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Simon Peter: Fisherman or Bait? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Wednesday, 31 January 2007 21:17
This Sunday's Gospel contains the call of the first disciples, so I thought I might offer a reflection on it in light of the theme of this blog.

Luke 5:1-11

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening
to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.

Why would Jesus choose Simon as his first disciple? Why choose a man who, a few years down the road, will deny him? In the Gospels – at least prior to the resurrection, Simon lives up to the name, "Rock" once – when he sinks like one while trying to join Jesus in a stroll on the sea.

Perhaps Simon is called by Jesus because Simon is just like us. Or we are just like him. He's a working-class stiff, not so sophisticated or insightful or successful or holy that we can't identify with him – not if we get to know him in the scriptures instead of through our heroic stained glass depictions of him.

Moreover, he's inept enough that it's clear that the foundation of the Church is held in place by the power and grace of Jesus. When we get to know this fisherman with empty nets, we find a critique of our success-oriented culture. Simon needs Jesus to do what Simon himself couldn't. Simon couldn't hold the group of disciples together on his own! His own lack of credentials shows us what great things Jesus can do with a not-too-promising individual.

I've always heard Jesus' prediction, "From now on you will be catching men" to indicate that Simon was still going to be doing the fishing. But perhaps Simon's just the lure Jesus the real fisherman is using to catch us! What if Simon's just a bit of bait Jesus dangles before us, inviting us to let go of the empty nets we carefully clean each day, so that we can become his disciples, too? We see Simon's fumbling attempts to follow Jesus and can feel less self-conscious about our own failings. If we take the call of Simon seriously, we might begin to realize that discipleship isn't about being perfect, having all the answers, or even knowing all the doctrines. It's about grasping the knees of the one we're not worthy of, and rejoicing that he's chosen us anyway, and thus living in daily gratitude. It's about knowing that we can't do anything without Him, but with Him, we can do anything! We look at the Church, with its 1 billion plus members, and draw comfort that if God could make Simon a foundation for that, He might do something worthwhile with us if we surrender to Him.
Discernment Discussions PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 31 January 2007 11:25

Written by Keith Strohm

Discussions on discernment have been happening throughout the blogosphere--particular over at Catholic Sensibility. If you are interested in furthering that discussion, or checking it out, look for the following posts:

Discerning Gifts

Discernment in Parish Music Ministry

What is Discernment?

Discernment: Balancing the Virtues

Discernment & Trust

Discerning the Discerners

Just a friendly public service announcement from the folks at Intentional Disciples!

A Palanca PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Wednesday, 31 January 2007 10:07
I was asked to write a palanca, or love letter, to a young girl, a junior in high school, who will be on a retreat in a few weekends. Her last note to me included her reflections on her experience of spending a couple of weeks working in a rural hospital filled with children who had AIDS and other diseases. Her father, a physician, and older brother, a senior in college, had also gone, while their mother stayed home and prayed for their safety. Her father told me that one of the most difficult things he had ever done was to let his two children go off alone to this hospital, while he stayed and worked in a different one. He knew they would be around many victims of AIDS and in an environment that was not all together in terms of clinical practices to prevent the spread of the virus. Still, he let them go, entrusting them to God's care, and with the sense that they needed to be off on their own, to help in their own way, and to grow in their own way. They both came back safe, and forever changed by the experience.

A palanca, (the Spanish word for "plank", apparently) is meant to be like a wooden plank that becomes a fulcrum to hurl one towards the love of God. I reproduce it here, because I think it is something that many of us, including me, need to hear more often.

January 31, 2007
Dear Caroline;

I am delighted to write this palanca to you, because you are such a wonderful young woman. I really was moved by your Christmas letter describing your experience in Nigeria. You seemed to have begun some kind of transformation from that rich, yet troubling encounter with children – many who are orphans – who live with poverty, AIDS, and little hope. I believe your heart is responding to the gentle call of Jesus to "come out into the deep."

