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A Culture of Life Taking Hold? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 18 January 2008 06:14
The March for Life, San Francisco will once again be taking place tomorrow and it has become quite a eclectic gathering. Via Catholic online:

Pastor Clenard Childress, a Baptist minister in Montclair, N.J., and Northeast regional director of the Life Education and Resource Network, is scheduled to speak at the 4th annual Walk for Life West Coast on Saturday, Jan. 19.

“In an area that is more or less perceived as the bastion of all liberal thought, we find here a movement growing that one would deem to be conservative,” Childress told Catholic San Francisco. “I would just call it righteous.”

‘It’s good for the country’

Childress, who is active in the pro-life movement nationally, said the San Francisco march is his favorite pro-life action. He said it is diverse, touches many denominations and is nonpartisan.

“It’s good for the country,” he said. “I think it’s good for the people to see what the pro-life movement is. It’s the most maligned movement in America. The perception it has among Americans isn’t what it truly is. These are some of the dearest people who are very humble, who truly want to reach out to all mothers in order to save their children.”

Childress said the pro-life movement is “often viewed as a tool of the Republican Party.” He added: “When you go to San Francisco, you don’t get that.”

And there is some evidence that a culture of life might be influencing the choices of Americans. As the major news outlets reported this week (the quotes below are from Fox) we are in the middle of a "boomlet" of births in the US - a 45 year high - and in this we are quite distinct from other highly developed countries. 25% of US births are among Hispanic immigrants:

Fertility rates often rise among immigrants who leave their homelands for a better life. For example, the rate among Mexican-born women in the U.S. is 3.2, but the overall rate for Mexico is just 2.4, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based research organization.

"They're more optimistic about their future here," said Jeff Passel, a Pew Center demographer.

But all American groups have experienced a rise in birth rates - including white Americans.

Fertility rates were also relatively high for other racial and ethnic groups. The rate rose to 2.1 for blacks and nearly 1.9 for non-Hispanic whites in 2006, according to the CDC.

Fertility levels tend to decline as women become better educated and gain career opportunities, and as they postpone childbirth until they are older. Experts say those factors, along with the legalization of abortion and the expansion of contraception options, explain why the U.S. fertility rate dropped to its lowest point — about 1.7 — in 1976.

But while fertility declines persisted in many other developed nations, the United States saw the reverse: The fertility rate climbed to 2 in 1989 and has hovered around that mark since then, according to federal birth data.

Kohler and others say the difference has more to do with culture than race. For example, white American women have more children than white European — even though many nations in Europe have more family-friendly government policies on parental leave and child care.

But such policies are just one factor in creating a society that produces lots of babies, said Duke University's S. Philip Morgan, a leading fertility researcher.

Other factors include recent declines in contraceptive use here; limited access to abortion in some states; and a 24/7 economy that provides opportunities for mothers to return to work, he said.

(this is fascinating - is a culture of life taking hold?)

Also, it is more common for American women to have babies out of wedlock and more common for couples here to go forward with unwanted pregnancies. And, compared with nations like Italy and Japan, it's more common for American husbands to help out with chores and child care.

There are regional variations in the United States. New England's fertility rates are more like Northern Europe's. American women in the Midwest, South and certain mountain states tend to have more children.

And here's the kicker:

The influence of certain religions in those latter regions is an important factor, said Ron Lesthaeghe, a Belgian demographer who is a visiting professor at the University of Michigan. "Evangelical Protestantism and Mormons," he said.

Vibrant faith communities that have strong convictions about the important of family and the value of children. The same groups who will be out in droves tomorrow.

Why didn't he mention Catholics? Anyone know?
A New Year Is A Great Time to Discern God's Call PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 17 January 2008 23:23
Over 500 attended Called & Gifted events during the first two weeks of January and there are more on the way: Maybe this is the weekend for you to begin your discernment journey:

This weekend:

Moses Lake, WA Called & Gifted

Spokane, WA Called & Gifted

And Fr. Mike will be teaching a one day C & G (Saturday) in Spring, Texas

Next weekend (Jan 25/26)

You can join Fr. Mike and me at the Newman center in Riverside, CA

If you read ID, be sure to let a member of the teaching team know. We'd love to meet our readers.
Ecumenism in the Trenches & Hot Events in "None" land PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 17 January 2008 22:10
I'm back. At last. For a week, anyway.

Had a very interesting encounter with a Christian, woman OBGYN physician Sue(who was my seat mate on the flight from Seattle) who has taken early semi-retirement to fight against the new euthanasia initiative being headed up by one of our former governors. Please visit her organization's website: Washington Coalition Against Assisted Suicide. She said that every visitor, even those from outside Washington state, helps make their campaign more credible. And that they could also use financial assistance - that even $5 would help.

