Happy belated feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. I received this short article from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology. It was written by Fr. Michael Morris, OP, professor of Religion and the Arts, and frequent contributor to Magnificat, among other things. I had a fascinating Church history class with Fr. Michael, which he taught using religious and secular art to demonstrate different movements and issues as they were presented in their own age.
On St. Thomas Aquinas & "The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas" by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1471 - Fr. Michael Morris, OP
Known through the ages as "The Angelic Doctor," Saint Thomas Aquinas and his teachings act as a beacon of orthodoxy in a world of diverse approaches in theological history. This painting by Gozzoli, an apprentice to the Dominican artist Fra Angelico, is a visual tribute to Thomism's supremacy by the end of the fifteenth century. Yet the road to that pinnacle of acceptance was not easy. Thomas Aquinas had personal and professional challenges to overcome before the splendor of his theology became established.
Thomas was born in 1215, the son of the Count of Aquino and a distant relative of the Holy Roman Emperor. Because of his aristocratic birth he was made Benedictine oblate as a child with the expectation that he would mature in that Order and someday become abbot of the great monastery of Monte Cassino. But during his religious formation Thomas was attracted instead to the new order of mobile mendicants, the Dominicans, who professed evangelical poverty, and engaged in study, preaching, and teaching. As he made his move to join the Dominicans his family went so far as to kidnap him, hoping that he would change his mind. A legend arose that during his year of incarceration they even tempted him with a prostitute in order to subvert his vocation. But Thomas remained resolute and returned to the Dominicans where he became the pupil of Saint Albert the Great, a wise and holy teacher who saw his student's intellectual talents surpass his own.
As a student Thomas thought much and spoke little. His bulky figure and apparent dullness earned him the nickname "The Dumb Ox." He was an exemplar of piety and humility, virtues that further concealed his hidden talents. But when his intellect was tested it became apparent that beneath that unprepossessing exterior an engine of brilliance was ready to engage the world of ideas and penetrate the mysteries of philosophy and theology. Albert was the first to see his potential and declared to the brethren, "We call Brother Thomas ‘the dumb ox'; but I tell you that he will make his lowing heard throughout the entire world."
Gozzoli portrays Thomas seated, wearing his Dominican habit and holding up a book with a passage that reads: "the truth my mouth recounts, but wickedness my lips abhor." Taken from the Book of Proverbs (8:7), this passage points to that quest for truth that Thomas undertook while not speaking ill of others. But this does not mean that Thomas was not eager and willing to patiently disagree with and correct those whom he felt were in error and straying from the truth. He refuted the Muslim philosopher Avveroës, shown lying prostrate at his feet, whose interpretation of ancient thought led Christians to heterodox ideas. As Thomas sits in honor at the center of the composition, an array of his writings are spread open over his lap radiating beams of light as does the sunburst over his breast (a symbol of Christian wisdom that connects Truth and Love). His Summa contra gentiles is a brilliant apologetics of the Catholic faith and his Summa theologiaeprovides a likewise excellent synopsis and ordering of theological questions and ideas. Thomas's great contribution to scholastic thought was the careful integration of Aristotelianism into speculative theology. That plus the synthesis of Plato and St. Augustine in the quest for natural and supernatural knowledge became the hallmark of his work. Gozzoli has included the figure of Aristotle standing on Thomas's right holding open his work on Ethics. On Thomas's left stands Plato holding his work, the Timeus.
At the pinnacle of the painting Christ appears in an aureole and imparts a blessing. He is flanked by Moses with the Tablets of the Law, representing the Old Testament, and by Saint Paul and the four Evangelists representing the New Testament. For Thomas there was no conflict between revealed truth and reason. He raised questions in order to confirm belief. "You have written well of me, Thomas," reads the Latin inscription above. It refers to an appearance Christ made to the friar. When asked what he wanted as a reward, Thomas replied: "Only you, Lord." Indeed, the very presence of Christ in the Eucharist inspired the saint to compose an office of the Blessed Sacrament and the classic hymn Pange Lingua.
When Thomas began to teach at the University of Paris a conflict over jurisdiction between the secular clergy and the mendicants reached its apex. That plus a residual doubt over the appropriateness of integrating the teachings of the pagan Aristotle while penetrating the mysteries of the faith triggered not just controversy, but outright violence.
Aquinas had to lecture at times behind an armed guard sent into the classroom by the French king. Yet as Gozzoli's painting attests in the bottom register, the teachings of Thomas were skillfully defended and embraced by the popes in succeeding generations.
Clement IV wanted to make Thomas a bishop but he shrank from such ecclesiastical honors. Nevertheless, the role of the pope's theologian with the title Master of the Sacred Palace, an honor traditionally given to a Dominican, can trace its roots to the importance to the Magisterium of Thomas's teachings. From the Council of Trent to the modern era when Pope Leo XIII decreed that all seminarians base their education on the work of the Angelic Doctor, the light of wisdom that radiated from the heart of Saint Thomas continues to influence our quest for knowledge and truth.