It seems hard to believe that you are a junior in high school! I'm sure you're receiving lots of letters that say the same. Soon, you'll be off to college, then a career. I pray you seek your vocation, not just a career. By that I don't just mean your "state of life calling," like marriage, religious life or single life. Jesus has some unique work of love for you to do, and the keys to what that is are – or will be – found in your heart! You don't have to look far, do you!? You just have to be honest with yourself, attentive to your talents, spiritual gifts, and your personality. You'll know your spiritual gifts by those activities that help others that also make your heart sing, "This is where I belong! This is what I was created to do! These are the people I was made to serve." Perhaps you've had that experience already. You'll know your spiritual gifts when you have the experience of doing something that people respond much more positively to your efforts than you would expect. Pay attention to the feedback you get from people. They're offering you clues as to your calling, even though they often won't know it!

And then, don't forget to look around you. What are the problems you see in the world that make you say, "something should be done about that"? Perhaps Jesus has given you eyes to see what many others are missing. Frederick Buechner defined vocation as "the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need." Caroline, if you discover that place, you will have discovered your mission, and have heard the call Jesus has prepared for you from before the creation of the universe! And it will be good! Just as you, created by the unique love God has for you, are good! Oh, Pookie, so many people are afraid to trust their call because they're afraid to trust God. They have a hard time trusting His love. But just consider all these cards and letters you're receiving! You are loved, and our love for you, expressed so poorly in these frail sheets of paper, is just a shadow of the love Jesus has for you. He said, "there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends." Then he did that for you, so that you, and all those you love and who love you, might be with him in heaven.

But not only will you be with Jesus in heaven if you do His will, you can be with Him here, too. Jesus is with you in the sacraments! He feeds you and unites himself to you - and you to everyone else who receives Him, including some of the children you met in Nigeria - in the Eucharist. He tenderly embraces you when you fall in sin and turn to him in sorrow in the sacrament of reconciliation. In that beautiful moment you can recommit yourself to your baptism into Him! He has shared with you the mutual selfless love of Father for Son and Son for Father we call the Holy Spirit in your Confirmation. He gently will offer you healing in mind, body and spirit through the anointing of the sick. Perhaps one day He will join with you and your spouse in the lifelong self-emptying that is Marriage. What wondrous love He has for you, as the old song says! Trust that love, Caroline, and follow Him fearlessly.

Caroline, your mom said that your experiences with the poor and sick in Nigeria, and probably lots of other experiences, have turned your mind towards medicine. It would be wonderful if you pursue that vocation. I know you have a heart for those who suffer, and in medicine you would cooperate with Jesus' ongoing desire to heal our wounds. If you do become a physician, don't forget to pray for your patients. You will never be a source of healing, only an instrument in the hand of our Divine Healer. If you don't become a physician, you can still be an instrument of healing through your willingness to forgive, your desire to love and serve others, and your thoughtful, generous presence with those who are lonely, anxious or sad.

Whatever you do, whatever life choices you make in the pursuit of your call, remember that Jesus has given you the authority and power to stand in his place! You should never ask, "What would Jesus do?" – as if he weren't truly present. Instead, remember what He told his disciples, "the one who has faith in me will do the works I do, and greater far than these." (John 14:12) So every day when you awake, I hope you ask the question, "What will Jesus do today through me?" Because of his love for you, He says, "I am with you always, until the end of the world." (Matthew 28:20). Expect to see the signs of His power at work in you – even in your young age. Cling to Him now! Speak to Him with confidence and honesty as you would to your closest friend. Make His will your own, and you will discover a peace this world can neither give (John 14:27) nor take away.

I write these things to you, Caroline, for two reasons. First of all, because I love you and desire what's best for you, and there's no greater gift than knowing Jesus' saving love for each of us. Secondly, because I need to be reminded of them myself. You see, there's so much in our society that tells us we're not good enough, not worthy of love until we've changed. Constantly we hear of people who commit sins and whom we are told we should not forgive. All of that is a clever, consistent lie that makes us disbelieve the truth: so long as you or I exist, so long as one breath follows another – and even beyond life – you and I are treasured by our heavenly Father who knows all that we need (Matthew 6:32).