It was great to hear from her that even in "None" land, the medical association is strongly against the initiative.

Washingtonians have already lived through one epic battle around this topic in 1991. I was working my way through grad school on a oncology unit at that point and I can still remember one nurse who turned to me and explained her opposition: "I know who is going to be asked to actually do the deed and it isn't going to be doctors. It is going to be nurses." That time around, we won. But this is a new battle and a new era.

Sue was delighted to hear about our work and said "God must have arranged for us to sit together". She was very positive about the developing ecumenism between Protestants and Catholics especially around life issues. She also had fond memories of Fr. Joseph Fulton, who was the resident saint at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle for decades.

Fr. Fulton was a Protestant student from Brooklyn when he first crossed the threshold of Blessed Sacrament church in the 30's. He fell in love with the beauty he encountered there and become Catholic, a Dominican, provincial, and eventually pastor of the very church that triggered his interest in the faith. (And which would be the threshold of the faith for me as a student at the UW a half century later.)

Fr. Fulton transcended every category. He celebrated the ancient Dominican rite (in Latin of course) early on Sunday morning and attended services at University Presbyterian on Sunday evening. Lover of the traditional Mass, champion of the charismatic renewal, he was often called "Father Love" but would refer to himself as a "Methodist Free Catholic".

Ecumenism in "None" land is real at the grassroots level.

Which reminds me:

Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle is celebrating her centennial this year and what a spectacular line-up of events they have planned. In true Fr. Fulton style, the line-up utterly confounds our current culture war categories:

This weekend, the topic is ecumenism - so if you are going to be in the area, make a point of attending!

Lecture I: The Future of Evangelical-Roman Catholic Ecumenism with Fr. Morerod, OP, and Profs. Yeago & Koskela
January 18th – 7:30PM – Blessed Sacrament Church - Parish Hall
Lecture II: The Future of Lutheran-Roman Catholic Ecumenism with Fr. Morerod, OP, and Prof. Yeago
January 19th – 6:30PM – Blessed Sacrament Church - Parish Hall

And among the other events coming up at Blessed Sacrament in 2008:

Lectures by Timothy Radcliffe, former Master of the Dominican Order and
Sr. Suzanne Noffke, OP - the world's foremost expert on Catherine of Siena
The Tudor Choir in concert
A lecture on Gregorian and Dominican chants through the centuries
A Dominican Rite Mass with solemn vespers for St. Dominic's feastday
Fr. Paul Murray who has written a simply wonderful book on the intoxicating joy of early OP spirituality
And there's more. . .

I am intensely frustrated that my travel schedule means that I will miss most of these events - but you don't have to!

Check it out.
Mona's Identity Revealed PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 17 January 2008 13:20

Here's a little snippet from my friend Pat Armstrong about the Mona Lisa from an article by David Rising, Associated Press

A researcher has uncovered evidence that apparently confirms the identity
of the woman behind the Mona Lisa's iconic smile, Germany's University of
Heidelberg says.

She is Lisa del Giocondo, wife of Florentine businessman Francesco del
Giocondo, according to notes written in the margins of a book by a friend
of Leonardo da Vinci as the artist worked on the masterpiece, the school
said in a statement Monday.

The discovery by a Heidelberg University library manuscript expert appears
to confirm what has long been suspected. It is also an answer that has
been in plain view for centuries: the Mona Lisa is known as La Gioconda in

Del Giocondo was first named as the likeness in the painting by Italian
writer Giorgio Vasari in 1550, who also dated the work at between 1503 and
1506, the university said. But because Vasari relied on anecdotal evidence, there were always doubts
about the identification, and Leonardo is not known to have made any notes
about the model's identity himself.

Compounding the mystery, vague references in 1517, 1525 and 1540 point to
other identifications. "One possibility discussed is the presentation of a fictitious likeness of
a woman; Leonardo's female ideal," the school said. But the find by Heidelberg library expert Armin Schlechter settles the
matter, according to the university.

In a copy of the works of Roman philosopher Cicero, a Florentine official
and friend of Leonardo's wrote in the margins that da Vinci was working on
a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo. The friend, Agostino Vespucci, dated his
notes October 1503, also helping to pin down the exact time Leonardo was
working on the painting.

"All doubts as to the identity of the Mona Lisa are eliminated (by) one
source," the university said.

The discovery was actually made in 2005, but was not widely known until a
German radio station last week aired it in a report.

Hat tip: Patricia Armstrong, aka, "Patsie Lisa" or "La U-gotta-be-Giocanda"

My Faith (such as it is) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 17 January 2008 08:15
Back in mid-December I posted the following under the title, "The Gift of Faith," and promised to respond "in a few days." Hah! I suppose a month might count as a few days, if you'll be generous with me. Here's the post, and my promised response.

