For my nephew, Ryan. He has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome as a consequence of his time in Iraq. He was assaulted with a rock by a youth who tricked him into thinking he was friendly and suffered a broken nose. He escorted the teen-ager back to his parents. He also driving an armored vehicle that was destroyed by a remote-controlled bomb. Once stateside, he was in a single-car crash a few weeks ago and has some memory loss, a torn rotator cuff, some compressed discs in his back to go along with several pre-existing stress-fractures in his foot (a result of jumping repeatedly from the armored vehicle he was driving.
He's in a hospital in Colorado Springs, and I hope to visit him when I return for a couple of days next week.
Keep my parents in your prayers, too. They need to move to assisted living, which is a huge transition for them - especially my mother, as it means she will have to say good-bye to her beloved cat, Abby.
I'll take a prayer or two, also, for the parish mission I'll be giving in Oak Grove, MN this week.
This is how the Australian put it this morning: "Mary's a Saint!"
Mary MacKillop will be canonized October 17. Wonderful.
I was just re-reading her biography a week ago. Being ex-communicated early on by her ordinary was just the beginning of her troubles! Amazing what a mentally ill co-founder, sisters with bizarre spiritual manifestations, severe poverty and begging to sustain her community's many schools and Providences for the poor, the open hostility of several bishops, the rumor mill, a series of mysterious illnesses, and constant travel can do to a girl.
Thank God she didn't live in the age of the internet. In her day, the rumors could only fly as fast as the 19th century Australian postal system.
I kept wanting to hear more about the fruit of the her schools and other works for the poor for those they served but I've noticed that biographies of saints seldom address the fruit of their work. Biographies written to support a canonization process naturally focus on Mary's life, not her mission. And Mary's letters are naturally, largely concerned with administration and the need to responding to the sea of troubles that she and her sisters faced. But since Mary became a saint in the course of founding a religious congregation to answer a particular call, it would seem most appropriate to ask what God seems to have done through that call as well as within Mary herself.
(I know that the recognizable "impact" of a saint's ministry is not a part of the criteria for canonization but it is, nevertheless, part of the saint's story. Because part of the story is what God was doing in and through them for others. There is a vast storehouse of apostolic wisdom hidden in what saints did in response to the needs of their time and that we could learn from today. But the biographers of saints spent little or no time on such things.)
Like Mary Ward, Mary MacKillop's unfailing faith, graciousness, and serenity under a cascade of troubles was one of the primary signs of her sanctity. Both Mary's and the women who joined their communities suffered greatly from the public hostility of bishops, doubts about their fidelity, the rumor mill, and a struggle with constant poverty. And yet, they remained heroically constant and forgiving.
MacKillop was very compassionate toward others who suffered or struggled. She understood with all her being what it was like.
'With conversion, instead, we aim for the high standard of Christian life, we entrust ourselves to the living and personal Gospel, which is Jesus. He is the path we all are called to follow in life, allowing ourselves to be enlightened by His light and supported by His strength that moves our feet. Conversion is not simply a moral decision that corrects the way we live, but it is a choice of faith that draws us fully into intimate communion with the living and concrete person of Jesus.
"His person is the final goal, He is the deepest meaning of conversion.'
Pope Benedict, General Audience, Ash Wednesday, 2010
What better day than Ash Wednesday to listen to Fr. Robert Barron on the revelations last week that Pope John Paul II used a "discipline".
(My first reaction was "so?" So did St. Dominic and St. Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola, etc.
Yes, there has been a debate among orthodox Catholics about the relative place of physical penances for the past 400 years. St. Francis de Sales urged inner detachment and obedience rather than physical penances which he felt often didn't go to the heart of the matter. We have to understand St. Francis in context because the first generation of the 17th century French revival focused an enormous amount of energy on fasting and a wide variety of physical austerities, some of which were quite extreme. But the idea that people would regard this revelation about the late Pope's life as a manifestation of some kind of sickness never occurred to me.)
Barron addresses the issue in his usual clear and helpful way, drawing upon Charles Williams, Thomas Merton, and the so common and honored experience of working out in the gym, enduring pain and discomfort for better health and our dream of . . . a great body, a new personal best in that next 10k, or just a way to work off stress.
One of our local mountain running guru's has a slogan for his running club. "When it hurts, speed up!" While even other runners regard Matt Carpenter's saying as a bit out there, I've never heard anyone accuse him of masochism or mental illness.
