Nashville, Tenn., Feb 26, 2009 / 09:27 pm (CNA).- Ash Wednesday services at Belmont University have become an annual tradition, with Bishop of Nashville David Choby joining Todd Lake, the school’s vice president of spiritual development, for the Wednesday service at the former Baptist school.
Bishop Choby said in his sermon that people need physical reminders of spiritual truths, making the customs of Ash Wednesday so powerful, The Tennessean reports. He also told the mostly Protestant audience of hundreds about the custom of making the sign of the cross on his forehead, lips and heart before reading from the Bible.
"I do that as a sign the love of Christ will be in my mind, that the love of Christ will be on my lips, and that the love of Christ will transform my heart," he said.
Attendance at the services may reflect a trend towards liturgical interests among younger evangelicals.
Todd Johnson, professor of worship at the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California told The Tennessean that such interest is common.
"We have a whole generation of people who are familiar with using symbols," he told The Tennessean. "Kids have grown up using icons on their computers. Symbols mean more to them than words."
A professor at my evangelical alma mater and a Catholic bishop.
The Denver-based Rocky Mountain News is publishing its last edition today, just 55 days short of its 150th birthday. A victim of the change in technology and the economy. In a week when it is reported that the San Francisco Chronicle may go under as well and San Francisco left without any newspaper at all.
It is telling that I learned about it from an e-mail news alert sent out by my own local newspaper, the Gazette.
As part of their final edition, the Rocky has included online microfilms of front pages from that history: the day South Carolina seceded from the Union, reports from the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln's Assassination, Custer's last stand at LIttle Big Horn, the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the sinking of the Titanic, etc.
But I see that word is spreading around the internet that the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, "long a highly regarded chronicler of growth and financial trends of religious institutions, records a slight but startling decline in membership of the nation's largest Christian communions. Membership in the Roman Catholic Church declined 0.59 percent and the Southern Baptist Convention declined 0.24 percent, according to the 2009 edition of the Yearbook, edited by the National Council of Churches and published by Abingdon. The figures indicate that the Catholic church lost 398,000 members since the appearance of the 2008 Yearbook."
The Pew study last year underlined that it was large scale Catholic immigration that kept the Catholic population growing in this country. It would be interesting to know if one factor may be the significant drop in illegal immigrants entering the country since 2005 since the majority come from overwhelming Catholic countries.
According to the Pew Center (as reported by CNN) from 2000 to early 2005, the unauthorized immigrant population grew by an annual net average of about 525,000. The growth pattern started changing substantially in 2005. From 2005 to 2008, annual growth has averaged 275,000 undocumented immigrants."
Another factor might be the change of generations as the pre-Vatican II generation (who were much more religiously committed) die off and the millennials (the majority of whom are unchurched) rise up.
And how is this related to the fact that in 2006, the number of adults entering or being baptized into the Church dropped significantly for the first time in years to 136,778? (To compare: in 2005 154,501 adults entered the Church. A drop of 17,723 or 11.5% An aberration or something more?)
What is really startling is to see the difference in adult baptisms between 2005 and 2006. 80,817 were baptized in 2005 but only 49,415 in 2006 - a 31,402 drop or 39% drop in catechumens. (I can't find the 2007 figures. Can anyone else provide them or have they not been released?)
Fewer adults entering or being baptized. (And therefore, fewer children being raised Catholic) Fewer Catholic immigrants. Fewer cradle Catholics as the generations turn. The long term consequences of the fact that 1 in 10 Americans are former Catholics.
It begins to add up.
If we don't evangelize our own . . .
On a bright note, several of the dioceses we are working with are going to partner with the Catholics Come Home initiative: Corpus Christi this Lent. Omaha this coming fall.
But notice: we are having to make a real effort to go out to those who have left and articulate the basics of the faith, answer their questions, and address their concerns. Not just expect them to show up.
Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But, who says almsgiving should have a season? A couple I know on the cusp of 40 have five children ranging in age from 12 to 2. Every year for each of their birthdays the kids participate in some kind of fundraiser to support a charity, like breast cancer research. Their dad's a surgeon, and their mom is a nurse, so they're pretty smart kids and have lots of access to health issues. And they are teaching their children that need knows no season.
