I have just received a thought-provoking letter addressed to Pope Benedict from a very knowledgable, "high" Protestant resident of the Muslim world. His name is Abu Daoud and he asks three things of the Pope that would help Muslims who are spiritual seekers.
1) That Catholic parishes in the west with significant immigrant Muslim populations be ready and willing to give out Bibles in the languages of local Muslims: Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, Turkish, etc. "Even in the most fundamentalist Islamic countries, if a person asks for a Bible, it is not considered to be antagonistic to Islam to give him one."
(Sherry's note: I have heard some hair-raising stories of secret brown-paper-wrapped Bible hand-offs between fully veiled women in grocery stores. At least in some parts of the Muslim world, it used to be very dangerous. Therefore, the policy was that the seeker had to ask at least three times before their request was considered. That may have changed. But certainly in the west, it is doable.)
2) "A key reason listed in the conversion narratives of Muslims is a dream or vision. Often this is of Messiah himself, but other times of an angel or saint like John the Baptist or the Blessed Virgin. What if each diocese were instructed, as they are with exorcists today, to discern among their clergy (or laity?) an individual (or several) with the charism of interpreting dreams and visions? If we think this is not a genuine ability imparted from God we need only recall the stories of Joseph and Daniel, both of whom had this gift, and both of whom glorified God in the presence of pagans through it. A small publicity campaign--small ads in local publications read by immigrants, notices at the church doors--letting people know that, if they have had dreams or visions which they cannot explain, that someone with experience in that field is ready and willing to talk with them."
(Sherry's note: As I have noted here before, many "Muslim background believers" have experienced dreams and visions of Christ and sometimes of the Virgin Mary.
In our work facilitating the discernment of Catholics, I can't say that I've come across a charism of "interpreting dreams" as such. And it isn't that we haven't heard some hair-raising stories, including the raising of the dead and experiences of bi-location. But I would think that persons of considerable spiritual maturity, perhaps trained in the Ignatian discernment, with some background in Islam and in what is happening in the Muslim world today, and with charisms of wisdom or prophecy or encouragement might be exceedingly helpful here. They aren't exactly thick on the ground but they do exist.)
As Abu Daoud points out that, this is not an abstract issue.
". . . let me tell you about a Muslima in a Middle-Eastern country who had a dream of the Virgin. She, at no small cost to her own security, sought out a local Roman Catholic priest and told him of the dream. He wept as he listened to her, but his final answer was that this was God's way of telling her to be a more devout Muslima. Is this a legitimate interpretation? Was this decision not led by fear of persecution rather than a genuine apostolic faith? But we do not have a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind."
3) That each bishop have a plan for how to respond when Muslims ask to be baptized.
"In the Middle East (where I have lived for several years) the general practice among Catholics is to refer Muslims who inquire about baptism to evangelicals, or simply tell them (as above) that they must find their salvation in Islam through greater self effort. Of course Muslims requesting baptism are adults, and thus are (ideally) baptized by the local bishop. Catholic bishops in the Muslim world have shown a very strong tendency towards favoring the security of their material goods (schools, clinics, churches) over the sporadic and risky requests posed to them by the Muslim seeking to know Christ, or for that matter the ex-Muslim who does know Christ and is seeking the sacrament of initiation into the church which the bishop oversees."
". . this is not theoretical. I know well a new disciple of Christ who has been seeking baptism for some time. He has suffered for his faith more than most Christians ever will, and he knows the Scripture better too--having read the entire book several times. Yet the local Latin priest in his home city eventually chased him away and said he would call the police if he showed up again. Why? He was from a prominent Muslim family. The priest was correct in suspecting that persecution of the tiny Christian community (of all churches and denominations) would ensue, but what if there had been a quietly-communicated policy in place? What if the believer had been discretely told to visit a certain person in a certain town? All of this, to be sure, after his devotion to and comprehension of the Good News had been certified. As it stands right now, this young man was recently baptized by an evangelical pastor/elder. He was turned away from the church where he first sought fellowship. Is the fault his? With a sensitive policy in place (and here there was absolutely no possibility of the local bishop baptizing him--he controls far too many institutions and properties to make that worthwhile) this young man could have been a new, vibrant Catholic Christian. But he is not, and will never be. "
There has been much discussion of the new Pew "Religious Knowledge Survey" in which atheists and Mormons outpaced everyone else and Catholics, as a whole, came in last.