While faith is a gift from God, it is often modeled for us by others. My parents never missed Mass, unless they were sick. I remember driving for an hour with them to church one Sunday when we were vacationing in Arkansas (Catholic churches weren't all that common). My mom would pray often before starting the car.

I prayed fervently at times when she was driving.

I'll never forget getting up one night to get a drink of water when I was about seven years old and glimpsing my dad on his knees at the foot of my parents' bed as he said his night time prayers.

I knew my parents were people of faith not only from their prayer, but from the way they lived.

But I have a question for you, dear readers.

How would you describe your faith? What does this great gift look like in your life? What are its characteristics and qualities? How does it impact your daily life? How would you describe the faith you hope your children have? If you aren't quite living your faith as you'd like, what is your goal? Describe how you'd like your faith to be.

One caveat: if you use the phrase, "practicing Catholic" or "active Catholic," please describe what you mean by that.

I promise to share my own response to those questions in a few days

I freely admit that my understanding and lived experience of faith has undergone a change in the past few years. The catechism describes faith as follows:

Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 150

My faith was more of a personal checklist:
did I say my office?
did I participate in Mass? (even when I was ordained this stayed on the list!)
what sins did I commit? (do I need to go to confession?)
was I giving assent to the teachings of the Church?

The problem was, the focus often was on me. What was I doing? And even if I "did well" on a given day, I felt as though I was deserving of God's love, felt good about myself, and was "in control."

Then I began working with Sherry, and heard of a different kind of faith - a "series of difficult obediences in the same direction." This sounds a bit like the faith of Abraham celebrated in the letter to the Hebrews: "By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go." Heb 11:8 Sherry has lived that out in a variety of spectacular ways; entering the Catholic Church after a long search, developing the gifts inventory for Catholics and then starting the Institute with Fr. Michael Sweeney, moving to Colorado Springs after being directed in prayer.

Then, while working with the Institute, I met my friend, Daniel, of whom I've written about before. The power of grace at work in his life was (and is) so extraordinary that I came to realize that for years I had underestimated God. In his simplicity and goodness, Daniel clings to Jesus and His Father and desires a living relationship that shapes each moment of his life.

I realize I'm describing the faith of others now, but they have become models for me; building upon and going beyond the wonderful models my parents gave me. Because Sherry and Daniel talk openly about their relationship with God. In their own ways they are studying the Scriptures and Church teaching, seeking guidance. In doing so, they are helping me realize how much I had gradually returned to the "way of the world" over the past twenty years or so, as opposed to the way of the Gospel.

So what is my faith like today? I would say I am seeking to know and trust Jesus, and to truly entrust my life to Him. And it is difficult. It means I have to stop asking, "what am I going to do?" and ask, "what would Jesus have me do - what will it take to get out of the way and let him act through me?" Daniel has told me, "Fr. Mike, if you want to know someone you spend time with them. You talk to them. So spend time with Jesus. Talk to him throughout the day. Get to know Him the way He knows you." Sounds simple, yet so often I sit at my computer and begin to work on something and forget to pray. I prepare to meet someone and forget to pray for them, and for God's outcome for the meeting. I am still trying to be in control.

The "obedience of faith" is discussed in the catechism, and it notes that "obey" comes from the Latin, "to hear," "to listen." So I'm trying to listen to Jesus more, especially with regard to what He says in the Scriptures. "Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no," (Mt 5:27) so I am trying to respond to God's grace to be truthful and transparent. I am slowly realizing just how contrary Jesus' teachings are to our culture, to our natural tendencies, to my tendencies. Can I "offer no resistance to one who is evil." (Mt 5:29) I am more likely to avoid them - and thus not evangelize by grace-enabled actions or words. I know I love those who love me (Mt 5:46), but I hardly ever think to pray for my enemies (or, more likely, those I don't naturally like).

I am commanded by Jesus to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48), but that would mean to accept being misunderstood, considered weak or ideological or misguided or naive. The perfection I am to seek is to be more and more like Jesus, which I cannot do on my own, but only by His grace. But that grace doesn't make following him as a disciple easy - only possible.

And I know I cannot comfort myself by saying, "Well, this kind of conversion is a lifelong process, so don't get all impatient about it." I've heard that before. I've said it myself. But God in His mercy has given me forty-eight years so far, and there's no promise He's offering me forty-nine. Shoot, I remember when 48 sounded ancient!

