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From Atheist to Newly Minted Catholic PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 18 August 2007 09:38
Check out Et Tu? - the blog of a brand new Catholic (received at Easter, 2007) who tells her journey from atheist to believing Catholic in three years.
Catholic Fundraising PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Saturday, 18 August 2007 08:45
Back when I was in seminary in the mid- to late- eighties, the Dominican house of studies in Oakland, CA, began a wine tasting and wine auction to help our budget. Since we were only an hour or so away from the Napa and Sonoma valleys, it was a fairly simple matter of getting donations from local wineries. Over eight years it grew to become a very elegant event held on our priory grounds. Lay people were involved in preparing phenomenal hors d'oeuvres, and the friars in their habits and the wineries pouring tastings on the perimeter of our backyard with our tudor-style priory on one side and a small forest grove on the other made for a very classy event.

WIth the money made from the day-long event we were able to purchase the first computers for the use of our seminarians.

At the end of the seventh or eighth year the community voted to end the event, primarily because some students were uncomfortable with fundraising, saying, "I didn't become a Dominican to do fundraising events!" (uh, we ARE a mendicant Order...). Others felt it was morally indefensible to raise money using alcohol, when so many people suffering from alcoholism.

You can probably tell I was in favor of continuing the fundraiser, and, in fact, had been in charge of it for several years in a row.

Fast forward to the present. A local parish is having its annual fundraiser, and part of the festivities include a beer tent and a casino night. It would be illegal to allow people to gamble for money, but those with the most chips (which are given with the cost of a dinner with additional chips for sale throughout the night) at the end of the night can turn them in for prizes.

The parish festival is also used to attract non-Catholics to the parish.

Now a member of the parish is raising the question, "Should we promote gambling and drinking as part of our fundraiser, when so many people suffer from addictions to these activities?" The parishioner is suggesting that there may be other ways of raising funds that wouldn't include drinking and gambling. He points out that there will be children and teens at the festival (though not at the casino night, and beer is restricted to the confines of a tent), and what are we saying to them about the Christian life by promoting these activities?

Others argue that these are harmless activities if done in moderation, and to exclude them from the festival activities will decrease attendance and unfairly punish those who can enjoy them without going to extremes.

As a former pastor who has been involved with parish-wide garage sales, dinner auctions and other time-consuming fundraisers and development activities, I can assure you I wish we could rely upon the stewardship of the entire parish community to meet our budgetary needs. Perhaps when a majority of parishioners are intentional disciples finances will no longer be an issue. And it's kind of a catch-22. Whatever time and energy we're spending raising funds, we aren't spending on proclamation of the Gospel and the call to conversion or catechesis.

But until that financial and spiritual golden age dawns, what do you think about the use of alcohol or bingo, raffles, "casino nights" and other forms of gambling, to raise funds for other parish activities? Does your parish have any succesful fundraising events that don't involve what could be "vicious" behaviors for some people? Is the parishioner being a Puritan, or is he putting his finger on something that needs to change?
The Gang Has Descended PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 18 August 2007 07:18
So blogging will be limited over the next two weeks. I'll see if I can get some of the ID gang (here and elsewhere) to post and a guest appearance perhaps by Mark Shea.

It is amazing what how the energy of 5 children (ages 2 - 12) changes a house! What's amazing is that the house manages to absorb it. We did this 4 years ago and we were still talking to each other at the end of 2 weeks. We are hoping to repeat the same thing this year.
It's a Mystery PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 17 August 2007 07:42
It's a mystery . . .

Blogger has gone back and italicized everything I've ever written - without the slightest desire or effort on my part to do so. Even this may post as italicized even though I am NOT italicizing as I write.

Any suggestions, oh uber-blogging gurus?
Members of Lay Movement "Don't Like Church" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 17 August 2007 05:32
Take a look at this interesting Chicago Tribune article about the Focolare movement in Chicagoland.

But there is one stupifyingly stupid bit:

Since its founding, Focolare, the Italian word for "hearth," has grown to nearly 90,000 members worldwide. Most live in Europe, where the percentage of people who attend church has declined rapidly in recent decades. The Gallup International Millennium Survey found that just 20 percent of respondents in Western Europe and 14 percent in Eastern Europe attend religious services regularly.

Catholic lay movements have helped fill the cracks, said Dorian Llywelyn, a professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

"They are attractive to people who don't like church but who want to get involved with their faith," Llywelyn said.

HUH? You take life-long vows in a lay movement, which incidentally means that you attend daily Mass because you don't like church?

Stupid comment by professor? Terrible writing by journalist augmented by lame editing? Or both?

Or did Llywelyn mean "the movements are attractive to people who don't like average parish life?" This is not fair or true either but note the implication: life in intentional Christian community is not "church" and is somehow opposed to "church".

