Just FYI. One of the frustrating things here in Detroit is the fact that there is no WIFI. So my only e-mail contact is via a web-based program on a desktop in a computer room in a galaxy far, far away - from the rooms in which I am staying.
Adding to my frustration is the fact that I can't answer any e-mails because the very strict filter in this building regards my web-based mail service as a potential threat and won't let me send anything out.
That and the fact that I have very poor cell phone reception here has complicated matters a good deal.
Just to say, if you write me, don't expect a reply until next week. If it is urgent, contact Austin in our office (
or (719) 219-0056.
On April 24 on this blog I wrote about an online discernment website designed to help young people begin to discern a call to priesthood or religious life. I found that the questions might help determine if someone was a disciple, but I didn't see that the questions addressed particular issues that might help a young man discern whether he might be called to be a priest. I concluded that post by writing, "if the ministry potential survey helps identify disciples, that would be a start in the right direction. My questions are, what kinds of qualities would help young men identify a possible call to priesthood?"
Our questions or statements will say a lot about the kind of priests we are looking for. What kinds of questions would be suitable to help those for whom religious life is a possible call? I think these would be different questions, and require a separate discernment tool, as they are different vocations (even though many male religious are also priests).
Just for fun, I thought I would review Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds), Pope John Paul II’s post-synodal letter on the priesthood, to see if I could glean some statements that might be part of a discernment tool for those interested in exploring a call to priesthood. I gleaned a few quotes from the document, and below I propose a serious of statements for just such a discernment instrument. While there are many passages that could be used, I have chosen these as representative of attitudes that together might be at least somewhat distinctive from attitudes of a disciple of Jesus called to the lay state.
These statements would elicit a response on a scale from Strongly Disagree - Disagree - Weakly Disagree - Weakly Agree - Agree - Strongly Agree. On occasion I have worded the statement so that a “strongly disagree” response would be an indication of a possible priestly vocation. I trust those will be obvious! One thing that is clear from the quotes is this: the Church has very high expectations for those who seek ordination as priests. It was great for me to review this document, although it pointed out how far short I am from the idea. Pray that I might live up to them!
Here are the quotes from Pastores Dabo Vobis (in italics), followed by a dash and my statement for a discernment tool. The numbers in parentheses are the section from which the quotes were taken. I realize my quotes and statements will reflect my own understanding of priesthood. In addition, I remind you that there are many, many other quotes that I could have pulled concerning the priest's identity with Christ, his relationship to the Bishop, etc. These will have to do for now. In addition, there were some quotes I had selected, but when I went to design a statement based on them, I asked myself, "would this really help distinguish a person with a possible call to priesthood from someone who is a disciple?" In some cases, I chose not to use them.
These are not meant to be a complete survey - just a first quick swipe at a task that proved harder than I had initially imagined.
In a word, priests exist and act in order to proclaim the Gospel to the world and to build up the Church in the name and person of Christ the Head and Shepherd. This is the ordinary and proper way in which ordained ministers share in the one priesthood of Christ. (15) – I seldom or never talk about religion, because it is a private matter.
The ministry of the priest is entirely on behalf of the Church; it aims at promoting the exercise of the common priesthood of the entire people of God; (16) – Because the ordained are holier than ordinary Christians, they should be held in high esteem, and it is an honor to serve them.
The ordained ministry has a radical "communitarian form" and can only be carried out as "a collective work". The Council dealt extensively with this communal aspect of the nature of the priesthood, examining in succession the relationship of the priest with his own Bishop, with other priests and with the lay faithful. (17) – I enjoy working with others, and, often derive a greater satisfaction from a task accomplished as part of a group than one accomplished by myself.
Priests are there to serve the faith, hope and charity of the laity. They recognize and uphold, as brothers and friends, the dignity of the laity as children of God and help them to exercise fully their specific role in the overall context of the Church's mission. (17) – I believe lay people have an essential and important role as the Church inserted into the world.
The priest is first of all a minister of the Word of God … For this reason, the priest himself ought first of all to develop a great personal familiarity with the word of God… He needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart, so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him—"the mind of Christ" (26) ¬- I enjoy reading the Bible, and know that certain attitudes of mine have been challenged by what I encountered there.
The Synod would like to see celibacy presented and explained in the fullness of its biblical, theological and spiritual richness, as a precious gift given by God to his Church and as a sign of the Kingdom which is not of this world, a sign of God's love for this world and of the undivided love of the priest for God and for God's People, with the result that celibacy is seen as a positive enrichment of the priesthood (29) – I love the freedom that being unmarried gives me to relate to, befriend, and help a wide variety of people.