So that's my faith in a nutshell. Actually, it's more about where I seem to be led these days. I don't know where it's leading, really, but my Hope (the theological virtue, that is) tells me it's a place I am to "receive as an inheritance." Not something I've earned, but something I'm given because I am a son.
Worthy to Stand in Your Presence PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 15 January 2008 10:08
This morning at Mass I used the second Eucharistic prayer. After the Memorial Acclamation, there's a line that has bothered many a presider, I know: "We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you." I know it has bothered some presiders, because I occasionally hear it changed to "worthy to be in your presence." A friend recently asked about the discontinuity of what the presider is saying in the first person plural, and what the congregation is doing.

I pointed out that in much of the Catholic world, I believe, the congregation stands again after the Memorial Acclamation, and that the posture of continuing to kneel at that point is the result of a request from the US bishops after the council. The passage is pretty much a quote from the Canon of St. Hippolytus, written in the third century.

Remembering therefore His death and resurrection, we offer to Thee the Bread and the Chalice, giving Thee thanks because Thou hast held us worthy to stand before Thee and minister to Thee.

I'm not a historical liturgist, or much of any kind of liturgist, so I don't know what the posture was of the early Christians who were praying this with St. Hippolytus.

What caught my attention this morning was the connection between the liturgy and our life as Christians. Yes, we are standing (and kneeling, and sitting) in the presence of God at Mass, listening, responding, singing, and hopefully participating "fully and consciously."

But the liturgy, if we are fully present to it, invites us to link our worship with the whole of our lives. Perhaps it was because I was standing for three hours helping out at the Marian House soup kitchen the day before and my back is still complaining, but I realized that I am "made worthy" by receiving Jesus in the Eucharist to stand in his presence and give glory to Him throughout my day. When I am standing before my brother or sister, whom, Scripture says, is made in God's image and likeness, I am given another opportunity to serve Him in them. One of my favorite quotes from CS Lewis reminds us of this:

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest thing you will ever encounter with your senses. . . if he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also, Christ . . . Glory himself, is truly hidden.”

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Then, when I return to Mass, I again stand (or kneel) in the presence of God the Father and offer to Him, with Jesus, all the various ways I have attempted to serve Him and give glory to Him through actions of service, kindness, reconciliation, patience, gentleness, etc. In this way, my entire life - not just the time I spend at Mass - can become an act of worship and an act of service.
Visiting the Heartland PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 15 January 2008 09:32

This past weekend I joined Jen Piccotti, a Called & Gifted teacher from Aliso Viejo, CA, in the Denver airport for a short prop plane ride to Dodge City, KS, where we were met by Becky Hessman, the director of vocations for the tiny diocese of Dodge City. Becky is also one of our local champions on the ground in that diocese, and she drove us the final 25 miles or so to Jetmore (population 800). There, Jen and I gave a one-day workshop for 21 adults on Saturday, and then another workshop for 66 high school confirmandi and some of their youth leaders.

It was a great weekend, and in some ways so different from the typical big-city workshop. We were housed in the rectory, which is a part-time residence for Deacon Dwaine Lampe, the pastoral administrator for St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Jetmore (as well as another small-town parish some miles away), and his wife, Louise. We had no fancy dinners out. Instead, it was a wonderful homemade casserole one night, and salisbury steak and mashed potatoes covered in cheese the next. Homemade cinnamon rolls or waffles at breakfast. Chocolate cream pie. Lemon meringue pie.

In fact, I'm amazed that Kansans don't weigh 300 lbs. - at least at St. Lawrence Church. Mary Jane and Mary Anne, two pillars of the parish and intimately involved in preparing for the workshops, coordinated a veritable banquet of desserts that kept me on a sugar high throughout the weekend!

But aside from the food, the greeting that Jen and I were given was spectacular. Sometimes when I help give a workshop at a large parish, you often realize that you're just one of several events going on that weekend. At Jetmore, we knew that it had been the focus of energy for some time (nice for the ego...) People were incredibly friendly, and the community is tight-knit and welcoming at the same time. For good reason. It seemed that many, many people in western Kansas are cousins or in-laws. "Six degrees of separation" is more like two degrees. If you're not related, you at least have a common acquaintance with the person you're speaking with.

Saturday evening, after the workshop was over and before dinner, I went for a short run. My route took me through downtown Jetmore and out into the country, past the "Packrats 'r' Us" storage units and out into the prairie. It was incredibly quiet; just the occasional passing car (I counted four in both directions during my 40 minute run), the percussive rhythm of my shoes on the highway, and a little syncopation provided by my breathing.

I was a little sad to get back on the small plane with Jen and two other travelers to head back to the bright lights of Denver and Colorado Springs. Mary Ann had pressed a plastic bag in my hand as we prepared to leave the church. It had a left-over wrap from Saturday's lunch, a bag of Cheetos and pretzels, and a sample of the chocolate sheetcake with the boiled icing that had been spread over it while the cake was still warm, allowing the icing to seep into the sheet, making it extremely moist and sweet. I had grown rather fond of them, and Mary Ann had given me four, maybe five, generous slices.