Just how did the professor and/or writer get that idea?

Next Wave Faithful PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 16 August 2007 08:08
Joe Waters is a Catholic grad student at the Duke divinity school in North Carolina who plans to spend the summer of 2008 doing an internship with the Institute. He writes to tell us that he'll be interviewed on EWTN's Next Wave Faithful radio show tonight in the 9pm (Eastern) time slot.

Joe's topics? The role of the laity, charisms, etc. You can listen live here. It should be good!
"If I Left the Church" and the Culture of Intentional Discipleship PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 16 August 2007 06:14
I'm reviewing some of the many things that I have written over the years.

What is surprising to me is how relevant most of my early observations as a Catholic still seem to be. A million air miles and conversations with tens of thousands of Catholics have only show me how wide-spread the phenomena that I first encountered in Seattle and that I describe in the essay below is throughout the Catholic world.

I wouldn't write the same way today. I wouldn't use the same language. But my conclusion would be the same: As Catholics, we have a wonderful rich theology of evangelization and mission and the apostolate of the laity - but we aren't living it.

An absolutely critical piece is missing for 99% of Catholics: an experience of a culture of intentional discipleship and all that flows from that. Most people won't "get" the theology until they experience the reality on the ground. That's how most of us grasp new concepts. We see it enacted before us and around us by other people with whom we can identify.

The one percent of US Catholics who have been part of a lay movement like Communion and Liberation or the charismatic renewal or an evangelization process like Cursillo or some kind of evangelization retreat or part of a most unusual parish (and for links to some really remarkable parishes, check out our links here)tell similar stories.

I lost track a long time ago of how many like stories I've heard on the road. At least half of the pastoral leaders who attended Making Disciples last week expressed very similar frustrations. They were from 22 dioceses all over the US and Australia and yet they told us over and over again how isolated they were back home and how incredibly healing it was to be able to talk to other Catholics who cared about the same things they cared about.

Even more telling is the fact that five deeply committed, orthodox, and theologically sophisticated Catholics have used the same ominous language in totally unrelated conversations over the past two weeks, "if I left the Church". And the reason was always the same: lack of a community of friends with which they can pursue their relationship with God. ( I need to make it clear that I am NOT considering leaving the church myself nor did I bring the subject up - they used this language spontaneously)

Most of these people are cradle Catholics. It really transcends the issue of "Catholic or Protestant?". The central issue is whether or not you have ever experienced being immersed in a culture of intentional discipleship. Christians who have been part of a culture of discipleship have much in common with other Christians who have done so, even if they come from different ecclesial backgrounds. And many Catholics who have left us for the evangelical world would come back in a heartbeat if we could offer them a truly Catholic environment where they felt truly supported in their attempts to follow Christ.

So here's my take on the same dynamic from 10 years ago. It is fairly long and covers briefly the story of my conversion (I think I wrote it at the request of a Catholic media group)and ends rather abruptly but still manages to give a pretty vivid sense of what it means to move from a culture of discipleship into a Christian culture that is not primarily centered around discipleship.

"When I think back on my early life, the thing that is most striking is how easy it was for me to find instruction and support for my Christian faith. I was not a Catholic but was raised in a Christian family that took the faith seriously. Every member of our family was strongly encouraged to make a personal commitment to follow Christ. I studied and memorized the Bible at home as a child. We played games based on Scriptural knowledge during mealtimes. Our Christian culture and local church assumed that every member had a call from God and should be actively discerning that call as a teen-ager and young adult.

As a college student I received training in Scripture study, how to share my faith with others, how to lead a small group, how to pray, and how to discern God’s call. All kinds of practical formation in Christian living was available in my tiny local church of 150 people or through local branches of para-church organizations that worked hand-in-hand with local parishes. For instance, I received one-on-one mentoring in the faith by another young woman who had been specifically trained to help me in this way. I was strongly encouraged to study on my own as well and taken on a tour of several local Christian bookstores to familiarize myself with the resources available through the wider Christian community.

While I was still in college, a remarkable woman leader in my local church took me under her wing and changed the direction of my life. She taught me how to listen to my own heart, how to listen to God’s voice, and how to pray for others. I was deeply impressed by the her wholeness, the way in which she had integrated her life and faith, and the way in which she used her gifts and exercised leadership as a lay women.

Because I had an interest in missionary work to the Middle East, I was able to link up with other young local Christians in my neighborhood who met to pray for missions, to prepare themselves for missionary work and to reached out to international student studying in the US. With this support, I switched majors and studied Arabic and Near Eastern history. I lived in a house near the university run by a young woman who had already spent 6 years abroad with a lay missionary organization. The day after I graduated from college I drove across country with some friends to a national conference on Christian outreach to Muslims put on by an organization dedicated exclusively to the formation of the lay evangelists.

