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Called & Gifted Weekends PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Monday, 29 January 2007 22:01
I just returned from St. Paul, MN, where I was part of a teaching team offering a Called Gifted workshop at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church. In her post title, "Do Ask, Do Tell," Sherry spoke of an interview process that can follow a workshop, and mentioned that there is some trust already developed between the interviewer and the workshop participant. She proposed that in large measure that trust is established through the workshop itself.

And why not? We are teaching with the Church, and sharing yet another "best kept secret" that takes the typical Catholic lay person by delighted surprise. In presenting some of the spiritual riches of the Church, the Called & Gifted workshop focuses on three big ideas:

- Church’s primary mission is outward, not inward.

- Every member is an apostle, anointed and sent by Jesus Christ.

- Every member has been given gifts of the Holy Spirit for the sake of their personal vocation which must and can be discerned.

In the workshop we try to foster confidence in following Jesus as a disciple, and in the gifts of the Holy Spirit given at baptism that empower the Christian to continue the work of Jesus. Revelation becomes alive and relevant to their everyday life, and people begin to recognize a deeper meaning to their own life because they appreciate the significance of their intentional and personal participation in Christ's ongoing work of redemption.

At this last workshop, men and women came up to me at each break, at lunch, and at its conclusion to tell me how much they appreciated the workshop, and to ask questions regarding the discernment of particular issues. They snapped up resources we had available to assist in their ongoing discernment. Several people thanked me for our stories of how God has – and is – using saints as well as ordinary men and women to promote His kingdom through the use of their charisms.

I think many Catholics act (and pray) as though they do not really expect much from God, and we certainly don't expect God to work through imperfect instruments like us! I know I still fall into that delusion. One of the beautiful changes that people so often go through on a Called & Gifted workshop is that they begin to realize God is more intimate and more a part of their daily grind than they had dared to dream. I mean, it's hard to reconcile the idea of a far-off, relatively disinterested deist God, with a God Who gets his hands dirty creating us from the dust of the earth, and Who continues to enter and change our world through these same, imperfect vessels. Yet the evidence we produce supports that conclusion, as does, of course, the Scriptures.

To learn more about the Called & Gifted workshop, you can go to our website, You can also sign up for to receive the e-Scribe by mail, or order books and other helpful materials.. You can also contact Mike Dillon, our office manager, at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
A quick hello... PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 29 January 2007 15:50

Written by  Br. Matthew Augustine, OP

Amidst all the discussions surrounding Intentional Disciples over the past few days, you may have noticed that another name was quietly added to the list of contributors: Br. Matthew Augustine, OP. That’s me. A little about myself: I’m a Dominican friar of the Western Province and am studying toward priesthood. Currently I’m living at St. Albert Priory in Oakland while attending school at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley. Before entering the Dominicans four years ago I had only the faintest idea what the Catherine of Siena Institute was and what it did. A friend had taken the Called and Gifted Workshop and, over coffee and desert at a Denny’s somewhere in the greater Seattle area, I and some other friends quickly glanced over the materials she had brought back with her. Given that I was going through the confusing process of discerning a religious vocation at the time, the last thing I wanted was more discernment. The material nevertheless looked interesting and my friend was clearly enthusiastic about her experience. I made a mental note to look into it later. ‘Later’ turned out to be shortly after I had entered the Dominican Order. Having learned that the CSI was a ministry of my Province (it was co-founded by Sherry and one of our friars, Fr Michael Sweeney), I picked up the Called and Gifted tape set and listened to it every day as I went jogging around Oakland. I was totally riveted by what I heard and was probably lucky I didn’t get struck by a car. I had never heard the Church’s teaching regarding the laity articulated before. Drawing primarily from the Documents of Vatican II and from the pontificate of John Paul II, Sherry and Fr. Michael gave a powerful account of the dignity and importance of the lay vocation and apostolate. Given that I may someday be teaching and helping form lay people, I sensed that I should know this material better. I consulted the documents referenced in the workshop and began my own study of the theology of the laity by way of one of the great Dominican theologians of the last century, Yves Congar. Next, having met Fr. Michael and Sherry, I volunteered to help teach the workshop and have been doing so, off and on, over the past couple years. I am excited to be a contributor to Intentional Disciples and hope that my voice adds to the ongoing dialogue here. There is much to explore and discuss.

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Do Ask, Do Tell PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 29 January 2007 07:39


We’ve learned a lot from the recent spate of blogging by other bloggers about this blog and the very idea of “intentional discipleship”. A number of objections were raised to the very idea of asking someone to share about their lived relationship with God, no matter how gently or appropriately it is done.


To even think of asking is to be judgmental, elitist, divisive, insulting, invasive, and well, not Catholic. To not ask is to be truly Catholic and respectful of others and the mysterious and unfathomable ways of God in the human heart. Naturally enough, the personal factor enters in. Several posters objected because they couldn’t imagine asking the question themselves and declared that they would deeply resent being asked.

The irony is that for 13 years, Catholics have lined up by the thousands all over the world, so that we can spend an hour asking them detailed personal questions about their experiences of God - and most have even paid for the privilege (but not much!).