Finally, I conclude this too-long letter with a prayer from John Henry Cardinal Newman (after whom Catholic campus ministries are named). He wrote it during one of his darkest hours. I hope it gives you light and comfort throughout your life, because it, too, expresses the truth of who you are.

“God has determined . . .that I should reach that which is my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it to me.”

God bless you, dear one!
Fr. Mike, OP
Baptismal Schizophrenia? PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 31 January 2007 08:32

Written by Keith Strohm

I used to think that I had dual identities.

I heard a great deal about the importance of being a disciple from a lot of different sources. Through the grace of baptism, I was united with Christ and the Church--supernaturally empowered to learn from God, to grow in sanctifying grace and become more like Him.

And so, I heard about being a disciple, about living as a disciple, about having a "disciple's response." I grew up being comfortable with that reality. I am a follower of Christ. I "follow;" that's what I am and that's what I do.

But there was another side to my identity that I never really understood before--a side that was actually edgy and a little dangerous. Through baptism, I am not only called and empowered to follow and learn from Christ, but I have also been sent by God to do a particular work of love in the world.

I am, in other words, an apostle. One with a different office and focus than the Apostles, to be sure--but I am no less "official," no less called & gifted for my mission. I am called, not just to follow Christ, but to do what He did in the world.

I don't know about you, but when I first understood that my apostolic identity was a reality taught by the Church, I was a little uncomfortable--excited, but uncomfortable. I couldn't understand how one was supposed to act as a disciple and an apostle. I had never even heard (before encountering the Called & Gifted Workshop) the fact that I was an apostle in any parish, school, or group that I had been a part of, so how was I supposed to figure this out?

I had dual (and seemingly dueling) identities.

Until I had a conversation with a friend. I was sharing some of what I had learned through the Catherine of Siena Institute, and my friend said to me, "But isn't the most important thing in the New Testament the Great Commandment?"

And then it hit me--the lynchpin to my understanding and integrating my apostolic identity was love. I was right in the middle of reading John Paul II's Theology of the Body, and it struck me clear as day: Love always seeks the beloved. If I am called to love my God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself, then I was, by the very nature of love, called to reach out and share the gift of God with them.

The Great Commandment leads, by its essence, to the Great Commission. They were inseparable and compenetrating--like the relationship between the Old and New Testament. Disciples are, in the language of post-modern literary theory, "always already" apostles. Our identity stems not from what we do, but in who we are.

Take, for example, a newly baptized baby. Through the waters of Baptism they are grafted to the Body of Christ and empowered to become disciples. And yet, their very presence in the midst of the community serves as a call to that community, a reminder not only of their own baptismal vows, but also a sign of their own dependance upon the mercy and grace of God. These little, tiny disciples are apostles from Christ to the community--evangelizing with each breath.

Baptismal schizophrenia does not exist. We have one identity in Christ--an identity so rich that it contains multiple facets integrated within the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Whoa! God really is amazing!

Adult Sunday School Ethos among Catholics? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 31 January 2007 05:50
Amy Welborn asks in a discussion on Catholics schools and how they now bear the weight of catechesis:

Can you even imagine the ethos of Protestant Sunday School for adults had even the slightest foothold in Catholic churches?

Yes, I can because it has here, at Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle where we started the Institute and where I will be teaching the Called & Gifted this weekend.

They routinely have large adult Sunday School classes (60 or more depending upon the subject and speaker) in addition to evening classes on St. Thomas, the Bible, Exploring Catholic beliefs, etc.

The only parish I've ever been to where you can overhear two adults in the back of the Sunday School class debating variant readings of Ireneaus.

It can happen. In Blessed Sacrament's case, it's a combination of a historic (and beautiful) Dominican church, a nearby major university, and a very large population of intentional disciples in the parish who come from around the area to attend. Some are professors at local universities, some are underemployed average joe and janes who just are intellectually curious.

It's not just Blessed Sacrament. We've seen it happen over and over: adults become passionate about learning about the faith when they become intentional disciples. How many conversations have I had in interviews trying to help people discern between the natural desire to learn about their faith that follows conversion and the charism of knowledge? Dozens? Hundreds?

