I have told the story of Henriette De Lille at every Called & Gifted workshop I have taught for the past 10 years and now comes this wonderful news via the Archdiocese of New Orleans's own Catholic Herald:
"The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, composed of 15 cardinals and arch- bishops from around the world, voted unani- mously March 2 to ap- prove a declaration that Servant of God Henriette Delille practiced “heroic virtue” during her ministry to slaves and African Americans as foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family in pre-Civil War New Orleans.
The congregation’s declaration has been sent to Pope Benedict XVI, and if he approves, Mother Henriette would be declared “venerable,”
Henriette was a member of a community that very few white Catholics outside New Orleans are familiar with: the Gens de couleur or free people of color. To tell her story, I have to describe placage, a firmly entrenched, deeply racist system in which Catholic women of mixed race became the mistresses of married white Catholic men and a palpable tension always descends over the room. I've even had participants tell me to stop telling Henriette's story because it made them so uncomfortable. I was loath to stop but began to grow anxious until an elegant older black woman in San Francisco put my mind at rest. "I lived it. You preach it!" were her marching orders and I have done so ever since.
Remember that everyone in Henriette's story is a cradle Catholic. The next time you encounter nostalgia for the prefections of pre-Vatican II American Catholicism or the spiritual power of pure Catholic culture, meditate for a few minutes about Henriette and the world she lived in. The whole placage system was created by French speaking Catholics in Saint-Domingue (Santo Domingo) and spread from there to Louisiana where non Catholics were not allowed to lived until the Americans purchased the area in 1803. The Church has found Henriette's remarkable resistance to the "Catholic" culture in which she was raised to be a sign of "heroic virtue".
In Henriette's day, the gens de couleur were free, educated, French speaking, practicing Catholics who sometimes owned their own plantations and their own slaves (some of whom were relatives) and for whom, the placage system was a way of life.
Under the placage system, it was acceptable for a white man to take a colored mistress - who was known as a placee - when she was as young as 12. (Native born persons of mixed race did not think of themselves as either black or white but as "Creoles of color" and many of their descendants today still think of themselves that way. They form a nation within a nation.)
When the white Creole man reached marriageable age, he could choose to retain his placee and so have two or more families: his legal white family and his informal family with a light-skinned Creole woman. His white family usually lived on a plantation outside town and his gens de couleur family lived in a house he provided for them in one of the Creole areas of New Orleans like the Faubourg Marigny. By 1788, 1,500 Creole women of color and black women were being maintained by white men (although not all gen de couleur women became placees). Their children, both boys and girls, were educated in France, as there were no schools available to educate mixed-race children, and it was illegal to teach blacks to read and write.
Henriette was being raised to be a placee as her mother, grandmother, and sister had done before her. Traditionally, these young women would attend the infamous "Quadroon" balls - lavish "debutante" balls to which, beautifully dressed and carefully chaperoned, they would go to meet their future protector. The wealthiest and most illustrious of the Creole families of color formed themselves into the Société de Cordon Bleu around 1780 or 1790 to present their daughters--the best women of color--to the white Creole male elite to form long-term relationships. Men of color were only present at these balls as servants or musicians.
It is a divine irony that it was at one of these balls that 11 year old Henriette met Sr. St. Marthe Fontier, the first religious sister she had ever known. (In 1824, for a variety of historical reasons, there were few priests or religious in heavily Catholic New Orleans and only two places where Mass was celebrated: St. Louis Cathedral and the chapel of the Ursuline convent. The old Ursuline convent is the only French colonial era building still standing in the US.)
Sr. St. Marthe has opened a Catholic school for young girls of color and it had become the nucleus for missionary activities. During the night Sr. St. Marthe taught classes in morals and faith to adults and during the day, the young girls were given religious instruction. In order to secure more teachers to help her, Sister St. Marthe trained young colored girls to become teachers. As a result, Henriette began to teach at the Catholic school when she was fourteen years old.
Henriette's family were not happy with her new life (her mother had a nervous breakdown) and especially because she acknowledged her racial background and mixed with the black population. Henriette's parents and siblings listed themselves as "white" for the 1830 census but Henriette referred to herself as a "free person of color". Henriette would pay for that choice and turning her back on a life of privilege.