Much talk about the blogosphere today about Archbishop Chaput's address in Rome about which I posted below. The two points that are grabbing everyone's attention is Chaput's assertion that we are in a spiritual war with Satan and his confession that he thought that after 20 years as a bishop "things would change and things would be a lot better but I don't think they are.
"I think we live in disappointing times, in times of confusion, and in some ways that is the result of our failure to understand that we have an enemy in the Devil, but also we have enemies in the world around us."
He pointed to a "great talk" from an American Protestant pastor he once heard which was titled "We preach as though we don't have enemies," and reflected that this sentiment "is true in the United States... .”
"I think it's important to understand the we are in a battle, we really do live in a time of spiritual combat and I think we've lost that sense of the Church," Archbishop Chaput stated.
Even though we both hail from Colorado these days, I don't know the good Archbishop, but I am bemused by how much we seem to have in common.
For one thing, I'm marking a 20 year anniversary this month myself. 20 years ago, I was a young, over-educated secretary, on one of the those bleak, cold, rainy, grey days that you get in Seattle in January. The chrism was still wet behind my ears. I was all alone, in a strange parish, kneeling during the consecration when, as Florence Nightingale put it long ago "God spoke to me and called me to his service."
No, I hadn't an inkling about charisms or the Called & Gifted or the Dominicans or the Catherine of Siena Institute. That would all come later. But it was the call I had been praying for, longing for, waiting for. Within a month, I had signed up for graduate school and each small step of obedience led to another. (I was once asked by a take charge kind of woman what my five year plan was for the Institute. I couldn't help but laugh. All I've ever had is a two year guess.)
And now, 20 years later, I've been looking over the events and fruits of those years in preparation for some strategic planning meetings taking place when we get back from Boston. 73 US dioceses so far. And that doesn't include the Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Italian, Indonesian, Kenyan, and Singaporean dioceses. Called & Gifted workshop numbers 418, 419, 420, and 421 are coming up in the next week. No wonder I've spent a good deal of the last two days sleeping! Just contemplating all this makes me feel tired.
But what, you wonder, after all that work, is the real fruit? You remember the parishes and dioceses where things seemed to be taking off and then a pastor is transferred or a lay leader is side-lined. Or the vision never takes hold for reasons you can't identify. Scandal, illness, death, finances, personality conflicts and so many other things can stop things in their tracks.
The single biggest obstacle to renewal in our experience is the fact that the majority of Catholics are not disciples. That many Catholics, in fact, don't even possess an imaginative category for disciple. That the part of our parochial and diocesan culture which makes it so difficult to grasp the first, essential movement of faith is, as Archbishop Chaput noted, demonically empowered. In a very real way, we have been blinded by the enemy.
Our human weaknesses and sins are very real. The devil isn't making us "do it". But when individual and communal sin and brokenness is exaggerated and empowered by the enemy, we face a situation that can seem absolutely impervious to change.
The single biggest positive factor has been the gifted local disciple: priest, deacon, religious, or layperson, who is ablaze with the vision, dogged enough to persist in the bad times and creative enough to find ways past obstacles. Who possesses both the virtues of magnanimity and fortitude. And is willing to follow Christ in a thousand small obediences and sacrifices without seeing immediate fruit. And who knows that they are in a spiritual battle, that "this kind only come out through prayer and fasting".
But even the most radiant apostle or saint is not enough by his or herself.
At every Called & Gifted workshop I teach, I talk about the critical importance of organized, strategically focused, communal intercession for the spiritual renewal of your parish. Led, ideally, by the pastor. How that can transform the spiritual "climate" of your parish. How, where it is being done around the world, violence and conflict goes down and spiritual openness goes up.
In places where serious, sustained, intercessory prayer for the renewal of our communities takes place, miracles of healing, forgiveness, repentance, and faith occur when people just walk into the sanctuary.
Because the enemy's power has been broken and the presence of the Holy Spirit is palpable.
Over the years, I've given that talk at least 200 times. But very few pastoral leaders have taken me up on that challenge. Usually because we literally don't know that more than 24/7 "activity" in our institutions is possible or even desirable.
There is so much more that God intends to give the world through his Body, the Church, but we are not big enough channels as individuals. Only when we offer ourselves, our charisms, our vocations, our prayer together will God be able to do through his Church all that He desires.
Not faith without works. Or works without faith. But the faith and works of many, offered together.
I have noticed over the years that Intentional Disciples draws a large international readership. I suppose because we blog more on international themes than do most US bloggers. Sometimes even a majority of our overnight readers come from outside the US. But today, I think we are setting a record.
Only 39 of our last 100 readers were from the US 11 were from the UK 7 from India 5 from the Philippines 5 from Australia 3 from the Vatican City 3 from Canada 2 from Germany 2 from Italy
and Algeria, Thailand, Norway, Equador, Ireland, Poland, New Zealand, South Africa, Belgium, France, and Singapore.
Team Rubicon was born out of the Haitian earthquake. Within 24 hours of the quake, it had already begun to take shape. Because this group couldn't just stand by and do nothing.