At most Called & Gifted workshops, we offer what we call gifts “interviews” with participants who want to take the next step after the workshop. During the voluntary one-hour interviews, participants in the Called & Gifted workshop have a chance to talk one-on-one with a trained person who will try to answer their personal questions, help them identify ways that God has used them in the lives of others, and chose one charism to explore two hours a week for 6 months. (Note: we never, never, never tell anyone they do or do not have a particular gift. We listen in order to identify patterns in their lives that may indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit working through a charism. Often, the possible significance of these patterns has escaped the one discerning.)

We know from experience that 50 – 80% of those attending a workshop will want an interview. We’ve done thousands of interviews in English, Spanish, and Indonesian and we have trained over 1000 pastoral leaders in four countries to conduct the interviews.

We have always emphasized in training that interviewers are not therapists, spiritual directors, career counselors or vocation directors. Conducting a gifts interview is a very specific and narrowly focused ministry. Even if a trainee is a priest, trained counselor or spiritual director, we ask that they not confuse the two roles even if the interviewee requests it. Finish the gifts interview and then make a second appointment for anything else. We never thought to warn about mixing the roles of interviewer and evangelist.

I have done a least a thousand interviews myself over the past 13 years and it is an extraordinary privilege. (As I always tell those I am training, “this is the most fun you can have legally.”) For many Catholics, it is the first time in their lives that they have ever talked to another person about how God has used them in the lives of other people. The stories we hear are a tiny snapshot of the ocean of the amazing things that God is doing in and through the lives of ordinary Catholics who dare to say “yes”.

However, we have gradually come to the conclusion that we had overlooked a most significant factor in discernment process: participants’ lived relationship with God. This is a critical issue for the discernment of charisms because while charisms are given with the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation, these gifts do not usually manifest until our faith become personal. If an interviewee went through some kind of conversion or awakening 10 years ago, we know to focus our attention on those last ten years. And we know that the impact of the charisms grow as our relationship with God grows. It has slowly become obvious that a significant number of the Catholics we have interviewed struggle with their discernment because their lived relationship with God is either seriously underdeveloped or in some cases, non-existent. And many of them are in leadership.

This first dawned upon me about 1 ½ years ago while listening to the experiences of a woman who headed up the local Catholic Women’s Organization. Her inventory scores were unusually low and her references to God’s role in her parish service were extremely vague and abstract. For the first time, I dared to ask “Since charisms flow directly out of your relationship with God, it would help me help you if could you briefly describe your relationship with God to this point in your life”.

Her answer was stunning. The woman thought for a moment and then calmly stated that she didn’t have a personal relationship with God. I probed gently, realizing that she just might not think of her faith in those terms. Surely she wouldn’t be so active as a parish and diocesan leader and really have no lived relationship with God. For the entire hour, she continued to talk about her involvement with the Church in terms that could have been used by the atheist president of a Rotary Club. Although I listened intently, I didn’t hear the tiniest shred of spiritual experience or motivation. This is particularly ironic since her parish was run by a charismatic religious order. But even there, the question of her relationship with God had apparently never been asked.

I had another learning experience some months later while interviewing the president of a parish council in another state. By this point, I had started to ask the question whenever someone didn’t spontaneously start talking about their relationship with God. “Could you briefly describe your relationship with God to this point in your life.”?

Her answer was direct and delivered with fire in her eyes.

“I’ll tell you what I think. I think that God created the world, gave us intelligence and free will and the moral law, sent the prophets and Jesus to teach us what to do, and then left us alone to keep the moral law and take care of the world. We can choose to do so or not. Those of us who do so pretty well go to heaven. God is pretty distant on a day to-day basis. He doesn’t interfere.

I sat stupefied for the moment. The president of the pastoral council was a Deist, a believer in the perverbial “clockmaker” God, and completely Pelagian in her understanding of salvation! I wondered frantically how I could gracefully remind her that charisms are God “interfering” through us in a big way, that they emerge out of lived relationship with God and the necessity of prayer in the discernment process.

The really moving moment was when we got to her experience with the charism of mercy and her feisty deist persona disappeared. She had spent two years as the sole care-giver for a woman friend who was dying of cancer and abandoned by her friends and family. It was a life-changing experience for her and gave me the chance to point out that God has been part of the whole thing – that he had “interfered” through her - and given enormous comfort and strength to her sick friend. By the end of the hour, I had been able to talk to her about the necessity of prayer in discernment and actually pray with her as she asked God for the grace of greater openness to his presence in her life.

Then, a couple weeks ago, the whole issue came to a head in an extraordinary interview. A middle-aged father on the east coast talked to me with great warmth of his young adult children, of his desire to do anything that it took to see them happy and successful. He told me about serving as head of the parish visioning committee, talked of his joy in singing in the choir, and of the hours he spent on the internet, explaining and defending the truths of the faith. At that point, I asked him “the question” and his face become rigid.

“I think of God as a distant, stern, harsh, unforgiving figure. I never bother God about anything “small” since who am I to ask God anything? I just hope that if I don’t ask God for anything now, he’ll do the big thing and let me “in” in the end.”