Future priests should therefore cultivate a series of human qualities, not only out of proper and due growth and realization of self, but also with a view to the ministry. These qualities are needed for them to be balanced people, strong and free, capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities…Of special importance is the capacity to relate to others. (43) – I believe – and have been told by others - that I am a fair, well-balanced person and am able to relate to a variety of people.
The present situation is heavily marked by religious indifference, by a widespread mistrust regarding the real capacity of reason to reach objective and universal truth, and by fresh problems and questions brought up by scientific and technological discoveries. It strongly demands a high level of intellectual formation, such as will enable priests to proclaim, in a context like this, the changeless Gospel of Christ and to make it credible to the legitimate demands of human reason. (51) –I believe if you keep on proclaiming the faith as it has always been taught, those few who are meant to be saved will “get it.”
It is particularly important to prepare future priests for cooperation with the laity. The Council says, "they should be willing to listen to lay people, give brotherly consideration to their wishes and recognize their experience and competence in the different fields of human activity. In this way they will be able to recognize with them the signs of the times.” (59) – a priest is called “father” by his parishioners because he knows what is best for them and for the parish.
Above all it is necessary that he be able to teach and support the laity in their vocation to be present in and to transform the world with the light of the Gospel, by recognizing this task of theirs and showing respect for it. (59) – If Catholics want to grow in holiness, they should spend more time at church and less in the corrupting influence of the world.
The intellectual dimension of formation likewise needs to be continually fostered through the priest's entire life, especially by a commitment to study and a serious and disciplined familiarity with modern culture. (72) – Study is not something that interests me. I learn better watching good programs on T.V.
Jesus often went off alone to pray (cf. Mt 14:23). The ability to handle a healthy solitude is indispensable for caring for one's interior life. Here we are speaking of a solitude filled with the presence of the Lord who puts us in contact with the Father, in the light of the Spirit. (74) – While I enjoy the company of people, there are times I crave quiet solitude to connect with God on my own.
By Baptism, which marks him with the dignity and freedom of the children of God in the only-begotten Son, the priest is a member of the one Body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:16). His consciousness of this communion leads to a need to awaken and deepen co-responsibility in the one common mission of salvation, with a prompt and heartfelt esteem for all the charisms and tasks which the Spirit gives believers for the building up of the Church (74) – I enjoy seeing the gifts God has given other, and it would be great if I could help them figure out how God might be calling them.
Please let me know what you think... You might have a better way of wording the statements. I have to admit I had a bit of fun with some of the ones I came up with!
Just as an aside - I wrote to the website to let them know that although I had taken the instrument, I am already an ordained priest. I continue to get periodic invitations to have my score and responses interpreted for me, as well as invitations to visit other religious communities! But not the Dominicans...
We've made it through the first week. Fr. Michael has swooped off back to California for the weekend to attend OP ordinations and I'm alone - in the world's largest brick building.
Honest. Think of the Pentagon with crucifixes and that would be about right. I can't begin to count the rooms, hallways, staircases or alcoves. Everytime I think about about going somewhere my head begins to hurt.
Cause the simpliest thing involves 4 sets of stairs and a half mile hike - which may well end up with me on the wrong side of the whole complex from my goal. Good thing the faculty dining hall is near my room. That I can find - so in pinch, I won't starve.
The class seems to be going well. Several are eager to attend this summer's Making Disciples seminar. It would be great to have a Detroit contingent. We have 15 from a parish in Ohio coming and two from Singapore! It's not too late for you to come too! Just check out the "new seminar" link on our website: www.siena.org.
I've been working pretty relentlessly since I got here - just trying to keep one class ahead of the group. I'll spend Saturday trying to get ahead and Sunday out with some old friends like Tim Furgeson and Matthew Hill and new ones like Sue Cummins who is in the class. We'll be going to Greenfield Village after Mass and brunch - a museum where Henry Ford gathered historic bulidings from around the US.
See the world with CSI is my motto.
Now to make some overdue phone calls and scan once again the canons on the laity.
Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked man his thoughts; Let him turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts. Isaiah 55:6-9
Today at morning prayer I was struck by one of the petitions for this Friday in the seventh week of Easter. In it the Church asks God, "Help us to show reverence for those who are weak in faith - may we never be hard or impatient with them, but always treat them with love."