Team Rubicon is a self-financed, all-volunteer, rapid response, vanguard style medical rescue team that operates in the supposed 'denied' areas of post earthquake Port au Prince. The former Marines, soldiers, firefighters/EMTs, medics, RNs, and PAs of Team Rubicon are unpaid.
Their blog is chock a block with unedited pictures and stories and gives a vivid account of the realities of the last two weeks and what they have learned and is worth visiting. They've gotten a fair bit of MSM coverage but I hadn't seen anything around St. Blog's hence this post.
Jesuit Brother Jim Boynton is part of Team Rubicon. On January 23, he wrote this harrowing description of a single hour in Haiti:
"One woman of about 60 years old had infected wounds in her legs that allowed me to see the bones. Our doctors dressed the wounds and she bravely endured and hour long ordeal of scraping and removing flesh. I held her, we prayed, and I listened to her scream. To keep her mind off the pain I started singing the few songs in Creole that I know. A crowd formed and joined in with me. We all sang at the top of our lungs to keep the poor women distracted from the tremendous pain. She cried, held on tight, and sang. When it was over she said she will never forget us. When it was over she went back to living under the stars in a crowded park with open sewage."
On january 24, this news reached the team:
Two nights ago Brother Jim advised us that he learned through Jesuit channels that the man himself, el Popa, was aware of our team and verbally passed on his blessing.
Brother Jim leads team members in this version of St. Ignatius' famous prayer morning and evening:
Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will.
Archbishop Chaput of Denver gave a speech earlier today at a conference in Rome: Priests and Laity on Mission. The Archbishop has hit the nail on the head again.
"But when we talk about a theme like today's topic – “Priests and laity together, changing and challenging the culture” – we need to remember that what we do, proceeds from who we are. Nothing is more dead than faith without works (Jas 2:17); except maybe one thing: works without faith. I do not think Paul had management issues in his head when he preached at the Areopagus. Management and resources are important – but the really essential questions, the questions that determine everything else in our life as Christians, are these: Do I really know God? Do I really love him? Do I seek him out? Do I study his word? Do I listen for his voice? Do I give my heart to him? Do I really believe he's there?"
We have an obligation as Catholics to study and understand the world around us. We have a duty not just to penetrate and engage it, but to convert it to Jesus Christ. That work belongs to all of us equally: clergy, laity and religious. We are missionaries. That is our primary vocation; it is hardwired into our identity as Christians. God calls each of us to different forms of service in his Church. But we are all equal in baptism. And we all share the same mission of bringing the Gospel to the world, and bringing the world to the Gospel.
And yet, Kolakowski's devil was right. The fundamental crisis of our time, and the special crisis of today’s Christians, has nothing to do with technology, or numbers, or organization, or resources. It is a crisis of faith. Do we believe in God or not? Are we on fire with a love for Jesus Christ, or not? Because if we are not, nothing else matters. If we are, then everything we need in order to do God's work will follow, because he never abandons his people.
Fr. Mike and I have had so many conversations lately with priests, pastors, diocesan staff, lay Catholics in different dioceses - all on the same topic: how is it possible that a Church that possesses the "fullness of the means of salvation" (CCC, 292) does not also possess a culture of discipleship? How is it that so many active Catholics regard talk of discipleship as foreign, judgmental, exaggerated, bizarre, not-Catholic?
Think I'm exaggerating? I wish.
A while back, one sharp eye witness at a major gathering of diocesan leaders to discuss evangelization described watching one major diocesan player rise and object to the whole conversation: "I mean who do you know actually who wants to surrender their whole life to Christ?"No one actually is at a place to want to make a decision to give their life to Christ."
As Archbishop Chaput put it so tellingly today: Nothing is more dead than faith without works except maybe one thing: works without faith.
From time to time the accusation is made by other Catholics, including – actually especially - those involved in ministry, that to speak of intentional discipleship is “elitist.” They have perceived that the phrase implies that some Christians are not just different, but somehow further along or more spiritually mature or more committed than others. These same people would likely agree that “faith is a journey,” and that how I live in relation to God (whether I think of myself as being in relation with God or not) varies from season to season in my life. However, to make the claim that some are different from others, especially if that can be construed as “better,” is one of the worst crimes in our egalitarian society.
This is a real misunderstanding of the nature of discipleship. You see, the invitation to be united to Jesus in a daily walk, to accept him as Lord of every aspect of one’s life, to “decrease so he may increase,” is offered to every person. You will not find a hint of elitism behind the offer whatsoever. The grace of God to enter into this relationship is offered to everyone through the proclamation of the Gospel, whether rich or poor, educated or not, healthy or ill, a notorious sinner or a more subtle sinner. I suppose where that proclamation is honest, complete, and supported by the power of the Holy Spirit that offer is clearer and more compelling, but not necessarily easier to accept.
In fact, the message and invitation seem to be more easily accepted by the more desperate and the simple. Jesus faced this issue during his ministry.
While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" He heard this and said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." (Mt 9:10-13)
I have met people who have been profoundly changed through God’s grace, and who are striving to allow Jesus to be the foundation of their lives. Often they are ordinary people: not too well-to-do, not necessarily highly educated. Sometimes they impressed me with how gracefully they dealt with what others would see as many obstacles to happiness. Jesus apparently experienced this, too.