I hesitated. An insistent thought would not let me go: “Tell him that he is a much better, more loving, and forgiving father than he thinks God is”. So I said it. He was an introverted man but his eyes became red and he visibly gulped. We talked for a few minutes more about the role of personal relationship with God in the discernment process but as I prepared to move on, he stopped me.

“Shouldn’t I deal with my relationship with God before I do further discernment?”

“Great idea.” I responded with outward enthusiasm and more than a little inward trembling. “What if you told God that you would like to believe that he is a loving, generous, forgiving father but that you can’t make yourself believe it on your own? You are asking for his help in believing in his love and put no limits on how he might make it happen but that the ball is in his court. You could pray that prayer every day through the discernment process and then see what God does.”

He nodded his assent vigorously. I hesitated again. “Would you like to pray about this now?” He thought for a moment and said “yes” but added, "I can’t pray aloud in my own words." I suggested that he pray inwardly to God and I would just pray with him in silence. I fixed my eyes on the floor for a few minute to give him some privacy for what was clearly a vulnerable moment. When I looked up, his reddened eyes were closed and he was clearly praying intently. When he was done, he gave me a big hug.

It wasn’t that the three people I’ve described had absolutely no relationship with Christ. They had all been baptized into Christ and his Church and were good people who did good things. But their activity had far outstripped their lived relationship with God. And in a “don’t’ ask, don’t tell” culture, it is unlikely that their fellow parishioners or even their pastor would ever know because one just doesn’t ask. We tend to regard people’s physical presence and activity as irrefutable “proof” of their personal faith. Why else would they be among us?

What if asking is not about judging – the first step down the slippery slope to the Inquisition? What if asking is the necessary pre-requisite to better serving the spiritual needs of people? What if asking so that people have a safe opportunity to tell their spiritual story and be ministered to by the Church is healing and life-changing? What if a "Do Ask, Do Tell" culture is truly Catholic?

The Eucharist and the Laity PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 28 January 2007 21:48

Written by Keith Strohm

Amy Welborn has some fascinating quotes from the Bishops' Synod on the Eucharist that took place in Rome last year. I found one from the head of the Pontifical Council of the Laity particularly inspiring--as it speaks directly to the connection between the Eucharist and our fundamental identity as lay members of Christ's People:

The Eucharistic celebration constitutes a privileged place where one achievesthe full, mature and coherent Christian identity of the lay faithful. Because itis in the Eucharist that a lay Christian fully realizes his participation in the triple mission entrusted to him by Christ: priestly, prophetic and royal. The priestly mission: in the Eucharist the Christian discovers his doxological vocation, he discovers that his whole life in all its dimensions must become a spiritual worship and a spiritual sacrifice united to the one of Christ. The prophetic mission: the Eucharist opens up to the mission, that is the Christian testimony in the world and the proclamation of the Word of God right up to the ends of the world.

How powerful--and how profound. Our identity is found in the great Gift of Christ's Substance--His life broken open and offered for the Salvation of the world. There is also a royal dimension to our lives as laypeople, for Christ has given us Creation to govern, so that we might judge and see and act as Christ judges and sees and acts--in accordance with the Will of the Father. As Children of a King, we are called to live our lives in such a way, to govern, so that we might redeem the social and institutional structures of our world and, as John Paul II wrote in Christifideles Laici, "to restore to creation all of its original dignity."

Praise God for His desire to include us in his work of Love--the Salvation and Redemption of each human person.

On Vocation PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 28 January 2007 15:46

Written by the other Sherry

The world is a mess. It is charged with amazing beauty, but also broken in countless big and little ways. Some are huge, like war and famine, poverty and disease, crime and injustice and environmental degradation. Some are smaller, but may loom even larger because they are closer to home: a friend or neighbor or family member, or even ourselves, battling cancer or mental illness or joblessness or frustration – or despair. And we know such suffering is multiplied many times over in the lives of people all around us, sitting next to us in the pews or walking the street outside.

Where is God in all this? And, perhaps more important, what is God doing about all this?

God has already done something amazing: he has come among us, taken on the human condition in all its limitedness and suffering by actually becoming one of us, a human being like us in every way but one: sin. He taught, and healed, and announced the Kingdom of God. And he drank the cup of suffering, all the brokenness of the world, to the dregs, all the way to the bottom on the Cross. There is no one who can say, anymore, “God doesn’t know what this feels like.” Because He does. He has literally walked in our shoes.

But God has done more than that; he has risen again, triumphed over death itself, and shared his very Life with us in the sacraments of encounter with the risen Jesus that he has given us, so that we need never be alone or unable to face whatever it is we have to face. And he has given us the destiny of sharing forever in that triumphant life with him in Heaven, where every sorrow earth has to offer is answered and healed by unending, limitless joy, haunted by no fears or shadows or shame.

But it doesn’t stop there. God has done even more. He hasn’t just offered us his life, his healing. He hasn’t just promised us Heaven when it is all over. He has commissioned us and sent us into the world in his name, here and now, to continue the work of restoration that he has begun, in all the places where we are. All of creation is to be restored to its original dignity, and he has made us his partners in this great work of redeeming and restoration.

