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Fostering Curiosity About Christ PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 17 March 2007 06:38
I'm just finishing up a presentation that I'll be doing next month at the Evangelical Catholic Institute.

I'll be speaking about charisms (naturlich!) but also about recognizing pre-discipleship levels of spiritual maturity. Since this last subject involves all new material, I went over my presentation with Fr. Mike (in CS for 36 hours between missions).

One of the issues that I address is how to foster curiosity about Christ in the unchurched or non-believing. Not first curiosity about the Church or the Catholic faith - but about the head of the Church and the center of the faith: Jesus Christ.

I started with this list of suggested ways from the work of Doug Schapp:

l
  1. Seeing the faith lived out in a concrete and practical way (work with the poor, etc.)
  2. Experiencing genuine Christian community
  3. Speaking of our struggles and sharing how Christ has responded
  4. Asking good questions, raising spiritual topics
  5. Telling stories of Christ’s work in our life and the lives of others
The list looked good but we both turned to one another and said, "yes, but the chances of any of these happening in an average Catholic community are pretty low."

We don't ask about and we don't talk to fellow practicing Catholics about our relationship with God, so what are the chances we'd look for ways to ask someone who is unchurched about their spiritual journey? We are developing a simple process to teach Catholics how to do so in a non-threatening manner but it isn't the norm, for sure.

So 3 - 5 are unlikely except in very specialized groups or settings (we routinely ask in our gifts interview process and find people ready to talk, but so often they tell us this is the first time in their life that they have ever shared X with another person).

We knew that 1 & 2 would be much more comfortable ideas for Catholics, but how practical are they? Lay Catholics seldom experience genuine Christian community that transcends the family. And how many of us live such radiantly Christ-like lives that just being around us in daily life generates curiosity about Christ?

The remaining possibility on the list was serving the poor which many Catholics do through groups like St. Vincent de Paul.

Any ideas? How would you seek to foster genuine curiosity about Jesus in someone who was truly unchurched?

 

 

 


 
Poor Mass Attendance in Mexico PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 17 March 2007 03:41
From Catholic News Service:

In a city where 90% say they are Catholic, only 6 -9% attend mass regularly on Sunday.

A report published by the Archdiocese of Mexico City said only 6 percent to 9 percent of its Catholics attend Sunday Mass regularly. The report, which was written by the archdiocesan information director, Carlos Villa Roiz, said the archdiocese's churches are packed for Christmas, Ash Wednesday and popular saints' feast days.

If all the archdiocese's Catholics attended Mass, the archdiocese would be challenged to meet the demand, said the report published in the archdiocese's weekly bulletin March 11. "If all Catholics attended Sunday Mass, the (churches) of Mexico City would be inadequate, and priests would have to direct Mass outdoors," it said. Mexico City and the surrounding metropolitan area form one of the world's largest urban conglomerations."

There isn't a single country where, if all the resident Catholics showed up at Mass on a given Sunday, the church wouldn't be completely overwhelmed. We complain of priestly shortages now and sacramental overload. What would we do if even the majority of our people decided to return to the practice of the faith?

It would be a nice problem to have. Christmas and Easter all year round.

 
The Beauty of Language PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 16 March 2007 09:13

Written by Keith Strohm

I've been in love with language for about as long as I can remember (knowing me, it probably happened in utero). There is a beauty to its cadence, the lush rhythm of phonemes and morphemes, the geography of its syntax, the compelling pulse of meaning and intimation--language has captivated me! Used well, language is scintillating, it's sharp as Excalibur and precise as any laser scalpel. Whether its poetry or essay, the beauty of language transcends genre or idiom--it even transcends the particular language family it's in (I think German is a beautiful language, for example).

That's why I pay attention whenever a master of language speaks about that which I love. While surfing the net, I stumbled across this quote by Ursula K. LeGuin:

“Socrates said, ‘The misuse of language induces evil in the soul.’ He wasn’t talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.”
- A Few Words to a Young Writer

Language is a gift that comes, ultimately, from God Himself--a way in which we can explore the human heart and the world around us, a way in which we can experience Truth and share that experience like early man shared fire. As with gifts, we must use it wisely, taking responsibility for our stewardship. LeGuin rightly warns against a co-opting of language, a perversion of its purpose.


