Wednesday, November 29, 2006

You've Got a Friend in Andrew

St. Andrew the Apostle, whose feast is celebrated by both East and West today, is the original icon of what evangelicals sometimes call "friendship evangelism." Andrew brought his brother Peter to Christ (John 1:41).
The crude Southern version of "friendship evangelism" I grew up with is that you get to know somebody and then... wham... you invite them to your church so that they can "hear the Gospel." The real-life version runs more like this. Others who get to know you will be attracted to Christ through your winsome life and will begin to get closer to God by asking you questions and beginning to discover that this "God-thing" isn't so bad after all.
Not a bad model really- not too heirarchical, and certainly reflective of how many people actually do come to the Faith. I know that I am in the Church today at least partially because of friends who took the time to share with me their values and their love. It made the Gospel come alive for me.
St. John Chrysostom, speaking about Andrew bringing Peter to Christ, declared the positive good of true friendship: "to support one another in the things of the spirit is the true sign of good will between brothers, of loving kinship and sincere affection."
I pondered these words again as I read today about Benedict XVI's visit with Bartholomew I, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. The joint declaration they made after meeting together certainly seems full of such good will.

This fraternal encounter which brings us together, Pope Benedict XVI of
Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, is God’s work, and in a certain sense his gift.

We give thanks to the Author of all that is good, who allows us once again, in prayer and in dialogue, to express the joy we feel as
brothers and to renew our commitment to move towards full communion.

This commitment comes from the Lord’s will and from our responsibility as Pastors in the Church of Christ. May our meeting be a sign and an
encouragement for all of us to share the same sentiments and the same attitudes of fraternity,
cooperation and communion in charity and truth.

The Holy Spirit will help us to prepare the great day of the re-establishment of full unity, whenever and however God wills it. Then we
shall truly be able to rejoice and be glad.

Perhaps this model of friendship is what will bring us together, restoring the unity between these two ancient and venerable branches of Christendom.
you called Andrew the apostle
to preach the Gospel and guide your Church in

May he always be our friend in your

to help us with his prayers.

The Rules of Engagement

I ran across this article tonight. I think it has some very helpful tips for discussions amongst Catholics (and other Christians, too).

10 rules for handling disagreement like a Christian, by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron :

All too often we fail to treat each other with either the seriousness or the charity which our common Faith deserves. We ignore to our eternal peril the one prayer request of our Lord on the night before he died, that we might all be one in truth.

Lord, forgive us for breaking your Body into little kingdoms where our will can be done. Make us one in You once again.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Studying in the Quiet- Part II

Some time ago I wrote about the need for quiet- to say less, to meditate more.

One friend said he would look forward to seeing what happened. Perhaps he said it tongue in cheek, knowing my gregarious nature would not allow me to remain quiet.... at least not long enough to have any lasting effect.

Here is the progress report.

I have found some very quiet spaces in my life that I never knew existed before.

Last summer a trusted confessor, Father Cyril Gorman of St John's Abbey, gave me the penance of staying after Mass and sitting quietly and pondering. It took a few months but now the practice has set in of staying for just a few moments after Mass is over. Sometimes I relish Christ's continued presence, pray for my day, or just pray over and over that favorite prayer of John Paul II, "Totus tuus".... totally yours. Sometimes I just sit in no particular action at all, just sit. However this started, I've found it makes Mass more meaningful. It "sticks to my ribs" longer as I continue to ponder the readings and the prayers and the people I encounter while I return to my car for the trip to work or home.

A second result of being open to the quiet has been an increasing desire to do less and to stay home more. I am less involved in my parish and other outside activities now, a deliberate choice, and I am finding that less is more. When I do things now I relish it more deeply, as if I am more present than before to what is going on around me. I have to admit that part of this change is probably atmospheric... after all it is Fall-approaching Winter here in Minnesota, a time when people tend to settle in for the long winter's nap. But it's something deeper than that. I can't quite explain it yet. But I am happy that it is happening... an increase in contentment and gratitude for where God has placed me.
The last is the most difficult. I am trying to learn to speak only when spoken to. I am naturally outgoing, gregarious, some would even say aggressive. So this is very hard for me. But listening is a valuable skill that often gets overrun by the need to plan one's one response to what others are saying and doing. God help me to speak less and listen more, to others and above all to Him.

Pray for Bishop Carlson

Sorry to be so episco-centric, but this is important.