I ate them all in the dark privacy of the flight back to the fast-paced anonymous life city folk call "civilization."
Believing in "None" Land PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 13 January 2008 08:27
It's the quintessential January early Sunday morning in Seattle. Mostly dark still (at 7:30 am), fairly cold but not raining (and as any true Seattlite will tell you, a day or hour in January without rain is like a day with sunshine!) . I'm staying in a funky 1930's nursing home turned inn at the foot of Queen Ann hill, the highest hill in Seattle, and also at the foot of the Space Needle which, graceful and glowing, is the first thing that strikes your eye as you leave the place. The Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World's Fair, is across the street and the theatre district is here as well.

My sisters are still sleeping and I'm in a local coffee shop which attempts to look vaguely 30's-40's and might succeed except for the soft folk rock playing, the dozen varieties of coffee drinks, computers, wi-fi, and the piles of neighborhood and alternate newspapers. A soft granola exterior with a super-charged, hard-edged 21st century underbelly. That too is very Seattle.

As is the fact that the "what to do in Seattle" magazine that came with our room ends with an essay about how Seattle is the heart of "None Land." Meaning that 60% of Seattle denizens, when asked what religious tradition they identify with, reply "None". You know that such practical agnosticism is far gone when it is acknowledged in a publication for tourists. (I think I saw the author, who sports long, wildly curling grey hair, and looks like a survivor of the 60's playing live music down at the Pike Place Market yesterday)

The author of the article raised the obvious questions: how do we, as a community, then wrestle with issues of morality and values - (much less "good" and "evil" but those terms are largely regarded as dangerous nonsense categories here in the heart of post-modernism. The spectre of someone asserting universal moral truths can rouse Seattlites faster than a triple grande carmel macchiato.)

So how do we, as Catholic disciples of Jesus Christ live among, love, serve, evangelize in one of the toughest spiritual environments? I don't pretend to have the answers. But I do know that the inviting others to speak of their "lived" experience or relationship with God (as opposed to their theological, ideological, or political views about God and religion) is an important beginning place in our cultural situation.

We saw it again while giving a heavily abridged version of Making Disciples at the OP conference last week. People - including priests - were so moved, blessed, healed, challenged, and evangelized by the simple experience of telling or listening to the story of another person's lived relationship with God. That's why we are still reading Augustine's Confessions so many centuries later. That's why Therese's Story of a Soul" still nourishes us. They were saints and spiritual geniuses, yes - but it is their story of living with and for God in the midst of their specific time and place that arrests our attention and speaks to our hearts.

And because we are all in a relationship with God even when we refuse to acknowledge it (since He, the great Lover, holds us in being every second) and we were created for that relationship, this resolutely "None" religious agnosticism is contrary to who we are. And not just in grand, philosophical categories, but in the mundane details of our lives. We can't actually live our lives consistently as post-moderns. We can't live as though good and evil are meaningless, as though we don't long for more.

And when we tell the story of our personal, lived journey, that tension between our heart and soul and what our culture tells us we should desire and feel wells to the surface. Even in our pain, despair, bitterness, or atheism. Which is the first step. Not the final step. Not the end. Just the beginning. But a critical beginning for post-moderns who live in a mental, imaginative, and experiential universe so far from that of seriously practicing Catholics.

We can't build a culture of discipleship on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis. We can't evangelize our own generation without relating to them as valued persons, building relationships of trust, and inviting them to look again at and share their spiritual journey to this point in their life.

One response to citizens of the Land of "None" - wherever they happen to hang their hats?

How about asking "What has been your experience of God to this point in your life?"

And then really listening. And praying.

Must stop here. I'm being blinded by an unfamiliar light that has momentarily broken through the clouds and found me at my battered little wooden table tucked far inside the coffee shop. So does the Holy Spirit seek us all out and find us and woo us- even in "None" land.

I know that I must change many of my own habits of inattention, obliviousness, self-protection, and spiritual self-absorption to recognize, much less actively accompany others whom God is seeking out. But I'm praying that God will change me and somehow, use me in this delicate and subtle ministry.
On the Road PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 11 January 2008 15:55
After ten hours in Colorado Springs, I loaded Sherry in the used car my friend Liz has purchased in place of Lazarus, the old Ford Bronco she used to lend me that was condemned as "unsafe to drive." After driving to the Denver airport, we went our separate ways, Sherry to a family visit to Seattle, me to Jetmore, KS, for two one-day workshops with Jen Picotti, one of our wonderful Called & Gifted teachers.
We'll do one workshop for some of the local adults, then one for about 65 high school confirmation candidates.
Dinner's cooking on the stove at the rectory, and so I'd better sign off. It'll be early to bed tonight.