While there certainly is a science to marketing and ad copy, there is no artistry in propaganda--and considerable peril, if you listen to Socrates. Language can wound and vilify, it can feed hatred and spin webs of deceit, clouding truth and confusing the conscience, dulling the sharp edges of right and wrong. Like digitalis, language is a medicine that, used incorrectly, can kill. Christ warned us not to "be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." (Matthew 10:28). Language is the chief weapon of those who kill the soul.


And yet, all words are, in an ultimate sense, reflections of The Word, through whom all things were made. Despite the danger, we are called to use this gift to help heal and restore the world, making songs "from the Shattered Drum" that is language. And so, in my own small and humble way, I will strive to do just that.


One beautiful word at a time.


 
Blasphemy is its Own Punishment PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 16 March 2007 09:09

Written by Keith Strohm

Last week, Mark Shea, over at Catholic & Enjoying It, reflected briefly (and pithily) on the sin of blasphemy, spurred on by comic Sarah Silverman's sketch where she gives God the brush-off after having sex with Him. Mark writes:

It is amazing how so many people think that blasphemy is the most courageous of the sins. They all seem to have some fantasy that either a mob of Christians is going to string them up for their transgressive courage, or the irritable old gentleman in the white beard is going to finally lose his temper and start throwing thunderbolts. They don't *get* that blasphemy, like all sin, is its own punishment. That, like all sin, it darkens the intellect, hardens the heart, and further disorders the appetites. It also, like all sin, cuts you off from the love you've wanted all your life and surrounds you with various fakes (whom you know to be fakes at some level) and make the universe a colder, deader place than you already have told yourself it is. The apotheosis of this is the loneliness and coldness of hell, which is not some place God "sends" you because he's a vain popinjay who is ticked about affronts to his ego, but because despite every attempt to love you (including taking three nails and a lance for you) you remained the pathetic sort of person who prefered to write "pee pee" on the bathroom wall and pat yourself on the back for your transgressive courage.

God have mercy, not just on Sarah Silverman, but on a culture like ours that lionizes such juvenile drivel. It's a good thing we're on the side of Righteousness and not simply a decaying relativist culture which believes that Might Makes Right, or else we might have cause to think that Islam is a scourge like the Assyrian that, in the Providence of God, is meant to bring us to our senses. But since we're alright, Jack, there's no need to consider such things.
Most folks nowadays would probably just ask, "What's the big deal?" And that's a little of what Mark is trying to get at. American culture has, overall, been deadened and darkened by repeated sinfulness--to the degree that pee-soaked statues of Mary and bits like that of Sarah Silverman are seen either as harmless or as brave attempts at noble acts of transgression against a dominant, repressive ideology.

Sigh.

That's why it is more important than ever for baptized lay men and women to support, nurture, and create artistic works that offer beauty to the world. We need to engage with the culture, not simply with another offensive in the culture wars, but by living lives that express beauty and love, offering witness to the dignity of the human person and the majesty and beauty of the God who Loves us even to His death.

That's Christian martyrdom.

Notice how it doesn't involve bombs strapped to our chests?
 
The Real St. Patrick PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 16 March 2007 08:45
Check out Irish Abroad, the website of the Irish Diaspora

They have lots of links regarding St. Patrick, his Day and the celebrations around the world.

But if you haven't seen this before, take a moment to read St. Patrick's Confession which begins, in words that are so clearly not of this age, you can almost hear the sea pounding against the Irish shore 16 centuries ago.

"I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many. My father was Calpornius, a deacon, son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburniæ; he had a country seat nearby, and there I was taken captive.

I was then about sixteen years of age. I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people---and deservedly so, because we turned away from God, and did not keep His commandments, and did not obey our priests, who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought over us the wrath of his anger and scattered us among many nations, even unto the utmost part of the earth, where now my littleness is placed among strangers.

And there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my abjection, and mercy on my youth and ignorance, and watched over me before I knew Him, and before I was able to distinguish between good and evil, and guarded me, and comforted me as would a father his son."


 
The Horror of Evangelization PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 16 March 2007 07:24
There has been much discussion here and elsewhere on what exactly is "evangelization" and why are Catholics, unlike Protestants, so uncomfortable with the idea of proclaiming Christ?