In Boise, people who have been through evangelization retreats fill every class in the diocese. The Director of the School of Pastoral Leadership in San Francisco flew up to see us in Seattle because he went to the pastor of St. Dominic's in the city and asked "why are my classes filled with your people?" Fr. Xavier simply said: "Have you heard of the Catherine of Siena Institute?"

We keep putting all our eggs in the institutional/program basket, but institutions and programs are designed to meet needs. When we call people to intentional discipleship, a whole new raft of needs emerge from within people: needs for prayer, for formation, for study, for fellowship, for discernment. Wouldn't it be great to have to deal with people clamoring for faith formation?

If you want peace, work for justice. If you want students of the faith, make disciples.
How Many People Have Your Name? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 30 January 2007 19:10
According to this, I am a unique and unreatable manifestation of the human mystery - at least in the US. I am the only woman in America who has my name.

America is blessed.

How many people have your name?
Meet Me in Latte Land, Louie . . . PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 30 January 2007 16:32
I'm taking off tomorrow for Seattle where I will be teaching a Called & Gifted workshop at Blessed Sacrament Church in the University District this coming weekend, February 2/3.

Blessed Sacrament is a beautiful and remarkable community and the place where we began the Institute nearly 10 years ago. It is also a parish committed to evangelization and becoming a house of formation for lay apostles and is filled with a large number of smart, sassy, and creative intentional disciples. It's too bad that it is only early February, because spring in Seattle can be intoxicating.

But the weather is supposed to be in the mid 40's and *CLEAR* which for a Seattle February is stunning! I'll be able to see the mountains!

This will be our 300th live Called & Gifted workshop. It is a lovely thing to do so where we started. If any ID readers are in the area, feel free to check it out and come up and say hello!
We Are All Saved and We Have All Earned It But None of Us Are Saints Because That Wouldn’t Be Humble. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 30 January 2007 16:12

10 years of nearly continuous travel from parish to parish and thousands of personal interviews have given us a fairly good sense of typical ordinary-Catholic-in-the-pew’s worldview regarding intentional discipleship and our ultimate salvation -- at least among Anglo laity in the US.

(The worldview of the clergy is naturally very different but many clergy share in the assumptions described here in surprising ways. Priests are remarkably like human beings in this regard.)

The American church is huge and very complicated, so the culture I am about to describe would not include those groups of Catholics heavily influenced by evangelicalism (such as in the deep south), the charismatic renewal, traditionalism, lay movements or third orders, parishes that regularly do evangelism, groups with a strong social justice orientation or Catholics in “hotbed institutions” like Catholic universities or seminaries. Neither would this describe Hispanic Catholics, Vietnamese Catholics, etc.

The worldview I’m describing is common among ordinary-Anglo-cradle-Catholic-laypeople in ordinary parishes in the west coast, midwest, high plains, intermountain west and east coast.

Caveat: I am writing in a hurry and my tongue is rather firmly in my check. But I am also really describing attitudes what we have encountered over and over again in the field. There are remarkable exceptions everywhere but there is also, in our experience, a startling consistency across dioceses and regions.

The major premises could be summarized as follows:

  1. We are all saved and we’ve all earned it but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.

    A fascinating, if unlikely, mixture of practical universalism, Pelagianism, and work-a-day Catholic humility seems to have been absorbed by Catholics across the country.

    This homespun version of universalism runs something like this: *Decent* people are automatically saved because of their decency, and almost everyone is essentially decent or at least means well, which is basically the same thing as being decent. God would never condemn a decent person. Salvation is pretty much yours to lose and you can only do so by intentionally doing something really, really, not decent like mass murder and then not saying you are sorry.

    Pelagianism was an early 5th century heresy that held that original sin did not taint our human nature and that human beings are still capable of choosing good or evil without God's grace. Pelagius taught that human beings could achieve the highest levels of virtue by the exercise of their own will.

    The contemporary American version holds that human beings can attain acceptable levels of *decency* by their own efforts. We earn our salvation by not doing the really, really bad things we could do if we chose. In real life, it is pretty close to impossible for most people not to attain the minimum decency requirement. (See caveat above).