In retrospect, I am astonished that I never marveled at the abundance of personal formation and support that was readily available to me as an ordinary Christian lay woman. I assumed that it was normal for local churches and student organizations to provide numerous opportunities for apostolic formation. Since Christ had called every one of his sons and daughters to mission, we thought it was only natural that every Christian be readied for that mission in their local parish. Most importantly, I never found myself alone in my spiritual questionings or discernment process. I was surrounded by lay peers who were asking the same questions and wrestling with the same issues and perfectly at ease in talking about it. I was regarded as gifted (but then so was everyone else in different ways) but never exceptional.

We took St. Paul’s teaching in his epistles about spiritual gifts quite seriously and sought to discern the gifts each Christian had been given by the Holy Spirit to empower them for their personal vocation. In my small local church, a group of us took an inventory to help us discern our spiritual gifts or charisms. As a young adult, I had begun to see particular gifts of the Holy Spirit emerge. I had a strong desire to pray for others and saw remarkable things happen when I did so.

I discovered that I had a charism of teaching when an older married woman asked to meet with me every week to discuss prayer and the spiritual life. I prepared for these sessions by writing up little lessons on prayer, which she found extremely helpful. Our informal mentoring relationship continued for two years until she left to do missionary work with her family in a "closed" Muslim country, a choice which was not unique in my experience. I knew at least a dozen Christian families in the neighborhood who had done similar things.

By that time, I had started to teach small, informal classes in discernment and prayer for interested lay people in homes. I later taught similar classes to the staff of a Christian bookstore where I worked. The classes included prayer exercises that each person would do during the week, often at work, and then would share their experience. I received very strong positive feedback from those who took the classes and begin to discern that here was a specific area in which God had called and gifted me.

In light of my desire to do missionary work, it seemed only natural that I do further training and so I enrolled at the largest graduate missions training institution in the world. While there, I lived and worked on a college campus occupied by a lay organization which focused entirely on outreach to completely unevangelized peoples. I lived and breathed frontier world missions twenty-four hours a day with hundreds of eager missionaries and leaders from around the globe. I never knew whether the person next to me at dinner would be an experienced missionary to the Philippines or a Ugandan refugee. It never once struck me as odd that all these people training to spread the faith to the farthest and most inaccessible parts of the globe were ordinary lay Christians.

As the ways in which God touched other people through me became clearer, I began to call myself a "people-gardener". I wasn’t exactly a counselor or a healer but mysterious though it was, I recognized that Christians grew as human beings and as apostles around me. I was fascinated with bridging the gap between Christian ideals and the experience of average Christians. I strongly identified with committed Christians who were struggling or discouraged in their attempts to live the faith in a whole-hearted manner and desired to help them. In this area I did not find myself alone since many Christians I knew were concerned about the same thing. In a world where serious lay discipleship was normative, all leaders and pastors were asking "How can I help people live and share the faith in as full and joyful a way as possible?" I was not exceptional in my concerns, I was simply recognized to be especially gifted in this area.

In the midst of all, I was slowly awakening to the riches of the Catholic Church. When I began seeking out private places to pray for others, I found that most Protestant churches were closed during the day. And so I entered the lovely church of the Blessed Sacrament for the first time. Its austere beauty accommodated my Protestant sensibilities. But the truly compelling attraction was a sense of God’s presence there in a particularly powerful way. I was completely unfamiliar with Catholic belief in the Real Presence, an idea I would have rejected. Rather, I presumed that since Blessed Sacrament was old, what I was experiencing was the "residue" left from decades of prayer. In any case, I was hooked. Protestant churches, however lovely, weren’t filled with that same Presence. From that time on, I prayed as much as possible in Catholic churches.

Those hours spent in different Catholic churches as I moved around the US and then to Britain, and the Holy Land slowly and subtly undermined my anti-Catholic prejudices. My first Easter Vigil service marked the fall of another barrier to the Catholic faith. In my casting about for a fuller way to celebrate Easter, nothing had prepared me for the power and truth of the Vigil. The many Scriptural readings impressed me, and I found the Exultet majestically beautiful. Thereafter, I decided to attend the Vigil every Easter.

While serving in Wales, I discover to my surprise that the most nourishing worship service available to me was at the local Catholic parish. The Welsh, mind you, are a people for whom singing hymns in massive choirs is a national sport. And so it was among this nation of choristers that I experienced the rhythms of the liturgy for the first time. Welsh Catholics sang most of the liturgy in parts. I was still very Protestant in my approach to worship. By the time I’d heard all the readings and listened to the homily, I figured the essential part of the service was over. But as I experienced the life of the Church from Epiphany through Corpus Christi, more of my misconceptions fell away.