For over a year, they have been raising money to support AngelNotion, a charity in Mexico dedicated to providing needed medical services for the economically underprivileged, especially children with cardiac problems. The kids began raising money to pay for transportation for children from Mexico to a hospital in Texas that has agreed to provide free heart surgeries for poor children from Mexico. The only stipulation is the cost of transportation to Texas has to be provided for the child/patient and a parent/guardian.
The kids decided to sell dishtowels emblazoned with a logo created by Emily, the creative second child. While I haven't purchased a towel, I did make a contribution last time I saw the family. I just received this update from their mother in an e-mail.
We are back from our trip to Mexico to deliver the money that the kids raised selling dishtowels to help some kids needing life saving heart surgery. In 6 months, the kids sold 2,400 dishtowels and raised $17,000.00!!! The mayor of Playa del Carmen was at the presentation and said "if those kids can raise that much money for our local kids, I'll throw in $25,000.00 of my own money". As a result, we were able to save the lives of 13 kids!!!!!!!!! ...Thanks to all of you who bought towels and gave donations for their cause. After visiting the clinic and meeting these kids and their families, we've decided that our work has only just begun!! We are in the process of becoming our own non-profit 501(c)3 and setting up our own webpage. A short 5 min. documentary has already been made and is being used in churches,etc. and a 20-30 min. documentary is in the process of being made. We'll let you know when it will be available to be viewed by all of you. Thank you again and again to all of you who contributed to our cause! The kids are still busy selling towels for the next kids on the list who need help.
It is from little projects like these that vocations are born. One small step leads to a bigger step, which leads to more steps that become a way of life - a calling.
Please watch this 2.5 minute interview with a remarkably poised Sarah, the oldest of the kids.
Breakthrough or insignificant? That's the issue raised for Catholics by this bit of missions news comes via S. D. Ponraj, General Secretary of Bihar Out-reach Network (BORN)
Bihar, India was the birthplace of both Buddhism and Janism (although few adherents remain in Bihar today, which is majority Hindu with a significant Muslim minority). It has the nickname of the "graveyard of missionaries" because generations of Christian missionaries bore witness and died in Bihar with little visible impact.
But that has begun to change just in the past 10 years. During the past decade, 50,000 Biharis have been baptized. Today, on average, 400 new Christians are baptized every month. 70% of Biharis are illiterate (back to the Orality issue mentioned in my post on audio Bibles below) so 2500 local evangelists have been trained in communicating with non-literate people.
Is this significant - 50,000 new Christians - in an ancient land of 76 million that has already birthed two major world religions? Although Christians "officially" only make up about 1% of Biharis - the unofficial total is higher: 1.5 - 2%: 1 million to 1.5 million Christians.
(In India, all citizens register their religion with the government and there are many profound social and economic implications when one changes one's religious affiliation which go beyond the distress or opposition of one's family and friends. There are many millions of practicing but non registered Christians in India and as many of 15 million non-baptized "followers of Jesus Christ" from Hindu and Muslim backgrounds.)
As I wrote in my series on Independent Christianity (see blog side bar for the link if you haven't read it already)
"It is sometimes said that Catholics have a “big battalion” mentality. Is being a small but growing minority evidence of a failed mission? This would seem to imply that “success” involves the rapid conversion of the majority and the establishment of some kind of “Christendom”. In contrast, Independent Christians expect to be a minority and have no use for Christendom. They accept “outsider” status as the normal situation in which Christians live in this world and in which evangelization and mission occurs. For them, minority status is not evidence of mission failure. What matters is, “Are people becoming intentional disciples of Jesus Christ?”
The conversion of 1% of the population of a hitherto completely non-Christian people would be regarded by Independents as a giant breakthrough. But viewed through the lens of the “Christendom norm,” it could be used to “prove” the futility of missionary activity.
My sister Becky's biopsy came back positive yesterday. She has flown back home for the moment but may well be returning to the hospital in less than a month. She is experiencing tremendous ups and downs but is a very serious Christian and strong in her faith. Beck's cancer is slow-progressing (and very exceptional is being so) but it is serious and we would especially appreciate your prayers for her and her husband, Rod.