    Since basic decency suffices for salvation, holiness is completely optional, and is the spiritual equivalent of extreme sports. Authentic, salt-of-the-earth ordinary Catholics are appropriately humble and know their spiritual place. They do not pretend to be something they are not (see point #2 below).

    Note: the role of Christ and his Paschal mystery in this view of salvation is extremely obscure.

  2. There are two basic Catholic “tracks”:

    a) The “ordinary Catholic track” which includes 99% of us. Your parents put you on this track by having you baptized as a baby. This track can be divided further into 1) “good” or practicing ordinary Catholics; 2) “bad” or non-practicing ordinary Catholics; and 3) pious ordinary Catholics.

    All ordinary Catholics, good, bad, or pious, are saved through their essential *decency* or meaning well and nor screwing up horribly. (see #1 above). God does give extra credit for visible devotion or piety.

    b) The “extraordinary Catholic track”: priests, religious, and saints (.1%).

    God plucks a few people out of Track “a” and places them on track “b”. That is what the Church means by having a vocation.

    Priests and religious are also saved by being decent but the standard of decency is a bit more rigorous for them because they can’t have sex.

    Sanctity is reserved for the uber-elite: When someone becomes a saint, it is the mysterious result of spiritual genius or an act of God and is not expected of or related to salvation for “ordinary” Catholics (see #1), because God decreed they should be on a different track. Authentic, salt-of-the-earth ordinary Catholics are appropriately humble and know their spiritual place.

    c) There is no “disciple on the way” track. When many Catholics hear the phrase “intentional disciple”, they immediately think of the only known alternative to the “ordinary Catholic” track in their lexicon, which is that of the saint and is supposed to be reserved for the uber-elite. They naturally presume that the aspirant to discipleship is pretending to have been plucked out of the ordinary track by God and is, therefore, an arrogant elitist (see #1 above).

3. Corollary A: Widespread discomfort with “conspicuous conversion” because it violates #1 and #2. Sometimes referred to as “enthusiasm” or “pietism” or “Protestant”.

4. Corollary B: don’t ask, don’t tell because that’s what you do when we are all saved and we’ve all earned it--but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.

Ponderings PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 30 January 2007 12:29

Written by JACK

Over at Amy Welborn's blog, an interesting conversation ensued after Amy posted a bleg of a reader for advice on how to help her young adult cousin who is politically conservative and has decided to leave the Catholic Church, noting certain stances of the bishops on immigration and war as his reasons. The blegger was seeking genuine help in what to do to try and help this young man choose to stay in the Catholic Church.

It's a problem that many of us face. Family members who no longer go to Church. Some don't seem to believe in Christ, if we are honest. Others believe in Christ but don't see the fundamental connection with the Catholic Church. (I still struggle with the fact that my parents don't darken the stoop of my home parish unless I am visiting. When I realized -- after they stopped going to Mass when my younger brother moved out -- that my parents had insisted on the family going to Mass every week all those years because they thought "it was the right thing to do when raising kids", not from a living love of Christ, I was devastated. Still am, even if more used to the reality now.)

And the usually recommendations ensued. Books to read. "Conservative" parishes to attend. Talks about the nature of prudential judgment and how the bishops in fact do err at times. It wasn't until Sherry added a comment that what only a few of us had hinted at was expressly said:

"At the risk of sounding radical, I would like to suggest that the bishop's stands on immigration may turn out to be the "presenting problem" as counselors call it but not the real issue. The chances are high that the real issue is existential, not theological. I say this based upon having done at a thousand one-on-one interviews with lay Catholics of all ages about their lived experiences of God. (which I wrote a piece about on Intentional Disciples ( yesterday, scroll down to "Do Ask, Do Tell"). My suggestion: If you have a fairly good relationship with your cousin, get together one-on-one for a meal or coffee in some quiet place and ask him this question: "Can you describe your relationship with God to this point in your life?" And really listen. Ask a few clarifying questions but resist the temptation to leap in and correct his faulty theology or opinions. Listen for the experiences and feelings behind the opinions and that may reveal what the real issue is."