Our vocation is our own personal path to the limitless joy that God offers – a path that will both heal and fulfill us, and make us channels through which God’s healing and restoration will reach the world around us, in ways we may not even be able to imagine. A vocation is a unique work of love to which God calls us, which only we can do. If we say no, if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. Some part of the creation, some people beloved by God will not encounter what God intends to give them without our cooperation. God will not save us without us; he will not save the world without us. Our part matters.

Now, looking within ourselves, we may object that we can’t possibly be the sort of people that God wants to do things. We’re too sinful, too broken, too ignorant, too proud, too fearful, too weak, too unreliable. Like St. Peter, we want to tell him: “Go away, Lord, I am a sinful man.” Like Jeremiah, even when God Himself tells us that we have a special destiny, a particular mission that he has selected for us, we want to plead incompetence and be excused.

But Jesus doesn’t leave Peter there; he tells him not to be afraid. And he tells us, too: don’t be afraid. I am with you. I have equipped you, and you will never face what I send you to without my help.

The Conversation about ID Continues PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 27 January 2007 08:00
Fr. Mike and I are off teaching today and Keith will be out of town for the weekend, but the buzz about our blog, the Institute, and the whole concept of "Intentional Discipleship" continues to fly about St. Blogs.

Amy Welborn (Jan 25) Disputations (scroll down to Jan 24) Commonweal (where it all started with Peter Nixon's post about us, scroll down to January 23) and now Catholic Sensibility, There are other small conversations at other blogs as well. As I wrote on
Catholic Sensibility just now:

We have been quite startled by all the attention because the two things that make us stand out:

1) confounding conservative-liberal categories;

2) insisting on talking about about things that Catholics on both the right and left don’t talk about - like discipleship and formation and gifts and vocational discernment for all the baptized

have been the hallmarks of the Institute for the past 10 years.

St. Blog’s has just noticed.

So join in the conversation. I'll check back in tonight.
Discernment is a Team Sport PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 26 January 2007 12:49

Written by Keith Strohm

One of the readers of my blog, Take Your Place, rightly commented on the difficulty involved in discernment: "But how do you know if the Holy Spirit is calling you? It is precisely because I can't discern what He wants that I find myself pulled in too many directions."

Spirit-led, authentic discernment is perhaps the single greatest enterprise needed in the Body of Christ today. We are, as lay members of Christ's faithful people, somewhat adrift--scattered. Our gifts lay dormant, our giftedness largely unrecognized and unformed--by a Church that too often focuses its gaze inward, and by our own individual capacity for false humility, fear, and capitulation to the inertia that so often prevents spiritual and personal development.

Within the Church, we have ministry fairs, where anyone with a passing interest in a particular area of service can sign up and find himself engaged almost immediately in a given ministry. And so we have thousands of catechists who find themselves forming our youth because they were warm bodies needed to fill a space, neither called nor gifted for that particular work. And then we wonder about the state of catechesis and the difficulty that our next generation has in participating in the life of the Church.

Ouside the Church, we have career counseling programs, job training and degree programs, and a host of other secular tools that focus too often on success and building wealth, without ever really trying to connect the identity, talents, and giftedness of the individual with a particular area of 'vocation.' And then we wonder why it seems that our culture 'churns and burns' millions of individuals beneath its fast-paced grind without ever seeming to grow any healthier.

Don't get me wrong, ministry fairs and career preparation or counseling programs aren't necessarily bad things. Too often as Christians, however, we start to see only our methods and forget the spiritual reality that these methodologies were created to help us experience. We come armed with our strategies and vision statements, our councils and our commissions, and we forget that we are more than simply a civic organization applying purely human resources for a humanitarian end.

Discernment is, ultimately, a spiritual experience.

A profound one.

It is, in a very real sense, a dying to self--for the word comes from the latin, discernere, which means 'to cut away.' When we enter into a process of discernment, we are dying to the false elements of our self, to the way our culture, our family, and our own fallen personality tell us we should be. We cut away the clutter and cast off the baggage so that we may follow more perfectly the One who called us out of darkness and in to the Light of Truth. We can't take our place, until we know where and what that place is.

Authentic discernment is difficult and, often, painful. No wonder we avoid it wherever and whenever we can. But Paul, like Christ, asks us to consider our calling, to make discernment a regular part of our lives. The question we should ask is: Why is discernment so difficult for us?

The problem, I think, lies in our fundamental approach to the 'problem.' As modern-day Christians--especially in the U.S.--we tackle the discernment question with rugged individualism and a naked desire to succeed. We gauge where God is calling us utilizing only the lens of our own thoughts, feelings, and experience. Most often, when someone says they are discerning around an issue, it generally means that they are weighing the options and plumbing their own internal depths to see how it resonates there. This is a necessary step--for grace builds on nature, and God often calls us through our joys and passions. However, it is not the only step!

Since we have been called together as a People, and been united in the Body of Christ, there is a communal dimension to our lives from which we can never be separated. For baptized Christians, our lives simply do not make sense in isolation. This is exactly what Paul referred to when he said "And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?" (1Cor 12:16) In the depths of our being, we are relational. Our meaning is fulfilled in the context of the life of the whole Body.