[Jesus] rejoiced (in) the holy Spirit and said, "I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him." (Luke 10:21-22)
The “things” that remain hidden to the wise and learned, apparently, are what the 72 disciples reported happening during their mission. They were told to offer peace to the homes they visited, to eat and drink what was offered, to accept no payment, to cure the sick in the household, and to proclaim, “the kingdom of God is at hand for you.” …The seventy (-two) returned rejoicing, and said, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name." (Lk 10:5-9, 17)
“These things” – inexplicable cures, the casting out of demons, and even the idea of a kingdom of God somehow different from, yet growing within secular society are all attributes of Christianity that are hard for the sophisticated and intellectually gifted to accept. They are realities that are beyond the notice of the powerful and content – those who seem to have life “under control”. Yet for the disciple, they are not only possibilities, but in some cases, part of the experience of being delivered by God’s grace from a life focused on one’s self.
The claim that discipleship is “elitist” seems to come from those who are, in some ways, part of our cultural elite; at least they have the benefit of lots of education. Sort of like the Pharisees, who were the top of the religious heap in their day, complaining about the ease with which Jesus made sinners and tax collectors his disciples. Only in their case, they thought he wasn’t elite enough.
In this year of the priest - over 5,000 Filipino priests - more than 70% of the country's 7,000 Catholic clergy - are going to be on retreat this week together with Fr. Ranierio Cantalamessa as their main preacher. It is the Second National Congress of the Clergy.
I've heard absolutely glowing, rave reviews from seminarians who made a retreat with Fr. Cantalamessa. But with 5,000 fellow priests for 5 days! May the Holy Spirit descend upon and bless this gathering.
“The basic objective of the Congress is to provide priests with a deep and religious experience that will hopefully lead to a spiritual conversion and greater commitment. In other words, NCC II is the retreat of priests, for priests and by priests. The aim of the retreat is to achieve the interior renewal of the clergy.”
I wish it was possible for American clergy to do something similar. But our numbers are so much larger that it would be impossible. Let's pray for those Filipino priests this week as they seek God together.
Of course, the impact on parish life for the laity is enormous.
" . . . services in many parishes—Masses, weddings and baptisms—are being suspended for a week or until after the NCC II closes on Jan. 29.
Rosales said an agreement had been reached for parishes in Metro Manila and nearby provinces to have their priests say Mass first in the early morning before going to the congress later in the day.
In other provinces, especially in the Visayas and Mindanao, lay ministers have been designated to attend to urgent cases, like the need to give communion or bless the dead, the cardinal added."
Thought I'd share my reflections on this weekend's readings. I'm at Stanford University, where the Dominicans are chaplains, for a Called & Gifted workshop and a couple of days of interviews.
Two days ago I read “Pieces of Someday,” a memoir by Jan Vallone, a woman I met at our Dominican parish in Seattle, WA. Like St. Luke, she “decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence.” In it I learned that as a college student she dropped her Literature major, which her attorney father thought was worthless, to graduate summa cum laude in biology. She lasted 8 weeks in Medical school, found she couldn’t dissect the pickled corpse of a woman that undoubtedly was filled with stories. She married a law student, became a lawyer herself for about 20 years. Hated it.
There’s something compelling about her memoirs; probably because they bring back memories of my own college career. While in a PhD program in geophysics here, I remember listening to colleagues at Tresidder talking about the magnetic properties of some archaean rocks from South Africa. It was a late Friday afternoon, and I was done thinking about geophysics, but clearly they weren’t. With utter clarity - and some shock - came the realization, “I don’t belong here.” That led to the question, “Why was I here?” What maze of decisions that had led me to this trim, tidy maze of buildings called, “The Farm”? More importantly, what were the motives that led me here?
Certainly making my parents proud was a part of it. In preparing this homily, I realized that in my 50 years of life, mom and dad have only put one bumper sticker on their cars (why decrease the resale value unnecessarily?) Apparently a sticker with simply the name, “Stanford” was value-added. But a more basic – and base – motive that led me to a sub-basement lab in Mitchell was being able to use the words, “geophysics”, the abbreviation, “Ph.D.”, and the name, “Stanford” all in a sentence to describe myself.
All of us, whether we’re students in college, or attorneys in the midst of lucrative careers, need to ask if we’re doing what we were created to do – which is to ask whether we’re fully alive. In that dusty synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus stood before his fellow villagers to declare that, after having worked as a carpenter all his life, he had discovered his true vocation. This was made possible because his humanity had received an outpouring of the Spirit at his recent baptism by John followed by a 40 day retreat in the desert. It was in his humanity, through the Spirit, that he would bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives? and recovery of sight to the blind, ?let the oppressed go free, proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord - and be crucified for his trouble. And all the things that Jesus will do in the rest of the Gospel: his healings, exorcisms, teaching, encouraging of others, and even raising folks from the dead - he will do through his humanity, empowered by the Spirit. The prophet Joel foresaw a time when that same Spirit of God would be poured out upon all people. That promise was fulfilled at Pentecost, and renewed at your baptism, when you received that Spirit.