As a result of declaring herself nonwhite, Henriette was refused as a postulant by the Ursuline and Carmelite nuns, which were open only to white women. Nonetheless, Delille and her friend Juliette Gaudin, a fellow free person of color, continued to pray together and teach nonwhites. In 1836, they privately pledged themselves to God's service. They shared their pledge with two white French immigrants, Père Rousselon and Marie Jeanne Alíquot.
In 1842, Rousselon helped the two women establish a home for elderly nonwhites. With loans and part of her inheritance, Delille bought a house where she could teach religion to nonwhites, despite the fact that educating nonwhites was illegal at the time. A year later, Delille and Gaudin were joined by another free person of color, Josephine Charles. They formed the Sisters of the Holy Family but were not allowed to take formal vows for another 10 years. Henriette's sister, who was the mistress of a wealthy Austrian businessman, introduced Henriette to many wealthy people, who gave generously to support her work. But sometimes, the sisters were so poor in the early days, that all they had for dinner was sweetened water. They had given everything else away.
"There is documentation showing these women did not gloss over the prejudice, the difficulties, the hardships," Archdiocese of New Orleans archivist Charles E. Nolan was quoted as saying on Philly.com. "Still, there's not a note of bitterness--and that's one of the gifts she had, the ability to step beyond all of the hurt and prejudice and take the next step, to do what God called them to do." Sister Sylvia Thibodeaux told the Los Angeles Times, "She was the servant of slaves. You can't get more committed than that."
De Lille died in 1862, the year that the Union Army took New Orleans. She never saw the end of slavery.
And here's a reminder that racism hadn't been purged from Catholic attitudes by 1960.
"In the late sixties, the Sisters of the Holy Family approached the archbishop of New Orleans about embarking on the canonization process. When they asked for his support, he replied, "Why did you all wait so long?" according to the Los Angeles Times. "Clearly this is a life that needs to be elevated to sainthood." The sisters had waited because, before 1960, they doubted the Church would elevate a black woman to sainthood."
Venerable Henriette de Lille sounds very good. Servant of God Henriette de Lille, pray for us.
If you have ever considered studying in Rome or just living or spending time in Rome, check out this wonderful resource, Lay Students in Rome.
It is a wonderful collection of the best resources to help you negotiate the sweet, sour, and peculiar realities of life in Rome: transportation, the incredible Italian bureaucracy, funding la dolce vita, finding the last Mass on any given day in the Urbe, etc. The website is the work of Maria Colonna, an American who has studied in Rome since 2004 and really knows the ropes!
If you are still at the dreaming stage or seriously planning, start here.
The other hub for lay students in Rome is the Lay Centre, founded by American Donna Orsuto, in 1984. Here lay students can live and experience Christian community - a surprising but real issue in a heavily clerical and religious town. Lay students, without the backing of a diocese or religious community, have to make their own way there.
We got to visit the Lay Centre briefly back in 2000 and meet Donna Orsuto. She introduced me to the wonders of lemoncello.
If you'd just like to dip your toe into The City, the Lay Centre is offering some really interesting week long seminars this summer (2010) which are inexpensive and can be taken for graduate credit:
Praying With the Saints in Rome Towards Co-Responsibility of Priests and Laity: Wisdom from the Past, Hope for the Future
The last seminar is particularly interesting to me. As the blurb reads:
“To what extent is the pastoral co-responsibility of all, and particularly of the laity, recognized and encouraged? In past centuries, thanks to the generous witness of all the baptized who spent their life educating the new generations in the faith, healing the sick and going to the aid of the poor, the Christian community proclaimed the Gospel to the inhabitants of Rome. The self-same mission is entrusted to us today, in different situations, in a city in which many of the baptized have strayed from the path of the Church and those who are Christian are unacquainted with beauty of our faith. . . .”
In this year dedicated to the priesthood, it seems appropriate to reflect on the treasures of our tradition which speak to the ways that co-responsibility has been promoted in the past while recognizing, in the words of Benedict XVI, that “[t]here is still a long way to go. Too many of the baptized do not feel part of the ecclesial community and live on its margins, only coming to parishes in certain circumstances to receive religious services. Compared to the number of inhabitants in each parish, the lay people who are ready to work in the various apostolic fields, although they profess to be Catholic, are still few and far between.”