Upon my return to Seattle, I went on an intense, three-week retreat overseen by a Christian psychologist. During one of the high points of this experience, I felt God's goodness and grace passing through me, a created being, into the world. In a flash, the whole sacramental notion that God's grace can and does enter the world through matter became real to me. This was a crisis! My tiny church didn't celebrate sacraments in any form. After a single visit back, I knew I could no longer make do with non-sacramental worship. For me, the sacraments had become spiritual necessities and I knew where to find them! My longing for the sacraments was enough to overcome my remaining reservations and I quickly entered RCIA.

It took a couple more years to resolve all my issues but in December of 1987, I was finally received into full communion. When astonished Protestant friends would ask me why I had joined the Catholic Church, I would simply reply "To follow Jesus". I longed to be at the center of the Body of Christ, not at the periphery. I wanted to be where Christ’s redeeming work was the center and focus of worship and His presence the heart of the sanctuary. I wanted to be united with the communion of saints throughout time and space. The Christian world I was entering was infinitely larger than the one in which I had been raised. The inexhaustible depths of the ancient, universal Church dazzled me. New spiritual, intellectual, cultural, and historical horizons beckoned in every direction
My reasons for entering were partly experiential, partly mystical, partly liturgical – but always centered around the compelling vision of Church universal. I had had the best of evangelical Protestantism and was tremendously grateful but now I was being called into an infinitely deeper and richer Christianity. In my joy, I felt like the inhabitant of Sheol being called forth by the victorious Christ in an ancient homily for Holy Saturday "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you life"

But nothing I had read in any catechism could have prepared me for the reality of trying to sustain my faith in a local Catholic parish. During my first full year as a Catholic, I nearly drowned in loneliness and despair. Where I had once been surrounded by lay peers who shared a similar experience and formation, I now felt as though I were a freak of nature.

I had come from a world where our common faith was at the center of every gathering of Christians and at least alluded to in nearly every conversation. Outside of Mass, Catholics seemed to talk only about the weather or the Mariners. The lay men and women in the pews with me were strangely uncomfortable talking about the faith and were mystified and irritated by my enthusiasm for doing so. As one cradle Catholic told a convert friend of mine" if you’re going to pray, pray. If you’re going to socialize, socialize. Don’t mix the two."

I quickly discovered that it was better if I didn’t talk about my experience and training or about the accomplishments of the lay missionaries who were my friends. It was simply light years beyond the experience and imagination of nearly every Catholic I met. I was once asked to write an article on lay vocation for a national magazine aimed at serious lay Catholics. I broke my rule and wrote the true story of the woman friend whom I had mentored and who was now quietly doing remarkable things in one of the most oppressive countries on earth. The editor told me to take her story out. "None of our readers could possibly aspire to such a ministry" he told me.

Every summer, this very woman returns for a few weeks to Seattle and attempts to describe the struggles and victories of her entire year to me. I meditated on that Catholic editor’s comment during one such visit as I watched her talking. This five-foot-nothing, middle-aged housewife, her rumpled clothes and drooping eyes mirroring her exhaustion and jet lag, was this woman so very extraordinary? Could none of the thousands of lay Catholics who read that magazine never aspire to do something similar?

I knew that my friend was not unique. Ordinary lay people aspired to such things all the time in the Christian world I had known. I came from a quite ordinary family. We do not have a tradition of becoming missionaries or pastors or evangelists. And yet had I not listened to my cousin’s stories of his missionary work in Moscow? What about my roommate in seminary who spent five years as a lay missionary in Turkey before marrying a local Armenian. My 19 year old sister had served in Nigeria with a team of young adults supported by a vibrant church only three blocks away from my own parish. I knew that there were thousands of non-traditional lay missionaries in the world. What was it that made Catholics so certain that such a work was "too much" for a lay man or woman to undertake?

I once asked that question of a group of Dominican pastors to whom I was speaking on the lay apostolate. A very knowledgeable and committed lay DRE who heard my talk simply could not believe it. "You can’t have come from an ordinary Protestant family", she protested. By that time, I knew that Christians who had been raised Catholic shared a powerful, if invisible lay culture that wasn’t described in any catechism and was foreign to my own experience. In the world of ordinary lay Catholicism, my formation and experience was abnormal and alienating. I gradually ceased to talk seriously with other lay Catholics unless I was with other converts from the same background.

The most painful moment came when I realize that I had to admit to myself that if I had been raised Catholic, I would not have received the years of personal nurture and formation that made me who I was. It simply wasn’t available to ordinary lay Catholics in their local parishes and communities. I believed that all that the Catholic Church believed and held to be true, but I was living off the spiritual abundance of my Protestant past.

I held on through a naked act of the will. Christ had called me into the center of His Church and I would not leave. But neither could I settle for so little. I would walk the three blocks to the neighborhood evangelical mega-church and look on with longing envy. This church was no larger than many Catholic parishes in Seattle, but it might as well have been on the far side of the moon, so profoundly different were the assumptions at work there.