That Spirit is manifested, among other ways, in spiritual gifts - “charisms” in St. Paul’s Greek. These gifts are different ways in which each one of us is empowered by the Spirit to participate in the ongoing redemption of the world, and are clues to our true calling. St. Paul mentions some charisms in our excerpt from I Cor12 – healing, helps, administration, and tongues – but it’s not an exhaustive list. The early Church identified over two dozen gifts, all of which are given so that people in every age might experience, through individual Christians, the same love, power, provision and healing that Jesus offered in his own life. Jesus foretold this in John 14:12 when he told his disciples, “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”
You have different spiritual gifts, and thus a different call, from the people sitting around you. Why try to be a hand, when you’re an elbow? These gifts are given to you for the sake and benefit of others. God has invested these in you so that the world will be changed for the better by Him with your assent and cooperation. What a shame to make decisions about majors or careers based on ego, or the ego of your parents or the lure of wealth, prestige, or power. Charisms whither in a selfish environment. Why try to be a geophysicist when your gifts, personality and deepest interests point you in a very different direction? Why pursue a career in law when your heart’s desire – and your gifts – point in the direction of awakening young minds through the beauty and power of literature?
There are characteristics that all charisms have in common. First of all, because God’s involved, the results you’ll see are supernatural. That doesn’t necessarily mean miraculous, like passing an organic chem. exam you didn’t study for – but results that seem beyond the effort you invested. Secondly, people will give you feedback – often positive beyond what you might expect. Best of all, we’re energized when the charisms we have are being called forth from us by people who need them. People have for years, even before I was a Dominican, talked to me about deeply personal issues in their life, and I desired to help them see their own potential for dealing with them. Hours helping people learn skills or information aren’t long at all for me. I am juiced working behind the scenes with people who have a vision, just to help them succeed.
We have received the same Spirit as Jesus did in his humanity, but we each have our own call – and your call, as lay people, is in the world. You’re given charisms to help change the structures and institutions of the world from the inside, and to do it in different, unique ways: as lawyers, physicians, PTA members, writers, musicians, artists, engineers, business people, mothers, fathers, husbands and wives. But there’s a catch. Charisms show up under two conditions: 1) when the person, group or situation for which you were gifted intersects with your life; 2) when your faith becomes personal – meaning, when you realize that faith is not about keeping rules, being nice, or simply showing up to Mass when it’s not too inconvenient, but a personal adherence to God, particularly as revealed in Jesus. Becoming a disciple of Jesus is to accept an Anti-Faustian bargain; rather than “selling your soul” to the pursuit of wealth, prestige, self-importance, God has sold himself for you. You were purchased, and at a price. The cross is the cost Jesus paid because he “only did what His father commanded” – he served, loved, forgave, healed and thus unsettled the powers of the world. Jesus invited the fisherman, Simon, “Come follow me, and I will make you a fisher of people.” Jesus saw a potential in Simon that Simon couldn’t imagine in his wildest dreams. Jesus invites you to “Come, follow me” - to lose your idea of what your life should be, in order to find the life for which God has made you! He knows a potential in you beyond your imagining.
Only by first being a disciple can any of us possibly become who we were meant to be. Your personal vocation may be the same as your career, like Art Nutter, an engineer with a charism of wisdom, which helps him find practical solutions to problems. He started Taeus, Int’l. (i.e., “Tear Apart Everything Under the Sun”) – and that’s what he and about 30 other engineers do in a high-tech version of the lab on CSI. Nutter and his crew wreck PCs, burrow through software code and tear layers off microchips, rooting through the rubble for evidence of stolen designs that might strengthen a plaintiff's case or help a defendant force an acquittal in a patent infringement lawsuit.
Your vocation might be a part of your career, like John – a physical therapist using a charism of teaching to improve the healing skills of other therapists. Your vocation might have nothing to do with your career, like Jan, the lawyer, who, in looking through the pieces of her life, discovered “someday” showed up when she walked into a classroom to teach.
You’ve got your own pieces of someday in your hands right now, if you’ve decided to follow Jesus. What energizes you, where are you fruitful without undue struggle, what do you to help others that elicits surprisingly good feedback? Those are all signs that maybe the Holy Spirit is involved, working through you, with you, in you. Your call unfolds over time – all God asks of you is to take the next obvious step. Jan twice decided to leave her law career, and twice got cold feet. The charmed third time she listened to her heart and exchanged cherrywood conference rooms for a dumpy English classroom at an orthodox Jewish high school. That led to the next step, a long-postponed MFA, and that led to her memoirs. Who but God knows where that will lead? But if she continues to follow Jesus, she can trust it will be good. This is an article of our faith, a consequence of the fact that God loves each one of us. John Henry Cardinal Newman put it this way, “God has determined that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, he calls me by my name, he knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it to me.” I’d say that calls for a celebration – like Nehemiah said in the first reading, “rich foods and sweet drinks”…and much rejoicing in the Lord.