Using Rome as a classroom, this program will offer an historical and theological survey of how laity and ordained have promoted the communion and mission of the Church.
Some key historical figures to be included in the program are St. Paul and his co-workers, St. Justin Martyr, St. Lawrence, St. Gregory the Great, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Frances of Rome, St. Vincent Pallotti and John Henry Newman.
Special attention will be given to the ways co-responsibility is lived today by focusing on some specific examples: the Sant’Egidio Community and other new lay ecclesial movements.
Ah, Rome as a classroom! What a incredible place - in purely human as well as spiritual terms. I can't make it this year but if you do, be sure and let me know what it was like.
I took a redeye flight from Phoenix to Newark, NJ, where I connected to a flight to Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving at noon Atlantic time. I am staying tonight with the Companions of the Cross community in Herring Bay, just outside the city. It's a quaint little town that clings to the sides of a small inlet that opens into the Atlantic just a couple hundred yards (I mean, meters) from the glebe (rectory). Rather than take a nap, I decided to explore because it was a wonderfully sunny day, and there were signs that spring's on its way to Nova Scotia, so here are a few pictures.
I walked for about an ninety minutes, but took a number of pictures of the countryside, including an old graveyard with a headstone dating to 1866 - about the time a Catholic church was built in the town. The Companions - Frs. Randy, Rob, Allen and Jamey, staff three small parishes outside Halifax, along with the campus ministries at St. Mary's college and Dalhousie University. I'll be giving a retreat to college students and young adults this weekend.
Tomorrow's supposed to be sunny and warm, so I'll walk a bit downtown, maybe sample a little Tim Horton's coffee, and try to blend in before heading up to the retreat center. Right now, I'm going to bed, and look forward to being dead to the world.
Fr. Mike is a gifted writer and I really like this blurb he wrote for our parish mission in LA last week.
"In the very marrow of our bones and beyond lies a hunger, an emptiness, a searching for something that is impossible to name until it is found. Jesus likened it to a buried treasure discovered, or a merchant seeking fine pearls. Usually we seek it in things we can buy, honors we can win, or various kinds of success, but those never fully satisfy us. But the individuals in these two parables have discovered a purpose that guides how they act in the world.
That can describe your life, too. Traditionally, the Church has called it a vocation, a call from God that brings meaning and satisfaction to our lives through a work that we are given to do.""
I liked it beause it sums up a longing that we have discovered that many lay Catholics, disciples or not, have - a longing for a really significant life. This longing can be the door through which those who are not yet disciples encounter the Christ who calls them to follow him and who is the source of all vocations. As Hans Urs von Balthazar pointed out:
“Simon, the fisherman, before his meeting with Christ, however thoroughly he might have searched within himself, could not possibly have found a trace of Peter. -Prayer, p. 49.
Our vocation is a mystery that is revealed through a lived encounter with Christ. Jesus knows who we were created to ultimately become. We don't. He has to reveal it to us as we walk through this life with him.
One of the most devastating consequences of our failure to evangelize large numbers of our own, is the fact that we are only calling forth a tiny percentage of the vocations that God has given us.
As soon to be Blessed John Henry Newman noted, we can never be thrown away. Not as long as we walk with him. But the terrible irony is that, my vocation can be unintentionally obscured by another's failure to share the basic kerygma and call to discipleship with me. As a failure to water newly sown seeds in the spring can mean that they never germinate and bloom.
If i never follow Jesus as a disciple, I can never be sent by him as an apostle.
This weekend I did a presentation for the Archdiocese as part of their Catechist Certification process on the Origin and Mission of the Church. After the presentation another Catechist who has a charism of evangelism was very excited.
Her response to me was,
“You know, I just realized from your teaching that I don’t talk about Jesus.