These results were given a poignant concreteness when a commenter on the Dotcommonweal blog decided this morning to ask her son the questions that the Pew surveyers asked. The result?
" I just tried the test on my son, who is in his 9th year of CCD and has been going to Sunday Mass all his life. He believes in God but is not too certain, doesn’t know if the Bible is the word of God, thinks that Jesus was born in Nazareth (”Jesus of Nazareth”), that communion is a symbol, that salvation comes through faith alone, that the gospels were written by Mark, Luke, John and Paul, and has never heard of Job. In terms of factual knowledge, it’s a total failure.
That, after 2 years of CCD in France, 4 years in a suburban US parish, and 2+ years in an urban US parish. One can’t help but wonder: what’s the point of CCD?"
Actually, her son did pretty well. 12% of American adults think Noah and Joan of Arc are a couple. Only 1/3 of American adults know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. One quarter of US adults con't know what is celebrated at Easter. In the Netherlands, 58% of adults didn't know what Easter was about. At St. John's University in the UK, 60% of those asked had no idea what the parable of the Good Samaritan was about. The most widely known Bible verse among both adult and teen believers is "God helps those who help themselves." (II Hezekiah 37: 2a!)
In our culture, such religious knowledge is no longer part of the general culture. In the 21st century, discipleship will be the necessary personal foundation of religious knowledge for the vast majority of people.
The 2009 Pew Faith in Flux survey pointed out that the vast majority of Catholics leave the Church by age 23. Most do so by age 18. And that attending CCD or Religious Education classes, being part of a youth group, and even attending a Catholic high school seems to have little impact on whether or not someone who is raised Catholic will stay Catholic, become a Protestant, or drift off into "none" land.
As Kenda Creasy Dean, Associate Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, points out in her new book "Almost Christian" The single biggest factor in the development of the faith of children is the faith of their parents.
"The religiosity of American teenagers must be read primarily as a reflection of their parent's religious devotion"
It is very simple. CCD is not and cannot be a substitute for the discipleship of parents.
If we don't make adult disciples, we will continue to lose our children and grand-children.
Cardinal Roncalli, on his way to the conclave that would elect him People John XXIII, said,
"We are not here to be the guardians of a museum but the cultivators of a flourishing garden of life."
The gardening image hits home, of course, for me. Indeed, it is at the heart of my "life verse". Isaiah 58: 10 - 12: a verse I first heard someone quote when I was an undergrad. A verse that instantly seized my heart and seemed to name it although I had no idea why.
I accepted it as a call from God and immediately memorized it. And it came to mind today when I stumbled across John XXIII's image of the Church as a flourishing garden.
Every word of those passages has come to pass in ways I could never have foreseen. The light and the darkness, the scorched places, the ancient ruins, and the watered garden.
And if you will give yourself to the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted
then your light will rise in darkness
and your gloom will become like midday.
And the Lord will continually guide you
And satisfy your desire in scorched places
and give strength to your bones,
And you will be like a watered garden
like a spring of water whose waters do not fail
And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins
you will raise up the age old foundations
and you will be called "the repairer of the breach"
Three great Catholic quotes of the day and all new to me!
St. Ignatius of Loyola:
Jesus: I want to overcome all diseases, all poverty, all ignorance, all oppression and slavery – in short all the evils which beset humankind.
Blessed John Henry Newman:
To holy people the very name of Jesus is a name to feed upon, a name to transport. His name can raise the dead and transfigure and beautify the living.
