Nota Bene

Humble (oh really...?) opinions on matters of faith
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What I'm Reading
(The Bible should always be assumed...)

The New Faithful
by Colleen Carroll

by Fr. Francis Sullivan, SJ

Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism
by Irene Lape

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Saturday, August 31, 2002

The latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections"

Go to the website of The Shelbyville News to read the latest installment of my weekly column, "Spiritual Reflections." It was, in part, inspired by the feast of St. Monica which we celebrated last week. I'd appreciate your feedback on it.

By the way, please note that I am not responsible for the headline that the newspaper puts on the column. The one this week definetly does not fit the overall meaning of the piece.


Troubling Details, about the plaintiff, in a Boston clerical sexual abuse suit

This article in the New York Times (LRR) details the concerns that a Boston judge has about a plaintiff, Paul Edwards, who has accused two priests of the Archdiocese of Boston, including its judicial vicar, of having sexually abused him.

His lawyer, Eric Parker, filed a motion with the court, which was approved, that allowed him to withdraw as Edwards' lawyer. When The Boston Globe showed that there were "a series of contradictions and inconsistencies surrounding Mr. Edwards' claims", Parker said that he would "re-evaluate the veracity of the accusations in the lawsuit against the church." It didn't take him very much time to file his motion for withdrawl.


Background Links to My Dialogue with Glen Davis

Over the course of the busy-ness of this holiday weekend I intend to give some thought to my next response to Glen Davis' reply to me. But here are some links to give you a full background to this ongoing dialogue:

The inital post that inspired Glen's first comment

The text of Glen's comment and my questions in response to them

Glens' answers to my questions

My response to Glen's answer to the first question that I posed to him, "What is your definition of a 'follower of Jesus'?"

If you look over these texts, you'll get a good background on this dialogue. In the coming days I will respond to Glen's answer to the second question that I posed to him: "Mr. Davis later stated that he does not seek to proselytize those who are 'faithful adherent of another Christian tradition.' How does he define what is a 'faithful adherent'?"

Friday, August 30, 2002

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

I hope that Jeremiah and Paul are the best of friends as they are together with the Lord in heaven. I admit that such a statement seems strange. We believe that everyone in heaven will be united in eternal happiness before God’s throne. But I hope that Jeremiah and Paul are near each other – maybe they are next to each other – because they are kindred spirits who would find comfort in the company of the other.

Our first reading requires little imagination: Jeremiah is in the midst of great turmoil. In order to understand properly the plight of Jeremiah, we must go back five chapters before the reading that we have just heard. In Chapter 15, Jeremiah complained to God that he had done all that God had wanted him to do. He accepted God’s words, he preached these words, and he suffered as a result of preaching these words. Jeremiah accused God of deceiving him by filling him with joy only to have that joy sucked out of him. Jeremiah was tired then – and he showed his weariness within the reading that we have heard today – but he continued to preach. God said to Jeremiah as we can read within Chapter 15 that he would be made a living fortress that would not be overcome. Jeremiah knew in his heart that he, as a fortress, was meant to display God’s power and might. A fortress can serve either as a prison or as a base of attack. Jeremiah knew that God did not give him the gift of prophecy so that he could contain it.

By the time that Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, which is the last of his letters that we have in Scripture, Paul had offered his body many times for the sake of being a living sacrifice to Christ. As glad as he was to bear the word of Christ and as glad as he was to give birth to numerous early Christian communities, he also considered his calling to be a burden. Recall that Paul said to the people of Corinth, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” He told the Corinthians that he had been given his calling against his will. He told them in his second letter to them that he begged the Lord to remove from him a “thorn in the flesh” – a messenger from Satan. We can only guess what that thorn was, but no matter what it was, it caused Paul to carry much suffering, no matter which type of suffering it could have been. Did God take away the thorn? No. God told Paul that the grace that he had given him already and the grace that he would give him in the future would give him the strength to reveal the message that God wanted him to reveal. Paul must have learned to accept this thorn at some point in time between writing to the Corinthians and the Romans. As Jeremiah learned to accept what God wanted him to do, so did Paul. Paul told the Romans that God’s call was something that could not revoked by anyone he created; therefore, Paul told them to be open to the will of God. He told them to accept and embrace God’s calling even when it was difficult both to understand and to accept.

Our personalities might not be the same as those of Jeremiah and Paul. We might not believe that our struggles are the same as their struggles were, but let there be no misunderstanding: we are called as they are called. We must endure some level of suffering as they were called to endure some level of suffering; however, no burden of suffering gets put on our shoulders that God has not already given us the grace to lift. God’s grace will always be more powerful than the sufferings within either this age or any age that will come. God’s grace will free us from feeling duped. God’s grace will always renew and transform us. God’s grace will help us to think as God thinks rather than as humans think.

Perhaps Jeremiah and Paul are next to each other in the chorus. They might very well be feeling ecstatic now. They’ll feel even greater joy if they know that we seek to join them. They lived and preached as they did so that we could delight in their words – and so that in due time, we could delight in being within the body of the Eternal Word.


Exhibition of Buddhist art on display at Cantebury Cathedral

Yes, I know that there some truths in Buddhism and that all truths are from God. But we are Christians, aren't we?

I wonder how the folks at the Cathedral would reconcile this exhibition with the fact that their church was built on top of a ruined pagan temple? Maybe we shouldn't remind them of that. They might want to dig it up and put it on display.


The latest installment of my column, "Faith and Family"

This column appears monthly in The Criterion, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Although I provide you with a link to its website, my column won't be found there. Therefore, I'm providing you with the text here. Be aware, that it is an adaptation of a column that had appeared earlier in The Shelbyville News.

Thomas Merton was an avowed secularist in the 1920s who converted to Catholicism in the 1930s and eventually ended up a monk at the Trappist abbey of Gethsemani, near Bardstown, KY. In his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, he poetically described the beginning of the school year as a “fine and dangerous season.” “It is a wonderful time to begin anything at all,” he wrote. Such were his reflections on the days when he began his fall semester as a student at Columbia University in 1935.

Maybe I’m a bit naïve, but I tend to think that even the most jaded of students enter into the new year with some small portion of the zeal for the learning that lies ahead that Merton had back in 1935 (ok, all you teachers out there—you can stop laughing now). But perhaps this hope is a bit (if only a little bit at times) more realistic for those students who are Catholic.

Catholic students at all levels should consider the opportunities that lie ahead of them at the beginning of the new school year. Through the smallest of their actions and words Catholic students have the chance to share the Gospel with their classmates.

Now this kind of evangelization can be and, frankly, usually is indirect. This does not mean, however, that it is no less effective. St. Francis of Assisi once told his followers to proclaim the Gospel always and to use words if necessary. Students from elementary school through college can show others the Good News of the Gospel with remarkable clarity if they use the example of Jesus as the guide for their words and their deeds. When they do this, they will, in Pope John Paul’s words, be building a “civilization of love.”

This faith that our students will be sharing in quiet and loving ways has been growing in them from their earliest days. Their parents and other relatives, their religion teachers, and their pastors have all planted and helped to water the seeds of faith in their hearts. The blossoming faith of all students at all levels, however, needs constant nourishment. First and foremost, it happens in our Catholic homes. For many of our elementary, middle, and high school Catholics it also happens in the schools of our Archdiocese. Our parish religious education and youth ministry programs are also fundamental in fostering the life of faith in our young people.

Catholic collegians have many opportunities to continue to strengthen their faith. Attending Mass regularly on campus or at a nearby parish is essential. That practice in itself can also be a great way for Catholic college students to model the life of faith to their friends. They can also visit their campus ministry office or Newman Center to learn of other ministries. Finally, they might also get in touch with FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students,

In any case, the more that we help our students nurture their faith through all of the stages of their young life, the more that it will become a conscious and deliberate part of their daily lives. And when their faith influence their words and deeds on a day-to-day basis, then they will become evangelists for their fellow students. Then the start of school will be for them “a fine and dangerous season”, “a wonderful time to begin anything at all.”


A broadening of the dialogue

Glen Davis, the Pentecostal missionary with whom I have been discussing issues regarding evangelization, has his own blog and is now letting his readers know about it. Go and see it for yourselves.


Archbishop Dolan installed in Milwaukee

This article describes the liturgy well as well as provide links to earlier articles.