It’s like when I tell people about my mother, I don’t tell them facts as she relates to me, she gave birth to me, etc, rather I tell others about my mother - her spirit, her soul. She is one of the most wises persons I have ever met. She has the most joyful spirit and a passion for life that is caughty. That is the way I need to talk about Jesus. He is not an idea, but a living person. And when we proclaim the gospel message to others, it can’t merely be about what Jesus has done for me as in faith sharing. It needs to be about what type of person He is, His likes and dislikes, what he enjoys, everything that makes Him who He is - anything to attract people to Him.”
This is an excellent reminder for me this Lent as well.
I just came across this line in one of my overdue e-mails and had to LOL!
"a knowledgeable investment banker to say of it (a non-profit) recently “Logos is not a business, it's a mystery.”
Heh. This is the kind of observation that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time.
It could truly be said of the Catherine of Siena Institute (and many other Catholic non-profits, I'm sure, "it is not a business, it's a mystery." A mystery held together by duct tape, paper clips, and the Providence of God.
Traveling and e-mail don't go together. Yesterday, I deleted 1700 less important e-mails that I received last month and now am actually reading and responding to what is left. I found this wonderful story from one of our collaborators that I thought I would share:
"I wanted to share this story I heard in the discernment interview I did of a woman with the Charism of Evangelism and Intercessory Prayer who goes to a certain block in her neighborhood run by pimps and knocks on the motel doors where the prostitutes are and ministers to them and asks them if she could pray with them. Many of them have returned to the faith."
One of the great privileges of facilitating the discernment of others is being given these tiny glimpses of the power of the Holy Spirit at work through laypeople. Multiply this anecdote by millions and it gives some sense of the hidden work of redemption being accomplished through the "yes" of ordinary men and women at this very moment as I type this sentence.
I often wish I could have a much better sense of the river of grace that is flowing through our world, a river that is hidden or obscured most of the time. A river that is known in its fullness only by God.
Part of the joy of heaven will be to finally be able to see and rejoice in the many miracles and transformations that were hidden from us during our earthly lives.
I will be blogging again soon. Ten days away with little or no internet access means I've got a lot of catching up to do. Meanwhile enjoy this Rome Reports story about the student led Eucharistic Adoration at the Angelicum in Rome.
Recently, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, gave a one-hour speech in Dhaka, Bangladesh, based on Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Communications Day next May 10.
In that message, the Pope invites priests “to make astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications.”
In Dhaka, the archbishop said, “The Catholic Church must be present in this digital world because the Holy Father inspires us to use modern media and communications tools to fulfill the Church’s mission of proclamation.
At this point, your average blogger is practically yawning: Well, that's obvious. What's the problem?
It seems that the young people in the audience didn't know what he was talking about.
Impossible! Unless you live in Bangledesh, apparently.
"Poverty, an irregular electricity supply and limited access to cyberspace in Bangladesh hamper involvement with the computer-based world of digital media. The presentation reportedly did not take these facts about the audience into account. So, a talk that might have been a successful presentation in Europe, and perhaps even has been, was a failure."
Then author Fr. William Grimm makes a very astute point:
"The problem lies in our failure to present the Good News as a real answer to bad news. We often present the Church and its Gospel as a “package deal.” “This is how it is, it is good for you, take it.”
But something that is perceived as an institution unrelated to the concerns and problems of real people in a real place is not going to be good news to them. If we do not present the Gospel in such a way that people see that it answers the bad news in their lives, they will ignore us.
Therefore, in addition to being shaped by the message of the Church, we must become expert in bad news. We must know what shape the bad news takes in various times, places and lives. Then, we must tailor our communication to answer that bad news. Only then does evangelization become the communication of the Good News as a hope-instilling, joy-producing answer to the “joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties” of the world’s people.
If we fail to preach the Good News as an answer to the world’s bad news, we fail as communicators, we fail as evangelizers, we fail as a Church."
Why does the Church exist? What is it’s purpose? It’s an important because you are the Church, and share in her purpose in your own life. The purpose of the Church is to evangelize, according to Pope Paul VI. If that comes as a surprise, then I’d have to assume we’re not doing a very good job of it. The truth is, even if we want to evangelize, we really don’t know how to do it well. John’s Gospel account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a great example of an individual evangelized by Jesus who moves from unbelief to belief – and a new life as a disciple. Jesus leads the woman across five spiritual thresholds, each of which require grace to cross.