Eryn, one of our long time champions in the Seattle area (and who co-write the Discerning Charisms Workbook with me), is dealing with overlapping stresses. Her husband, Mike, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer just before Christmas and is beginning his serious treatment today. (Mike's prognosis is good.) Meanwhile her mother is recovering from early stage breast cancer surgery and Mike's mother has just been diagnosed with cancer. Please pray for Eryn's peace and strength, her two girls, and all her family.
While working out on the treadmill at the gym, I like to watch cable news. I like to position myself between two TV's: one carrying CNN and one showing Fox and eyeball the different spins and flip the sound back and forth.
It is fascinating to see how the same raw material gets delivered so differently. This morning, CNN was all Obama and his speech last night all the time (it is day 37 of his Presidency they solemnly tell you). Fox, predictably was focusing on other news - which was genuinely valuable and interesting - but they weren't going to give Obama more air time than necessary.
But it was the Catholic angle that struck me this morning.
CNN's moving headlines made sure that I knew that "holocaust-denying bishop returns to UK". Check.
Then Fox went out of it sway to display its sympathy for religious practice. I almost fell off the treadmill when I saw a male reporter in sober black and with a very large and obvious ash mark on his forehead begin his story. The Fox anchor explained in advance that the reporter was Catholic and had just returned from an Ash Wednesday service.
Initially, it was both stunning and cheering - like witnessing a public display of religion in Seattle or something. Talking about coming out.
I tuned into what the reporter was covering: the fact that the new Secretary of Homeland Security hadn't used the words "terrorism" and "9/11" in her first hearing before the House of Representatives. The anchor and reporter asked "Was the Obama administration back-tracking on the whole "war on terror"?
Then the reporter bearing the ashes did something that took my breathe away. He listed the evidence, including the fact that new administration was pulling back on the practice of torture and other "necessities" in a time of war.
Penance and intrinsic evil. How timely on Ash Wednesday.
I also watched MSNBC briefly. The never-ending story of the single mother of octuplets was featured. And I heard the voice-over asking in urgent tones "What do we do with these people who insist on having huge families? Even if they are married, it doesn't make having 12 children ok."
The public square isn't empty of religion. But it does take such challenging and bizarre forms.
On this beautiful Mardi Gras Day (brilliant sun and 60's here), comes word of a most encouraging ecumenical Lenten initiative in Houston.
Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Houston is encouraging parishes to participate in You've Got the Time, a city wide, inter-denominational campaign to listen to audio recordings of the New Testament during Lent.
The program is simple . . .Faith Comes By Hearing provides free Audio Bibles for every man, woman and child in their church or parish. Church leaders then challenge their congregations to listen through the entire New Testament – 28 minutes a day over a period of 40 days. After listening, churches receive offerings to support recording the New Testament in the heart languages of poor and illiterate people around the world.
So far more than 50 parishes have signed up to listen to the whole New Testament in the New American version.
You've Got the Time is a project of Faith Comes by Hearing, a evangelical group thatis committed to offering the Bible in a format that will connect with the world's 50% illiterate population. Looking for an audio New Testament in Tiv or Kinyakyusa?(And I knew you were!) This is the place.
What is called "Orality" is a big issue in missions circles these days as the heirs of the Word-driven Reformation wrestle with the reality that 18% (over 1 billion) of the world's population cannot read and write.
But it is estimated that 65% of the American public have never read the new Testament. 60% don't know Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. So what better time than Lent to remedy that situation?
Choose from 368 recordings in 300 languages. Want to brush up on your French or Arabic? Listen to the New Testament in that language! The New American Bible is available in English as is the New Revised Standard.
Warning: Mini-rant ahead. (I incorporated some of my comments below and did some editing to more exactly communicate what I intended to say.)
That's how the New York Times described the new Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan. Warm. Joyful. Dare I say it? Extroverted. Take at look at the lead photograph. When was the last time you saw a bishop in mid-belly laugh? In front of the media of the world? (Actually I saw Cardinal George do something very like that after he knew but just before it was announced that he had cancer. But it was in private. )
The fascinating thing is that all over St. Blog's - across the spectrum, on the right and the left, people seemed shaken into something like hopefullness by the match of this man and this position.
I know I am.
I've never met Archbishop Dolan but I've met enough of a very different kind of bishop. And watched their excruciatingly painful interactions with their clergy and staff over the years. I'm not saying that these struggling bishops make up the majority by any means, but neither are they unique or extraordinarily rare tragic figures.