Here is a very interesting post by a self-described "liberal" Catholic in his first year in a seminary with the Paulists.

Now, as many of us know, the Paulists were founded to evangelize. Specifically to evangelize American Protestants. But this whole evangelization thing is making this young man squirm. Especially when the Paulists send him, as apparently is their normal practice, to spend a week at the Overseas Ministry Study Center, an evangelical missionary study center in New Haven.

"So we are spending a week with evangelical Protestants to learn how to convert other people to Christianity; it is hard not to begin this seminar without an eyebrow raised. Not the Protestant part of course, but the evangelical part... yet this has been part of Paulist formation for years. . .

After freshening up at the hotel, we had back to the center for dinner and start to get to know the other attendees during dinner. Most of them have come to this seminar from all over the globe from serving in missions for different denominations. I meet one couple and tell them that I used to work for Catholic Relief Services and while I myself never got to go abroad, asked if their work ever crossed paths. The guy responded that their paths did not overlap too much because CRS’s relief work did not involve evangelization, and that it was important to both provide relief services in conjunction with spreading the Word.

That took me aback somewhat. I have done a lot of work with the poor through the Catholic Church over the years, and the one constant in the organizations that I have been involved with was that we would not push our religion on others. We would of course not be ashamed of who we are as Catholics and would share our faith if asked and as appropriate, but there were going to be no price tags on the work we would do for others. No required prayer meetings, no required testimonials; the poor have been stepped on enough. At the same time, this is also a time in my life where my relationship and understanding of God is on somewhat rocky ground, so if I go into a “faith off” with this guy, I suspect I’m going to lose, so I hold back. Plus, a part of me envies his certitude."

Notice his assumptions:

Evangelization = "pushing our religion on others", putting a "price tag" on our work, visions of "required prayer meetings and testimonials"

As though evangelization was forcing homeless men in a shelter to attend prayers before they could eat dinner. And yet, I know that the very sophisticated folks at OMSC (a very well-known institution that draws some of the foremost evangelical missionary scholar and strategists in the world) are proposing nothing of the kind.

His fears are a century out of date. The echoes of a much earlier generation of liberal Christians critique of fundamentalism in the early 20th century. Passed on from generation to generation in vague assumptions and horror stories. That make any attempt to proclaim Christ seem automatically simultaneously oppressive and laughable.

Whatever he ends up discerning regarding God's call and the Paulists, I hope he hangs around long enough to find out that that isn't what evangelization is about.
 
A Guide to the Lay Movements PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 16 March 2007 06:31
Yet another lay community devoted to evangelization has been approved by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The Shalom Community was founded in Brazil in 1982 to evangelize youth and to counter the influence of liberation theology according to this New York Times piece on the evangelization of youth written at the time of Pope John Paul II's death.
Maria Emmir, one of the founders, says that Shalom Community has about 50,000 members.

Zenit has publishing a short description of all the approved lay movements and EWTN has a list here. There are 76 listed. It is fascinating to see the breadth of the list. Not all are conservative politically. A number are only 25 -30 years old.

Some are well-known, like Communion and Liberation, Regnum Christ, Sant'Egidio, and the Legion of Mary. I noticed that the Cooperators of Opus Dei are listed but of course, not Opus Dei iteself, since it is not a lay movement. But some are unexpected.

Did you know that the Cursillo movement, Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (the international office of the charismatic renewal in Rome), Marriage Encounter, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are officially approved "lay movements?"

More of us are part of or "cooperators" with lay movements than we knew!

Check out less familiar movements like the Emmanuel Community and Foyers de Charité.

And this one, whom I had never heard of: The Association of Missionaries of Political Charity:

"Twenty years ago, a man named Alfred Luciani founded the Association of Missionaries of Political Charity, an organization devoted to the promotion of Catholic social teaching in the world of politics. Cardinal Pironio recognized the group for its efforts to "promote and cultivate authentic Christian vocations toward political engagement."

Thus the canonical recognition of the group is, in effect, an acknowledgment by the Church that the members of the Association have a calling to work within the secular world for the promotion of the Gospel. Cardinal Pironio explained that under the new Code of Canon Law-- informed by the call of Vatican II for lay people to work within the secular world to transform their society-- recognizes the validity and importance of such lay vocations.