I. It’s noon, and Jesus meets a woman of Samaria at a well. She’s there at the wrong time of day – should be there at morning or evening. She shouldn’t be talking to a man unaccompanied by her husband, and she especially should not be kibitzing with a Jew. She has every reason to be suspicious of him, and perhaps a bit ashamed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He must know there’s something wrong with her, that she avoids the women of the village. Yet something must have told her he was worthy of at least a little trust, this solitary Jew. Maybe it was simply the fact that he, in asking for a drink, indicated that he would touch something she had touched first, or that she had something good that she could give him.
This is the first step in being evangelized – we have to trust: either God, or the Church, or (normally) an individual Christian. In the first reading we have an example of God once again inviting the trust of the Israelites – they need a reminder of the concern he showed for them when he answered their prayers and brought them out of Egypt. They have a short memory, and a real need. God provides, again.
Evangelization doesn’t happen without trust, without a relationship of some kind – and it has to be a real relationship, whose purpose is friendship, and not simply seeing the other as an evangelization “project.” Perhaps it is this basic trust in at least some Catholics that keeps those of us at this threshold in the Church, even when the decisions of the hierarchy disappoint us or scandals erupt. I presume we are all at least at this threshold, or why would we be here?
II. Jesus accepts her courage to trust and piques her curiosity in himself, speaking of a mysterious living, or free-flowing, water that he can give in place of the stagnant water from the well. She demonstrates her trust by now referring him as, “sir,” but throws down a feisty, implied insult, “who do you think you are, anyway, someone greater than the great patriarch, Jacob?” Jesus is a master at generating curiosity. He’s asked 183 questions in the Gospels. He answers three of them directly. The others usually are “answered” with another question. And his answer to where he will get this living water, while not another question, is cryptic and enticing, “the water I shall give will become?a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Curiosity is an important threshold in the journey to becoming a disciple – and the curiosity must be about Jesus: not simply the Church, or Church practices or teaching (ashes…on your forehead??), or even a follower of Jesus – but curiosity about Him, the most unique, curiosity-rousing person who ever lived.
III. Now the woman is open to something new. She sees a better way of living. This openness is another threshold – one that is hard for us to cross. We are afraid of change, and will often resist it until we are utterly miserable. “Give me this water,” she asks, “so I don’t have to keep coming here to draw water.” Give me water so I don’t have this daily reminder that I am an outsider in my own village. Give me water so I don’t suffer from thirst. Our willingness to change is normally founded on some selfish hope – something better for me. On the way of conversion, there reaches a point in which we realize there may be a different way of looking at life, a different perspective that we never knew existed. To the atheist it might well be the possibility that God exists – and this has to be seen as better than the alternative. For the Catholic, it might be the realization that faith is a journey, not a guilt trip; not a series of rules to be followed, but a lived relationship with God in Jesus that is more wilderness adventure than clearly marked, crowded, highway. Initially, this new reality may seem ludicrous, horribly foreign, and thus many never become open to change – especially those whose lives are comfortable. How hard it is for the comfortable to enter the kingdom of God!
IV. In every process of evangelization and conversion comes a fateful moment. In the Gospel it comes as a kind of shocking non-sequitur. Her openness to Jesus and the eternal-life-giving water he offers is met with a request: “Go, call your husband and come back.” Perhaps this touches upon the reason for her visit to the well at mid-day. Five husbands! How many of them were previously husbands of other women in the village? And now living with a man who perhaps someone else’s husband? Such women are not welcome at cocktail parties, the beauty shop, the office water cooler – or the village well.