Trusting in the Wisdom of God:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Friday of the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

1 Cor 1:17-25
Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 10-11
Mt 25:1-13

The desires of many in society today (including myself) seem to be at odds with each other. On the one hand many sincerely acknowledge the existence of what might be called a higher power and seek to experience the presence of that being in their lives. They might call this being God or Jesus and even acknowledge the existence of them in ways that at least begin to approach the long-held beliefs of the Church.

On the other hand, many seek to avoid pain of any kind. The airwaves are now filled with advertisements praising this new drug or that hospital's latest technology. Such advertisements are evidence of the strong desire for us to avoid any pain, pain which is often the result of our own poor choices or bad habits.

In the eyes of faith these two desires are contradictory. Paul, in today's first reading, shows us how they are incompatible. Whether we like it or not the power and the wisdom of God are revealed in the cross. This does not happen through the fleeing of pain but in its acceptance. And so the second desire that I desribed above seems to thwart the first.

By itself this truth of the cross is an absurd stumbling block to us. But if we accept it as true, if we have faith in it, it can become more intelligible to us if we seek to understand it. This is basic theology, faith seeking understanding.

I believe that God wills our crosses only in so far as they are a punishment for our sins. In this sense, then, he allows them as natural outcomes of sin. It is true, so often, that sin is its own punishment. For example (and this is true, friends), until recently I had the habit of eating snacks between meals. These often consisted of empty-caloried junk foods. What was the result? I gained weight and I began to experience the symptoms of acid reflux. For the latter I visited the doctor's office a few times and had a couple of tests at the hospital, including the dreaded upper g-i (with the every-tasty berium milkshake).

The results of that test showed nothing out of hte ordinary. That was a bit frustrating. If I were to go through that nasty tast I at least wanted to find out that something specifically was wrong. I think that what I found out was something that was rather ordinary: my own sinfulness. For you see, I think that nothing showed as being wrong with my g-i track because I had been feeling those symptoms because of my bad eating habits.

While the cross itself was a test, I think that it showed negative results because I had taken up another cross. I had begun a few weeks earlier to attempt to give up those snacks that I ate between meals. Although I am still struggling with this commitment, I am doing fairly well with it. And the symptoms of acid reflux have disappeared.

According to my own wisdom and the wisdom of the world it is absurd to believe that good things can come out of a willing acceptance of pain. But that is the wisdom of God, not of the world. Before we can understand any part of this wisdom we must first believe that it is true. In a real sense, taking this leap of faith can be the first and most challenging of all the crosses that confront us. We place our trust so much in our own wisdom that we often have little faith left to apply to anything else.

The ironic thing for us about placing our faith in God's wisdom is that this act of faith in him does not eliminate our knowledge and wisdom but only renews, strengthens, and even increase it.

When we place our trust in God we will be like the wise virgins in today's Gospel. The light of our torch will always be the light of faith. But that light will for us, on this side of the grave, be strengthened and brightened through our knowledge and wisdom, renewed by faith. Our torches will thus be shining when the bridegroom arrives.

On the other hand if the light of our torches are only lit by our own wisdom and fueled only by our limited knowledge, they will flicker out and die when we are confronted with the dark questions in the nightimes of our lives.

This need not be so, however. We who believe are offered grace every day to fuel the light of our lamps of faith. It can feel like a cross for us to rely more and more on grace. But if we do so, our torches will shine bright in the night.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

James Akin has a blog

Its title is Defensor Fidei: James Akin's Apologetics Blog. James is the director of apologetics at Catholic Answers and a clear and concise writer to boot. That doesn't mean that he has little to say. He has a lot to say. He just says it concisely. Ok...maybe I need to take lessons from him...


A Reply to Glen Davis, Part 1


I have studied theology quite a bit. But, as the truism seems to go, the more I study, the more I realize how little I really know. The responses that I post here, while they are written from a Catholic Christian perspective, do not reflect the entirety of the Catholic Church’s position on these matters.

If I am inaccurate on a teaching and a reader notices this, I ask him or her to contact me and let me know of it. If something could have been added to it, again, I ask that I be contacted.

All in all, I see this dialogue in which I have entered as a learning process. In it I hope to learn more not only about the Pentecostal Christian faith of Mr. Davis but also about my own Catholic Christian faith.

Because of its length, it will be divided up into different parts. Each one will address one of the questions that I addressed to Mr. Davis.

What defines a “follower of Jesus”?

Mr. Davis’ Views

In his initial comment, Glen Davis said that, according to his impression, the majority of Catholics in America (as well as adherents of many others of other denominations) were not followers of Jesus. This caused me to ask him what he felt was the definition of a “follower of Jesus.” He responded and defined this term in this way:

…[A] follower of Jesus [is] someone who has embraced the teachings and example of Jesus as the foundation of their lives and has brought their lives under the influence of the God (become citizens of the Kingdom). The classic word for this action is repent: to turn from a self-directed life to a God-directed life.

My Response

As a Catholic, I believe that a follower of Jesus is one who is “born of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5), that is, one who has been baptized. Such a one, as the one presiding at a Catholic baptism proclaims, has been “claimed by Christ.” He or she has been given the ability to be a faithful follower of Jesus through the grace of the sacrament of baptism (being born of water) and through being renewed by the descent of the Spirit (being born of Spirit).

Once a person has been baptized, at any age, this ability is never taken away. Catholics believe that the sacrament of baptism “seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark…of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph no. 1272).

So, as you can see, Catholics believe that it is a person’s participation in the sacrament of Baptism that makes him or her a follower of Jesus. Later on, he or she are free to choose to cooperate or not cooperate with the grace of the sacrament that helps him or her become a better and better follower of him. But even if a person totally refuses to work with that grace, that person is still a follower of Jesus. And that is a good thing. Because if a person later on experiences a new conversion and repents of their previous turning away from God, then the grace of the sacrament is still there for him or her to get back on the path to righteousness.

This is sometimes what has happened when a person comes up to me (in my capacity as the director of religious education in a parish) and expresses his or her wish to enter the Catholic Church. If the person was validly baptized earlier in life in a different faith tradition, that person, in the eyes of the Church, cannot be ‘re-baptized.’ In fact, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, there is no such thing as re-baptism.

The Catholic Church believes that any valid baptism is a once-for-all event. And the validity of the sacrament, in the eyes of the Church, is defined by a a person being baptized in the name of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, and being baptized with water either being poured over the person or the person being immersed.

With this Catholic understanding of the nature of being a “follower of Jesus” in mind, one might better understand why I am saddened and frustrated (as I expressed in my post from last Saturday) when I see evangelical and Pentecostal Christians doing missionary work among the Catholic populations of Central and South America and among the Hispanics and Latinos here in the United States.

I, as a Catholic, believe that they are already Christians if they indeed have already been baptized. I am equally if not more saddened by the failure of other Catholics to minister to these, their (and my) brothers and sisters in faith, their (and my) failure to help them to cooperate with the grace of Baptism, their (and my) failure to help them become a better and better follower of Jesus. But, you see, I believe that they are already his followers.

This is where I think that I, as a Catholic, and Mr. Davis and many evangelical and Pentecostal missionaries working among the people I described above would differ. They seem to see Central and South America as real mission territory, places where the Gospel needs to be preached for the first time.

We Catholics also acknowledge many of these places as mission territory as well. However, we would describe the folks living there as needing, in Pope John Paul II’s words, a “new evangelization.” They need to have their relationship with Jesus, which began in the waters of baptism, simply renewed (and not created for the first time) in a way that the grace of that sacrament would produce the fruits of salvation in their day-to-day lives.


Tim Drake Proposes a new 'Blog Protocol' and speaks to my conscience

At his blog, Catholic Pundit, Tim Drake has proposed that those of us in St. Blog's take some time before we fire off one vitriolic post after another.

His motivation in proposing this protocol is, in my opinion, good:

...all of the fighting, even among similarly-like-minded Catholics, doesn't present a good face of the Church. It only demonstrates that we cannot even get along with those whom we claim to share the faith. There are some things worth fighting for (morals and doctrine), and others that are not.

In my own case, I would say that this motivation could be extended so that I could improve the way in which I communicate with or about those who are Christian but do not share my Catholic faith.

Case in point, the post I made earlier about the recent findings of George Barna's research group. I obviously did not take Tim's advice in writing that post but I should have. I have a small knowledge base when it comes to statistical methodologies. Therefore I should have refrained from criticizing his work on those grounds. I should not have done that, it was wrong, and I apologize for it.