For Alfredo Luciani, the founder and president of the Association, the new canonical recognition is "an extraordinary event." Working as a Christian in the political world, he said, is a form of "service for the common good." Such a calling, he insisted, should be presented to the laity as a form of sanctification and evangelization. Toward that end, his Association insists that lay people must receive the political training and spiritual formation they need to make their work a form of apostolate, guided not only by good intentions but by the highest professional standards as well.

Imagine serous formation for Catholic politicians. We could use some of that in this country!


 
The Flip Side of Nairobi PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 16 March 2007 06:19
How odd that just as I finished the long piece on parish life in the slums of Nairobi, the NY Times came out with a tourist's guide to the city which gives you a sense of the city from the other side of the tracks.

You would never know from the article that 62% of the population lives in slums.

But you can visit Karen Blixen's (Isak Dinesen of Out of Africa fame) home, now a museum and soak up that famous view of the Ngong Hills.
 
Parish life - African style PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 15 March 2007 21:24
John Allen was writing from Africa last week and spoke of how the extraordinary growth of Catholicism there will give Africa real influence in the Church of the 21st century. Often, in our debates around St. Blog's, we seem to lose track of how many millions of Catholics live profoundly different lives and how different their burning issues are.

This is a glimpse of life in St. John parish in Korogcho, an illegal squatter’s community in Nairobi, Kenya. Korogcho houses 120,000 people crammed with a single square kilometer. Korogcho is one of the 200 slums of Nairobi in which 2.5 million people live – 63% of the city’s population. St. John's is part of a network of 13 parishes that attempt to serve the slum dwellers of Nairobi.

70% of the population of Korogcho is under 30. There are no public services. Huge numbers of street children hide in Korogcho to escape police round-ups. The most relevant problems are: prostitution, unemployment, drug addiction, alcoholism, rapes, criminality, domestic violence.

St. John’s parish cares for 3,000 practicing Catholics distributed in 26 small Christian communities about Korogcho. Two of the communities are made up of scavengers and Tanzanian lepers.

There are two priests, two women lay missioners and two pre-noviate Jesuit aspirants. An informal school serving 1000 children is beside the chapel. 16 lay run service groups focus on ministry in specific areas such as Justice and Peace, Liturgy, Catechists, the Poor, the Sick, Alcoholic Anonymous and Widows.

The two Masses on Sunday use the Zaire rite, which was approved by the Vatican in 1988.

(A modified version of the Zaire rite was used in the Opening Mass of the African Synod at St. Peter’s in 1994. Tthe entrance rite took 30 minutes as the celebrant and male and female dancers danced up the aisle and around the altar. The reading of the responsorial psalm drew from the ancient Ethiopian rite and had the three kings sheltered by a multi-colored umbrella. The Gospel was read according to the even older Coptic rite which featured clashing symbols.)

Every year, 80 – 100 catechumens, who have been prepared by 15 well-trained lay catechists, enter the parish of Korogcho at Easter. Two hour workshops are offered every week on specific topics for all the community. The topics reflect the broad needs of the community: Aids, the sacraments, alcohol/drugs, Bible, visit to the sick, counseling, etc.

Surprisingly, there is a Taize community in Korogcho but the service is very different. Here is a description of the Mass for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

"Now the dormitory-cum-prayerroom is packed with children and about 20 adults. In one corner of the room there is the Blessed Sacrament. Above this is an icon from the Coptic Church: Christ as a brother to people. Brother Gregoire is also present. He sleeps here, but he works in town during the day. The few belongings the brothers have, their clothes, their blankets and their sleeping mats, hang on wires from the ceiling. In this way they escape the rats. The roof is supported by two poles in the middle of the room.

I have to step carefully over several children so as to reach the small altar-table. Many of the children demand attention; they even try to shake hands with me while I try to put on my vestments. Martin van Asseldonk comes in. The children know him and several want to sit on his lap, but he has only place for two. The wooden shutters are open. A young man, slightly drunk, leans in through one of the windows, still debating whether or not he will attend.