In every conversion process, as we draw closer to Jesus, the light that has come into the world, we have to become aware of our shadow. After the miraculous catch of fish, Simon begs, “depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.” When the Pharisees and scribes stand in the light, they cannot accept they have a shadow at all, and therefore must declare Jesus to be evil – a glutton, drunkard, and one who himself is possessed by the Prince of Demons. This threshold is a delicate point in our conversion. St. Paul tells the Romans, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” There is no escaping it. The five and a half husbands are a sign of the woman’s shadow, and she must see it – see the failed relationships and the pain associated with each one. If nothing else, she must see the fact that at least maybe she’s hard to live with. It is this recognition of our fallen condition, of the hash we are making of our life, that leads us from mere openness to change to seeking a change – and seeking that change in relationship with Christ. People at this threshold want to know what to do – especially how to pray, and so the woman turns the conversation to prayer; specifically where to pray: Samaria or Jerusalem. Jesus leads her deeper.
The issue is not where to pray, but how – “in Spirit and in truth” and God seeks such worshippers. In the process of conversion and evangelizing or being evangelized we have to remember that it is not just we who are active participants – but every step of the way is made possible by the God who is first seeking us. In fact, St. Paul tells us, God proves his love for us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Finally, Jesus brings the woman to the final threshold. God desires the whole of who we are: body, spirit, soul. Are you willing to lay aside everything – all your self-made plans and dreams – to acknowledge him as Messiah – the one who saves you from alienation from God the Father? The woman says the Messiah “will tell us everything when he comes”, and Jesus speaks plainly to her like to no one else in the Gospels. “I am he, the one speaking with you.” To believe that – to cross the final threshold and become a disciple of Jesus and to make His will my own - is to be justified by God. Justification and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are the same thing for St. Paul, and both are the outcome of God’s love demonstrated on the cross. Through the cross God accepts us sinners, and his acceptance of us is manifested by sending his Spirit to dwell in us and gradually transform us. Eventually – if we desire it with our whole heart - we will become in reality what we are in theory, namely, holy.
So at that critical moment, as we wait for her response, up come the bumbling disciples, interrupting the story. We might be wondering as to her response – did she cross that threshold or not? – but for one clue. Left behind, just as Simon left his fishing nets to follow Jesus, is the woman’s empty water jar. You might wonder, “How can we be sure she became a disciple, that somehow she underwent a conversion? Because immediately she goes to her fellow villagers and invites them to “come see a man who told me everything I have done.” That is her definition of the Messiah. What’s more, she acts as a disciple. When someone experiences Jesus showing them their sin, and at the same time helping them realize that they are loved and forgiven, everything changes. What once was hidden from others – or what we attempted to hide – we proclaim from the rooftops because it no longer matters – it’s been forgiven. When we experience faith as a relationship in which we are loved more than we could ever deserve, we want to tell others of the good news we have experienced. It’s news that seems too good to be true and must be shared. Disciples evangelize. The Samaritan woman’s testimony leads her fellow villagers to Jesus, who discover for themselves that he is their savior and “the Savior of the world.” And as they approach, Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “someone else has done the sowing an you will be reaping the benefits” – the Samaritan woman disciple and evangelist.
So as we enter more deeply into this season of Lent, the question every one of us must ask ourselves is, “at what spiritual threshold am I?” And if the signs are not there that I am a disciple, then let’s pray that we get real thirsty, really soon.
Here's an excellent article on the problem of lay ministry and lay apostolate over at Pertinacious Papist. Here are a few choice quotes, and quotes within quotes of an article by Robert Shaw:
Clearing up our understanding of vocational discernment is the key, says Shaw, to resolving much of the confusion over lay ministry. It involves, first, setting aside the false idea that vocational discernment is done only by those considering the priesthood or religious life; and second, the idea that vocational discernment is a one time thing. The question one seeks to answer is not "What do I want from life?" but "What does God want from me?" It isn't subjective, but guided by Christian morality. "Conscience formation comes first. A person with a well formed conscience is equipped to engage in fruitful discernment. But when someone whose conscience is not well formed tries it, the result is likely to be self-serving and not God's will."
Shaw continues: Lay ministries, as they are called -- service roles and functions performed by lay people in church settings, especially parishes -- undoubtedly do have their place, and an important one. But their place is subordinate to the priority of apostolate carried on in and to the secular order....
I'm sorry to say that in recent years we seem to have gotten it just the other way around, assigning de facto primacy to lay ministries and downgrading lay apostolate. And although the intentions have been good, that is a bad mistake which has contributed a lot to the current problems in the Church....