I think there is a lot to learn from this. First, what a dramatic example of the fact that all of us -- even us laity -- are called to evangelize. Here's a great example of how the only person that might be able to reach this young man is not some bishop or priest, but a relative. Second, I must ask (even myself) why our first instinct is often to recommend a book rather than a relationship. As the years go by, I more and more think that many of these situations exist because the individual doesn't have any lived experience of the Church being for them. No one has embodied for them everything that God promises us through the Church. Knowing more facts about what the Church claims or having a better systematic intellectual understanding of the Church isn't what is needed. What is needed is the verification through one's own experience of these facts. Many of the recommendations on that thread emphasized "conservative" authors or "conservative" parishes that might appeal to the young man. I don't wish to disparage any of the authors or parishes recommended. But if it only stops there, versus becoming a concrete way in which this young man experiences the truth of the Church (i.e., that she is the place of Christ's presence and the extension of His mission through time), I fear that it will have little effect or (even if he stays in the Church), will result in just as pressing of problems.
Is This For Real? PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 30 January 2007 07:58

Written by Keith Strohm

One of the (many) challenges I faced in accepting the person whom God made me to be was coming face to face with my charisms.

Well, what do I mean by charisms?

Simply put, charisms are gratuitous gifts given to us by God at Baptism that supernaturally equip us to accomplish the specific work of love that God has given us. Through our charisms we are able to be effective channels of God's love in ways that are far more effective than if we were working out of our own natural talents.

If you want a more fleshed out explanation of the charisms, come to a Called & Gifted workshop. I highly recommend it!

In any event, for most of my life, I simply did not believe that charisms existed let alone that I might actually have any. I grew up on the East Coast with a very intellectual (and somewhat cultural) formation in my Catholic faith. I knew that the charisms were mentioned by Paul in the scripturs (in places like Corinthians and Ephesians), but I believed these were either metaphors or an attempt by the writers of the New Testament to add legitimacy to their new religion by sprinkling in some purely fictitious miracles.

By the time I attended University my heart (and mind) was hardened to the possibility of charisms. It wasn't until Graduate School, when some powerful encounters with the Holy Spirit led to a conversion of heart, mind, and worldview, that I admitted that the Bible not have been wrong about the reality of charisms. :) God certainly does like smashing through hardened hearts!

I still, however, didn't fully believe that I possessed charisms; nor did I understand that these charisms were an indication of what God was calling me to do with my life. That didn't come until much later. I wrote a little bit about that in my first post here at ID entitled, Like Getting Hit on the Head With a 2 x 4.

Now, I have been privileged to join many hundreds (soon thousands) of peeople as they begin their own journey of discovery and discernment with their charisms. It's wonderful to see different people encountering the reality of charisms (many for the first time). It's also wonderful to see how, as these men and women reflect upon their life, they begin to recognize the Presence of God and the charisms in their own life journey.

What about you? What are your experiences with charisms? Do you believe that they are real? What was it like discovering their presence in your life? I'm really curious, and I would love to hear about our collective experiences of charisms--our struggles and our joys!

Because of my experience with charisms, I have encountered the overwhelming Generosity and Love of God--and I find myself overcome with gratitude at God's Abundance, asking myself, "Is this for real? Does my God love me this much?"

Thankfully, it is.

And he does!

The Voice of Truth PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 30 January 2007 07:39

Written by Keith Strohm

Fully living out our call to radical apostleship means, as Paul writes, "speaking the truth in Christ" to our culture, our workplace, our friends, our family, and our very selves. This "speech" unfolds through both our words and actions--and it requires an attitude of humility. For truth is not some thing that we possess. It is, in Jesus Christ, some one by whom we are possessed.

We must learn, as the Body of Christ and as individual members of that Body, to listen to the Voice of God, which leads us into a deeper experience of Truth so that we may share what we have been given with others. Whether we encounter that voice in the tiny stillness of a gentle wind like Elijah, or in the raging tempest of a storm like the Disciples, God speaks to each of us in the depths of our hearts, calling us to discover our true identity in Him so that we might do the same for others.

How do you listen for God's Voice?

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?

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