With an opening song we easily drown the noise of the radio next door. This radio is always on when we celebrate Mass here. This evening we celebrate the feast of the previous day, the feast of Peter and Paul, two pillars of the early Church. I try to find out who is called Peter, Paul, Paulina, Petronella, Petra or Paula. This is their feast day too. Hands go up and we applaud all of them. The face of a small Paul or Peter in front of me lights up in response.

They start singing again. No, they don't sing solemnly or beautifully as one might expect in a monastery of Taizé. These adults and children sing the way life is in Mathare Valley, raw and loud. They are not nice, sweet little children. They are restless, in some ways demanding, craving the care and attention they have a right to, but which they don't seem to get in the broken homes they grow up in.

At times, when I get here, I wish we could do something very beautiful, so that they would all look and listen in amazement. But they aren't easily amazed. A boy of 15 beats the drum vigorously, as if he is accompanying a group of traditional dancers.

We read about those disciples of Christ, Peter and Paul, whose lives are to be an inspiration to us today. At the same time people can listen to the news on the radio next door.

The two poles in the middle of the room have been dressed up today. With the help of blankets, faces drawn on old paper, cement sacks, and beards made of sisal, they have become contemporary statues of Peter and Paul.

Denis tries to explain this and what it might mean to us. At the same time somebody else is trying to sell us Blue Band margarine on the radio. I must admit that technically the man who is advertising Blue Band is much better than Denis. But we easily shut him up with a very loud version of the Creed. The advertiser can’t beat that one. Passers-by stop and look through the window. The half-drunk man, who seems to have decided to stay, scratches his head thoughtfully as we pray for people who are in distress. Now and again he joins in with the singing. Many others have gathered at the window and the Mass is now half in the street.

The wishing of peace to one another before Holy Communion is rather chaotic; everybody wants to shake hands and everybody, especially the children, climbs and falls over one another in an effort to do this. Together with Brother Denis, I give Communion. For some we have to reach very far over all these singing children. People hand the chalice to one another. During the last song, after the Blessing, some adults and Brother Gregoire start leading the children out. Some don't want to leave; they protest that the song isn't finished yet.

As I walk home I still think about the service in the 'monastery' of Taizé. 'Beautiful', 'devout', 'solemn', 'meditative' - all these words have nothing to do with it. Perhaps the words 'real' or 'true to life' describe it better. In any case this liturgy doesn’t stand apart from everyday life in Mathare Valley.


 
Oprah, Albino Assassins, and "The Secret" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 15 March 2007 11:15
Emily Stimpson of St. Blogs wrote this very funny piece on the latest Oprah "book of the moment" for Our Sunday Visitor.

"What she (the author) discovered (after a mere year of research) was "The Law of Attraction.”

"According to her book, this “law” was practiced by historical greats such as Plato, Galileo and Einstein, and has been “discovered, coveted, hidden, lost and recovered” repeatedly for the past 4,000 years. The book also claims the Catholic Church worked assiduously through the centuries to keep “The Secret” a secret."

The secret that may not tell its name?

Think positive thoughts and positive things will happen to you.

My favorite Emily line?

" So, what is this “Law of Attraction” that even armies of albino monks could not keep off Oprah?"

But the most gripping theological question comes from Michael McCallion, professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit:

“What happens if a teenager channels all his energy into visualizing a bright red bike into existence, while his parents channel all their energy into visualizing that he doesn’t get that bike?”

I feel an existential crisis coming on. Guess I'll have to take the rest of the week off to deal with it - and St. Paddy's Day, of course.
 
St. Patrick's Day in Ireland PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 15 March 2007 10:58
Ah, the good old days - say, before 1980.

You might pin a bit of shamrock to your clothes but wearing a lotta green is actually bad luck - because green is the favorite color of fairies - er, I mean, the Good People. (Note to self: The Good People hate it when you use the "f" word.)

No one was dying the Shannon green. Partly because the original color associated with St. Patrick was blue.

And even more staggering. You couldn't get a drink in Ireland on St. Paddy's Day. "According to Mahony, Irish pubs used to be closed on two days of the year: Good Friday and St. Patrick's Day."

The Irish-turned-teetotallers on St. Patrick's day. The mind boggles.

You had the day off, went to Mass, and had a family meal. It was a religious holiday.