Today is the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the Bishops of the Catholic Church in America have called us to a day of penance. I think I shocked the 6:30 a.m. Mass crowd a bit this morning when I started my homily by saying, "I know whom we are to blame for abortion."
"And Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, Elmo and the Count."
"And those parents in their Suburbans with the little yellow signs that said, 'Baby on Board,' and who told their precious cargo, 'Honey, you can become anything you want: an astronaut, a doctor, a geologist, why, even President of the United States.'"
You see, Mr. Rogers (and the folks who placed him on TV all those years) told our children that they were good - even special. Big Bird and his pals told kids that we are all good, and special. And those parents - along with the teachers of their children - made sure that "never was heard a discouraging word" by those kids.
Of course, all of this runs contrary to what God has revealed in the Scriptures - that uncomfortable mirror that God holds up to us that says, "no, you're really screwed up - a sinner, even - just like Sarah and Jacob, David, Simon/Peter, and Saul/Paul." Those crazy scriptures in which Jesus doesn't say, "you can be anything you want," but instead, "apart from me you can do nothing," and "the greatest among you will be the servant of all." In other words, "YOUR LIFE IS NOT ABOUT YOU."
"The choices of the individual are now held so paramount that the most common advice given to teenagers is "Just be yourself." (That that long ago, it was more likely to be "Be polite.") Filmmaker Kevin Smith (Clerks) says, "My generation believes we can do almost anything. My characters are free: no social mores keep them in check." Or take Melissa, 20, who says, "I couldn't care less how I am viewed by society. I live my life according to the morals, views, and standards that I create." This is the social trend-so strong it's really a revolution - that ties all of the generational changes together in a neat, tight bundle: do what makes you happy, and don't worry about what other people think. It is enormously different from the cultural ethos of previous decades, and it is a philosophy that GenMe takes entirely for granted. "As long as I believe in myself, I really do not care what others think," says Rachel, 21.
I presume that these young people didn't come up with this philosophy on their own. It's how we raised them, so it's also what we, the older generation, believe.
You can see how "pro-choice" becomes such an attractive option - it's practically the dogma of at least two generations. It makes no different what the choice is about, I should be entirely free to make whatever choice seems best to me.
On a different tack, I have heard many pro-choice people argue that if abortion were made illegal, women would be "forced" to obtain abortions illegally, in back alleys, like the bad old days.
I think there is some real wisdom in what they are saying. In fact, they're right. That's why I believe simply working to make abortion illegal is problematic. Yes, lives would be saved, so by all means, we have to work to make abortion illegal. But more importantly, we have to work to change the way we think, the way we view one another, and the way we treat one another. Otherwise, a ban on abortion would be similar to Prohibition. A law that makes some of us feel good and righteous, but ultimately fails miserably because it doesn't address the reason why people want to drink, or the reason why people (not just women) want abortions.
It's a very complex, multi-faceted issue, that lay apostles need to address. Jean Twenge has hit upon something important. We need to address our hyper-sexualization of the human person. Something's desperately wrong if my precious child in school cannot be hugged and comforted by a teacher (especially a male one) when he or she falls and skins a knee. Something's wrong if co-habitation is an everyday event on prime-time TV (and we think homosexuals asking for "equal marital rights" are destroying marriage!?) Something's wrong if a teacher cannot discipline a child without wondering if her helicopter parents will call in the evening to complain about how unfair and cruel the teacher is. I just read in the article associated with my post on the Houston Planned Parenthood clinic that the majority of abortions in this country are performed on blacks and Hispanics. Why? Because they care less about life? No, because a poor, single mother sees it as her only choice. Abortion is linked to poverty, to our lack of sexual morality produced by our need to be titillated almost constantly (sex sells, after all - and lowers morals while raising libido), to our ethos of I > U.
If we want to look at the villains behind abortion, we might as well start by looking in the mirror. Society won't change until we change first, and demonstrate that a life in Christ is worth living. It is a life in which we admit our need for conversion, dependence upon Jesus and the guidance of His Church, and that the path to real joy and peace in this life as well as the next is found in serving others, and loving them as ourselves.
John Allen's article this morning on the Italian lay woman Flaminia Giovanelli, 61, a longtime official of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who was named the new under-secretary of that council on Thursday is another indication that Pope Benedict is deliberately raising the issue of jurisdiction within ecclesial structures for the non-ordained.
There are many Vatican organizations and positions that simply cry out for substantial secular (that is, lay) expertise and leadership including the Pontifical Councils for the Laity; the Family, Health Care, Migrants and Immigrants, Justice and Peace, and Social Communications. But all are headed (and seconded) by Cardinals and Bishops. Although 38% of Vatican staff are not clerics, lay people seldom serve in positions of real decision-making authority.
If Sr. Enrica, who has held the number 3 post at the Congregation for Apostolic Life since 2004, is permitted to exercise her office alone, an office which has always been understood to include ecclesial jurisdiction, it forces the theological issue. And Flaminia Giovanelli's elevation makes it clear that Sr. Enrica's position is closer to a trend than a fluke.