Their motto was "every member a minister" and they meant it. This church had high-powered formation program for children, university students, and adults of all ages. It was normal for 6-9 different classes to be offered for adults every Sunday. This church’s largest department was "Urban and Global Mission". They supported lay missionaries and programs in 25 different countries and sent their own members on short and long-term missions every year. This was the congregation that had enabled my sister to go to Africa. This was the world I had given up by becoming Catholic.

I tried to participate in both communities for a while but found it surprisingly difficult. Although people were certainly welcoming, I was no longer Protestant in my theology and understanding of the church and I gradually realized that evangelicalism could never be "home" again. I felt, as have many other converts, personally torn in two by the schism that had riven western Christendom for nearly 500 years. Either I could have the sacraments, the communion of saints, and the Church universal or I could have a vibrant local community where I could really share with like-minded lay Christians and receive real nurture and support in living out my faith. I could not have them both. They belonged to two irreconcilable spiritual universes that dwelt in splendid isolation from one another.

Two years after being received into the Church, I felt that God was calling me to prepare for a new work of helping other lay Christians discern their vocations. By this time, I knew better than to turn for assistance or support from my parish or diocese. I was entirely on my own. I made plans to change jobs in order to return to graduate school. Co-workers innocently asked me if I would be getting help from my church. I laughed inwardly at their naivete. My confessor had written a nice letter of recommendation for me but I was quite certain that that was the only help I would receive from the Catholic church.

I truly did not know where God was leading me. I certainly never expected to work in a parish. I could not imagine a Catholic parish being seriously interested in serious formation for the laity. The pastors I had met regarded lay people at best as potential parish volunteers, not apostles. I could see no obvious forum for my work in the local Catholic church but felt that if I was faithful, God would make some informal opportunities available. I reminded myself that perhaps God intended that I help just one other person. My ministry might always be quiet and informal. My job was simply to follow as best I could. So I changed jobs and planned to gave up all my discretionary income and my weekends for three years in order to finish school. Those three years turned into six as I finished school and then began helping small groups of lay Catholics discern their charisms.

During this time, I kept getting called by lay Catholics who were thinking of leaving the Catholic church for the evangelical world because they longed for fellowship and real instruction. I did my best to support these individuals over the phone for a while. Then, in a single day, I talked to two Catholics on the verge of leaving and was called by a Protestant professor who was seriously considering becoming Catholic but despaired of finding a local parish where his family could be really nourished. I hung up from that call determined to do something.

I had been a Catholic for six years by this point and looked to my local parish for nothing beyond the sacraments. In my experience, pastors tended to dismiss Catholics who left the Church for such reasons as fundamentalists who wouldn’t be missed. If anything was going to be done about this, it would have to be done by lay people. I gathered a group of mostly convert friends together and started a fellowship group so that those on the verge of leaving or entering the Church wouldn’t have to wrestle with their issues alone. We met once a month for prayer, a potluck dinner, a talk and discussion. Since we couldn’t come up with a name for our little group at first, we called ourselves "The Nameless Lay Group". In time, we decided that we liked being nameless and nameless we remained.

We gave eager young lay Catholics their first experience of personal support and formation in their faith. A Catholic father of eight who had left in frustration found the support he needed to be able to return to the Church. We gave a young Baptist man his first positive experience of lay Catholics and he soon began to attending Mass regularly with his Catholic wife and eventually entered RCIA. Through the miracle of the internet, we helped a entire Protestant family in New Zealand enter the church."

Gloria Strauss update PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 15 August 2007 08:28
The Seattle Times reporter, Jerry Brewer, who is covering Gloria and her family (Gloria is an 11 year old cancer patient in crisis whose fight has been covered by the Seattle Times over the past 4 months) is keeping a blog and this is his most recent entry:

"As promised, I want to tell more about last night's touching prayer session.

It was truly a sight to see about 30 people praying around Gloria. With the permission of Gloria's parents, we taped portions of it. Once audio is edited, we plan to make it available online, perhaps by tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, I'm going to give some highlights from last night.

-- Kristen shared that she heard God give her a message in Gloria's diction: "Give her to God and let Him do his thang."

Kristen was searching for what to do. When those words popped into her head, she was comforted. Gloria is a big "American Idol" fan, and she can do impressions of all the judges. Her Randy Jackson may be the funniest, and the way Kristen heard the words, "do his thang" sounded much like Gloria imitating Jackson.

To explain it very simply, Kristen took it to mean God was assuring her that Gloria will be just fine.

-- Kristen also read a passage from the Magnificat, a collection of spiritual writings that she reads every day. This just happened to be the selected reading for Monday:

"Let the Lord, God, show us what way we should take and what we should do. To God, the darkest the steps of the human heart are as clear as the page of a book lying open in the sunlight. He knows us through and through, and He loves us as deeply as He knows us. Rather than hide from Him, let us put our life in the hands that fashioned us and allow Him to lead us in the path of eternal life."