It is easy to understand that the whole American approach can be a bit of shock to the true Irish man or woman - although our approach to the day has now jumped the pond and taken root in Dublin.
 
And Now for a Very Different Kind of Art Form PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 15 March 2007 07:58
The Op-Ed.

There is a fascinating article in the New York Times about a course that trains women to successfully write and publish opinion editorials. The teacher of the course, Catherine Orenstein, is concerned that 65 - 75% of unsolicited manuscripts at major newspapers come from men. But imagine the possible impact from lay apostles, men and women, who seriously take up this art form.

“It’s a teachable form,” Ms. Orenstein said recently over coffee and eggs. “It’s not like writing Hemingway. You show people the basics of a good argument, what constitutes good evidence, what’s a news hook, what’s the etiquette of a pitch.”

“I try to convey the idea that there is a responsibility,” she said. “Op-ed pages are so enormously powerful. It’s one of the few places open to the public. Where else is someone like me going to get access? It’s not like I can call up the White House: ‘Hello?’ ”

Ms. Orenstein also makes some observations about women's motivations which I have also noticed on the road.

She asked: Could every woman . . . name one specific subject that she is an expert in and say why?

"Of the next four women who spoke, three started with a qualification or apology. “I’m really too young to be an expert in anything,” said Caitlin Petre, 23.

 

“Let’s stop,” Ms. Orenstein said. “It happens in every single session I do with women, and it’s never happened with men.” Women tend to back away from “what we know and why we know it,” she said."


In my experience, Catholic women, especially older women, also tend to resist the idea of being specially gifted, of being called in some way that makes them stand apart from the group. They are the ones who tell me "I know what my gift is but I got so much positive feed-back about it that I stopped using it for fear I would become proud." They are the ones who ask "Can I use a charism at work, to make money?"

Answer number one: It's not about you. Really. It is about what God wants to reach that other person through you.

Answer number two. You are a secular apostle, called to evangelize and heal the cultures and structures of the world and one of the primary ways you do that is through your work! So, yes, please use your charisms in the marketplace.

So, fellow apostles - men and women - consider the ministry of the op ed. Help shape the conversation. Where else is someone like you or me going to get access?

 
Excellence is Not Optional! PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 March 2007 06:49

Written by Keith Strohm

In the wonderful discussion that has ensued in the comment box of the Christian Music post, one of the things we have been talking about is the issue of quality. I've been thinking and reflecting quite a bit on the notion of quality and ministry (not just in music, but in all areas of apostolic endeavor). For a variety of reasons, the unspoken Catholic cultural norm seems to be that poor or sub-standard quality is acceptable because what we are doing is a ministry and we shoud be grateful that a number of folks have stepped up to volunteer. It's almost as if we are embarassed to hold ourselves to a high standard.

I think, first off, that part of the issue is how we view the work of ministry--the notion that individuals are simply volunteers and not competent lay apostles called and gifted by God for very particular and powerful vocations in the world. Seen as simply volunteers, men and women get a pass for just showing up. This happened frequently in my last parish. When I remarked to one of the leaders of a music ministry group that we should have higher expectations (and formation) for those who help lead musical worship at Mass, her response was to say, "Well, they're just volunteers; they don't do this for a living, you know."

And yet, if we take the theology of Stewardship seriously, we are called to give our first fruits, the best we have to offer, to the Lord and His work! What I hear when I engage with the theology of Stewardship is that excellence is not optional. What we do for the Lord (which is to say, all that we do) should be undertaken wholeheartedly, surrendering all that we have to the Lord for the sake of other people.

This excellence needs to extend not just to "product" (what we are offering), but also to "process" (how we are offering it). Why? Because if we are serious about the Lord's command to go out and be salt and leaven for the world, we must compete with the other offerings that the world presents to men and women, offerings that are often packaged carefully and have a great deal of resources put behind them.

Now, I know there are folks here who are reading this and thinking that becoming too molded to the way the world does things could water down the gospel we are presenting, but excellence in quality does not automatically mean abandonment of gospel truths. I'm not advocating profligate spending to make things slick and shiny for the sake of being slick and shiny. Simple presentation is effective--and there is a world of difference between simple presentation and poor presentation. If we can't be bothered to present the richness of our relationship with God well, why should anyone be bothered to listen?