Therefore, we are each responsible for one another and are called to be Stewards of the vocation of each member of our community. True discernment, then, can never happen outside of the context of the Body of Christ. Bringing that down to a more practical level, we as parishes (the Church inserted into the local neighborhood) need to become schools of vocational discernment, communities where the giftedness of each member is discovered and fostered, and where opportunities for utilizing those gifts in the world are presented. We must become comfortable with naming the giftedness of others, as well as providing gentle and loving feedback when others are engaged in areas of service for which they have not been gifted or called.

Discernment is challenging. Yet, the grace of God provides us with a multiplicity of opportunities to reflect and receive help from our brothers and sisters in this holy endeavor. Make no mistake about it, unless we enter into this discipline fully, another generation of catholic apostles will grow up ignorant of the true power, authority, and jurisdiction of their role in the mission of Christ to the world.

Discernment is a team sport--and God is our captain! Who wants to play?

'I' am a 'We' PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 26 January 2007 11:13

Written by Keith Strohm

Fred over at Deep Furrows has a wonderful quote regarding our sacramental participation in the very life of the Church. I present it below because that's the kind of guy I am. Here it is:

The "I" is no longer an "I" torn out of a given context. It becomes a "we": every action becomes charged with a responsibility we all share, and even the most secret act has the task of edifying totality.
Why the Church?, p 189
I was stunned just a few years ago when I did research on the Sacrament of Reconciliation and came face to face with the reality that there was no such thing as purely personal sin--that sin always effects not just the individual, but the Body of Christ itself. Sin weakens the Church inasmuch as it fractures communion, separating the members of the Body from its Head, Jesus Christ.

As with sin, so to with salvation and virtue. I am responsible not just to work on my own sinfulness, but to help my brothers and sisters as they struggle with their own concupiscence. Rendered even more positively, I am responsible to help my brothers and sisters deepen their relationship with God, offering my very Self in sacrifice to accomplish that.

We are, as Paul says, "the Body of Christ, and individually members of it." Our identity is first and foremost as a People and then as individuals who make up that People. For Christians, our lives simply do not make sense in isolation. This means that each of us bears a responsibility for the vocation and salvation of our brothers and sisters. It is not enough to assume that another person is growing in their relationship with Christ (or even has a relationship with Christ).

How we undertake this shared responsibility is where the sandals hit the road. Many Catholics object to the idea that we should ask other peole how they are doing on their spiritual journey. The assumption is that we are asking them in order to judge them rather than, as Sherry Weddell says, "as a pre-requisite to serving them better." Yet that is precisely how the early Church lived. There are ways to do so that are authentically Catholic and respect both our own personal spiritual poverty and the dignity and privacy of others.

If I am, after all, a 'we,' the necessity is clear.
Catholicism is Busting Out All Over - in China & South Korea PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 26 January 2007 10:51
Fascinating article by Sandro Magister here.

Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul, told Magister in an interview that:

“Over the past ten years the Catholic Church in Korea has gone from less than three million faithful to over five million,” recounts cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, who has been archbishop of Seoul since 1998. “And vocations also continue to flourish. By now we are 10 percent of the population, the highest percentage in Asia after the Philippines and Vietnam. In Seoul, we make up 14 percent of the population, and we have launched an initiative called the Evangelization Twenty Twenty Movement, with the aim of reaching 20 percent by 2020. Particularly promising is missionary activity among the young soldiers, whose ranks have swelled to 18 percent Catholic as of last year.”

He sounds pretty intentional about that.
The Importance of Soil Type PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 26 January 2007 09:12
I am on the road this weekend, and am typing this in the Phoenix airport prior to boarding for sunny St. Paul, MN. I may not be able to keep up with the posts and comments, but thought I'd leave a brief reflection on Wednesday's gospel, Mark 4:1-20 because I believe it connects with the important issue of disposition and grace.

Jesus is talking about various dispositions of people who encounter the Word that he sows. I propose that he may also be speaking of the various reactions that people have to him, as well, since he is the incarnate Word. Notice that there are a variety of responses. Some have the word snatched by Satan as soon as they hear it. It's taken before it can begin to take root at all. Some respond with joy, and the word begins to root in them, begins to change their life and their behavior, but then the trials that inevitably come with living as a disciple of Christ leads to their abandonment of following him. Still others hear the word, but the distractions and cares of life "and the craving for other things" squeezes out the transforming power of the Word.

Note the craving for other things probably means other goods, since we are created by God to pursue the good. It's just that they are lesser goods – including our families, our careers, our pursuit of justice and human rights and every other good thing that is not God. Now, please do not think that I'm suggesting we abandon our spouses and children, or quit our jobs and join religious life. Rather, I'm proposing that the following of Christ must come first, and in following Christ, all of our other relationships and pursuits will be transformed. We will love our families better, serve them more wholeheartedly, and promote their personal and spiritual growth more if we are in communion with Christ. We will approach the sacraments with greater "active, conscious participation" when our relationship with Christ is our first priority. As Pope Benedict XVI said at his inauguration Mass, "If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide."