Some had destroyed their relationship with their priests within weeks of taking up residence by doing things so interpersonally stupid that it beggars the imagination. Doing stuff that would almost certainly sever the relationship with one of us if he were merely an ordinary man. Stuff that destroys trust. Stuff that is completely pointless and unnecessary. Like humiliating pastors in front of their congregations, for instance. A textbook way to set the right tone for the future.
The irony is that some of these men are the bishops that Catholics around St. Blog's tend to lionize for drawing lines in the sand. If they had witnessed what I have witnessed, they would realize that some of their heros are impotent shells because they have thrown away the trust and affection of their people. Even that of the most theologically orthodox, the ones most willing to cut the Bishop slack out of respect for his office.
It is most painful to watch when you sense that the Bishop is a decent man and a true disciple but also an emotionally under-developed man who literally doesn't know how to relate to others. A basically good man who should never, ever, have been put in such a relentlessly public position, no matter what his theological or administrative qualifications.
Grace does build upon nature. Even the grace of office. Spiritual fatherhood is a real relationship. Not a concept. Not a diagram. Not a strategic position in a cold culture war.
I don't think Archbishop Dolan is unique. But he is hardly a dime-a-dozen and I do think his interpersonal style makes a wonderfully refreshing norm. And I can think of several dioceses off hand whose leaders and people would get down on their knees and thank God if they thought that a few Dolan clones were in the pipeline.
I know that in a communion of 1.2 billion people, we have men who have both the theological and relational moxie to be good bishops.
That is why I am so thrilled by the wonderful work done the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha (and have blogged about it here). IPF focuses entirely as aspects of seminarian formation that is sometimes get less attention: a lived love relationship with God, human formation, the integration of spiritual and emotional health, and understanding the priesthood as a true, highly relational fatherhood. I’m delighted that 1/3 of the seminarians in the US are participating in IPF programs.
And because it is my hope that in the next generation of bishops, what I described above *will* be extraordinarily rare.
Thank God for Archbishop Dolan. May he be the first of many more warm, holy, and appropriately gifted bishops in our midst. St. Frances de Sales, pray for Archbishop Dolan. And for us.
The New York Times (to my surprise) did a very nice article and video this morning on a local running hero: Matt Carpenter. Be sure and watch the video.
Practically the first thing I heard about Matt was that he always won the Pikes Peak Marathon: 13 miles up, 13 miles down.
Local runners regard him as a freak of nature, which science has shown him to be:
"In part, Carpenter has owed his prowess to his physiology. His resting heart rate has been measured at 33 beats a minute, lower than those of Michael Phelps and many astronauts. In a test at the United States Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Carpenter’s VO2 max, a gauge of the body’s ability to process oxygen, registered at 90.2, perhaps a record high for a runner. (Only Bjorn Daehlie, a Norwegian cross-country skier, has scored higher. Lance Armstrong recorded an 81.)"
We know members of Matt's infamous Incline Club (the name is taken from a nearly vertical slash above Manitou Springs where a cog rail line used to run). Including a woman who placed second in the Pike's Peak Marathon and goes to my parish. The club motto: Go out hard; when it hurts, speed up.” Nothing like running up Pike's Peak in January to get the ol' blood flowing.
For most bloggers, especially Catholic bloggers, from the low-lands, this sort of stuff usually sounds like pure masochistic voo-doo. If not bordering on mortal sin. If we were athletes, we'd wouldn't be spending our time in front of a computer screen. Or buried in books or in movies. When was the last time you read something about ultra-marathons around St. Blogs? Food? Yes. Drink? Yep. All too often cigars. But hardly ever physical activity - unless it is someone else's activity - like watching professional football.
I'm still no athlete, but after 7 years in Colorado, I now serenely regard the sort of high level amateur sport that I once regarded as impossible or absurd as normal. Men and women in their 70's routinely ski, run marathons, climb mountains, snow-shoe around here. You watch that and find yourself thinking: "Maybe I, fourth generation couch potato that I am, could do that too."
Time to get going. Need to clean off my snow-shoes before I head to the gym . . .
In Tucson, the temperatures will top 90 degrees before the week's out. I'm preparing to preach and give a parish mission in Ham Lake, Minnesota, so I'm enjoying the sunshine and shorts weather. But it's also time to prepare for Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.