Said Kristen: "Just hearing that, it confirmed to us that God is still walking with us in this and that He's still guiding us. He's not abandoning us."

-- Jessica Morley, a senior-to-be at Kennedy High School in Burien, where Gloria's father teaches and coaches, revealed that she had a dream Saturday night.

"I had a dream that I was talking to a man, and I was explaining to him how frustrated I was that so many people are giving up on Gloria's miracle," Morley said. "He told me that I don't have to be like them. That I don't have to settle for an average faith.

"When I woke up in the morning, those words were ringing in my head, and it gave me a lot of comfort."

Back story on Morley: As an infant, she had neuroblastoma, but doctors found it early enough to save her. She's now in remission. Though the situations are different, the Strausses look at Morley as an inspiration.

-- Random quote from Gloria's father, Doug, talking about praying with conviction: "Like Shaq said, don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk."

Doug uses humor to get through all of this. But he warned everyone last night, "I'm not using humor to hide from the truth. I am being realistic."

-- And here's the moment that made me tear up: Watching Seattle University student Diana McKune, who has a brain cancer called intracranial germinoma, get out of a wheelchair in struggle, in pain, to get on her knees to pray at Gloria's bed.

McKune met Gloria a few years ago and has been taken by her story ever since.

It was an unbelievable night.

-- On a personal note, all of this is reminding me of the value of community. As I've tried to rise in journalism, I've gone from city to city, trying not to settle in too much because I don't want to be afraid to run to the next opportunity.

Because of some childhood experiences, I've also been against being part of a church community. I've preferred to study the Bible alone or in small groups and visit churches from time to time but not join one.

I became jaded because there are always negatives when a large number of people gather and try to do something together. Jealousy. Gossip. Back-stabbing. Those kinds of things.

This experience has taught me that there are church communities with different DNA, and I shouldn't be so stubborn. My faith has always been there, but my faith in others waned. Now that is starting to turn.

It's been an invaluable revelation.

It doesn't really influence how I write this series, but it may change my life in the very near future."

The Leadville Effect PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 15 August 2007 07:35
The amazing, bizarre, and incredibly moving Leadville Trail 100 will be taking place this weekend on the backbone of North America. I haven't been able to talk the Sheas and Curps into racing over to catch the final on Sunday morning (they mumbled something about being tired)but my memories of last year's are still fresh and I'd like to share them with you.

I blogged about this back in our first week of existance back in January but probably only 20 people read it - so it is again:

The Leadville Effect

Leadville, Colorado is a perfect setting for human drama. Leadville started life as a classic, wild-west town full of miners in search of fabulous wealth. It is the highest incorporated town (10,200 feet high) at the foot of the highest mountain range in North America. That means that it is short on oxygen and long on superlatives. The steeple of the exquisite Victorian Catholic church (where the famous “Unsinkable Molly Brown” was married) is, naturally, the highest church steeple in North America. In the grip of an 24-hour stomach flu, I recently earned the distinction of throwing up on the lawn of the highest town hall in North America!

Every August, hundreds of outsiders descend on Leadville to kick the inherent drama of the place up a few notches. They have come to attempt the highest ultra-marathon in North America: The Leadville Trail 100, “the race across the sky”. Runners seek to cover 100 miles across mountainous terrain that rises as high as 12,600 feet and to finish within 30 hours. They begin the race in the pre-dawn darkness at 4 am on Saturday. To be counted as a “finisher” you have to stagger across the finish line before the gun goes off at 10 am on Sunday. To finish on time, runners cannot sleep, and must run or walk all night up and down steep mountain trails in temperatures that routinely drop into the 30’s. This past August, 199 runners – 51% of those who started - finished on time.

I first heard of the Leadville 100 from the bemused owner of a bed and breakfast in a tiny mountain town which serves as one of the race’s primary aid stations. The poor man described dazed runners who were so exhausted that they had to be pushed in the right direction or they would simply miss the trail. The whole thing sounded so extreme - so utterly crazy - that I couldn’t believe that rational human beings would take part. I have since found out that nearly every person – including those who now run it - reacted that way when they first heard about the Leadville 100. Everyone thinks it is crazy - until you witness one - and what I have come to think of as the “Leadville Effect” hits you:

When a community promotes, models, and intentionally supports outstanding achievement in its members, people change . This transformation, and the extraordinary achievement that results from this transformation, is what I mean by the “Leadville Effect”:

People begin to see themselves differently and the world differently.

What they assumed to be “normal” and “possible” begins to change.

The result: “ordinary” people begin to imagine, aspire to, and accomplish extraordinary things.

Let me try and explain.