But compared to what Carpenter's Incline Club members go through during the winter around here - slogging up thousands of feet, in near zero temps, through snow and ice, day after day around Pike's Peak as part of their training - what is reported about the Pope seems pretty mild.
So if you or someone you know was take aback by the story about Pope John Paul, have them watch this little video.
And then be prepared to have a really interesting conversation.
Here's a lovely true story for an Ash Wednesday and one related to my recent posts on the global growth of Catholics. But this story brings all those statistics alive.
"This month marks a huge anniversary in the life of the Garo people of India and Bangladesh. 100 years ago, this month, 5 Garo elders "traveled to Dhaka to ask Holy Cross Bishop Francis Frederick Linneborn to evangelize their people."
The bishop sent two Holy Cross priests and one brother the following year to Thaushalpara village near Ranikhong to prepare a base for evangelization in the region. In 1911, Father Francis A. Gomes, who was the first Bishop of Mymensingh, became its resident pastor, building the first church out of bamboo and bushes.
By 1913 the number of Garo Catholics rose to 400.
Last week, about 15,000 Christians, including those from other faiths, attended the celebrations at the “Mother Church” for all parishes in Mymensingh diocese. Also present were apostolic nuncio to Bangladesh Archbishop Joseph Marino and 14 bishops (including three from India), 55 priests and about 100 nuns. Today, the diocese has 80,000 mostly tribal Garo Catholics.
Holy Cross Bishop Ponen Paul Kubi of Mymensingh described the “Garo forefathers” as the “Magi of the Bible”.
“Like the gentile wise men they embraced suffering to get the light of a true religion through an unknown and impassable road. Today we bear witness that their toil has not gone in vain but has bore fruit” he said.
I love these stories. The earliest Catholic community in Korea was founded by lay man who had encountered the faith and been baptized in China. When after baptizing several thousand people, these new Korean Catholics realized that an ordained priest was necessary, they made the long trip to China to ask for one. The Catholic community in Korea survived for 50 years before they received their first resident priest.
By the way, the Catholic Church in Korea has grown 70% in the past 10 years and enjoys the 4th largest number of saints in the whole Church. Pretty good for a community founded by (gasp!) lay converts.
Closer to home: In 1831, some Rocky Mountain Indians, influenced by Iroquois descendants of converts of one hundred and fifty years before, had made a trip to St. Louis begging for a "black-robe". Four Indian delegations in succession were dispatched from the Rocky Mountains to St. Louis to beg for "black-robes" and the last one, in 1839, composed of some Iroquois who dwelt among the Flatheads and Nez Percês, was successful.
Iroquois laity had passed on the faith, without a priest, for 150 years and made 4 four thousand mile round trips journeys over a period of 8 years, to obtain a priest.
How different would our conversations be, how much closer to the truth of the matter, how much more joy we would bring to the heart of Christ - if every time we met or heard of a spiritual seeker or convert, we thought:
MAGI! Wise men and women coming from a far country, searching for God.
It doesn't matter where you start or how far you have to travel. You have to be a determined seeker after wisdom and must be willing to embrace suffering for the sake of truth to search out and find the faith via an unknown - and to you - a seemingly impassable road. Magi indeed.
If you have a free six minutes today, watch and listen to this simply gorgeous Byzantine Hymn of the Nativity - in Arabic. The Magi are everywhere!This Lent, you and I can be Magi too!
I love this atypical footnote to the story of the Garo of India:
"Niren Chisim, head of Birishiri Garo Baptist Convention told UCA News that Australian Baptist missioners started evangelizing among Garo tribals 20 years before the Catholics “but Garo people are mostly Catholic”. He added, “I think it was possible because Catholic evangelization was more organized and systemic than that ours.”
Evangelization really isn't a Protestant word. Really. And where Catholics know it, even Baptists take note.
The Catholic Church, the nation's largest at more than 68 million members, reported a slight membership loss in 2009 (for the year 2007) but rebounded . . . with a robust growth of 1.49 percent in 2008.
Other groups that posted significant gains were the Mormon Church (Latter Day Saints) which grew 1.71 percent to 5,873,408 members and the Assemblies of God grew 1.27 percent to 2,863,265 members.
The big losers: mainline Protestants continue their slide
Presbyterian Church (USA), down 3.28 percent to 2,941,412; American Baptist Churches in the USA, down 2 percent to 1,358,351; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, down 1.92 percent to 4,709,956 members.