More importantly, had I waited as Tim recommends us all to do, I hope that I would not have been as mean-spirited as I admitted I was at the end of the post itself. Even if my points had validity, the intended effect of communicating them can easily be vitiated by the tone in which I communicated them. The mean-spirited tone was wrong, and I apologize for it.

Had I used the proposed "Drake Protocol" (as I propose naming it), I might have dicussed Barna's work from a perspective in which I have a little bit more expertise, i.e., in theology. As I look back over the press release that lays out Barna's results, I notice that he defines evangelicals and non-evangelical born again Christians in positive terms, according to the way in which they understand their relationship with Jesus and the way that they will enter into eternal life.

On the other hand, those that he calls "notional Christians" he defines in negative terms. Such believers according to him lack the traits that the previous two groups had. He does not (at least in the press release) define such Christians according to the positive way in which they understand themselves.

Would his results have been different if he had defined his terms in a different manner? I have no way of knowing. Again, I have little knowledge of statistical methodologies. But it is something that I wonder about. And had I taken a little more time, as Tim Drake suggested, this positive musing may not have been obscured by my earlier vitriolic one.


George Washington U. to cover birth control pills in student health plan

Amy Moses, a 27-year-old law student at GWU, backed by various public interest groups, has convince the university to cover birth control pills in their student health insurance plan.

Moses's case is thought to be the first attempt to apply a 2001 federal court ruling, ordering an employer to cover contraceptives if it covered illness-prevention drugs, to the student health plans offered by many colleges and universities.

Moses, 27, said she was distressed to learn at campus orientation last year that the student health plan covered abortions but not contraceptives. "It didn't make sense," she said.

Although I don't agree with the student health plan covering either abortions or contraceptives, I can see her point. If they're going to cover one, then they ought to cover the other.

I think it is interesting to note, however, the precedent that was used to push her case:

Moses's case is thought to be the first attempt to apply a 2001 federal court ruling, ordering an employer to cover contraceptives if it covered illness-prevention drugs, to the student health plans offered by many colleges and universities.

Since when was pregnancy an "illness"? Oh, I guess since 1973.

Other schools in the D.C. area are concerned about the policy change. Included among them are Georgetown University and Catholic University:

Spokesmen for both schools said that their health plans prohibit contraceptives in accordance with Catholic doctrine and that they have a legal right to follow their religious mission.

"I'm sure we would vigorously dispute any challenge of that nature," said Victor Nakas of Catholic University.

Planned Parenthood attorney Eve Gartner said no such religious exemption exists in the District. "The case law in the D.C. courts strongly indicates that there is no exemption to that law for Catholic educational institutions," she said.


George Barna has done it again

He's scientifically shown that all Americans should be just like him, an evangelical Christian. In a recent survey that his Barna Research Group, Ltd. conducted among various categories of adults based on their belief status, he found the following results (as reported by Baptist Press News):

...Evangelicals were least likely to say they are lonely, in serious debt or stressed out. The poll found 98 percent of them to be concerned about the moral condition of the country, though only 54 percent said they were worried about the future.

According to his results, non-evangelical born again Christians were the next happiest folks in America. Problems start arising, however, when you look at the results for "notional Christians":

Nearly four of every 10 adults surveyed classified themselves as notional Christians, which means they consider themselves to be Christian but either do not have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ or do not believe that they will experience eternal favor with God based solely on his grace and mercy.

Notional Christians were most concerned about the future and the moral state of the nation, but their faith ties seemed to make little difference in relation to stress, debt, addictions, happiness or life satisfaction. They were also tied with atheists and agnostics in being the most lonely.


Atheists and agnostics...were the most likely to be stressed out, concerned about the future and lonely. Only 4 percent described themselves as politically conservative, and 71 percent claimed to have traditional or family oriented values.

Well I guess that proves it. Why don't we all become evangelical Christians? We'd all be a whole lot happier.

(Editor's note: Ok, ok, this post was a tad mean-spirited. But I wonder about a group that claims to do scientific research but whose guiding premises seem to be skewed from the start to favor one group over another.)


Then and Now--Dignity in an Unjust Death:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist

Please note: The first reading assigned for today's feast according to the USCCB's website differs from that assigned in the edition of the lectionary that I own. Therefore I have provided links to the individual readings below.

Jer 1:17-19
Ps 145:2, 4-5, 6-7
Mk 6:17-29

Sharp words, bitter resentments, and summary executions. They happened 2000 years ago in Palestine with the arrest and execution of John the Baptist. And they happened there just a few days ago when Ikhlas Khouli, a 35-year-old widowed mother of seven was executed by members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade after having been accused of being a collaborator with the Israelis. The accusation had been forced out of one of her sons after he had been tortured.

I look at these two tragedies and I wonder what has changed over the past 2000 years. In some senses, nothing has changed. Humans have now as they did then the free will to choose to sin. Having defiled their own dignity through sin they pay no heed to the dignity of other humans. And so an upright man, a prophet preparing the way of the Lord is suddenly executed in a dark prison cell; a helpless mother is shot three times in the middle of the night in the town square of Tulkarem. That nothing has changed over the past 2000 years is true, not only fro Palestine, but also for the world over.

On the other hand, everything has changed. Before his death, John had announced the coming of the Messiah. And when he came in human flesh, he not only revealed God to man, but he also revealed man to himself, as Pope John Paul proclaimed in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis.

In revealing man to himself, Jesus has made our choice of whether to uphold or violate another person's dignity an informed one. Fortified with the presence of the Spirit speaking to us in our consciences, and with the power of God's grace, each of us who believe now have the ability to choose life, to choose to hold up for all to see the shining dignity of every humn person, all created in the image and likeness of God.

Still, Jesus himself died an unjust death at the hands of sinners. It was an execution not unlike that of John the Baptist or Ikhlas Khouli. But his resurrection has showed us that we need not live in fear of sinful man, we need not fear an unjust death or a death of any kind.

John, then, not only prepared the way for Jesus by his life, he also did it by his death. Although we are not told of his reaction when the executioner entered his cell, I suspect he met him with the same fearless dignity which he showed before all people. This was the same dignity that Jesus would reveal in its full splendor in his coming in the flesh, and the same dignity Ikhlas Khouli never lost, even in her death.

Even though John's beheading still seems to part of me something strange to celebrate, my conscience tells me that it is good that we do so. For although his death was an unjust tragedy, it prepared the way for Jesus' fulfillment of the promise that the Lord spoke to Jeremiah and which we heard in today's first reading: "They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord."

May we proclaim the message of this promise, the Good News of human dignity revealed in Christ, a dignity which even death cannot destroy.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

The National Catholic Register weighs in on criticism of John Paul II

Boy, Rod Dreher didn't know what he started when he wrote his piece for WSJ...


Ralph McInerny in Catholic Dossier on the Legacy of Pope John Paul II

I found this link at Amy Welborn's blog. I'm still working through it but am posting it now because I'll be leaving my office soon. From Amy's appraisal, it would appear that it could inspire the same kind of response that happened after Rod Dreher's op/ed piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal.


Hispanics and Latinos aren't just becoming evangelicals and Pentecostal Christians...

they're also becoming Moslems, as the website for the organization Latino American Dawah Organization tells us. Thanks to Holy Weblog for the link.


Glen Davis Answers My Questions

Yesterday, on the post entitled "More on Evangelization from Catholic and Evangelical/Pentecostal Perspectives: A Response to Glen Davis", I quoted a comment from Glen Davis, a Pentecostal missionary at Stanford University. He had posted some comments on my earlier musings on the topic seen in the title.

I wanted to respond to his comments, but I needed to have some questions answered first. I posted those questions yesterday on that same post. Well, I have received an e-mail from Mr. Davis with some answers. Below, I will lay out each of the questions and quote from Mr. Davis' answers.

1. Mr. Davis stated that he has a strong impression that many people in most denominations are "followers of Jesus" and that many others in these denominations are not. How does he define what a follower of Jesus is?

What is a follower of Jesus? I should state for the record that I am using this term synonymously with Christian. The authors of the New Testament seem to have been incapable of conceiving of a Christian who was not actively seeking to emulate Jesus. Jesus' call was (and is) to "come, follow me." In fact the very label Christian refers to the concept of 'little Christs.' Having said that, I would define a follower of Jesus as someone who has embraced the teachings and example of Jesus as the foundation of their lives and has brought their lives under the influence of the God (become citizens of the Kingdom). The classic word for this action is repent: to turn from a self-directed life to a God-directed life.

