of thanksgiving. Your mothers and fathers chose to give you birth.
In light of Fr. Mike's post above, you might want to check out this post about the marvelous Nurturing Network which offers women a choice that is good for both mother and baby. NN has saved 28,000 lives. Check em out.
It looks great and would be especially appropriate reading for this 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Written by a Norwegian scholar of early Christianity, this is a fascinating look at how antiquity regarded children and how the rise of Christanity changed that forever.
Here's what one Amazon reader had to say:
Bakke's "When Children Became People" points our that the ancients viewed children from a much different perspective than we do. There was "a negative assessment of children and childhood found in antiquity" (p 19) to the point that "Pliny...does not attmpt to conceal his contempt and lack of esteem for this phase in human life" (p 19). Abortion and exposure of infants was common.
Violence against children was tolerated, expecially for the vast numbers of slave children. And slave children were frequently abused sexually as well. Indeed, as "The Economics of Prostitution in Rome" pointed out, many Romans with young slaves hired them out to brothels. Boys were kept at the brothels until their beards sprouted. Girls until their looks faded.
So, when did the current western prespective on children begin? Bakke argues, and argues very persuasively, than it began with Christianity.
Christians thought all people had souls. This had enormous impact upon the way children were treated. The Didache (written between 50-120 AD)says, "Do not murder a child by abortion, nor kill it at birth". Bakke notes how "the author speaks of the fetus as a 'child'" at a time when the other ancients were referring to children as that 'thing'.
It was a revolution, with consequences to our day. Christians viewed children as complete and valuable human beings from the time of their conception. In the wake of Christianity was "a great reduction in the number of children (especially boys) who were involved in sexual acts with adult men (p 284). Because Christians felt that the way their brought up their child could affect nothing less than that child's eternal salvation Christians had a "greater involvement in upbringing than was generally the case in pagan families" (p 285).
There's a lovely post at Streams of Mercy by evangelical-become-Catholic, Heidi Hess Saxon, on the importance of gentleness and service in the mission of evangelization.
I resonate with her description of her experiences among evangelicals interested in evangelism, Her experience is by no means universal or even the norm anymore among evangelical practitioners (many of whom are evangelizing in ways that are much more wholistic, subtle, and geared to post-moderns these days) - but if you were raised on the fundy side of the spectrum, you will recognize it.
As Heidi sums it up:
" It has been a little disorienting, at times, to encounter Catholics who -- with all the best intentions -- "defend" Christ and His Church with the same zeal I used to encounter in the Evangelical camp. I have to remind myself that zeal has its place, that truth sometimes does cut like a sword, that the "faith warrior" has an important place in the Kingdom of God.
And yet, there is room for the more cautious among us as well. There is a need for medics as well as soldiers; mothers who nurture as well as fathers who lead. In His Mercy, God has given me a glimpse of certain dangers so I can avoid them. To do that, He led me from church to church -- and at times, even from country to country.
As a "Cross-Cultural Catholic," I depend on God's grace to carry on the work He gives me to do with a measure of humility and prudence, knowing how easy it can be to fall."
One of the refreshing things about understanding the charisms is knowing that all the charisms (whether evangelism or service, hospitality or music) reveal Christ, all the charisms help others by removing impediments to recognizing and responding to grace - but they do so in a remarkably wide variety of ways. Some of our current conflicts are charism-based but all charisms are useful and essential in the great mission of evangelization.
For instance, where the charism of evangelism is present, it doesn't look like the scenario that gives Catholics hives. In the presence of the someone with this gift, people want to talk about God, about faith - even those who ordinarily would shy away from the topic. Because they sense that it is somehow both safe and compelling to do so with this man or woman - it seems natural, not forced.
But someone like Mother Teresa with a charism of mercy or another person exercising a charism of teaching or encouragement can also be used at a critical point in our spiritual journey to bring us closer to Christ through different means. Preaching the gospel is never a battle between words and deeds. My individual part in the mission is narrow and focused, as it should be, about the charisms and vocation(s) that God has given me. But I must not project my own limited experience upon the whole Church as though it were the only way that Christ is revealed in this world.
The charisms are not in opposition to one another and there is no such thing as a "one size fits all" journey toward Christ. We need all the vocations and charisms that God has bestowed upon his Church if our mission is to be accomplished.
Many interesting comments below which I've spent time responding to rather than posting.
But I did want to make visible Lawrence King's comment on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism below. Larry is trenchant as always (we were fellow parishioners at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle together and Larry is now a student at the Dominican School of Philosophy Theology) and quotes the ever quotable Tom of Disputations in the bargain.
As Larry puts it:
"Sherry, this exactly matches my experience as well.
I have found that those Catholics who are reasonably well educated about their faith know that "Vatican II said that non-Christians can be saved". (They often are unaware that this wasn't a novel teaching, of course.) And they won't say that all people are saved, or that all people must be saved.
But as you suggest, they almost always assume that all people are saved. Or at least, all the "basically decent people" that they know must be saved. Or at the very least, there is nothing that they as a Christian can do to help other people be saved.
The author of the Disputations blog phrased this in a wonderfully concise way:
It seems to me that there are three possibilities:
1. My neighbors can go to hell for all I care. 2. I don't think believing in Jesus makes much of a difference in terms of salvation. 3. I've got to preach Christ to my neighbors.
None of these is especially appealing, but the first is unneighborly and the third means taking on work with a high risk of humiliation. So it's in my own interest to massage the second possibility into a form that's more or less consistent with my understanding of the Catholic Faith.
His "option # 2" is a perfect description of what most of the educated and active Catholics I know tend to assume most of the time. In fact, even though I am very active in evangelization, I tend to assume this much of the time as well -- which is a bit worrisome. "
After spending a good part of yesterday and today trying to get a handle on exactly what we'll be doing at World Youth Day in Sydney, figuring out the budget, and considering how I am going to raise the monday necessary to pay for it all, it's refreshing to watch this WYD video which reminds me of what it is all about . . . and what God has done and will do through this gathering.