These various responses to Christ and his word point to the importance of our disposition when we approach the sacraments, our prayer, our relationships with other people – every aspect of our life of faith. This is why we at Intentional Disciples are so focused on the need for intentionality in our life of faith. We can't just "go through the motions" and presume that grace will be imparted. Nor are we suggesting that our disposition is simply our own work. St. Thomas Aquinas observed that

"even the good movement of the free-will, whereby anyone is prepared for receiving the gift of grace is an act of the free-will moved by God. And thus man is said to prepare himself, according to Prov. 16:1: "It is the part of man to prepare the soul"; yet it is principally from God, Who moves the free-will. Hence it is said that man's will is prepared by God, and that man's steps are guided by God." (ST II, I, 112, art. 2)

Our disposition is critical in the fruitful reception of God's grace in the sacraments, but even that good disposition is a result of our cooperation with the grace of God, whether that be habitual or actual grace. Yet we have to cooperate! As St. Augustine said, "God will not save us without us."

They're calling my flight. Gotta run. I hope this helps you understand our focus on intentionality a bit better - think of it as a bit of fertilizer for your soil!
You're a "Lay--" What? PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 26 January 2007 08:47

Written by Keith Strohm

Sometimes when people ask me what I do, I tell them that I'm a Lay Evangelist. It's easy for me to say now because I am between jobs at the moment--and Lay Evangelist sounds much better than unemployed marketing executive. :)

Now, I sometimes say that with a smile on my face, but I am very serious. I enjoy sharing my faith with people I encounter. Sometimes this is done formally, as a speaker, retreat director, or formation coordinator, within the Church. But many times, this happens in my daily life outside the walls of a parish. I might be eating at a restauraunt and find myself engaged in a conversation with my server, or sitting on an airplane with someone who begins to talk about the questions they have about meaning, or existence, or God. Sometimes such conversations can occur at clubs or parties--really just about everywhere.

I love having those discussions with people--even those who are vehemently against religion, God, or "the Church." The opportunity to help others grapple, wrestle, or just talk about their relationship with God is a blessing--something I'm humbled to be a part of. Even more humbling is the experience of watching the Holy Spirit quicken or stir in someone's heart as they take another step toward God. I've had the good fortune of sponsoring a number of people into full communion with the Church, and it has helped me recognize my own spiritual poverty and the degree to which I depend upon the Grace of God for my salvation and deepening friendship with Him.

Not everyone is gung-ho to go out and start talking about their faith with friends or strangers. And that's okay. God has made each of us as unique unrepeatable manifestations of His Love. We have different gifts, personalities, talents, and life experiences. You don't have to stand on street corners or at parties "testifying."

At our most fundamental, however, we are all lay evangelizers. It comes with the territory--with the great gift of Baptism. As John Paul II has said, "evangelization is the Church's deepest and most profound identity." We are heirs of the Great Commission, men and women sent out to live our lives in the word in such a way that we spread the Love of God and foster all that is authentically human. Evangelization, you see, comes in many forms.

Which is good--because so do we!

Welcome to Open Book readers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 26 January 2007 05:57
We appreciate you dropping by.

Who Are We?

Intentional Disciples is a group blog devoted to the baptismal call, spirituality, gifts, vocations, ministry, work, history, theology, evangelization, formation, bad jokes, and pastoral support of lay Christians seeking to live their faith in the 21st century.

What is the Catherine of Siena Institute?

All the posters on our blog are involved with the Institute’s work in some way. The Institute emerged nearly 10 years ago out of a collaboration between Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP and a laywoman, Sherry Weddell. The Institute’s purpose is to “equip parishes to form lay apostles”. So far, we have worked with nearly 25,000 lay and ordained Catholics in hundreds of parishes in 74 dioceses on 4 continents.

We are not a lay movement nor do we have a pre-packaged “program” to offer. As we say on our website: We seek to foster the proclamation of the gospel to all the world by ensuring that lay Catholics (who are 99% of the Church) are equipped to effectively carry out their unique and essential part in this mission.

Every baptized Christian is called by Christ; therefore, every Christian needs the preparation that the Church offers to those called to fulfill a specific mission. The Church calls such preparation "formation." "Formation is not the privilege of a few, but a right and duty of all." (Christifideles Laici, 63.) We are working to ensure that every Catholic has access to a formation that:

  • Is distinctly lay in approach, spirituality, and focus;
  • Is deeply rooted in the Tradition and Magisterial teaching of the Church;
  • Fosters integration of faith, work, and relationships;
  • Takes seriously the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to every Christian;
  • Enables each one to further discern God's unique call in his or her own life;
  • Prepares him or her to be an effective, creative apostle in the midst of the world;
  • Encourages collaboration between the clergy and laity in mission to the world; and
  • Is geared to the real lives of working adults.

    Our Mission

    We work to make apostolic formation and support readily available to all lay Catholics by:

    • Making self-formation resources available to lay Catholics throughout the world
    • Equipping parishes to become houses of formation, discernment, and apostolic support for the laity.
    • Forming clergy, religious, and lay leaders to be effective formators of lay people.
    • Fostering awareness, discussion, theological inquiry, and pastoral consultation throughout the Church regarding the apostolic mission and formation of the laity.
    • Collaborating with interested individuals, groups, and organizations in the service of this mission.