Pope Benedict XVI:
Our goals should not be more power and more people, but instead to be at the service of Another – to be servants. But good servants work at it. Good servants are as prepared, educated, efficient and effective as they can possibly be. We can’t claim to be good servants if we don’t invest time in being good at it. It is all tied up together. That means learning from each other, taking risks with new and better ideas, breaking conventions, overcoming fears and doing things that serve others instead of ourselves.
We don’t need to focus on making the Church attractive. We just need to focus on more effectively presenting Jesus Christ to the world. He is the most attractive thing there is.
As you all know, my little sister is in the midst of breast cancer treatment – halfway through radiation, after a radical double mastectomy, left arm lymphadectomy, and a couple months of chemo. She is halfway through the final treatment of this marathon of horrors. The past week or so she has been struggling with swelling and pain with the radiation (she has to hold her arms above her head for 10 minutes, every day). Yesterday they did an ultrasound to rule out blood clots, which was negative. However, after she went home, she had a “cardiac event”. She is now in the ER getting a CT and angiogram. They fear a pulmonary embolism.
Please PRAY for her; she is in urgent need.
WOW!!! Now that is some effective prayer power, people! I finally got to talk to my sister this evening and she hasn’t experienced any further heart snafus since last night. She spent all day long, from 8 this morning until 4:30 this evening in the ER undergoing every test they could come up with to scan her chest, lungs, heart etc. and everything came up negative. No pulmonary embolism. No metastic tumors. Nada. She goes back in tomorrow for complete CT scans of her neck, head, and arms, as, in addition to the frightening heart arrhythmias and chest pain early this morning, she also experienced severe neck/jaw/face pain on the left side and a headache that lasted about 20 minutes. They are still thinking that she may have passed a small clot through her heart, or lung, that could not be picked up by the scans.
We are still concerned about a clot somewhere in her neck/head, and what is causing this. However, Sara, her husband Bill, and I, have all experienced a dramatic decrease in anxiety despite the lack of information – undoubtedly thanks to the prayer avalanche you all have so wonderfully provided!
And here’s another odd thing… One of you intercessors must have inspired a bend in the time-space continuum because last night I woke up out of a dead sleep to a wide-awake, broad daylight state at about 4 in the morning and started praying Hail Mary’s…for no discernable purpose. I literally had no intention, just did it. I thought I would be up all night I was so wide awake, but after about 20 minutes, I simply went back to sleep. As it turns out, this happened at exactly the same time my sister was having her cardiac episode. They receded about 20 minutes after they started and she wasn’t that worried until she went in for her radiation this morning and the docs freaked out. No kidding. I didn’t even remember waking up until she told me the chest pains woke her up from sleep at that same time. Woooo. Makes my hair stand on end. So, whoever sicced the Holy Spirit on me, THANKS! It may have saved a life. Wow.
Our prayer needs for tomorrow are:
That we get some answers from all the tests she has to go through, or at least a sense of peace about the lack of answers, which is one of the great burdens of cancer, alas.
That the medical tape, electrodes and such that they stick to her tomorrow won’t tear off too much more of her radiated skin (big problem today).
That she get a strong sense of meaning/purpose in her suffering. A new convert this past Easter, she has been feeling really guilty and bad about being too tired to finish her rosary at night. In the middle of cancer treatment! She even feels guilty everyone is praying for her.
Anyway, thank you SO much. I will continue to keep you posted.
this is a partial re-post from original article posted on: Thursday, 26 April 2007 08:06
My Precious Friend,
I know that sometimes life can be difficult and depressing. There is still much darkness in the world because My people have not come to Me as I have asked—yet I love them (and you) with a love that is without end. Every stinging bite of the soldiers’ whips, every jagged cut from my crown of thorns, each terrible kiss of the nails driven hard into My body—all of it was for you. I endured every second upon the Cross for your sake, because I love you.
Do you think, then, that I don’t hear you when you cry out to Me in your time of need? Truly, I do hear you. If I hear the final cry of every sparrow that falls in death, would I not hear you? Do you wonder if I listen when you pray to Me for an answer to the troubles that weigh you down? Indeed, I listen. If I listen intently for the very heartbeat of every baby conceived in the womb, would I not listen when that child prays? I listen, and I remember precisely the instant that your heart took its first beat; the moment that you took your first gasping breath upon leaving the security of your mother's womb; the contented sigh of relief at your first belly full of warm milk. And, though you've grown up, I still listen with My whole Heart for every word you whisper to me.