I repeat: lay ecclesial ministry can reasonably be seen as one part of [the] larger picture. but to speak of lay ministry as if it were the very apex of it, the peak of the pyramid, so to speak, is an instance of the tail wagging the dog -- that is to say, it's a painfully narrow-minded view of a much larger development in Catholic life extending over the last century and a half and still taking place. Shaw goes on to relate a hunch he has about how this is related to the sacrament of confirmation -- "a sacrament in crisis if there ever was one." The problem with confirmation, he says, is that basically "nobody really knows what it is." His idea, which he believes is both theologically and pastorally valid, is to present confirmation as a sacrament of vocational discernment
Confirmation is a sacrament of vocational discernment, in that it is meant to prepare the youth for full participation in secular society as a disciple of Jesus. It is not simply a matter of defending the faith, but living it in such a way that society (at least the corner in which I live an participate) is transformed from within. Often, that will lead those who prefer the status quo to push back. So the "defense of the faith" in this situation is giving the rationale for what I'm doing, and will likely include reference to Scripture and Church teaching.Part of our problem is that in our panic over priestly vocations, we are unintentionally giving the impression that there's only one vocation, or only one vocation we think is important. And that means that the only environment that is important in the life of faith is the parish - and particularly the liturgy.
Let me give a couple of examples of our unintentional myopia.
When you hear prayers at Mass for "vocations to the Church," which vocations come to mind? Sometimes the prayers are explicit, i.e., for priestly and religious vocations. But we've trained ourselves to hear "vocation = priesthood/religious life."
I was preparing to give a presentation to the Serra club of a diocese at the local cathedral. I went to the early morning gathering of about thirty lay people in the cathedral basement, and as I approached the podium, I noticed the vocations poster directly behind it. In large letters it asked the question, "Are you called?" When I turned to face the people, I pointed to the poster and asked, "What's the answer to the question?" After a few moments of silence, one fellow responded, "Well... yeah."
"Right," I said, "but what's the unintended message given by the poster?"
After a little bit of murmuring, someone piped up, "that the only call is to the seminary."
Exactly. The poster had the photos of all the seminarians studying for the diocese, along with the picture of the vocations director.
Such posters are fine, especially when they invite us to pray for seminarians, and to get us thinking about priestly vocations. The problem is, it is a vocations poster that features only one of five types of vocations, and we seldom, if ever, see posters promoting the other ones explicitly - and as vocations.
I'd love to see a vocations poster that focuses on the vocation we all have - a vocation to holiness and discipleship. I'd love to hear more language about marriage as a vocation that must first be discerned (as in, "am I called to it,") which would be an important distal preparation for the sacrament before discerning if I'm called to marry this particular person. Can I discern marriage apart from the person I might be called to marry? I think so, in that I can ask myself if I am prepared to give myself to another person in freedom and with a desire to serve them, help them become holy, share a common faith with them, and raise a family with them. Even dedicated single life is a call, and not just for those with a homosexual orientation. There are those who are given a charism of celibacy who are not called to priesthood or religious life, who are being called to live as a single person, available to serve God and others with a freedom that a married person (or a priest or religious) can't.
Finally, it would be great to see a vocations poster that highlighted the fact that each person has a "personal vocation," that will name them and allow them to best use the gifts, natural abilities, skills, personality and experiences that God has given them.
When we pray for vocations - even when it's not explicitly said - people automatically think "to priesthood and religious life." And a consequent of this is many people presume that they have nothing to discern. We presume, usually unconsciously, "I've dodged the vocation bullet, and so am free to live my life as I please," when in fact, prior to baptism, I was claimed for Christ by the sign of His cross on my forehead (and on various parts of my body if I was baptized as an adult). Your life is not your own. St. Paul tells us, "you have been purchased, and at a price." 1 Cor 6:20.
As Sherry likes to say, the problem is not a lack of vocations (every baptized person has at least three!), but a lack of discernment of vocations.