    We are an apostolate of the


    Western Dominican Province and are affiliated with the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology. We are best known for the Called & Gifted discernment process.

    Why did we choose the title “Intentional Disciples” for our blog?

    Because Jesus is the heart of everything in the Christian life: our worship and sacramental life, our communion with his Church, our prayer life, work, loves, and play; our hope of ultimate salvation. We mean “disciple” as if you and I were Peter on the shore of the sea of Galilee and had the same opportunity to make a personal response to the same invitation. Peter didn’t drop those nets and spend the next three years with Jesus accidentally or unconsciously.He had to make a deliberate choice to say "yes" and then a series of choices to actually follow Jesus through the months and years ahead. In the same way, you and I are called, at some point, to respond with personal faith and assent to the faith into which we were baptized.

    What do we mean by “Intentional?"

    The integration of mind, heart, will, body soul and spirit in a deliberate "yes" to Christ's invitation to ‘follow me.’

    ". . .the "good news" is directed to stirring a person to a conversion of heart and life and a clinging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; to disposing a person to receive Baptism and the Eucharist and to strengthen a person in the prospect and realization of new life according to the Spirit.
    --Catechesis in Our Time

    The joining of personal interior faith with assent to Church teaching and communion; the union of personal disposition and the sacraments as the Church has explicitly taught in great detail since the Council of Trent. This is Catholic to the bone, as old as the Gospels and as current as Benedict XVI's speeches. There isn't a shred of originality in it anywhere. As Amy noted in her post, there is nothing new about this.

    Is the term “Intentional Disciple” evangelical Protestant?

    No. I (Sherry) never heard the term “intentional disciple” used when I was an evangelical. Nor have I heard it used elsewhere. We came up with the phrase "intentional disciple" last summer after years of finding that the term "disciple" alone simply didn't convey the union of "fides formata" (personal faith and repentance infused with hope and love that the Council of Trent insisted was necessary for justification) and sacramental grace to pastoral leaders.

    After working with thousands of pastors, DREs, pastoral and diocesan staff and pastoral leaders all over the world, we knew we needed a term that was perfectly Catholic but just a tad unfamiliar. Unfamiliar enough to make Catholics think again.

    Our experience has been that we can meticulously walk through a detailed and documented presentation on Church teaching on evangelization and people just look at us with glazed eyes. But if we use the term "intentional disciple", they wake up. Some rejoice, others get angry - but no one falls asleep.

    And not being asleep would seem to be the first pre-requisite for fulfilling the Church's primary mission of evangelization.

    “Intentional Disciple” is not a trademark. It's a useful phrase. The speculation that our tiny, hand-to-mouth outfit has visions of becoming the next "Purpose-Driven" empire is beyond irony. And in case you were wondering, we are a certified albino-monk-assassin-free zone.

    What topics do we discuss on Intentional Disciples?

    Anything and everything related to the discipleship and apostleship of the laity and the mission of the Church to the world.

    1) Proclaiming Christ and the practical evangelization of individuals: How to communicate the kerygma to those who are not yet disciples of Jesus Christ and help them become disciples.

    2) Formation: How to nurture the spiritual maturity and foster the apostolic call of every baptized person, especially at the local parish level.

    3) Discernment and Vocation: Anything related to charisms (duh!) and the discernment and living of personal vocations - especially non-ecclesial vocations.

    4) Evangelization of culture and societal structures - especially in relationship to the faith, work, vocations, and initiatives of lay Christians.



    • Stories we hear/witness from close friends or families or stories we hear/witness on the road that are relevant to 1 -4
    • Essential Church teaching and theology and formation resources related to # 1-4.
    • Effective initiatives related to #1-4
    • Struggles/obstacles/questions/perspectives related to #1-4

    That's why we want and need a variety of voices and life experiences on the blog. We don't expect you to agree with each other on everything. Can you spell b-o-r-i-n-g? Our parameters are the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. Within those parameters, there is a ton of room for different opinions and personalities.

    The blog is actively moderated. We want to create a positive space for discussion that will encourage thoughtful "lurkers" who normally don't comment on other blogs because a few belligerent nasties dominate. The chronically uncivil will be asked to take their opinions elsewhere.

    We want to remain focused on providing a forum for important aspects of Catholic teaching, life and practice that aren’t getting much attention elsewhere. Therefore, there are certain topics we won't be discussing on Intentional Disciples. These would include:

    1) Ecclesial gossip: For rumors about curia officials and who is going to be the next Bishop of St. Bullfrog's, go elsewhere. Whispers in the Loggia does a great job of this. If people want to check out the latest buzz - we'll suggest they go there.

    2) Liturgy and liturgical controversies: Most Catholic blogs are routinely filled with discussions about liturgical disciplines, practices, the "old" Mass vs. the "new" Mass and horror stories about liturgical abuses. We won't be covering the liturgy wars on Intentional Disciples. None of us here has the kind of special knowledge of the liturgy necessary to repond thoughtfully to many of the issues raised. It has been done to death and there are dozens of other places to go to fill anyone's liturgical maven needs. We trust the Church and Pope Benedict XVI on this one.