2. Mr. Davis later stated that he does not seek to proselytize those who are "faithful adherent of another Christian tradition." How does he define what is a "faithful adherent"?

Second, defining a faithful adherent is always tricky. I mean both faithful (consistent participant in a local community of Christian faith) and faith-full (conforms to the definition above). Allow me to demonstrate by way of counterexample what I'm getting at:

* Suppose that I'm in conversation with a student and they discover that I'm an ambassador for Christ. They make some sort of comment along the following lines, "Yeah, I was raised in church, but I just don't find it meaningful. I stopped going when I was a teenager." In my mind, they flunk both tests--they need to be introduced to the King and enrolled in a local community of like-minded believers.

* Suppose that I meet a student who says, "Yeah, I love going to church--that's where all the cute girls go!" (and upon investigation I discover that they really are that shallow). They pass the consistency test but fail the follower of Jesus test.

* Suppose that I meet a student who says, "Yeah--I really admire Jesus. But I hate the church--they've really let me down. I'll never set foot in a church again!" Perhaps they pass test #2 (further investigation is needed), but they fail test #1.

I would consider all these people in desperate need of God's grace expressed through human love in the context of a community earnestly following Jesus. Please note that I never mentioned a specific denominational background for any of them--it's irrelevant to these examples.

3. Mr. Davis then stated that when he meets a student who claims to be a Christian he believes them and tries to help them grow in their faith. How would Mr. Davis, as a Pentecostal Christian, help someone who might claim to be a Catholic Christian to grow in his or her faith, as it is defined by that tradition?

Third, how would I as a Pentecostal help a Catholic grow in their faith? That's an excellent question! Basically I do it the same way I help anyone to grow in their faith: love them unconditionally, pray for them consistently, encourage them in righteousness and rebuke them in sin.. Teach them the lessons of Scripture (I should note that my interpretation of Scripture differs from the Catholic understanding at points. I obviously teach what I believe to be true). Give reasonable answers to honest questions. In addition, here are a few other actions I'd take with someone from a churched background:

* I've noticed that many college-aged people engage in liturgy by rote and fail to understand its significance (confirmation notwithstanding). I'd try to help them see it with fresh eyes: as a heartfelt expression of worship and devotion to God. I'd probably also give them a copy of something like Peter Kreeft's One Catholic to Another.

* I've also noticed that many students raised in church (of whatever tradition) have a very juvenile understanding of faith--their religious education stalled at a junior high level and they've never probed their faith at an age-appropriate level. Incidentally, I think that's one of the reasons so many college students bail on the church. They're trying to incorporate irreconcilable worldviews in their minds: one a 7th-grade understanding of the good news and the other a college-level understanding of secular philosophy. Guess which one wins? To that end, I'd try to help students reframe their questions and seek answers in a more sophisticated manner.

* Another high priority on my list is to help students experience the immediate supernatural power of the Holy Spirit (including the charismata). The Bible portrays charismatic Christianity as the normative model for followers of Jesus. We are to exhibit not only the fruit of the Spirit but also the gifts of the Spirit.

4. Mr. Davis stated that if meets someone without a "vibrant faith", he will try to reawaken a faith in him or her that had grown cold or help him or her discover faith for the first time. How does Mr. Davis define a "vibrant faith"?

Fourth, I think I've addressed this question in my response to questions one and two. A vibrant faith is a combination of belief and trust that makes a difference in one's day-to-day opinions, feelings, and behavior.

I'll post my own response to Mr. Davis' answers either later on today or sometime tomorrow (tonight is the first session of my parish's Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, so I have a lot of last minute preparations to make). If you have any thoughts or feelings about what he has had to say, please let me and the other readres know in the comment box.


Planned Parenthood worker denied a Catholic wedding

Here it is. Celina Ling, a Catholic woman who works as an administrator at Planned Parenthood in Medicine Hat, Alberta (you gotta love that name) and has been quoted in a local newspaper there as a representative of that organization has been denied a wedding at St. Patrick Catholic Church in that city by its pastor. Apparently it had been scheduled but was cancelled less than a month before after the newspaper article appeared.

The pastor of a nearby Catholic church made this comment:

"This kind of thing is quite unusual. Of course, if there was an article expressing her work there, I think Church law would look at that as being scandalous. It's directly opposed to church teaching."

A representative of Catholics for a Free Choice had this to say:

"If this priest wants to deny sacraments to Catholics who have anything to do with family planning, then his parish church is going to be empty."

The man has a point, especially when considering the small amount of Catholics in America who follow the Church's teaching on artificial birth control. However, there seems to be a difference here because the woman in question has taken a public stand against a serious moral teaching of the Church.

Still, some feelings of awkwardness arise in light of The Situation in this kind of situation when considering the priest's decision. I recognize that the priest who made this decision is, in all likelihood, not himself an abuser. And any priest has a duty to uphold the teachings of the Church and make sacramental decisions based upon those teachings. However, The Situation sets up the Church as an easy target in this context, as the representative for Catholics for a Free Choice pointed out:

"There are probably more people who have a higher opinion of Planned Parenthood these days than have a high opinion of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly given the enormous sex scandals," the activist said.

"It seems one can continue to be a priest and marry and officiate at weddings if one is an abuser of children, but one cannot be a Catholic woman and provide men and women with contraception and be treated by this Church with respect."

How would you respond to this statement?


More difficulties for the Catholic Church in Russia

Another priest has had his visa revoked and is now barred from re-entering the country and the diocese northeast of Moscow where he had been serving. Earlier this summer another priest and a bishop were also denied new visas.

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz labelled the moves as "a campaign against the Catholic Church."


Letting Grace Direct Our Passions:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of St. Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church

Please note: The readings upon which this reflection is based are the optional readings offered for this particular feast. They can be found by taking the links provided below.

1 Jn 4:7-16
Mt 23:8-12

St. Augustine was a man of deep passions. Unchecked they often caused him many troubles. With this in mind, I can see why he might be drawn to the Manichees, a cult whose members were called to forsake the pleasures of the flesh.

Yet his passion was an essential part of who he was. He could not forsake them in the end. They could be channelled toward a good purpose. And they could be focused on God, their ultimate object. But they could not be eliminated.

Augustine finally realized this. As he described in his Confessions, he did a great amount of intellectual study in coming to embrace the Christian faith. Yet he made the final choice to do so only after he felt in his heart that God had touched him with his love.

The grace of baptism helped Augustine turn his passions from being the energy he used in pursuit of his selfish desires and into being the fuel that fed his humble love of God and neighbor. Upon embracing the Christian life, he took to heart, as it were, the core of the meaning of today's readings.

In the first reading, St. John exhorts us to love one another for love is of God. Loving our brothers and sisters is the way that we can come to know the God whom no one has seen. It is the way that we come to acknowledge that Jesus is his Son. Why? Because any love that we have for our neigbor ultimately finds its origin and its end in God. And God's love was best expressed for us in the sending of his Son to us.

Jesus in today's Gospel hints at the way in which this love of neighbor is to be manifested in our daily lives. He tells us that the greatest among us will be the one who serves the rest and that the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

It is this kind of humble, serving love that Augustine embraced when he professed faith in the Father, Son, and Spirit in his baptism. It was the same passionate love that had always filled his heart. But the passions of his heart only found their rest when they found they rested in their true object, God.

Although when the waters were poured over him he became sealed in Christ forever, in a very real sense the essence of who Augustine was did not change the moment he was baptized. His conversion, his metanoia simply did what those words, in their most basic meaning, suggests. It turned him around and set him on a new direction.

We may feel the need for conversion when, like Augustine, we confront or are confronted with some of the darker aspects of our life. But the example of St. Augustine shows us that the grace of conversion and baptism doesn't call us so much to change who are in our essence as it calls us to change what and who we live for.

May our loving Father, through the intercession of St. Augustine, turn the hearts of each of us away from our selfish pursuits and toward the boundless, humble, serving love that he has showered upon us in his Son.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

St. Blog's Drinking Game (cont.)

To learn of its origin, go see Kathryn Lively's blog. Since then it has bounced around to Victor Lams, Peter Vere, and Amy Welborn.

The last of these cited various bloggers who should cause one to raise the wrist when a particular kind of post is made. I was included in the list and so....

Just to let you know, I did, in fact reward myself yesterday for taking care of Michael for the morning by playing golf in the afternoon. And I was able to take the time to do that because I mowed the lawn on Saturday...