I'll try to post something after the weekend.
Bomb hits Dominican convent PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 11 January 2008 15:52

From Fr. Chuck Dahm, O.P.: “A bomb hit the Dominican Motherhouse Convent in Mosul. Most of the front of the building was destroyed and all the windows and major doors were damaged. The electricity cut off. No sisters were hurt but they are saddened and shaken. It was such a special place for the sisters and it is terribly destroyed. In all, three churches, two in Baghdad and one in Mosul were damaged as well as one Chaldean convent in Baghdad.
Please continue your prayers for the sisters and for peace.
Off to the Bay PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 07 January 2008 05:17
Fr. Mike and I are on our way to the Bay area to put on an abridged version of Making Disciples for the Dominican pastors and parish leaders of the western Province. I have posts brewing in my head, we'll se if there is any time or opportunity to write them down.

Meanwhile Pippin is settling in very well but shows every sign of being a cat nip addict. Rub a little dry catnip between your fingers and then rub your fingers into her hair and she (16 years old!) gets very frisky and even feisty and rolls about in ecstasy. I'm her private drug pusher.

And here I thought that the proverbial love of catnip was a sort of urban legend!
Compassion from Prison PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Saturday, 05 January 2008 11:27
Often I hear people complaining about the prison system in the U.S. Prisons are generally overcrowded, the recidivism rate indicates that little rehabilitation is happening, the majority of inmates are members of racial minorities, and too often they become "classrooms" for learning new criminal skills.

But today I came across a remarkable outreach from death row inmates that is facilitated by members of St. Rose Parish, in Perrysburg, OH, where I helped give a Called & Gifted workshop last year. It's a newsletter called, "Compassion," and the first of the bi-monthly publications was produced in 2001.

The main page of the website states the objectives of the project:

Compassion newsletter is written by death row prisoners in the United States and distributed without charge to all 3400+ inmates in this country currently under the sentence of death. Subscriptions are also available to those on the outside.

Compassion focuses its efforts on publishing compassionate and introspective articles written by death-row prisoners. Within its pages it also works to develop healing communication between capital punishment offenders and murdered victims’ families.

Under its self imposed guidelines Compassion directs that half of all its subscription and donation funds be awarded as college scholarships to family members of murdered victims. To date $21,000 in scholarships have been awarded to seven individuals from around the country.

Compassion urges prisoners to set a new moral decency for themselves. Through its pages, death row prisoners take an active role in restorative justice and reconciliation. Prisoners are encouraged to genuinely foster reconciliation between themselves and immediate family members of murdered victims.

The current editor of Compassion, Dennis Skillicorn, is on Missouri’s death row. He views Compassion as “an opportunity for us to have a voice and express our overwhelming desire to give back to society. In the process death row prisoners are able to work toward restoring some of what we’ve torn down.”

The project began in response to a suggestion by Siddique Abdullah Hasan, who is on death row in the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown. Through a mutual contact, Hasan connected with Fred Moor of St. Rose Parish, who agreed to oversee publication. According to the website, "the glossy, eight-page newsletter focuses on positive contributions by death row inmates and their desire to help others. It does not print accounts of individual cases, complaints about prison or the judicial system, or opinions on the death penalty."

Skillicorn has recently collected contributions from prisoners throughout the country and produced a book of essays, poems and artwork chronicling the choices that brought prisoners to where they are today. With the help of volunteers at St. Rose, "Today's Choices Affect Tomorrow's Dreams" is being distributed in juvenile detention facilities around the country to remind young people about the importance of their decisions. The book, written by death-row inmates and prisoners serving life-without-parole sentences, is distributed through Compassion, and can be ordered using this form.

Kudos to the parishioners at St. Rose, who are supporting this attempt to bring some healing to families devastated by violent crime. Compassion demonstrates that God's grace is at work even in the lives of those we might like to think are beyond hope - and that we can not simply turn our backs on them, as tempting as that might be.
The Endless Glamour of Mendicant Life PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 05 January 2008 09:46
Back from Houston for two days. Then off the San Francisco Bay area where a tremendous storm is brewing and there are all kinds of power outages. Hey, its all part of the relentless glamour of mendicant life.

The Catholic school teachers in Houston were a warm, great group and the workshop was very successful in the end but it didn't start out that way. Just about everything logistical that could go wrong did go wrong. This was Called & Gifted #331. Over time, you develop a personal hall of fame for workshop disasters. And they are pretty funny - in retrospect. You know that you are a pro when they strike you as funny at the time!