    What we do know a lot about, what has been poorly covered elsewhere, and that we want to focus on here is the 99% of lay Catholic life and mission that goes on outside the sanctuary.

    Peering Into Pope Benedict's Mind PDF Print E-mail
    Thursday, 25 January 2007 18:47

    Written by JACK

    Like Keith commented below, I also take quite seriously the reaction that Intentional Disciples has received throughout St. Blog's. As much as I have expressed my surprise at some folks' reactions to what we have spoken of here -- and, apparently, the particular phrase "intentional disciples" -- I must accept that this has been in fact the reaction. As some friends of mine would say, "it is given". And it is better to acknowledge and address what is in front of me than an image of what I might hope would be in front of me. Of course, to acknowledge the reaction is different than to reach a judgement (ooh, there I go with another one of those provocative words!) of what it means (e.g., use different language; although provocative, the reaction is positive; etc.). Frankly, I have only begun to discern that.

    But since our words here have been seen by some as "syncretist", "impoverished", etc., I thought I would take a break from all of that and offer up for consideration the words of another: our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

    If you haven't spent some time digesting the homilies, audiences and writings that Pope Benedict has issued so far during his pontiff, then do yourself a favor and make the leap. (The Vatican has made all of his writings easily accessible here.) One of the things that I have been most struck by is how this man, whose popular reputation as Cardinal Ratzinger was as this "enforcer of dogma", spends so much of his time talking about the experience of the faith.

    What do I mean? Well consider just the following few examples:
    • Deus Caritas Est. Consider that striking definition of Christianity that he offers in the second paragraph: "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction."
    • Mass for the Inauguration of the Pontificate. Consider his comments on the beauty of encountering Christ and how He takes nothing away of what makes life great: "There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him .... Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life."
    • Easter Vigil Homily. Look at his striking discussion of the "I" and about being "seized" by Christ in baptism.
    • Address to the Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome. Consider: "In fact, discovering the beauty and joy of faith is a path that every new generation must take on its own, for all that we have that is most our own and most intimate is staked on faith: our heart, our mind, our freedom, in a deeply personal relationship with the Lord at work within us. ... Dear brothers and sisters, this certitude and this joy of being loved by God must be conveyed in some palpable and practical way to each one of us, and especially to the young generations who are entering the world of faith. In other words: Jesus said he was the "Way" that leads to the Father, as well as the "Truth" and the "Life" (cf. Jn 14: 5-7). Thus, the question is: how can our children and young people, practically and existentially, find in him this path of salvation and joy? This is precisely the great mission for which the Church exists - as the family of God and the company of friends into which we are already integrated with Baptism as tiny children -, in which our faith and joy and the certainty of being loved by the Lord must grow. It is therefore indispensable - and this is the task entrusted to Christian families, priests, catechists and educators, to young people themselves among their peers and to our parishes, associations and movements, and lastly to the entire diocesan community - that the new generations experience the Church as a company of friends who are truly dependable and close in all life's moments and circumstances, whether joyful and gratifying or arduous and obscure; as a company that will never fail us, not even in death, for it carries within it the promise of eternity."

    But don't take my word for it. Dive in and get dirty. Read him with an eye not just to the dogmas he might speak of, but for what he says about the human condition, how man encounters the faith, the sacraments, the Church, and the life that is generated. I do not know why Pope Benedict's words speak to me in this way so powerfully, but it makes me so grateful to have him as our pontiff.
    John Allen and Archbishop Collins of Toronto on the Respected Other" and the Movements PDF Print E-mail
    Written by Sherry   
    Thursday, 25 January 2007 16:48
    Allen makes some intriguing points of his own and then so does the Archbishop.


    "One crucial element in shaping personality is what we might call the “respected other.” By that, I mean the kind of person with whom someone is in deep, sustained conversation, with whom they share a base of values, but with whom they also have important differences. Negotiating this relationship with the “respected other,” balancing one’s identification with it against the continual need to distinguish oneself from it, usually occupies a significant share of someone’s intellectual and emotional energy.

    For the quintessential post-Vatican II bishop, this “respected other” was usually secular liberalism. . . .

    For the typical John Paul II bishop, on the other hand, and now the typical Benedict XVI bishop, the “respected other” is instead more often Evangelical Christianity as well as secular cultural conservatism. Such bishops would feel more affinity with an Evangelical Bible study group than, say, the typical religious studies faculty at a state university. Policy wonks among them are more likely to have read the latest titles from Francis Fukuyama or Dinesh D’Souza than this week’s New Republic. They move in the same thought world, and share many of the same instincts – primarily the sense of a basic cultural clash with secularity, and the consequent imperative to defend a strong sense of identity. Yet many are also conscious of potential exaggerations in their “respected other,” such as ghettoization, judgmentalism, and over-concentration on a narrow canon of cultural issues."

    Archbishop Collins:

    On the Movements in the Church

    “I’ve sought to try to understand their particular charism, to have all of them speaking to the bishop and, if possible, to have them speaking to one another. They’re a great richness in the church, but we can’t become globulized into this kind of Catholic or that kind of Catholic. The key is that they center in on the parish and the diocese, and that they provide their special gift or their charism for the service of the whole church, and that they not become disconnected from the whole church.
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