American culture these days is poisonous in so many ways. Sexuality is trivialized and human beings objectified. Violence has become entertainment ("World of Warcraft" is just one example of incredibly violent video 'games' being offered our children). We dehumanize our enemies (Arabs, felons, gays, immigrants - especially, but not limited to illegal ones, conservatives, liberals, the ultra-orthodox, the heterodox), making it easier to judge, dismiss, hate or even kill them.
On our airwaves, on the television, in casual conversations, in the blogosphere and in print we are actively twisting one another's words, taking them out of context, attributing motives to words and actions, and generally failing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt unless they seem to think and act just like us. I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise given that we live in a fallen world, but I would hope that Christians would know better.
And who are these "weak in faith" for whom we are to show reverence, be patient, kind and loving?
They are those who have don't trust the teachings of the Church's Magisterium. They are those who want the Magisterium to tell them exactly how to behave. They are those who want everything regarding faith to be ambiguous. They are those who want everything regarding faith to be absolutely unambiguous. They are those who don't want to follow Jesus anywhere. They are those who don't want to follow Jesus everywhere. They are those who will follow Jesus as long as it's not too difficult. They are those who believe they are following Jesus only if it's difficult. They are those who act as though Jesus should follow them.
I hope you get the point. All of us are weak in faith, and Jesus himself treats us with reverence, kindness, patience and love. Who are we to behave differently?
Apparently, we are not the first Christians to struggle with reverential treatment of one another. St. Paul chided the believers in Galatia, and these words of his are perennially appropriate, but especially so as we approach Pentecost.
You were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.
But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. [my emphasis - pick your poison, please]
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. [my emphasis, again - does this describe your behavior with those with whom you disagree?] Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ (Jesus) have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another. Gal 5:13-26
St. Paul himself even slips up a bit on this point, when, in a moment of frustration against those who were insisting that Christians follow the Mosaic Law - including circumcision - he wishes "that those who are upsetting you might also castrate themselves!" Gal 5:12
In a more dispassionate moment, when dealing with the struggles between Judeo-Christians who found it hard to give up the special holidays and dietary restrictions of their former faith and those for whom it was not a struggle, St. Paul could say, "Welcome anyone who is weak in faith [i.e., still observing some Jewish practices], but not for disputes over opinions. One person believes that one may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on someone else's servant?" Rom 14:1-4a
Every one of us is 'someone else's servant', since we are all servants of our Lord, Jesus. He will be our judge, none other. We must help one another in our weakness, speaking the truth in love and in humility, and being open to correction ourselves. Salvation is at stake, so we all need to love one another and help each other in our mutual weakness of faith.
May we devoutly pray with the Church today to the Lord, "Help us to show reverence for those who are weak in faith - may we never be hard or impatient with them, but always treat them with love."
"Lord, come to our aid and save us" (from ourselves).
After four or more days of cold, hard rain, occasional hail, and last night's fitful sleep in a too-cold room, Colorado Springs enjoyed a gorgeous spring day. Trees that had hardly begun to show signs of green seemed to have leafed out today. I have to admit, it is a drop-dead gorgeous place to call home (even if it's a "sometimes" home). As I was enjoying lunch out in the sunshine, I was reminded of a story told to me by Joan Carey, a parishioner at Christ King Catholic Church in Wauwatosa, WI. She has a website where you can listen to short parable podcasts taken from her own life experience. They're delightful, and might bring some sun to your day - whatever the weather's giving you. Here's what she says about them.
We know that most people don’t have time to attend a Bible study. Many find it challenging just to carve out a few minutes each day for prayer or to read the Bible on their own. So, for all of you “on the go,” we’ve packaged the truth of God’s Word for you to take with you as you go about your day.
The podcasts are short, modern-day parables that leave you pondering deeper truths of the faith.
By the way, her venture in podcast story-telling was encouraged through her discernment of her gifts after attending a Called & Gifted workshop. Way to go, Joan!
George Barna, the evangelical version of the Gallup organization, has an interesting sounding book out titled, The Seven Faith Tribes: Who They Are, What They Believe, and Why They Matter. In that book, Barna outlines seven diverse faith segments, profiling their lifestyles, religious beliefs and practices, values and life goals. The seven tribes include Casual Christians, Captive Christians, Mormons, Jews, Pantheists, Muslims and Skeptics.