The reality of lay apostolates being what they are, I'm also not advocating the need for perfection right out of the gate. In the early days of the Catherine of Siena Institute, for example, I'm sure things were held together by duct tape and prayer. However, a committment to continued excellence and improvement of what we have to offer (that is to say, the principles of solid stewardship) is fundamental to the living out of our vocations. What God has called us to do, He calls us to do well!

Excellence in process is also central to our response to God. The principles of Stewardship call us to work toward the maximum result from the resources we have been given (check out the Parable of the Talents sometime). Part of that comes from how we manage the ministries we have been given (whether a "formal" apostolate or the (super)natural extension of just living our lives.

In the current issue of Christianity Today, there is an article on Rich Stearns, the current CEO of WorldVision, one of the largest Poverty Relief Agencies in the world. In that article, Jonathan Reckford of Habitat for Humanity has this to say:

...at times, people in the nonprofit world believe that being grassroots and faithful is enough--that results and good management don't matter . . .The idea that an organization that's using other people's money to serve God would be less well run than a business or corporation is atrocious. . . .We ought to have much higher standards than the business world."
We wouldn't think of running our households poorly, or in approaching our careers in a lackadaisical or sub-standard fashion. So, we do we tolerate that same approach to ministry?

To be sure, we don't just operate in the world on our own human resources. We have the power of God working with us. But just as we must cooperate with grace for our own salvation, offering a human response to His Gift, so too must we cooperate with God for the salvation of others, giving to God our committment, our talent, our gifts--our very best--for the sake of others. This union of divine action and human will yields powerful results both in personal holiness and in the sanctification of the world


Poor and sub-standard quality in ministry does not honor God, nor does it honor the men and women we have been called to serve. The problem is that we, as a People, don't really reflect on this reality that much. And so, we have a culture that tolerates and, in subtle ways, encourages mediocrity. We must work tirelessly to reverse that trend and help build cultures and structures that see excellence in ministry as the normative response to God's call.

In that way, we can all hope to hear the voice of Christ at our lives' ends saying, "Well done, my good and faithful servant.
 
Who Knows But That You Were Raised Up For Such a Time As This PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 15 March 2007 06:47
I've been meaning to blog about this group for some time: Talk about lay apostles!

It's the International Justice Mission. They are an ecumenical group of Christian human rights professionals who rescue victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery, and oppression. IMJ was founded in 1997 by Gary Haugen. As a lawyer for the US Department of Justice, Haugen was loaned to the UN to direct their investigation into the Rwandan genocide. The atrocities he witnesses prompted him to found IMJ.

Watch this. It is a talk that a young woman, an IMJ lawyer (and Jewish convert to Christianity), gave at last December's mammoth Urbana gathering (the world's largest missions conference - 22,000 Christian students exploring their future in all kinds of faith-related ministry or work and yes, there are many Catholic students among them.).

She tells the story of a Christian teenager who was tricked into sexual slavery and was rescued by IMJ. She begged God to be rescued before her one year anniversary in sexual slavery. When the IMJ team entered her room at the brothell, they found that that she had written
Psalm 27: 1 -3 on the wall. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

Last year, I received a letter from a newly retired pharmicist who, as a result of going through the Called & Gifted discernment process, is now in Tanzania, training local care-givers to administer AIDS medications. Without this training in the only medical school in the country, the World Health Organization won't give the AIDS meds. As I read her letter, it dawned upon me that this woman's obedience could change the lives of a whole generation and the course of a whole nation. When I told her story in a women's small group in my parish, one woman said in amazement: "She's like Esther, who knows but what she was raised up for such a time as this!"

I often think "who knows but what she (or he) was raised up for such a time as this!" as I travel about the country, teaching lay Catholics (and other Christians who come) how to discern how God has called and gifted them for the sake of others. I thought of it again as I watched the video above. Sometimes I hear it said to me in my weakest and most discouraged moments.

Right now, there is someone out there who is waiting for what you have been given to give. And their life hangs in the balance. You may not know them yet. They may not even have been born yet. But in God's Providence, you are the one. You are the one who has been raised up by God for exactly such a time as this. For such a person as this.

It is time to take your place.
 
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