I am with you always, through whatever storms and struggles that you face. Trust in me, and I will guide you through the darkness. If you take one faltering step toward me, I shall run ten thousand steps toward you. My love for you is so deep, that I once traveled the distance between Heaven and Earth to find you. I will not abandon you now.
My friend, I know that you are discovering yourself—your own gifts and talents—and the world that I created for you. I know that you are beginning to make plans for your life. Will you not let Me help you? The Father and I have a very special plan for you, one that we created before you were even born. Let us discover this plan together, you and I. For there are others in the world who do not know Me, who hurt and cry out, but who have no one to help them. I want to send you in My place, to go to them and do the work I have created you for.
My love, I desire nothing more than that you would come to Me, not just when you are sorrowful or struggling, but also when you are satisfied and happy. I would have you share your life with Me, as I share My life with you. I especially desire that you come to Me in the Eucharist—you dwelling with Me and Me dwelling with you—for that is My greatest gift to you.
This day, and every day, I stand at your heart's door, knocking and asking entrance. Will you not let me in?
An LA friend sends this rare and wonderful video of Catherine Doherty, founder of Canada's Madonna House, and one of the great pioneers of the lay apostolate. She is speaking in 1979 to a group that many Catholics around the blogosphere today would regard as an oxymoron: Eastern Catholic Charismatics.
And why not? Eastern Christianity possesses a remarkable and deep understanding of the Holy Spirit. The Church is so much larger than our shibboleths! It was so unexpected, I couldn't help but laugh.
Catherine is radiant. but her accent is not as strong as I had thought from biographies about her.
And boy, had she earned the right to speak about God and being a prayer. What a life!
Born into the lower ranks of the Russian nobility, Catherine lived through and survived the Russian Revolution, wealth and dire poverty, near starvation, immigration to North America, being a battlefield nurse in the First World War, the Spanish civil war, the Nazi invasion of Poland, an unfaithful and abusive husband, life in the segregated slums of Harlem, and violence at the hands of well-to-do, white Catholics in the American south. She was married twice - once miserably when she was only 15 years old, and again very happily at 43. In a note that sound so very contemporary, her only child was abused by a Catholic priest in his boarding school and she knew nothing about it.
Catherine was a big woman with an in-your-face personality and an out-of-the-box call from God. She founded two movements: one was a pioneering civil rights movement in the US, which she was eventually forced to leave, and the second, Madonna House which she founded at age 51 and which continues to flourish today. Throughout her life, she inspired ardent devotion and fiery opposition while she lived the inner life of a mystic.
She strove to bring together the Russian Orthodoxy of her childhood with her adopted Catholicism and lived spiritual ecumenism.
Watching the video will be well worth 6 minutes of your time.
The full transcript of the Pope's interview during his plane flight to Britain is out and I found this exchange particularly thought-provoking.
Q. - The UK, like many other Western countries - there is an issue that you have already touched on in the first answer –it is considered a secular country. There is a strong atheist movement, even for cultural reasons. However, there are also signs that religious faith, particularly in Jesus Christ, is still alive on a personal level. What can this mean for Catholics and Anglicans? Can anything be done to make the Church as an institution, more credible and attractive to everyone?
A. (Pope Benedict) - "I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power.
The Church is at the service of another: she serves, not for herself, not to be a strong body, rather she serves to make the proclamation of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths and great forces of love, reconciling love that appeared in this figure and that always comes from the presence of Jesus Christ. In this regard, the Church does not seek to be attractive in and of herself, but must be transparent for Jesus Christ and to the extent that she is not out for herself, as a strong and powerful body in the world, that wants power, but is simply the voice of another, she becomes truly transparent for the great figure of Christ and the great truth that he has brought to humanity. The power of love, in this moment one listens, one accepts. The Church should not consider herself, but help to consider the other and she herself must see and speak of the other.