First of all, no one attempts the Leadville Trail 100 alone. The secret of the race is the very high level of community support behind each runner. There are a minimum of two supporting workers for every participant. Hundreds man aid stations all day and night, handing out water, Gatorade, power gels, cookies, and hot potato soup to all. Volunteers time runners in and out of aid stations, weigh them and assess their condition, give them a chance to warm themselves, to change their clothing and gear, and if necessary, insist they stop before they hurt themselves. Teams on mountain bikes follow behind the runners “sweeping” the trail in the dark to make sure that all stragglers are found and no one gets lost.

In addition, most runners have their own personal team of supporters. Many have “pacers” who can run beside individual participants for the last 50 miles. Pacers are not competitors but often run the equivalent of an ultra-marathon themselves simply to support someone else. Throughout the night, pacers can be heard softly talking, encouraging, challenging; making sure their runner keeps hydrated and doesn’t get lost, and if necessary, telling their runner when to quit. Family and friends, often wearing matching sweatshirts with mottos like “Ted’s team”, met the runners at aid stations with specially prepared food, changes of clothing, and sun block. They massage and bandage battered feet, provide dry shoes and socks, and a stream of encouragement.

The whole drama culminates at the finish line between 9 and 10 am on Sunday morning. The uber-athletes have long since finished and gone but the crowd just keeps getting larger and more exuberant. They know that the last hour is the most moving because so many of the late finishers are ordinary men and women who are attempting something extraordinary, perhaps for the first time in their life. The “race across the sky” is not just for the young and extraordinarily fit. Runners in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s finish every year. Finishing Leadville is not primarily about speed; it is about courage and heart and the power of community.

At the finish line this past August, I could not help but notice a large support team of perhaps 40 people all dressed in brilliant scarlet t-shirts. On the back of each shirt was the phrase “already finished”. I was intrigued and asked a couple of the team members who they were supporting. They pointed to the writing on the front of their shirts “In loving memory of Daryl Bogenrief”. Twenty five year old Daryl had been killed the summer before in a white water rafting accident. His young wife of 10 months, Angela, was running the Leadville 100 in his memory. A few minutes later, word spread among the team that she was two miles away with only an hour remaining. Instantly, Angela’s army set off to meet her.

I waited by the finish line. The minutes passed. One by one, runners crossed, often running hand-in-hand for the last 100 yards with the spouses, children, and friends who had made their achievement possible. Grizzled, grey-haired men broke down and wept in joy and relief within seconds of finishing. Each one was cheered vigorously by the hundreds of on-lookers who had by this time formed a kind of human tunnel around the finish. But I kept my eye on the ridge of the last hill, looking for signs of Angela.

Then I saw it: a scarlet phalanx formed at the crest of the hill a quarter mile away, and began to marching steadily towards us. As the group drew closer, I could see that they had formed a solid, cheering, human wall around a young woman with long brown hair. Angela’s pacer was beside her. Her friends were carrying all her gear but a single water bottle, freeing her up to focus on one thing alone: finishing. Angela was limping but her face was radiant, as she crossed the line 18 minutes before the final gun went off.

The power of the Leadville experience has stayed with me because it has such obvious implications for the formation of lay apostles. I know many “Angelas”, men and women who are doing astonishing things for the Kingdom of God because and only because they have the active, sustained, enthusiastic support of the Christian community – a sort of ecclesial Leadville effect.

Last summer, I received a letter from a recently retired pharmacist named Claudia who had attended a Called & Gifted workshop in a South Carolina parish. As a result of her discernment, she had volunteered to serve as a lay missionary in Tanzania. There she would teach pharmacology at the very first medical school in the country. Claudia’s mission: to enable Tanzanians to qualify for funding for AIDS medications by training them to administer the drugs in question. This woman’s skill and expertise could conceivably save the lives of an entire generation and change the course of a whole nation. When I told her story at a small group gathering in my parish in Colorado Springs, one woman blurted out “She’s like Esther! Who knows but what she has been prepared for such a time as this?”

Claudia is an Esther and she has obviously been prepared for just such as time as this. And yet, the irony is that such a possibility was beyond anything Claudia had ever envisioned for herself. As Claudia put it, “I was deliberating what to do next and whether there might be some purpose for my life.” Discerning her charisms “set me on a path that I’d probably taken years to find on my own.” It was an experience of a discerning Christian community that enabled Claudia to first imagine, then aspire to, and then do the extraordinary thing that will change so many lives.

Our Catholic parishes are filled with anointed but unconscious Esthers and Dominics, who have been prepared for purposes beyond anything they can now imagine. As Catholics, we have a beautifully rich theology of evangelization. But our evangelical imagination as individuals and as a community is stunted because we haven’t seen it lived at the local level. Can we imagine what Holy Spirit would do in our midst if our parishes were spiritual Leadville’s, challenging all the baptized to imagine, aspire to, and live their God-given vocations?
The Garden: Before and After PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 15 August 2007 07:12

How Could I Make This An August to Remember? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 14 August 2007 11:15
Come to Colorado Springs and join us in God's country for two one-of-a-kind events.