The 10 largest churches were
1. The Catholic Church, 68,115,001 members, up 1.49 percent.
2. Southern Baptist Convention,16,228,438 members, down 0.24percent.
3. The United Methodist Church, 7,853,987 members, down 0.98 percent.
4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,974,041 members, up 1.71 percent.
5. The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no membership updates reported.
6. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc, 5,000,000 members, no membership updates reported.
7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,633,887 members, down1.62 percent.
8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., 3,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.
9. Assemblies of God (ranked 10 last year), 2,899,702 members, up 1.27 percent.
10. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 1(ranked 9 last year), 2,844,952 members, down 3.28 percent.
(Note that the LDS Church is #4 and growing.)
FYI: The Episcopalian Church is #15 and the Greek Orthodox Church is #17 with 1,500,000 members on the books (although I've been told by insiders that actual attendance at Divine Liturgy is a small fraction of the official number)
Not surprisingly, congregational giving was down:
"The financial reporting in the 2010 Yearbook is based on the financial income reports of the 64 churches reporting. The almost 45 million members of these churches contributed almost $36 billion, showing a decrease in the total income to the churches of $26 million."
The Spiritual Exercises Blog is a collaborative effort of 4 Jesuits from around the US.
As they put it:
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola is a great treasure for the Church and its riches have been drawn upon for five centuries now. Through the course of St. Ignatius’ conversion, he kept notes about how it was that the Lord was leading him closer to Himself. Over the years, he steadily gave shape to these note and created a kind of program of prayer for others to follow which would open themselves up to the grace of conversion and greater ability to discern the will of God for their lives as well as the interior freedom required to then respond to that Divine Will in great generosity.
And they ask good questions:
What is currently blocking me from greater love for God? What blocks me from receiving God’s love for me? What do I most deeply desire in my life at this point? What does the Lord desire to give me at this time?
The definition of Grace in today's mediataion? "A deep desire to know the will of God for my life and the freedom to be able to do it"
I just finished an online advertisement for our upcoming Making Disciples Seminar in Boise, ID, May 17-20. It's also available on our website. I'm open to comments and suggestions, and hope to use this technology in the future for other events, as well as for teaching.
PS. On a Mac, if you hit the "command" key and the plus key simultaneously, the video will enlarge and you will be able to read it more easily.
Please let folks who are interested in evangelization know about our workshop!
Bet you hadn't thought of our era as a boom time for priestly vocations. . .
Neither did I till I came across these exciting figures yesterday. (Via Providence College, CARA, Fides, and the Vatican's 2007 statistical report.)
Seminarian and priest numbers are booming in the global south. Which is very good news since Latin Americans, Africans, and Asians now make up 60% of the Catholics in the world.
Seminarian numbers have mushroomed in every single South and Central American and Caribbean county since 1972. The average growth is 371% between 1972 and 2008. But five countries have seen growth rates in that 36 year period that stagger the imagination.
Overall, Latin seminarians have grown from 5,334 to 25,108 since 1972.
(If the US had enjoyed a comparable rate of growth, the 5,279 seminarians we had in 1975 would have grown to nearly 25,000 today and there would be no talk about a "vocations crisis".)
Which explains why the Vatican figures show that the numbers of priestly vocations for "America" (The Vatican regards North, Central, and South America as a single unit) are essentially "stable" even though we know that the numbers have dropped significantly in the US and Canada.
The growth in Latin and Central America has offset the decline in the North.
PS: Another stunning note for those of us immersed in the North American scene: In South & Central America, even the numbers of women religious have grown a bit since 1972 (just over 3%)! Women religious in Africa and Asia have also grown steadily year after year. The "collapse" in women religious is apparently a western phenomenon.
Here's more encouraging news:
Priestly vocations have risen 27.6% in Africa between 2000 and 2007. 2000: 27,165 priests 2007: 34,663 priests
And the number of priests has grown 21.2% in Asia between 2000 and 2007 2000: 43,566 2007: 52,802
It is this really significant growth in the global south that is outpacing the losses in Europe (a decline of 6.8% in the same 7 year period or 14,189) and the decline in North America. It is because of the uptick in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia, that the global total of Catholic priests has risen from 405,178 in 2000 to 408,024 in 2007.
When you look at the fine print, it is a boom of diocesan priests. Globally, diocesan ordinations have grown 44% between 1970 and 2007 while graduate level seminarians have grown 35.6% since 1985 (I couldn't find figures for 1970 or 1975).