In this sense, I think, both Anglicans and Catholics have the same simple task, the same direction to take. If both Anglicans and Catholics see that the other is not out for themselves but are tools of Christ, children of the Bridegroom, as Saint John says, if both carry out the priorities of Christ and not their own, they will come together, because at that time the priority of Christ unites them and they are no longer competitors seeking the greatest numbers, but are united in our commitment to the truth of Christ who comes into this world and so they find each other in a genuine and fruitful ecumenism."
Discipleship, not churchmanship, comes first. The Church is his body, his bride. True ecumenism arises out of being disciples together. United in the following of Christ.
And there are 20 more CSI events around the country between now and Thanksgiving. Discipleship, discernment, evangelization, and leadership are the themes. Click on the city nearest you to find out what is happening there.
Latte Land. My home town. Beautiful city. You do have to able to accept 9 months of grey and rain in exchange for lush, leisurely springs and enchanting, blue and white summers that have an average high of 75 degrees. There is a reason why Starbucks and Tully's and Seattle's Best all started in the Emerald City. For 9 months, you need that triple grande latte to face the grey.
The news is that Seattle has a new Archbishop who sounds like great guy for many reasons. I was more than a bit stunned to see that Whispers said that the Catholic population of the archdiocese (which covers all of western Washington) had grown to 900,000. That made me rock back in my chair since that would involve an 80% increase in Catholic numbers since I left town for the Rocky Mountains nine years ago.
What had happened? The only thing I could imagine was a mass immigration of Hispanic Catholics into the famously land of "None" which would utterly transform the spiritual and cultural landscape and would surely have made the national news. Or perhaps all the Vietnamese Catholics in the US had moved en mass to the Puget Sound. Surely a development like this would have been mentioned by my family and friends who still live there.
So I checked the Archdiocesan website which gave the Catholic population of western Washington as 577,000.
Ok. A perfectly believable, modest level of growth. The planet is still spinning on its axis.
I got up at 3:30 am to see the Pope's arrival in Scotland. I quickly got frustrated with the EWTN coverage. (Raymond Arroyo talking about Elizabeth I and the Scottish Reformation occurring 600 years ago. Ray. Baby. "Good Queen Bess" died just over 400 years ago and the Scots are celebrating the 450th anniversary of their Reformation this year. Try again.)
It was a real relief to listen to the cheery, professional commentary of the BBC's Scottish talking heads, who were well informed, remarkably positive, and sounded genuinely surprised and pleased with the Pope, regularly using language like "warm" to describe his interactions with the Queen. Besides, listening to their accents (Scottish and Welsh) was such fun. And may I say that listening to their accents goes very well with a big, strong mug of Yorkshire Gold tea.
It was lovely to see Edinburgh again. Prince's Street, the National Gallery of Art, and of course, Edinburgh Castle with its 11th century chapel. My sister and I visited as part of a victory celebration when I finished grad school. It was May and like today, reasonably good weather - but c-o-l-d! O-o-o-o-o . . . how that wind whips down the Royal Mile.
It was touching to watch an English Queen named Elizabeth stand side by side with the Pope at Holyrood Palace where long ago, a a pregnant Catholic Queen named Mary watched her secretary be stabbed to death by her husband's agents. It was fun to contemplate John Knox - whose home was only a couple blocks away and whose stern visage is still visible about the city - rolling in his grave and thundering in his righteous rage, for he was not the sort of man who let worldly things like a sense of occasion silence him.
For four centuries, a stern and very anti-Catholic Reformation identity dominated Scotland, and suddenly, within two generations, it has vanished. The historic enemies have rapidly become co-belligerents in many areas including defending the value of religion against an aggressive anti-religious secularism as Pope Benedict's speech made clear.