Here's some more contribution to the game.

Throw back a cold one when...

Kathy Shaidle (after she gets back from her vacation) writes that he has yet another thing to add to one of her bulging files.

and when Peter Nixon opines about Ronald Rolheiser.

Its too bad Fr. Shawn O'Neal isn't still blogging. He'd have a kick with this.

And, oh, while we're at it, someone should make up alternate lyrics, appropriate for St. Blog's, that would go with Monty Python's philosopher's drinking song.


Comment boxes are down

It would appear that, for some reason, the comment boxes are down right now. If you want to respond to anything in my blog, please send me an e-mail.


More on Evangelization from Catholic and Evangelical/Pentecostal Perspectives: A Response to Glen Davis

Last Saturday, I continued a series of posts that I've been writing on evangelization. I've been musing about the growth of evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Central and South America and among Hispanics and Latinos in the United States.

If you want to learn more about my thoughts in more detail, I suggest that you scroll back to the posts for last Thursday, August 22 and Saturday, August 24.

In resonse to my Saturday post, Glen Davis, a Pentecostal missionary who works in the community at Stanford University, made a comment. I want to respond to it. And simply to make things easier for everyone, I'll quote his comment here in its entirety:

As a Pentecostal missionary (albeit to Stanford and not Latin America), I'd like to comment.

Some people who attend Catholic churches are followers of Jesus, and some are not. My strong impression is that here in the Americas the majority are not.

By way of disclaimer, I would like to add my belief that the same problem exists in most denominations (including mine): too many people are involved because of momentum and not because of faith. I do think the problem is particularly acute in the RCC.

That being said, I never deliberately seek to proselytize people who are faithful adherents of another Christian tradition. In general, if a student tells me they are a Christian I believe them, and I try to help them grow in their faith. If I am of significant help to them, they often wind up switching their adherence.

However, when I meet someone without a vibrant faith (such as the infamous Easter and Christmas only crowd), I try to help them either reawaken a faith grown cold or discover true faith for the first time. Whenever that happens, they almost always switch their adherence. This is what I believe is happening in South America.

The switch has two roots, I think: one is an emotional intuition that what's working for us might work for them since we were so helpful to them, the other is that we express significantly different doctrinal positions from the RCC that if believed make a switch virtually inevitable.

I would like to be able to respond to this with a positive statement of my own views or my own thoughts and feelings about what Mr. Davis has written. However, I need some questions to be answered before I can do this. I suppose that they are directed directly to Mr. Davis. However, I suppose that they could be directed to Pentecostal missionaries in general (acknowledging, however, that different Pentecostal missionaries might have different views on the questions).

I will ask these questions privately and directly to Mr. Davis via e-mail. However, I also felt that it would be good if I would direct those questions to my readers in general as well. Mr. Davis posted his comments for all to read. And so I will post my resonse for all to read as well.

I do this simply to foster the ecumenical discussion among those of good will of various faith traditions that I wrote about in my Saturday post. I believe that such a conversation might help any Christian participating in it to come to a greater understanding about each other and will make some small contribution, under the inspiration of the Spirit, to the unity among believers for which Jesus prayed at the Last Supper.

At any rate, here they are some questions that were raised in my mind when reading Mr. Davis' comment:

1. Mr. Davis stated that he has a strong impression that many people in most denominations are "followers of Jesus" and that many others in these denominations are not. How does he define what a follower of Jesus is?

2. Mr. Davis later stated that he does not seek to proselytize those who are "faithful adherent of another Christian tradition." How does he define what is a "faithful adherent"?

3. Mr. Davis then stated that when he meets a student who claims to be a Christian he believes them and tries to help them grow in their faith. How would Mr. Davis, as a Pentecostal Christian, help someone who might claim to be a Catholic Christian to grow in his or her faith, as it is defined by that tradition?

In asking this question, I am by no means implying that it is impossible. There are many aspects of the Christian faith that Catholics and Pentecostals hold in common. I am just wondering how Mr. Davis (and any other reader who is interested in responding) would answer this question.

4. Mr. Davis stated that if meets someone without a "vibrant faith", he will try to reawaken a faith in him or her that had grown cold or help him or her discover faith for the first time. How does Mr. Davis define a "vibrant faith"?

I think that I might have more questions for Mr. Davis and for other readers who might want to enter into this conversation, but I think that this is enough for now. If you want to respond, you can either use the comment box or send me an e-mail.


Who do you think should play JPII?

If the filmakers in the previous post get their projects off the ground, and their successful at the box office, then you know other studios will follow with their own Pope movie. Hollywood loves a formula you know.

So, here is the question of the day: "What actor should be tapped to play JPII?"

My first choice, had he been alive and a bit younger, would have been Anthony Quinn. Hey, he played a great eastern European pope back in the 60s in Shoes of the Fisherman.

Let me know what you think and I'll post the possible choices.


Coming to a theater near you: John Paul II--The Movie?

Here's a story from the Boston Globe about a couple of Italian film companies that are wanting to make a movie about the Holy Father. Says Pietro Valsecchi, producer of one of the films: "As far as I'm concerned they should make a hundred films on the pope." But of course, wanting to scoop the rest, he adds, "The first will be ours."


Maybe there's something to 'compassionate conservatism'

Here's another story from the Washington Post, this one about the relatively large group of folks working at the White House who have adopted children, often from foreign countries where the children were in dire straits.


Gospel a go-go

Here's a story from the Washington Post about a former exotic dancer, known in her previous career as "Pleazure", and her husand, a former dealer of porn who was known as "Ice", who got right with God and now run a Gospel go-go club in a Washington suburb for teens.


New Relevance for an Old Saint:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of St. Monica

Please Note: The readings on which this reflection is based are the recommended optional readings for this particular feast day. To view and read them, please take the links provided below.

Sir 26:1-4, 13-16
Lk 7:11-17

Although she lived some 1700 years ago, St. Monica is becoming more and more relevant to us in the 21st century. As we see society developing in such a way that it is becoming more socially acceptable to deliberately reject Christianity, the story of this woman who struggled to pass on the faith to her son has more and more meaning for us.

She might be a good model for those many faithful Catholic mothers whom I've heard say, "Well, at least he is going to Church" when their sons forsake the faith of their youth in order to attend a Protestant church of one sort or another. If Monica were to have felt that way she may have said something similar when her son Augustine became a follower of Manichaeism. However, while we know that she did not approve of his choice to follow this dualistic religion, she still did not nag him out of it.

No, instead, she followed the advice that was given to her by her bishop. She had gone to him to seek his advice and his prayers regarding the unwillingness of her son to accept the Christian faith. It is said that he advised her in this way: "It is time that you speak less to Augustine about God and more to God about Augustine."

Monica took that advice and it eventually played a role, in some mysterious way, in leading him to embrace the faith which she had introduced to him as a child. This advice had meaning, then and now, on different levels. Giving oneself to prayer in this kind of situation is an ackowledgement on the part of the person praying that bringing another back to the faith is an act of God, not an act of the will of the one praying.

But it also can be a sign of great faith. When a person trusts in the power of prayer, he or she is saying that God can have a direct impact upon his or her daily life. Such a person is more likely to allow the faith to shape his or her actions and words. And I think that allowing one's faith to shape one's life can have a significant impact upon those who have walked away from the faith of their youth.

I hope that it does in my life. For Cindy and I strive to live out our faith in a conscious and deliberate way from day to day. In many ways Cindy strengthens me in my efforts. When I read the qualities of a good wife which are described in today's first reading, I know that I experience them in her every day. And surely those same qualities which make her a good wife for me are also making her a good mother for our son Michael.

She has told me that she had always wanted a husband who would be a spiritual leader of their family. If I am this, it is only through the grace that God gives to me through her strong faith.

Both of our lives of faith have been strengthened by God bringing us together as one. Hopefully our examle of prayer and of the life of faith will be a channel of grace to those many individuals--some close relatives, some dear friends--who have consciously chosen to forsake their Catholic faith.

Our life and our prayer will be important. But I believe that, in the end, the most example from us will be another one that will learn from the ever-more-relevant St. Monica. For while her son chose to forsake for period the faith that she had embraced and had tried to pass on to him, she never forsook him. But this isn't just the example of St. Monica. She learned from our heavenly Father, who never abandons us, even when we abandon him.

Monday, August 26, 2002

Peter Nixon, Kathleen Norris, Bl. John XXIII on the language of religion

In a recent post at his blog, Sursum Corda, Peter Nixon encourages his readers to read the text of an interview with the writer Kathleen Norris.