I'm lifting some significant sections from a discussion of "casual Christianity" from this update from the Barna organization. I find it interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, the description of "casual Christianity" seems to fit large numbers of Christians I've met. There are many days I'd say the description fits me. After all, as a religious priest I have a secure life, a clearly defined role that means that most of my human interactions are with other Catholics. Secondly, we live in a country in which, so far, Christianity is tolerated so long as it remains "casually practiced." Conversely, very often Christians in the U.S. - particularly of the casual kind - are very supportive of American civil life, and tend to not be critical of government policies regarding, for example, immigration, foreign policy, economics, and health care (at least not those policies proposed by whichever political party to which the Christian might belong).
While I haven't read Barna's book, the descriptions below are intriguing, and more than a bit challenging. Especially since I have had Catholics who've been moved by God's grace from the casual to the "captive" brand of Christianity tell me things like, "my Catholic friends think I'm strange, extreme, or too serious about my faith." I might go so far as to propose that "captive" Christianity sounds quite a bit like (you guessed it) intentional discipleship!
Question: What have you found to be the appeal of Casual Christianity, as opposed to what draws people to the Captive Christian or even the Mormon tribes – that is, other tribes that are much more fervent about their faith?
Barna: Casual Christianity is faith in moderation. It allows them to feel religious without having to prioritize their faith. Christianity is a low-risk, predictable proposition for this tribe, providing a faith perspective that is not demanding. A Casual Christian can be all the things that they esteem: a nice human being, a family person, religious, an exemplary citizen, a reliable employee – and never have to publicly defend or represent difficult moral or social positions or even lose much sleep over their private choices as long as they mean well and generally do their best. From their perspective, their brand of faith practice is genuine, realistic and practical. To them, Casual Christianity is the best of all worlds; it encourages them to be a better person than if they had been irreligious, yet it is not a faith into which they feel compelled to heavily invest themselves.
Question: What are the critical elements that make the Casual Christians tick?
Barna: The comfort that this approach provides. It offers them life insights if they choose to accept them, gives them a community of relationships if they desire such, fulfills their inner need to have some type of connection with a deity, and provides the image of being a decent, faith-friendly person. Because Casuals do not view matters of faith as central to one’s purpose or success in life, this brand of Christianity supplies the multi-faceted levels of satisfaction and assurance that they desire.
Question: You list two tribes under the “Christian” umbrella. What are the primary differences between the Casual and Captive tribes?
Barna: The lives of Captive Christians are defined by their faith; their worldview is built around their core spiritual beliefs and resultant values. Casual Christians are defined by the desire to please God, family, and other people while extracting as much enjoyment and comfort from the world as possible. The big difference between these two tribes is how they define a successful life. For Captives, success is obedience to God, as demonstrated by consistently serving Christ and carrying out His commands and principles. For Casuals, success is balancing everything just right so that they are able to maximize their opportunities and joys in life without undermining their perceived relationship with God and others. Stated differently, Casuals are about moderation in all things while Captives are about extreme devotion to their God regardless of the worldly consequences.
So, what do you think? Do these descriptions sound reasonable? Oh, and before you wonder what the characteristics are he uses to describe the other tribes, and complain that these brush strokes are way, way, too broad, here's something else to consider:
Question: If you had to list the single, most defining characteristic of each of the seven tribes, what would each tribe’s defining faith attribute be?
Barna: Casual Christians are driven by a desire for a pleasant and peaceful existence. Captive Christians are focused on upholding the absolute moral and spiritual truths they glean from the Bible. Jews coalesce around their sense of community. Mormons are identifiable by their family centeredness. Pantheists are best understood by their resigned acceptance of their reality. Muslims are characterized by their commitment to faith-driven behavioral standards. Skeptics are highly independent. Every tribe will reject these singular descriptions, and rightfully so because each tribe is complex and robust. But these factors give a short-hand sense of the heartbeat of each tribe.