Both Pope John Paul II, who first hired Sr. Enrica, and Pope Benedict are challenging the assumption that jurisdiction within the Church can only flow from Holy Orders, and are jump starting the necessary theological and practical conversation.
As I have noted before on ID, the issue at stake is governance and the laity, not just women. This has big implications for all the baptized who are not ordained; religious and lay, male and female.
Since I can never think in tidy politically correct categories, I have often been struck by the fact that the acrimonious debate over the ordination of women and feminism in general in the west has obscured and distorted several other critical discussions.
Like the fact that the debate over governance is not first and foremost a male-female issue. It is an ordained/non-ordained issue. And male cleric and non-ordained woman are not the only two categories at issue here. What about lay men?
Of the approximately 550 million Catholic men in the world, only 449,092 were ordained bishop, priest, or deacon as of 2007. That's .000816 %, folks. Only 8/100ths of 1 % of all Catholic men are ordained.
Yes, we ordain men but it clearly doesn’t therefore follow that the charisms, leadership and creativity of Catholic men, as a whole, have been honored and welcomed. (Of course, that also imply that simply changing the gender make-up of this tiny ordained minority would not mean that the charisms, leadership and creativity of women, as a whole, would have been honored and welcomed either.)
It has been my experience that the role of lay men is the least honored and appreciated one in the western Church today. The debate over feminism have made most western Catholics eager not to seem to be sexist. (This is clearly less true in cultures where women are regarded as inferior). In the west, because the image of the male cleric looms so large, there isn't a lot of room for another kind of strongly Catholic male image.
The debate over governance and leadership in the Church is not just, as it is so often portrayed, a battle of the sexes. It is most profoundly, a opportunity to consider the implications of the Church's teaching on the apostolic anointing of all the baptized (female and male), the insistence that the Church's primary identity is that of mission outward, and the integration of the “co-essential” (as Pope John Paul II put it) charismatic and institutional dimensions of the Church.
As we become clearer about the mission and role of the laity, it sheds new light on the ordained priesthood, whose entire purpose for existence is the fruition of the baptismal priesthood, and the larger issue of leadership as well. If Church’s primary mission is truly outward, not inward, that has huge implications for all forms of leadership, ordained or lay.
A CNS story from March, 2007 (which no longer has a working link) acknowledged the larger issue of the role of the laity with these final paragraphs:
"Some sources noted that while attention is often given to the men-women ratio at the Vatican another slow but significant shift has occurred in the number of lay employees in the Curia.
Laypeople now represent about 38 percent of employees in major curial agencies, numbering close to 300 people. Fifty years ago, half of the 12 Vatican congregations had no laypeople on their staffs; among the handful of laity who did work there at the time, none were women."
The bottom line is that increasingly I can very carefully control the content of my life, what will influence me and what will be my daily fare."
Msgr. Pope points out that this is increasingly complicating the task of evangelization:
I also find that many people don’t have a clue as to what I am talking about either. Often they have not heard of basic biblical figures and stories. Increasingly they are unfamiliar with Church teachings, feast days and basic theological terms. The clear challenge is that we have to get our message “out there.” But lately there are a lot of “theres” out there! The opportunities to communicate are enormous but so are the challenges as many people (me included) continue to live in a world that is more and more a self-selected universe which shuts out all unwanted influence and only admits what is pleasing and affirming but far less challenging and expansive.
In the Making Disciples weekend that we just offered for the Archdiocese of Omaha a couple weeks ago, I shared some of these admittedly funny, if alarming, factoids: about the level of ignorance of fundamental Christian beliefs in the American and European populations at large:
A Gallup survey shows that fewer than half of Americans can name the first book of the Bible.
Only one-third know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount (many thought it was a sermon by Billy Graham, not Jesus)
One-quarter of US adults do not know what is celebrated on Easter. In the Netherlands, a brand new study reported that 58% of adults don’t know what Easter is about.
St. John's University, U.K: 60 percent of British adults surveyed had no idea what the parable of the Good Samaritan is about.
The most widely known Bible verse among church-going adult and teen believers is “God helps those who help themselves."
And my personal favorite for sheer charming cluelessness:
A 1997 Barna survey:12 percent of adults think that Noah's wife was Joan of Arc.As In Noah & Joan Arc.
As Tim Keller, the pioneering pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan - which is successfully evangelizing and forming thousands of young adult Christian professionals in the very belly of the post-modern beast - has pointed out (I'm paraphrasing):
We used to think that Americans had essentially Christian "heads", that they had been exposed to the basic concepts of a Christian worldview, and our job was to give them Christian hearts, so that they would personally claim and live the faith they'd already been exposed to. This simply isn't true anymore. Post-modern Americans have deeply non-Christian heads. Often they have deeply anti-Christian heads. They already believe things that make the truths we are proposing impossible to grasp or believe.
The point being: this isn't true just of Catholics who haven't been catechized since the Council. It is true across the culture altogether, no matter what what background you hail from. This is a much bigger, global trend.
Many don’t know the basic facts of The Great Story (the essential Gospel of Jesus Christ).
A good deal of what they think they “know” is wrong.