John Allen has a nice piece on Archbishop Chaput of Denver here. I'd like to quote a few of Chaput's lines from his address at Houston Baptist University and comment (the full text can be found here). The first is from
One of the ironies in my talk tonight is this. I’m a Catholic bishop, speaking at a Baptist university in America’s Protestant heartland. But I’ve been welcomed with more warmth and friendship than I might find at a number of Catholic venues. This is a fact worth discussing. I'll come back to it at the end ...
I’m here as a Catholic Christian and an American citizen -- in that order. Both of these identities are important. They don’t need to conflict. They are not, however, the same thing. ... No nation, not even the one I love, has a right to my allegiance, or my silence, in matters that belong to God or that undermine the dignity of the human persons He created. Fifty years ago this fall, in September 1960, Sen. John F. Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for president, spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. ... His speech left a lasting mark on American politics. It was sincere, compelling, articulate -- and wrong. Not wrong about the patriotism of Catholics, but wrong about American history and very wrong about the role of religious faith in our nation’s life. And he wasn’t merely “wrong.” His Houston remarks profoundly undermined the place not just of Catholics, but of all religious believers, in America’s public life and political conversation. Today, half a century later, we’re paying for the damage.
[Kennedy’s speech] has at least two big flaws. The first is political and historical, the second is religious. Early in his remarks, Kennedy said: “I believe in an America where the separation of Church and state is absolute.” The trouble is, the Constitution doesn’t say that. The Founders and Framers didn’t believe that. And the history of the United States contradicts that. ... America’s Founders encouraged mutual support between religion and government.
The Houston remarks also created a religious problem. ... Fifty years after Kennedy’s speech, we have more Catholics in national public office than ever before. But I wonder if we’ve ever had fewer of them who can coherently explain how their faith informs their work, or who even feel obligated to try. The life of our country is no more “Catholic” or “Christian” than it was 100 years ago. In fact it’s arguably less so. And at least one of the reasons for it is this: Too many Catholics confuse their personal opinions with a real Christian conscience. Too many live their faith as if it were a private idiosyncrasy -- the kind that they’ll never allow to become a public nuisance. And too many just don’t really believe. Maybe it’s different in Protestant circles. But I hope you’ll forgive me if I say, “I doubt it.”
Archbishop Chaput touches upon a huge misconception about the separation of Church and State. It often is misunderstood to mean that religion has no place in the public sector. Many Catholics have internalized that misunderstanding and very conveniently leave their faith in the vestibule at church. The two mistakes Kennedy made are really one mistake with two aspects. The mistake is to think that one's faith does not extend into one's public life; that faith can be "private."
We are not to try to establish a theocracy in the U.S., but Catholics are to integrate their faith into their secular decisions. If we did this, health care, politics, the arts, the internet (including blogs), and all manners of public institutions would look different. Moral decisions do not exist solely in the realm of one's private life. In fact, no human decision of any import is strictly private - we are public, communal beings. My imagined private decisions shape me, and I then interact with other people. Take internet pornography, for example - an obsession for millions of American men and women. What happens in the privacy of one's home even at that moment is not strictly private. The people involved in producing the pornography were effectively objectified in its making. The pornography shapes its viewer to see other human beings as objects for one's sexual gratification. I once spoke with a man at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, who was debating leaving his job with a phone company. His job involved making sure that people had access to the internet, but then told me that some absurdly high percentage of internet usage (I want to say over 75%) was for the viewing of pornography. He was having moral qualms about the job that helped him provide food and shelter for his family.
More on this later - I have an appointment to get to! Sorry!
You may recall a request for prayers October 22 for Marysa Likness, daughter of friends of mine in Colorado Springs. She was near death with what later was diagnosed as H1N1 - and pregnant. Her mom and dad, Art and Kathy Nutter, while watching a movie titled, "Love is a Choice" (the story of St. Gianna Molla), began asking for St. Gianna's intercession on behalf of their daughter. That very night, Marysa started to improve, and was home within a week!
Well, she gave birth today to BRAELYN GIANNA LIKNESS! This tiny little girl entered this world at 12:42PM MST, weighing in at 5 lbs, 8 oz and measuring 19 inches long.
Another miracle, and another answer to prayers. Thank you, St. Gianna, and thank you, God!
Congratulations, Marysa and Ryan, and the grateful grandparents, Art and Kathy!