The ashes traced on our forehead in the sign of the cross are a double reminder: first of all, of the cross traced on our forehead just before we were baptized. It is the sign that we have been claimed for Christ, the seal of the servants of God (Rev. 7:3). It reminds us that our life is not our own; that we have been purchased and at a price (1Cor 6:20). The ashes are also a jarring reminder of our mortality and the swift passing of our days: an annual "memento mori."
I came across another memento mori: an ethical will written by my friend Pat Armstrong a couple of years before her death. The idea behind an ethical will is to pass on to children and friends more than resources you've accumulated during your life. An ethical will is an attempt to share with loved ones what you've learned in your journey through life. Perhaps as we prepare for Lent, we might ask ourselves the following or similar questions. They may help us consider what we might do (or stop doing) this Lent in order to draw closer to Jesus.
a. What have you learned so far in life that you consider to be really important?
b. What regrets do you have?
c. If you were to die today, what would you miss most from this life?
d. Who are the most important people in your life?
e. With whom do you spend the most time? (and are the answers to questions "d" and "e" the same?)
f. What have you spent a lot of time doing that you with you hadn't done?
g. What is your relationship with God like right now?
h. Did Jesus make either list "d" or "e"?
These are questions I'll be thinking about for the next two days. I hope they help you as you consider your spiritual exercises for Lent.
I know that we've been absent alot lately from the blog. Fr. Mike is doing the pre, mid, and post-Lenten mission tour and I'm slogging through the grindingly slow business of trying to write a book while while still dealing with tons of smaller scale but urgent stuff. Small stuff. Like you decide to save time by finding a neat little winsome Catholic summary of the kerygma to mail out to a diocesan group to prep for an upcoming training and spend the better part of three weeks and uncounted hours looking for it, talking to people about it, reading other people's unpublished summaries, having people offer their stuff only to discover that it is really isn't finished and/or really isn't available. And all the time, the clock is ticking and the final product has to be in their hands for the first week of Lent. It is enough to drive you back to the Four Spiritual Laws. Which is why I spent almost all of last weekend working my way through and summarizing Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa's wonderful Life in Christ: A Spiritual Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. There are much less fruitful things a woman can do the weekend before Ash Wednesday than meditate on God's love, sin, the true nature of faith, and Christ's passion and resurrection. And I have gathered some wonderful quotes. (FWIF, Cantalamessa wrote originally in Italian and uses the older inclusive masculine to denote all human beings which we haven't heard much in standard American English for about 20 years. I know this is a neuralgic point for some but I also know that in charity I need to acknowledge it because it will put the people - especially women - at ease who are put off their stride by the absence of the sort of pronoun usage that they have become used to. In the quotes, the obviously universal "he" and "him" does include all of us including estrogen-based life forms. Like me. My point in this post is not the same old culture wars debate so don't bother commenting on the language. ) Listen to what Cantalamessa is saying about Christ . . .
"the most important thing is not that man should love God but that God loves man and that he loved him first. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us.” (I John 4:10)
" . . .In loving, God does not even seek his glory or rather, he does seek his glory but this glory is nothing other than that of loving man gratuitously. St. Irenaeus said that “God’s glory is man full alive”. “God didn’t procure Abraham’s friendship because he needed it but because, being good, he wanted to grant Abraham eternal life . . .because God’s friendship procures incorruptibility and eternal life. . " “Only divine revelation really knows what sin is and neither human ethics nor philosophy can tell us anything about it. No man can say by himself what sin is, for the simple reason that he himself is in sin. . . .“To have a weak understanding of sin is part of our being sinners." A Father of the 4th century wrote these extraordinarily up-to-date “existential” words: “For every man the beginning of life is the moment when Christ was immolated for him. But Christ is immolated for him at the moment he acknowledges grace and become conscious of the life obtained for him by means of that immolation." (St. Cyril of Jerusalem) Therefore, the death of Christ becomes real and true for us the moment we become conscious of it, confirm it, and rejoice and give thanks for it.
The great medieval Dominican church of Toulouse, where the order was founded and St. Thomas Aquinas' relics rest, is now a government run museum. Every year on St. Thomas's feast day (January 28) , the Dominicans are permitted to celebrate a solemn Mass on the altar over his relicts.