1) There was the one in California where we showed up to find a square 6 foot screen on a bent stand where a third of the screen had literally be torn off.

2) There was the time in Oregon when Fr. Michael Sweeney (my co-teacher for that event) was stranded by snow) and I had to teach a bunch of brand new material on 5 minutes notice.

3) There was the time (also in Houston!) where no one could find the projector and I had a first time teacher trainee with me.

4) There was the time I contracted e-coli in Jakarta and was bed-ridden on the eve of a huge bi-lingual workshop for 450. We scooted by on Friday night but I had to get up on Saturday and teach, my clothes clinging with sweat, and lay down exhausted during all breaks. I was too busy trying to endure to find that funny.

5) Of course, there was that notable moment in Detroit last October, when a total power failure occurred ten minutes before I was to begin a presentation to a widely advertised group of STL students at Sacred Heart seminary. No projector, no computer, and mostly in the dark with an audience of African priests and people like Ralph Martin and Dr. Janet Smith in attendance! The finger puppet version of the theology and practice of the New Evangelization that followed will go down in history as one of those Balaam's ass moments - when God uses the weaknesses of his people in amazing ways.

But yesterday was probably the most outrageous series of failures I've ever experienced.

It started off when I showed up 45 minutes before the event was due to begin and discovered that our carefully shipped boxes had not arrived. So I had to call one of our staff (nabbing him as he stepped out of the shower since it was only 6:40 am here) and send him racing to the office to wrestle with UPS. Fortunately, the principle had her copy of the Inventory in her office, so I sent her off to copy the questions and answer sheets since taking the inventory was the first thing we would do.

Then my co-teacher (Miriam) for the day called to say that she was struggling with back pain and would be late and that I should start without here (and the underlying message seemed to be - would Miriam make it at all?) No worries. I could manage a day's workshop on my own if necessary.

Then it turned out that no one had used the remote for the provided projector before and there was no connecting cord provided. I was not yet familiar enough with my new MAC to figure it out. Also my MAC was doing odd things like having the projected slide disappear from the screen.

No problems. I had anticipated problems on my first trip with the MAC so I had set up my own personal MAC support system before-hand: Fr. Mike. Fr. Mike was to have his cell phone on from the minute he finished celebrating early Mass so he could help me with any problems. I called. No answer. I left a message. A cascading series of computer weirdnesses required that I call him again and again. No answer. Left increasingly urgent messages. No call back.

By now, it was 15 minutes before I was due to begin and I am without inventories, co-teacher, or book table, my brand new computer was acting wonky and my tech help is unreachable. Time to breathe deep. If necessary, I told myself, I can teach the day by myself from the hand-outs and just add more stories and dramatize things more. When in doubt, use finger puppets.

At this point, my co-teacher shows! Hurrah! She's a tough and wonderful teacher so she's going to gut it out. Yeah Miriam! Thank you Lord!

Then it dawns upon me, that without the inventories, I have to provide another list of the 24 charisms that corresponds to their answer sheet so the 53 participants can figure out what their scores mean. Try to open another file that has such a slide. Computer freezes. Try to recreate alphabetized list of 24 charisms from my head. My brain fuses. Can only come up with 21. Miriam is able to come up with the list and tried to write it on the white board - but, of course, there is no marker and no one knows where one is.

At this point, Miriam and I just started to giggle. The day was already into the Disaster Hall of Fame and was quickly heading to the top of the pile.

It all worked out in the end. The inventories arrived in time for lunch, Fr. Mike finally got through to tell me that, bizarrely, his cell had not rung or vibrated so he didn't know I had called until he checked his messages. Miriam got through the day with great style and the principal seemed very pleased. I had a lovely dinner out with Miriam and her husband and made it to the airport with plenty of time.

But last night when my flight home started to buck as we neared Colorado Springs and I could feel the all too familiar pangs of motion sickness, I closed my eyes, bent over, and willed the plane to land, now, before I puked my lovely dinner. So, of course, the pilot circled the city again.

I'm gonna enshrine yesterday in memory - in the hopes that it remains forever at the top of my list of disasters. And provides an endless supply of funny stories. Which will seem much funnier when my stomach stops churning
Making Time for the Poor PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 04 January 2008 10:49

The Catholic News Service highlighted a brief visit by Pope Benedict XVI to a homeless shelter near the Vatican established 20 years ago by Pope John Paul II. it's staffed by the Missionaries of Charity and is the result of Mother Theresa's suggestion to the late Pope.