The biggest leap for both diocesan ordinations and graduate seminarians occurred between 1985 and 1995.
It is religious priests whose numbers have declined 9.7% since 1985 (their high point) which has significantly reduced the overall global gain.
Which raises some questions, I think:
If growth is in the global south and decline in the global north, does this mean that diocesan priesthood is more attractive to candidates from the global south? Is religious priesthood less available there? Less visible? Less supported? Local bishops pushing for and financing diocesan priests (naturally) while religious communities have fewer resources to do so? Or ??????
By the way, Catholic schools are enjoying their share of the boom as well.
Between 1970 and 2007, the number of Catholic elementary schools has grown slightly (3%) but the number of students in those schools has grown 46%. Meanwhile, the number of Catholic secondary schools has grown 61.3% and students in those schools have grown 119% in 37 years.
The bottom line globally: diocesan priests, seminarians, lay Catholics, the number of parishes, students in Catholic elementary schools, secondary schools and students in Catholic secondary schools have all grown significantly and sometimes spectacularly since 1970.
Gains in the global south are exceeding the losses in Europe and North America.
"In fact, the church is in the midst of the greatest period of growth in its 2,000-year history. The world's Catholic population grew from 266 million in 1900 to 1.1 billion in 2000, an increase of 314 percent. By comparison, the world population last century grew by 263 percent. The church didn't just hitch a ride on the baby boom; it successfully attracted new converts.
Yes, Catholicism is getting smaller in Europe, and it would be losing ground in the United States, too, were it not for immigration, especially among Hispanics. A recent Pew Forum study found that fully 10 percent of Americans are ex-Catholics. These declines, however, have been more than offset by growth in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the number of Catholics grew a staggering 6,700 percent in the past century, from 1.9 million to 130 million. The Democratic Republic of the Congo today has the same number of Catholics as Austria and Germany put together. India has more Catholics than Canada and Ireland combined.
What's happening is not that Catholicism is shrinking, but rather, its demographic center of gravity is shifting. What was once a largely homogenous religion, concentrated in Europe and North America, is now a truly universal faith. In 1900, just 25 percent of Catholics lived in the developing world; today that figure is 66 percent and climbing. In a few decades, the new centers of theological thought will no longer be Paris and Milan, but Nairobi and Manila."
The late 20th and early 21st century - the time after the Second Vatican Council - has turned out to be a time of tremendous growth for the faith as well as a time of decline in the west.
We need to remember that as we seek to discern what God is doing in our generation.
Speaking of the Olympics, the Archdiocese of Vancouver is deeply involved in a creative, ecumenical outreach to Olympic visitors from all over the world: More Than Gold.
The archdiocese has contributed a storefront space on the ground floor of its curia offices to the ecumenical “More than Gold” program of radical hospitality.
“We’re in the heart of everything, pretty much,” said Patrick Gillespie of the archdiocese’s office of evangelization. “We can step out of our door and we’re pretty much at the door of BC Place, where the opening ceremonies are going to be.
Incredibly, The Archdiocese of Vancouver, which represents more than 400,000 people, is closing its elementary and secondary schools for two weeks so students will be able to watch TV and volunteer during the Games!
More Than Gold is an ecumenical collaboration of churches in the Vancouver/lower mainland area, the two most prominent of which are the Archdiocese of Vancouver and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and many other evangelical groups in a fruitful, if unlikely partnership.
(I say unlikely because, historically, Vancouver has been the most conservative diocese in Canada. I once spent three days as the only woman and lay person with the Fr. Michael Sweeney, the Archbishop, and 83 of his clergy at Whistler, where the Olympic skiing events are being held. 83 celebrants and one member of the congregation. Let's just say that it was clear that some of the guys hadn't spent much time around women. I occasionally felt like an exotic animal on display in a zoo.)
More than Gold will offer "radical hospitality", free homestays, arts and cultural events, prayer, and social justice initiatives. the Vancouver Sun notes: "Some of those same denominations will be holding demonstrations and workshops to raise the profile of the city's homeless during the multi-billion dollar Olympics, as well as draw attention to sex-trade workers whom they are calling victims of "human trafficking."
If some Christian activists have their way, the most popular T-shirt to emerge out of the Olympic Games, which they argue typically places prostitutes in high demand, will be the one reading, "Buying sex is not a sport."
In fact, Canada’s Catholic bishops have issued a pastoral letter denouncing a dehumanizing crime that, says the United Nations, affects 2.5 million people worldwide.