On August 30, the Institute and the Diocese of Colorado Springs will be sponsoring An Evening with Mark Shea.

Mark will speak on The Care and Feeding of the Lay Catholic Apostle . Lay Catholics are called to do the vast majority of the work in the New Evangelization. This talk gives some tips, not only to lay people about the cultural and theological glitches that confront the lay apostle in Millennial America, but to clergy and pastoral leaders who are interested in helping to form their flocks into fellow workers in the Vineyard.

The evening will feature a talk, Q & A, and reception/social hour afterwards. The presentation will begin at 7:00pm on Thursday, August 30 '07 in the parish hall downstairs at Holy Apostles Catholic Church (4925 Carefree Circle North Colo Spgs, CO 80917). A free will offering will be taken to cover expenses.

And on August 31, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (adults only*)

The Catherine of Siena Institute is presenting a day-long gathering on the subject of "Building Intentional Community" at beautiful Penrose House in Colorado Springs.

One of the comments we hear repeatedly from lay people around the country is a desire for a deeper experience of community and personal support as we seek to follow Christ in our parishes, families, and in the marketplace.

Come hang out, share, discuss, stroll, pray, eat, and play with former members of the famously Nameless Lay Group of Seattle including Mark Shea, Sherry Weddell, and other denizens of the Intentional Disciples blog. We will be drawing upon the wisdom of Scripture, contemporary Church teaching, Canon Law, your own experience of Christian community and what we have learned as we have traveled to hundreds of parishes around the country. You will also have the chance to participate in a small Christian community gathering.

A catered lunch will be provided and the day will conclude with a 6pm barbecue at a local park.

The day at Penrose House is for adults only but we invite family, children, and friends to the evening barbeque.

Penrose House
1661 Mesa Avenue
Colorado Springs

Family & friends, including children, are invited to an evening barbeque at 6 pm.
North Cheyenne Canyon Park

Cost: for Day Gathering and Barbeque: $20

Barbeque only adults: $10

Barbeque only children (under 12): $5

We do need you to RSVP for the Building Intentional Community Day in order to ensure that we have enough food for you!

To RSVP or to ask questions about either event, please call Mike Dillon on our office at (888) 878- 6789 or e-mailus at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

See you there!
Reeves & Booster & the Motu Proprio That Binds PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 14 August 2007 11:05
Nothing refreshes on a steamy August dog day like a new episode of Reeves & Booster.

Shimmer on over to Disputations and tell Tom that Gussie Fink-Nottle sent you.
The Call to Build Community PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 14 August 2007 10:19
I had a fascinating and fruitful conversation yesterday with Roz Deiterich, an ID reader and occasional commenter, about our experiences of Christian community in anticipation of our Building Intentional Community Day at the end of this month.

Roz raised an excellent question: are some among us specifically gifted by God to give themselves to nurturing a kind of Christian community that is centered around mutual discipleship? Do some of us have a call to facilitate the "pursuit of God in the company of friends?"

As I thought over my own limited experience of transforming Christian community and of course, all that we've learned from helping tens of thousands of Catholics discern their charisms - I had to say "yes! absolutely!

And I thought back on all the people I had know who had felt such a call and how each call to foster Christian community had looked so different in practice but all had born enormous fruit in the lives of other people.

But in the absence of a compelling vision for what real Christian community can do: draw the unbelieving and unchurched, foster life-long discipleship, spiritual growth, discernment of gifts and vocations, and extraordinary apostolates, how many of us hear the call? How many of us recognize that we may have charisms of pastoring or hospitality or leadership in this area? How many of us grasp what is at stake?

What's been your best experience of Christian community, large or small? An experience of community that fostered your lived relationship with Christ? How did it change your life?
High Summer in the High Country PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 14 August 2007 09:49

Columbine on Imogene Pass in August.

We've driven the incredibly difficult Imogene Pass road in the magnificent San Juan mountains in August. The Pass crests at 13,000 + and it took us 5 1/2 hours to travel 15 miles. It's amazing how long it can take to stop every 25 feet and calculate exactly at what angle you should attempt to crawl over the boulder ahead.

Imogene Pass is what in Colorado is known reverently as an "Oh my God!" road. That's because even atheists are moved to intense prayer by that single track, 120 degree curve bit with the 3,000 drop off where you meet the on-coming four by four and one of you has to back up without going over the edge.

But there are many less death-defying pleasures - there's always the wildflowers and views like this, which we saw coming down the Telluride side: Bridal Veil Falls (although this picture was taken in late September about a month after we were there).

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