The visit was only 45 minutes long, and the Pope brought blankets and food for the homeless people there. It was not a media event, but to me it was a beautiful event. We are all children of God, whether homeless, or uneducated, or addicted to drugs or alcohol or sex; whether we are seemingly powerful by the world's standards, or not worth
"Migrant Mother" by Dorothea Lange

thinking about by the world's standards. As the pope himself would say, the homeless he visited have just as much human dignity and just as much value in the eyes of God as he has.

According to the article,
The visit highlighted one of Pope Benedict's favorite themes: personal charity as the ultimate expression of faith in Jesus Christ.

In Austria last fall, he told Catholic volunteers that love of neighbor is not something that can be delegated to the state or to institutions -- it always demands a personal commitment.

In his 2006 encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" ("God Is Love"), the pope brought it down to the basics: "Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison."

As pope, however, personal contact with the needy is not always easy. Every public papal event involves planning, security and protocol, and usually takes place under the glare of the mass media.

On his trips to Africa, Pope John Paul sometimes would make unscheduled stops to visit poor families in their huts. These off-screen events were fleeting, however; the papal motorcade was always waiting outside.

The event got me thinking again about why I entered religious life and sought ordination. When I was in graduate school studying geophysics, I became aware of the vast disparity in the lifestyles of the tremendously wealthy in Palo Alto, CA, and the desperately poor of East Palo Alto. I saw homeless people for perhaps the first time in my life (or at least it was the first time I noticed them), and wondered, "How can this happen in a supposedly Christian nation that is also the wealthiest nation on earth?"

It got me thinking about my life, and what I was doing, and what God might want me to do. Strangely enough (at least it seemed strange to me at the time), I ended up entering the Dominican novitiate to discover if God was calling me there. I thought perhaps I could make the most difference in the world by preaching the Gospel.

During my seminary days I volunteered at a homeless shelter, where I stayed overnight and listened to homeless people share their worries and tell their stories. I helped out at a local Catholic Worker house by helping find employment possibilities for the people living there. I taught religion and P.E. at a local inner city Catholic grade school.

The Pope's words in Deus Caritas Est, "Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison," echo, of course, Jesus' admonition and praise of those who stand before him in judgment in Matthew 25. They are words that I need to take more seriously. It's not enough to simply rely on the government or non-profits to care for the needy.

I need to be personally involved.

But that's difficult, for a number of reasons - or, to be more honest - excuses.

Take, for example, the beggar on the street.
First of all, when I'm out on the street I'm always going someplace. I have something to do. I'm busy (sometimes literally for God's sake!) I never go out just for a walk, although I'm trying to change that. I find walking nowhere in particular is a good way for me to talk things over with God.

Secondly, I've heard people discourage giving to panhandlers. "They're just going to buy booze or drugs." Well, perhaps I could ask the person if they're hungry and would like something to eat. When I was in seminary, I walked to school often - about a 50 minute walk - and had to run a gauntlet of homeless folks along one section of my hike. I started to carry some food with me that I could offer to someone if they were asking for money to buy food. That sometimes worked, but usually only after they had come to recognize me. But of course, doing this involves stopping and actually talking to a beggar; possibly getting involved, and that's frightening.

Thirdly, I can tell myself, "I don't know what to say, or what to do." But that just reveals an underlying attitude that denies the poor person's common humanity with me. What do I like? I enjoy it when people talk with me, listen to me, look me in the eye and smile, offer me help - any kind of help - when I am in need. Why wouldn't a homeless person desire the same?

Fourthly, I can tell myself that a short encounter's not going to make a difference. It's not dealing with the root of the problem, which might be systemic or due to the choices the individual keeps making. What can I do about that? Or, I might worry that if I get involved more will be asked of me by the person standing in front of me than I want to give. I already have a full-time vocation as a priest and a Dominican. I have more than enough work to do with the Institute (including blogging!)

But then I am confronted with the thought of standing before Jesus and giving these reasons/excuses, and I realize that the same reasons are reflections of my relationship with Him.

1) I am too busy to pray.
2) I am afraid that if I "get involved" with Him, he'll demand things of me that I do not want to do. I forget that in His love, he'll only ask me to do that which will be for my greatest good; that which will draw me closer to Him and closer to the creatures He loves.
3) I can implicitly deny Jesus' humanity if I think my temptations to sin (to which I so easily give in) are stronger than any he faced (now who do you think Satan would try more vigorously?) In so doing, I deny the power of His grace, and give up on self-discipline (which is hardly only of my "self", but rather evidence of cooperating with grace!)
4) I underestimate what Jesus might do through me. I underestimate the power and efficacy of heartfelt, consistent intercessory prayer.

If the Holy Father's not too busy to stop by a homeless shelter, shouldn't you and I be able to make time for the poor? Or are we like the busy people Jesus encountered, who, when invited to follow him, had to bury their dead parents, or tend to their business ventures, or...
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