The bits they "know" don't make sense or are impossible to take seriously.
Even if they know bits of The Great Story, they don’t know how those bits fit together to make a whole. (As one young unbaptized and uncatechized "Catholic" friend of ours described his understanding as a teen-ager: " Jesus is God - sorta - or something like that.")
They don’t know what The Great Story means. personally for their family for their friends, neighbors, co-workers for their world
And that is one of our first and most basic challenges.
This came to me through the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the leadership conference of male religious in the U.S. This gives a graphic sense of the total devastation in parts of Haiti, especially Port-au-Prince. Please continue to pray for the dead, the grieving survivors, and for those desperate enough to loot damaged and destroyed buildings. And pray - and financially support - the relief efforts.
At the time of the earthquake, there were 66 Salesians in the Vice Province of Haiti. The Salesians worked in six houses that served the poor in a variety of ways: technical education, job training, primary education, food distribution, care of street kids, outreach to the unemployed.
The Salesians in Haiti have reported the death of three of their confreres: Bro. Hubert Sanon, aged 85 and the two young Salesians in formation Atsime Wilfrid, aged 28 and Vibrun Valsaint, 26.
The most tragic news is the death of the Salesian pupils. After a first estimate which was of over 200 youngsters buried under the ruins with some of their teachers, the latest figure has now been out at about 500. The Crisis Committee of the UNO has confirmed a report from the National Police in Port-au-Prince and from the Central Headquarters of "OCHA" who in spite of everything are continuing the search to try to find some survivors still alive.
(At least 500 students are believed to be buried in the rubble of the compound that houses the renowned "National School of Arts and Trades" and other schools operated by Salesian Missions. Salesian Missions not only operated schools for thousands of students in Port-au-Prince, but services of all kinds for 25,000 of Haiti's poorest children.)
The other Salesians in Port-au-Prince are safe and well, although some were injured; some of them have lost family and friends.
The Enam centre has been razed to the ground; the Provincial House at Drouillard is damaged; the work of the small schools of Father Bonhem (OPEPB) is completely flattened; the dormitory at Gressier has collapsed; at Thorland the Salesian community house has been damaged, the chapel split in two and the retreat house totally out of commission; the house at Fleuriot has also been damaged with people sleeping outside in the courtyard.
To most readers, these names mean little. The CNN site has a helpful collection of short clips about the activities undertaken by the Salesians in these sites before the earthquake. [along the right side of the page]
A crisis team at the New Rochelle Mission Office is working on the logistics to send material and to coordinate the work of volunteers. They are also collaborating with the "Federal Emergency Management Agency".
In the past few days, an overall plan has emerged for the Salesian response to this tragedy. The relief efforts of the Salesians will include: Saving Lives: Salesian Emergency Relief Rebuilding Lives: Salesian Empowerment and Education Rebuilding Salesian Educational Infrastructure The first of these phases (i.e., Saving Lives) has already begun. Fr Victor Pichardo, Provincial of the Salesians in the Antilles, has succeeded in reaching Port-au-Prince with a military helicopter and spent a night there. While there he was also to gather practical information for the next stage of the relief work. The Salesian houses in Santo Domingo and Barahona will have a strategic role to organise this. Already a convoy of ten trucks loaded with food and medicine has left La Vega.
The first stop was at the "Saint John Bosco" community of the Enam, the most seriously affected of the Salesian works in Haiti. Here they met Fr Wim Boksebeld and Fr Olibrice Zucchi Ange. "Silence, suffering and sadness reigned," the four visitors said. Most of the pupils and their teachers are still buried under the ruins. At 16.53, local time, when the earth began to shake the pupils of the primary school were on the first floor of the three storey building which is now a heap of ruins. Unfortunately here too, as in other places in the city, there have been cases of looting, as persons unknown have carried away what remained, desks, chairs, and school computers used for teaching.
While doing a little research on JRR Tolkien for a recent post - even though I didn't notice I was off by more than two weeks regarding his birthday - I came across a note that The Hobbit is going to be coming to theatres in Christmas season of 2011 and 2012! The movie will be in two parts, which means I will have two Christmas gifts to look forward to.
Cate Blanchett, who was luminous as Galadriel in Peter Jackson's trilogy, the Lord of the Rings, will be back to reprise her role, as will Hugo Weaving as Arwen's father, Elrond, and Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey. Filming is scheduled to start in March/April of this year. Who will star as Bilbo Baggins is yet to be seen, but Tobey Maquire is one of the names being mentioned. He'll have to add some girth to his Spider-Man physique to pass for a meal-loving (second breakfast, anyone), homebody Hobbit.
Guillermo del Toro, director of Pan's Labyrinth, which received glowing reviews from Catholic film critics for its religious themes, will be directing the film. Peter Jackson, of course, will be involved, too. He is executive producer and a co-writer. Hopefully, he'll be smart and use much of the dialogue that Tolkien wrote, and not stray too far from the wonderful story.
My sister and I had talked about using frequent flier miles to go to New Zealand, but that won't be for quite some time, so there's no chance of me being an extra elf - or orc.
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