Those who came seemed very happy to be there. The crowds were, I understand, considerably smaller than when Pope John Paul II came in 1982. (Update: I see that the BBC has estimated that 125,000 gathered to see the Pope in Edinburgh. That's respectable in a country that only has 700,000 Catholics. Approximately 250,000 came to see John Paul II. ) That would be just after JPII had survived an assassination attempt the year before, so security was considerably bulked up, I'm sure. But I would guess the security for this papal journey is even tighter.
One of the fun things about this work are the amazing people you get to meet. I once interviewed a man who had been part of both Presidential and papal security details.
I love it. There is a sharp 106 year old Scottish women attending the papal Mass in Glasgow. She was glowing in her beautiful maroon hat and scarf as she spoke of what it meant to her.
They estimate the crowd at the Glasgow Mass to be about 70,000. It certainly looked impressive in the wide angle shots. About 300,000 attended Mass at the same venue with Pope John Paul II in 1982. Where would they have put them?
Pope Benedict's Ad Limina address to the bishops of Brazil on September 10 contained some challenging comments.
"a growing influence of new elements of society, which a few decades ago were practically foreign.This causes a consistent abandonment by many Catholics of the ecclesial life and even of the Church, while witnessed in the religious picture of Brazil is the rapid expansion of Evangelical and neo-Pentecostal communities." (Sherry's note: It is helpful that the Pope uses language that these groups use to describe themselves rather than the term "sect".)
Diagnosis: Why are Catholics leaving for evangelical and neo-Pentecostal communities?
"a sign of the widespread thirst for God among your people."
"a sign of an evangelization, at the personal level, which at times is superficial; . . . those who are baptized and who are not sufficiently evangelized"
Prescription: What should we do?
1) Go out and evangelize (Note: the Holy Father is not talking about just sitting in our parishes waiting for them to come to us.)
"the Catholic Church in Brazil commit herself to a new evangelization that spares no efforts in the search for lapsed Catholics, as well as for persons who know little or nothing of the evangelical message"
"leading them to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, living and active in his Church. " (Note the language of personal encounter, "living" active". If it weren't coming from the lips of an 80+ Bavarian-spent-the-last-30-years-of-his-life-in-the-Vatican Pope . . . But I guess we really can't accuse Pope Benedict of being Protestant.)
2) Develop ecumenical relationships with these new groups:
"Moreover, with the growth of new groups that call themselves followers of Christ, though divided in different communities and confessions, all the more necessary, on the part of Catholic pastors, is the commitment to establish bridges of contact through a healthy ecumenical dialogue in truth."
a. "division between Christians is in opposition to the will of the Lord that "all be one" (John 17:21).
b. "lack of unity is cause of scandal that ends by undermining the credibility of the Christian message"
c. Christians need to work together to counter "a growing negative influence of intellectual and moral relativism in people's life."
a. "an erroneous view of ecumenism, which induces to a certain doctrinal indifference that attempts to level, in an a-critical Ireneism, all "opinions" in a sort of ecclesiological relativism."
b. It's complicated: "the incessant multiplication of new Christian groups, some of them using an aggressive proselytism, which shows how the landscape of ecumenism continues to be very differentiated and confused."
In that context -- as I affirmed in 2007 in the Sé Cathedral in São Paulo, in the unforgettable meeting that I had with you, Brazilian bishops -- "indispensable is a good historical and doctrinal formation, which will allow the necessary discernment and help to understand the specific identity of each one of the communities, the elements that divide and those that help in the path of the construction of unity.The great common realm of collaboration should be the defense of the fundamental moral values, transmitted by biblical tradition, against their destruction in a relativist and consumerist culture; more than that, faith in God the Creator and in Jesus Christ, his incarnate Son"....
Esteemed brothers, the dialogue between Christians is an imperative of the present time and an irreversible option of the Church. However, as Vatican Council II reminds, at the heart of all efforts for unity must be prayer, conversion and sanctification of life (cf. "Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 8). It is the Lord who gives unity, this is not a creation of men, it is up to pastors to obey the Lord's will, promoting concrete initiatives, free of any conformist reductionism, but carried out with sincerity and realism, with patience and perseverance which spring from faith in the providential action of the Holy Spirit.