The Jan. 26 letter, signed by members of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, said major sporting events often see “systems put in place to satisfy the demand for paid sex” and “this is likely to be the case during the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.”
The letter cites a Senate report that calls the Vancouver Games “a potential flashpoint for human trafficking” and found that the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens saw a 95-per-cent increase in human trafficking victims. (via the Catholic Register)
(A family member, who served as a team doctor at one of these international sports galas told me stories about how some of the athletes expected him to help them procure sex as part of his "duties" (he declined). Since he was working with an African team comprised of a single athlete, they asked him, a 6'8" former basketball player, to march in the parade of athletes with the team. I've seen the picture: an Anglo giant holding the national flag and towering over his diminutive "teammate".)
Here's a timely story for this Olympic weekend: An Olympic speed-skater, from a family of Olympians, is now a Sister of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal and working among the poor in England.
"Twelve years ago at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, a 17-year-old speedskating prodigy named Kirstin Holum was tapped for future greatness.
When Holum placed sixth in the 3,000 meters – one of the most grueling disciplines in the women’s program, a lung-scraping four-minute bust of lactic acid torture – speedskating insiders predicted a golden future and speculated she may not even reach her peak for another decade."
Holum was born into speedskating royalty. Her mother Dianne was a world-class speedskater who won Olympic gold in 1972 and reached even greater heights as a coach, mentoring the legendary Eric Heiden to his clean sweep at Lake Placid in 1980.
After completing an art degree, including a thesis on the Olympics at the Art Institute of Chicago, Holum joined the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, a faith with a mission “to work with the poor and homeless and evangelization.”
Based first in New York, Sister Catherine and her fellow nuns stepped on to the mean streets of the Bronx to work with some of the Big Apple’s most underprivileged children in areas steeped in gang culture. Such work and sacrifice in homeless shelters and soup kitchens gave her a deep-rooted sense of satisfaction that skating had never been able to provide.
Last year, missionary work took Sister Catherine to England, where she has found her previous life as an athlete a useful tool in providing some “street cred” when dealing with skeptical youngsters.
“When I give my religious testimonies, it is fun to watch the reaction of the kids when I tell them I was in the Olympics,” she laughed. “Their eyes get really big and they start paying a lot more attention. It is a great thing to share with them and it gives me a lot of pleasure to think back and talk about it.
A reader sent this rare, 3 part video of an extended interview with Dorothy Day in old age. I'm guessing from the hairstyle of the interviewer and the cringe-worthy music that the interview took place during the early 70's. (Day died in 1980.)
Dorothy is utterly herself, clear-headed, matter of fact, simple and literate; moving readily from a discussion of the anarchist and pacifist principles behind the Catholic Worker to quoting St. Paul and the Imitation of Christ and then to describing birth control as "genocide". She utterly transcends the categories of our current debates, thank God. Dorothy was so deeply the product of pre Vatican II Catholicism and completely orthodox in her theology and devotion.
But she took the Scriptures and the commands of Christ literally (the interviewer asks her if she is really a "fundamentalist") and insisted on direct, personal, costly obedience. And that led her to political stands that we think of as belonging to far left hand side of the spectrum. Listen to her talking about God "delivering me from the fear of our enemies" and being a "fool for Christ."
I talk about Dorothy at every Called & Gifted workshop I teach. As I point out, we don't have to agree with Dorothy's politics but none of us gets out of her dilemma of how to live the life of Christ in our generation. Dorothy's long obedience in the same direction is a challenge to us all - where ever we fall on the spectrum.
If you can, take the time to watch all three videos. If not, I'd recommend starting with part 2. I can't embed this so you'll have to go to the site.
Here's an interesting trailer of a documentary on Day "Don't Call Me A Saint".
Life After Sunday is a creative, beautifully written, very attractive, multi-media formation process and resource for individuals or small groups from 20-something to 80-something.
For John M. Capobianco and Mary Beth Newkumet of Lumen Catechetical Consultants, LIfe After Sunday is a work of love. They have just updated their website and it looks great.
Catchesis in hard copy and online formats, reflection, group discussion, Scripture and catechism references, great video clips, links to amazing stories and initiatives are all there in a really thoughtful and integrated package. All about - yes, a deep and passionate relationship with Christ in the midst of his Church - and it's free!
If you are in or facilitating a small faith sharing group, involved in adult formation, catechesis, RCIA, or looking for some very creative evangelization tools, spend some time at Life at Sunday's website. You'll be glad you did.