In the interview, Norris says that writers of faith can use the "traditional language of faith" but that it should be used in such a way that it should "reach people", presumably people that aren't as familiar with the language as the writer.

Nixon ends his post with a question and this test:

How do we get people to hear an old word in a new way? It may be one of the central challenges of living as a Christian in the 21st century. Something to think about over the weekend.

In many respects, this was the overarching purpose of the Second Vatican Council. It sought to restate the eternal truths of our faith in ways that modern man could understand. Bl. John XXIII, in his opening address at the Council had this to say about its "primary goal:"

Our task, our primary goal, is not a discussion of any particular articles of the fundamental doctrine of the Church, nor that we repeat at greater length what has been repeatedly taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which we think to be well known and familiar to all.

For this a Council was not necessary. But at the present time what is needed is that the entire Christian teaching with no part omitted, be accepted by all in our time with fresh zeal, with serene and tranquil minds, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council. It is necessary that as all sincere cultivators of the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic reality ardently desire that the same doctrine be more fully and deeply understood that consciences be more deeply imbued and formed by it; it is necessary that such certain and immutable doctrine, to which we owe the obedience of faith, be scrutinized and expounded with the method that our times require. One thing is the deposit of faith and the truths contained in our venerable doctrine, another thing is the way they are announced, with the same meaning and the same content. Much attention will be paid to this manner and much patience, when needed, in elaborating it; those methods of expounding doctrine will be brought forward, which are more in accord with the magisterium which is principally pastoral in its character.


My views on Dreher’s “The Pope Has Let Us Down”

A lot of digital ink has spilled by Catholic bloggers and their readers in response to Rod Dreher’s Wall Street Journal op/ed piece from last week, “The Pope Has Let us Down.” Various bloggers have written their commentaries. Readers have filled comment boxes with dozens of opinions filled with praise, condemnation, and lots of other views in between.

Why haven’t I entered the fray? Well, like many others, I didn’t have access to the piece until yesterday and I didn’t feel that it was appropriate for me to comment on it until I was able to read it. But, more importantly in my view, I was busy being a husband, father, DRE, and aspiring writer (in that order). By saying this I am not condemning the large number of bloggers and readers who have spent a good amount of time thinking and writing about Dreher’s editorial. I think blogging and the discussions that it can nurture can be a good for the Church.

However, I believe that discussion is not an end in itself. It should help us arrive at a better understanding of our faith. And a better understanding of it will hopefully help us all to apply it more effectively in our lives. This is what I hope that I have been doing a lot of in the past few days while many others have been discussing. Hopefully the busy digital conversations that have been going on since Dreher’s piece appeared will have a positive effect on those who have taken part in it.

But right now Michael is taking another nap and so I have a few moments to spill some of my own digital ink about Dreher’s editorial.

In his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul described the papacy as a “sign of contradiction.” It is a mysterious office full of paradox. On the one hand he is to be teacher of God’s unchanging truth and justice. On the other hand, he is to be a minister of God’s endless mercy.

In doing this, he is saying that the papacy (and, by extension, all bishops) is a sign of Jesus himself, for it was of him as an eight-day-old baby that Simeon said that he was to be “a sign that will be contradicted” (Lk 2:35). That the pope and other bishops should be a sign of Jesus is a commonplace. They are signs that are contradicted when the expectations of those who look upon them are not met.

Rod Dreher, and many others in the Church (myself included at times), have expected that John Paul might be a sign, not of contradiction, but of consistency. But the same hopes have been felt about all popes before John Paul II. And they were felt by the criminal crucified along with Jesus who asked him: “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” (Lk 23:39). Simeon’s words about that young baby were thus fulfilled.

Now this mystery of the papacy (and it applies to the episcopacy in general as well) should not serve as an excuse for inaction. Instead, it should always remind us that we often place our high ideals and expectations for the Church in the hands of a few men here and there, men who are as fallible in their administrative decisions as we are in every aspect of our lives.

And so I agree with Dreher that the Holy Father has indeed made mistakes in the way that he has administered the life of the Church. Every pope has. In a sense, this is a sign that they are successors of Peter, him who denied Christ three times.

But knowledge of this historical fact does not as a result make John Paul’s words “ring hollow in the heart of this faithful American Catholic” as they seem to now in the heart of Rod Dreher. The truth of the message is not changed by the shortcomings of the messenger just as a sacrament is not dependent upon the holiness of him who presides over its celebration.

So, yes, I agree somewhat with Mr. Dreher’s views. But other views in his editorial seem to be extreme and so therefore I have a difficult time agreeing with them. He claimed that the Holy Father has “done nothing when his orders were ignored or undercut by subordinates in this country.”

Nothing? Maybe Dreher knows mores than I do. But if he does, then he is privy to the day-to-day dealings of the Holy Father and his representatives in the Holy See with the bishops of the world. Although the average faithful American Catholic like Dreher or myself might not be able to see it, I suspect that the Holy Father and those who work with him in Rome have indeed done many things to try to bring about a faithful following of his orders.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if, at times, the Pope might have wished to depose this or that soldier in the “legion of bad bishops.” However, I suspect that he sees that such a move would not necessarily solve the problem of this or that local Church. After all, replacement would be fallible, just like his predecessor.

What surprised me most about Dreher’s editorial was not this disregard for discipline that is behind the scene of the American media, but his focus on the fact that “John Paul must bear partial responsibility for the catastrophe that has befallen us.” I do not deny this. The scandals that swirl around us are, in many respects, social sins. They came about through the sinful actions or inactions of many people. Many of these sins have led others to sin. A few of these may indeed have been committed by our Holy Father.

But it surprises me that someone who identifies himself as an “orthodox Catholic” (as Dreher does at the start of his editorial) would focus on the indirect and relatively small amount of culpability that he assigns to the pope. Should he not have balanced his view with the direct and relatively large amount of culpability that should be allotted to the priests and bishops who individually chose to commit the sin of sexual abuse of minors? Surely it is these sins that brought about the crisis that we have. And in many cases these sins were committed while John Paul was still Archbishop of Krakow.

Even when they were committed under his watch, those that committed them are ultimately responsible for them, not the Holy Father. Yet I will admit that he might have (and, please remember, still can…) responded differently to them. But whether he does or not will not change my view of his leadership.

The papacy and the episcopacy is, in the end, not about the man who holds the office. They are about Christ. These offices are signs of Christ in the world. They are signs of him who is the ultimate “sign of contradiction.”


A proposed January trip by the Pope to the Philippines has been cancelled

according to this AP article. No reasons were given for the cancellation.


Cindy's first day back to work

Today is my wife Cindy's first day back to work. She's only working until noon. And, in the future, she will only be working one day a week. And so I'll be the designated babysitter while she is away. So far so good this morning. I've fed Michael, changed his diaper. And now he's taking a nap. We'll see how long it lasts...


The Power of the Will:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Monday of the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

2 Thes 1:1-5, 11-12
Ps 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 4-5
Mt 23:13-22

In today's first reading, Paul prayed that God might make the Thessalonians worthy of his call. The call to share in the life of the kingdom, in God's own life, was something so great that only God could make another worthy of it. Yet in almost the same quill stroke, Paul seems to write that the Thessalonians also play an important part in their own salvation. He prays that God would bring to completion "good purpose and every effort of faith" of the faithful in that city so that, through this fulfillment, "the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him."

We must have the power of God's will work in our lives in order for us to be called into the kingdom and be made worthy of it. But the power of our will must also choose to accept that call and must work, with the aid of God's grace, to make ourselves worthy to be welcomed into the kingdom.

As sharers in the covenant, the Pharisees had been called by God to enter into the kingdom. Yet in Jesus' sharp condemnation of them we learn that they thwarted God's will by the power of their own will. Sadly, we also learn in Jesus' words that their will not only had an evil effect upon themselves, but upon others as well: "You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter."

In short order, then, we have seen in these two readings the power of the human will. We can choose to cooperate with God's work of making us worthy of his kingdom and so give glory to the name of Jesus. Or we can choose to thwart God's will and bring condemnation, not only upon ourselves, but upon others as well. We can lead others to make choices to turn away from the kingdom.

It might seem, then, that we hold our salvation in the balance of our own will. Will it tip one way and go toward God, or will it tip the other way and go away from him? In part this is true. God does make us worthy of his call against our will. We must choose to be transformed by his grace. And we participate in that transformation by our choice and by our "every good purpose and effort of faith."