One last note this Memorial Day: This holiday was originally called Decoration Day - the day for decorating the graves of the Civil War dead. After World War I, it was expanded to include all Americans lost in battle of any war. And we keep adding, generation after generation, to the total of those who will be honored. Here is the haunting letter of Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah on the eve of the First Battle of Manassas (Bull run) in 1861 as featured in the moving segment from Ken Burn's Civil War series. The letter was not mailed until the war was over - long after he had died. The Ballou's had not been married long really. Less than 6 years. I've wandered the Manassas battlefield on a day well over 100 degrees, a day so hot that you were warned not to put gas in your car during the day and the National Park Service folks were told to stay inside the air conditioning. It was on that sort of July day that Sullivan Ballou died. Sarah Ballou never remarried. This story is being repeated over and over today, of course. Last month, I sat next to a very young man on his way to Afghanistan, who had just been married days before and wanted to talk. Gradually, as we talked, he told me what he did. He was a sniper - the first one in. He told me that he had been told, "never look the children in the eyes" and that they were right. He had already done one tour and was showing all the signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In fact, he had woken up a few nights previously with his hands around his new wife's throat. But as he told me, if the Army knew, they would not let him continue. And at that moment, our plane landed. All I could do was promise to pray for him. And I have. But it was like a terrible chasm opened before me as I saw, for the first time, what we were asking of these young men and women on our behalf. A tortured young man being put in a position where he may have to make the life and death decision to shoot children or lose his comrades - or his own life. I've just finished wading through the oceans of blood shed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, so I'm not saying "just give peace a chance". It's never that simple. Beccause the end result of war or peace is made up of a incredible chain of events and decisions large and small that pile up until one day a young man plucked from peaceful obscurity is staring into a child's eyes with an automatic rifle in his hands. Today is a day for honoring and praying for the dead indeed. We would honor them more if we seriously attended to making peace in small ways today. And tomorrow.
Fascinating that there are so many CV's in France and so relatively few in places like Ireland and Poland.
I know that when I think of the term "consecrated virgin" I automatically think of women and the United States Association for Consecrated Virgins is explicitly for women and yet I'm sure there are men who have a similar call to live as a celibate, consecrated layman in the world, Men who are part of a standard religious community or secular Institute.
Is there an equivalent consecration for men? I met a man about to become a officially recognized hermit in Alaska recently - but these women are very much in the world.
In any case, the CV's of the US are having a conference this summer. Check out their website. It is full of fascinating information and vocational discernment resources for women considering the possibility of such a call.
And here is
an interesting video piece on a consecrated virgin in the Boston area. As she puts it, "I was hit with a truck of the Holy Spirit". O'Malley has received the promises of several women in the area and I saw an interview where he said that becoming a hermit is the male equivalent.
I have to admit that I'm not entirely comfortable with how the woman in the interview describes her relationship with Christ but i am envious of the fact that she can have the Blessed Sacrament in her home!
Lydia, our Called & Gifted team leader in Singapore and a lay Dominican herself, wrote to make me aware that the Dominicans of Godzdogz are posting a preaching series on ministries and charisms. Looks very interesting.
But especially lovely was the photo series on the annual Dominican pilgrimage to the Our Lady of Walsingham Shrine. Nothing like walking barefoot down a green English lane in May on your way to pay homage to Our Lady. Loved this image:
A few last minute posts before I leave very early tomorrow for Detroit.
Here's a wonderful anecdote from Cardinal Suenen's Memories & Hopes about Pope John Paul II on the day of his inaugural Mass as Pope:
""The day of the inauguration was a great day indeed. The Pope exudes an air of faith and of power. I feel that God himself has chosen him for us, for no one has more spirit than the Holy Spirit. He will be a man for new times; a man of bold decisions, not routine ones, one who will go beyond muffled diplomacy, facing into the wind and even into the storm.
'He will need to be strong at the helm and very weak in prayer before God. One of his fellow students in Rome, Paul de Haes, used to say that the intensity of his prayer "is enough to make you jealous". He prays with his whole body - he is an incarnation of prayer - and at those moments he looks years older. He bows deeply, bending close to the ground; in the Sistine Chapel, during his prayer of thanksgiving, he looked as though he had collapsed, and I feared that he had been taken ill. But as soon as he stands up straight and smiles, he looks amazingly young."
I should be making that last big push to get the debates at Vatican II into Powerpoint but i stopped to take some pictures of the garden. It's a cool, rainy, green Memorial Day weekend here - unusual but i wanted to record the progress of the garden and it is in a very different place this Memorial Day than it was last year at this time.
Labor Day, 2006. The wall in the midst of well, not much.
The same wall today. Still early in the season but already looking lush.
The view of the whole from top: Ireland in the Rockies
Our resident rabbit who is completely non-plused by my presence. Fortunately, he decided that he didn't like the taste of those wild penstemons. The bare spot above Peter Rabbit's head is the large future wild grass bed which I will plant when I return from Detroit.
And the view of Pikes Peak this past week from the place where the steps meet the path above the wall:
Oh, and here are the new cats; Cosmos the Magnificent (extroverted, large, white, and regal) and Damien the Diffident (smaller orange tabby, introverted and independent, loves high places). Brothers, 3 years old.