Yet even if we choose to ignore God's call, to thwart the working of his will, his reaching out to us in this way is never taken away. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans: "the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable" (Rom 11:29). Even if through the power of our own choice we turn away from God, he has chosen, for all eternity, to always stand by our side. He has called each of us into his kingdom. And he has given us gifts to make us worthy of that call. These will never be taken away from us. It is up to us to choose to accept or reject them.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Here's Rod Dreher's recent WSJ editorial on Pope John Paul

I haven't commented on it yet. But, now that I can sit down and read it, I hope to sometime soon.

Read it (if you haven't already) and let me know what you think of it.


Interesting Comment

I recommend that you read a comment made by reader Glen Davis in response to a post from yesterday where I did some further reflecting on the missionary work of evangelical and pentecostal Christians in Central and South America, and among Hispanics and Latinos living here in the United States.

There is a lot of food though and prayer in what Glen wrote. I don't have time at the moment to respond at length to his comment. However, I will say that his comment on my thoughts is just the kind of dialogue among Christians of various sorts that, I believe, needs to occur regarding this situation.

Please read what I've written (both yesterday and Thursday), what other readers have written in response in the comment boxes, and enter into the discussion yourself.


Accused priests file defamation of character suits

This article in the New York Times (LRR) describes how some priests accused of sexual abuse of a minor have not only claimed that the charges are false but they themselves have filed suits claiming defamation of character. SNAP has characterized these suits as "un-Christian, vengeful-style litigation that may scare others who have been abused and are hurting into remaining silent."

Hopefully this will not be the case. For if the the charges brought against the priests are found to be false, then their characters have indeed been defamed to one degree or another. But if the charges are true, then their suits will be shown to have no merit. Neither of these outcomes should keep other abuse victims from coming forward.

However, I also fully realize that our judicial system is as full of broken, sinful people as the systems in the Church designed to deal with cases of sexual abuse. Neither will work according to the high ideals on which they are founded.

Saturday, August 24, 2002

The latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections"

Take this link to the Shelbyville News to read the latest installment of my weekly column, "Spiritual Reflections." It is an adaptation of the reflection on the Mass readings from about 10 days or so ago. I'd appreciate you reading and commenting on it.


More on the Growth of Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism in Latin America

There have been some interesting comments on a post I made on Thursday on the growth of Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism in Central and South America. Fr. Shawn O'Neal sees it as a new kind of "yankee imperialism." He also says that, were evangelicals and pentecostals to embrace in some way a devotion to the Blessed Mother, the Catholic Church would be in "great trouble" there.

Jim McCrea feels that the 'cultural Catholicism' that is widespread in Central and South America is just a thin veneer and that the faith of the people, in general, is not that deep. For the Catholic Church in those countries to take real hold, its faith needs to be based more on real conversion rather than the building of a 'Catholic culture.' If this does not happen, then evangelical and pentecostal Christian groups will continue to make gains there.

I haven't seen anyone yet address this problem through ecumenism. Is there any possibility of helping folks like the evangelical and pentecostal missionaries come to an understanding that Catholics are, indeed, Christians and that they don't need the Gospel proclaimed to them in an "ad gentes", that is, as an initial proclamation? And, on the other hand, can Catholics, especially the leadership of the Church in these countries, come to understand evangelical and pentecostal churches as nothing more than a "sect?"

I personally feel saddened and a bit frustrated when I learn of the work of evangelicals and pentecostals not only in Central and South America but also in the town where I serve as DRE. I wonder why they don't follow Paul's words from his Letter to the Romans: "I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another's foundation..." (Rom 15:20). I also wonder why we Catholics, in general, refuse to try to learn from the success of these evangelical and pentecostal missionaries and try to appeal to our Hispanic brothers and sisters through their means in some ways, without, of course, compromising the truth of our teachings.

I am thankful, however, that God has given me the grace to start working and not just sitting around, stewing in my sadness and frustration. I have started to lay the foundation for a ministry to Hispanics living in the town of the parish where I serve as DRE. I look forward to the day, in the not too distant future, when there might be a vibrant faith community in St. Joseph among the Hispanics who have moved into my area.

At any rate, those are some of my thoughts, feelings, and hopes for the future. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the 'ecumenical' questions that I raised above.

Friday, August 23, 2002

From the "Yes, this IS a religious war" file

This AP article tells reports the Abu Sayaff rebel group in the Philippines, responsible for the kidnapping and death of Christian missionary Martin Burnham, have now beheaded two more missionaries, themselves Philippino natives, members of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

A note found next to the bag that contained the missionaries' heads read: "This is what will happen to those who do not believe in Allah...This is part of our jihad"

The Philippino army struck back against the rebels in response to the killing. Said one army official: "This is a barbaric act by a barbaric group trying to propagate their religion."

And here's another AP article that shows how the Pakistani government broke up a plot to attack on, among other targets, various Christian churches and a Christian hospital. Said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, "We are convinced that al-Qaida is using members of outlawed groups to kill Western nationals, especially minority Christians, to avenge the damage caused to Taliban and al-Qaida men in Afghanistan."


Another crackdown on Chinese Christians

Yes, the problems in the Church in America are troubling. But at least we don't have to worry about having our homes ransacked in the middle of the night and being pulled off to jail simply for being a Christian.


Seeing in us something of himself:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Friday of the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

Ez 37:1-14
Ps 107:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Mt 22:34-40

Why has the Lord remained so steadfastly faithful to his people over the course of our long history? Time and again we have shown ourselves to be unfaithful. We have done things to hurt ourselves. We have sinned and married ourselves. So why has the Lord lifted us up time and again? Why did he raise up our dry bones and breath new life in them as the prophet Ezekiel described in today's first reading?

The quick and easy answer is that he has always loved us. However, that can beg the question: "If we are so sinful and unfaithful, why does he continue to love us?" Why? Because, in part, he sees in us something of himself. Despite the ways in which we have marred ourselves we are still his greatest creation, made in his own image and likeness.

Even when the people of Israel were in exile, when they felt that their bones were dried up, their hopes lost, and that they were cut off forever, the Lord still loved them and saw in them something of himself. That is why he breathed new life into their dried up bones. He raised them out of the graves of their despair and made them fully alive in the knowledge of him.

When we are fully alive we can more fully know that our God is the Lord. We know the Lord through the Spirit that he has breathed into our hearts. We know the Lord through coming to know our other brothers and sisters who also have been made fully alive in the Spirit. Irenaeus' words ring true: "The glory of God is the human being fully alive."

This is why in today's Gospel Jesus told the Pharisees and tells us as well that the second commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, is like the first, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. The more that each of us are fully alive, filled with the Spirit, the more that we will know the Lord in ou hearts and in our brothers and sisters, all of us having been created in his image and likeness.

And the more that we come to know the Lord, the more also will we come to love him. The love that he has given to us time and again when he has raised us up and given us new life will be reflected back to him from us when we become more and more alive in body, mind, and soul through his Spirit. In reflecting that love back to him we cannot but love the presence of his glory shining forth in our brothers and sisters, just like it is in ourselves.

Thomas Merton, the late writer-monk from the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, KY, once had an enlightening experience of this shining forth of God's glory in every human being. It didn't happen when he was in monastery's church or in his hermitage. No, it happened when he was walking down a sidewalk in downtown Louisville onde day in the 1950s. He described his experience in this way:

In Louisville, on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers...I have the immense joy of being human, a member of hte race in which God himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. If only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun!

The flash of insight that Thomas Merton was given, the vision of the dry bones coming to life that Ezekiel was given are both glimpses of the destiny to which Jesus calls us: to love God fully and to love your neighbor as yourself. But this is not just something that will be fulfilled in heaven. Jesus himself made it manifest on earth through his passion, death, and resurrection. And when the Holy Spirit was given to us, his followers, divine grace was poured into our hearts so that we too could be full participants in that Paschal Mystery.

Yes, the vision which I have presented to you is high and full of soaring ideals. But through God's grace we can experience something of it, here and now. There is no reason why it can begin for all of us at this very moment.


More wisdom from Jim Sibley

A couple days ago I linked to an article at Baptist Press News that described the reaction of Jim Sibley, coordinator of Jewish Ministries for the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board, to Reflections on Covenant and Mission, the document issued by the USCCB on evangelization and the Jewish people but which, according the Cardinal Keeler, does not represent a formal position taken the bishops of the United States.

At the time that I linked to that article, I felt that Sibley misunderstood the magisterial nature of the document and was using his comments on it to show his his sharp feelings and beliefs on the Church. His earlier comments lead me to believe that Sibley had felt all along that the Christian nature of the Catholic Church was questionable at best. Well, this article posted today at Agape Press, seems to confirm this view of his, at least regarding the leadership of the Church.

Sibley believes that the issuing of this document confirms for him that the bishops "in all likelihood, have never known the saving grace of our Lord." He even goes on to say that the dialogue between leaders in the USCCB and the Jewish community in America represents "another step toward the coming "world church" prophesied in the Bible."

Well, I'm glad that an unauthoritative document like Reflections on Covenant and Mission could confirm Mr. Sibley's worst fears. Or were they his best hope?

Thursday, August 22, 2002


Catholic lawyer Roger Ho, of Between Heaven and Hell, wrote to inform me that, in all likelihood, the two county clerks who were named in the same-sex marriage law suit in Indianapolis will have their legal fees paid for by either their own particular county government or the state government, i.e., the taxpayers of the state of Indiana.

Thanks, Roger.


What I'm thinking about, working on

If you scroll down and look at the "What I'm reading" box, you'll notice some changes. I'm now reading Ralph Martin's The Catholic Church at the End of an Age. A parishioner with whom I collaborate on several projects had just finished it and asked for my perspective on it.

I was happy to do so because it touches upon some topics that are of interest to me at the moment: Catholic evangelization in general, the new evangelization in particular, and the proselytizing (or evangelization--choose your term) of Catholics by evangelicals and Pentecostals in Central and South America, the Philippines, and in here in the United States.

The new evangelization is often identified with both the re-evangelization of traditionally Catholic countries and the need to evangelize entire cultures. Often this has been identified with the countries of the Western Europe and North America. But could it not also be connected to those parts of the countries of Central and South America and the Philippines that have had the Church present in them for centuries?

Although they have cultures that differ greatly from those of the industrialized West, that have not been as deeply secularized as have ours, it would still seem that a re-evangelization is in order. The aspects of the new evangelization that I described above would apply to them as well as to us.

And since the new evangelization deals a great deal with cultures on the grand scale, we might ask the question, "What is it in the cultures of Latin America and the Philippines that makes evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity so appealing?"

Looking at this issue from a different perspective, is the proselyting/evangelizing work of evangelicals and Pentecostals in these countries being done primarily by natives of those places, by Americans, Canadians, and Europeans, or others? And what is their motivation in working in predominately Catholic countries? Do they believe that Catholics (at least the ones there) aren't really Christian and so see these places as (in our terminology) ad gentes territory? Are they going there simply because there has been a stated desire by many in these places to have them there? Or is it as much to the related to the much-needed relief work among the millions of poor in these countries as it is in strict evangelization?

I'd be interested in your thoughts on and answers to these questions.


No homily from Fr. Shawn O'Neal this week

A deacon in his parish will be breaking open the word for the faithful there instead of the good father.


Sad, Disturbing Developments at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore

This Washington Post article tells of the sad goings on at St. Mary's in previous decades. Six seminarians in the 1970s now being accused of sexually molesting overnight visitors. The seminarians went on to be ordained and at least four of them have been charged or convicted in sexual abuse cases which occurred after their ordination. And apparently this isn't the first case to come out about St. Mary's this year. Earlier a man accused a priest on staff at the seminary of raping him while "two other seminarians guarded the door."


Same-sex marriage law suit filed in Indianapolis

This article published in today's Indianapolis Star gives details on a lawsuit being filed today in Indianapolis which seeks to have the state of Indiana recognize the legal standing of the "civil unions" established between three homosexual couples in the state. All of them had travelled to Vermont to established their civil unions, where it is legally established. The Indiana legislature passed a law in 1997 which prohibited the state from recognizing such unions established in other states.

While I don't approve of same-sex marriages or civil unions or whatever you want to call them, I am not overly worried about this lawsuit. The plaintiffs themselves recognize that they have little chance of winning. But they don't have to worry about spending a lot of money in this seemingly hopeless lawsuit. The Indiana Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) is representing them.

On the other hand, I wonder who is helping the unfortunate Marion and Hendricks county clerks who have been named as defendants in this suit. If they are like the county clerks that I have known, they aren't pulling down a big salary. Maybe the state is helping them. Maybe the plaintiffs could be ordered to pay for their fees if they lose their case. Or maybe they should just send a bill to the Vermont legislature for starting this whole mess to begin with.


Being Reduced to Silence:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Ez 36:23-28
Ps 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19
Mt 22:1-14

Here they were, the people of Israel in the land of exile. They probably felt that nothing could get worse for them. Then they heard the word of the Lord being spoken through Ezekiel: "I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations, in whose midst you have profaned it."

When they heard these words they could have easily concluded that they were going to receive some worse punishment than they had already received, if such a one could be imagined. The Lord sounded angry that his people had belittled his name among the people that did not know him. Maybe he was going to strike them down again.

But imagine their astonishment when, following those words, they heard Ezekiel say that the Lord was going to take them out of exile and back to their homes. He was going to give them a fresh start, purifying them, and giving them a new heart, filled with his spirit. In the midst of their darkest day a light started to shine.

This would be the way that the Lord would show to the nations the holiness of his great name. It would have been nothing at all to give more punishment to a people already in exile. But taking them out of that land and bringing them back to their homes would have been something extraordinary. It would have indeed proved his holiness.

That was the word of the Lord that Ezekiel spoke to the people. It was up to them to accept it or reject it. As history shows us, it is apparent that they did. But such a word is easy to accept. It would have been just what they would have wanted to hear.

Other messages from the Lord can be more challenging. Sometimes the Lord can seem to us like the powerful king in the parable in today's Gospel. He shows that he has power over us and then invites us to his son's wedding feast. If we don't like his rule then we aren't going to want to come to this feast. It would be a sign that his rule will continue in his son and in his grandsons which are to come.

The king didn't force those whom he invited to come. He let them accept or reject his offer. This is easy for us to understand. Each of us can accept or reject God's call to us. God doesn't force us into his kingdom.

But all of his ways are not so quickly grasped. The people of Israel would have been astonished when they learned that the Lord was going to respond to their idolotry by being merciful and bringing them back to the promised land. Likewise, we are perplexed when we hear Jesus describe the reign of God as a king who drags in an uninvited man to a wedding feast and then throws him out for not being properly dressed.

It is easy for us to accept the word of the Lord when it is consistent with our own thinking. It is more difficult when his word goes beyond the capacity of our minds. But this is the challenge of the life of faith. Were we to only accept what we could understand, our God would be very small and, in all likelihood, very harsh.

We wouldn't have expected God to bring his people back to their homes in response to their idolotry. We wouldn't expect a king to drag in those on the streets into the wedding feast of his son. And if we didn't expect that, there is no way for us to understand why he threw one of them out.

But pause for a moment and consider if you yourself are truly worthy to be called by God to share and participate in his divine life. None of us are. Our minds cannot understand why he invited us. We cannot grasp why he is so merciful to us in the face of our own idolotry. Yet he has invited us. He is merciful to us.

We can cling to our small, feeble minds, reject his word, and create for ourselves some small and stern god. Or we can accept his word and stand before him in awe, reduced to silence like the man being thrown out of the feast for not being properly dressed. in the end, the choice is up to us. That might be the most astonishing thing of all.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Archdiocese of Honolulu playing hardball with those claiming to have been abused

In this article from KITV in Honolulu, it would appear that Church leaders there are taking a hard line in clerical sexual abuse accusations made against a priest of the Archdiocese of Honolulu. Alexander Winchester, now 51, claims that he was molested by a priest in an office (I'm presuming it was a parish office) when he was 11.

In response, the archdiocese claimed that "the incident either didn't happen or happened so long ago it can't be proven that the church was responsible." Lawyers for the Church have even seemed to try to shift the blame to Winchester himself, presuming that the incident occurred: "If (Winchester) suffered any damages said injuries or damages were proximately caused by (his) negligence and assumption of risk."

Negligence and assumption of risk? Come on. Now I can understand how the Church there might want to be careful in handling a case that is 40 years old. But if it happened I find it difficult to imagine how an 11-year-old could be neglient. And why should there be any risk to be assumed when anyone visits a parish office?