Bishop Robert Carlson of Saginaw, formerly of Sioux Falls, undergoes Colonectomy

.From the Saginaw Catholic Times:Saginaw Bishop Robert J. Carlson will undergo surgery on Tuesday, Nov. 28, to remove a section of his colon. There is no cancer in the area at the present time but there is some unusual cellular activity that could develop in the future. The bishop has chosen to have this preventative surgery done now and hopes to resume a normal schedule sometime in January...."While there is no cancer, the doctors I have spoken to, for a sceond opinion, have told me it is a real gift to have this knoweldge and to take action before any cancer is present. I see this as a real blessing from God and I go into the surgery very positive," said Bishop Carlson.Bishop Carlson, 62, asks parishoners in the 11-county Saginaw Diocese for their prayers for a successful surgery and a rapid recovery.

Cards may be sent to: Bishop Robert J. Carlson, Diocese of Saginaw, 5800 Weiss St., Saginaw, MI 48063.Update: More from the Saginaw diocese:Bishop Robert J. Carlson is recovering from an elective surgery he had this morning to remove a portion of his colon.While Bishop Carlson has been diagnosed as "cancer free," doctors had recommend recently that he undergo the preventative operation after discovering some "unusual cellular activity" that they feared could have the ability to turn into cancer in the future."The surgery was successful and Bishop Carlson is resting comfortably. He remains in good health," Chancellor Nancy J. Werner said. "He has asked me to express his deep gratitude for those of you who have prayed for his well-being. He would appreciate the continued prayers of the faithful and continues to offer his own intentions for the people of the Diocese of Saginaw."Prior to serving in Sioux Falls, Bishop Carlson was an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St Paul-Minneapolis.

On Politics and Changing the World

Sorry, I can't resist posting the whole quote. I find this homily from last year's World Youth Day especially relevant today.

The Bishop of Rome is busy treading the dangerous waters of the Bosporus in support of his little flock in Turkey, while seeking reconcilation with our Orthodox bretheren and offering an olive branch to a cantankerous Islamic world. Let's pray for him.

The best parts are in bold italics.
Excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI's homily, occasion of 20th World Day of Youth,
-the nuances referring to the Holy Family at Bethelhem reflect the ambiance of the setting- themes of pilgrimage and dedication of the Cathedral at Koln to the Magi-

"The saints show us the way to attain happiness, they show us how to be truly human. Through all the ups and downs of history, they were the true reformers who constantly rescued it from plunging into the valley of darkness; it was they who constantly shed upon it the light that was needed to make sense - even in the midst of suffering - of God's words spoken at the end of the work of creation: "It is very good".

One need only think of such figures as St Benedict, St Francis of Assisi, St Teresa of Avila, St Ignatius of Loyola, St Charles Borromeo, the founders of 19-century religious orders who inspired and guided the social movement, or the saints of our own day - Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, Mother Teresa, Padre Pio.

In contemplating these figures we learn what it means "to adore" and what it means to live according to the measure of the Child of Bethlehem, by the measure of Jesus Christ and of God himself. The saints, as we said, are the true reformers.

Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world. In the last century we experienced revolutions with a common programme - expecting nothing more from God, they assumed total responsibility for the cause of the world in order to change it. And this, as we saw, meant that a human and partial point of view was always taken as an absolute guiding principle. Absolutizing what is not absolute but relative is called totalitarianism. It does not liberate man, but takes away his dignity and enslaves him.

It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our Creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true.

True revolution consists in simply turning to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love. And what could ever save us apart from love?

Dear friends! Allow me to add just two brief thoughts. There are many who speak of God; some even preach hatred and perpetrate violence in God's Name. So it is important to discover the true face of God.

The Magi from the East found it when they knelt down before the Child of Bethlehem. "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father", said Jesus to Philip (Jn 14: 9). In Jesus Christ, who allowed his heart to be pierced for us, the true face of God is seen. We will follow him together with the great multitude of those who went before us. Then we will be travelling along the right path."

Discerning Between God and God's Works

I dedicate this post to the memory of Bishop Paul Dudley, retired (Diocese of Sioux Falls, SD). He died this past Wednesday night. He will be remembered by many as a tireless pastor and lover of our Lord and His Church.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
The first time I met Bishop Dudley he spoke at length on a book called Five Loaves and Two Fish, by Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan. I will not ever forget that talk.
Nguyen Van Thuan, as the new Bishop of Saigon, had been targeted for his faith as well as his family connection to Ngo Dinh Diem. He was detained by the Communist Government of Vietnam in a reeducation camp for 13 years, 9 of them in solitary confinement. During his imprisonment he wrote encouraging remarks and notes on scraps of paper which were passed to the outside world.

Cardinal Van Thuan ( elevated in 2001) shared some of his thoughts at the 1997 World Youth Day, which become the basis for the book and Bishop Dudley's own remarks. One piece struck me especially hard; Discerning Between God and God's Works.

Cardinal Van Thuan had ample opportunity to do this during his imprisonment. 48 years old and energetic, cut off from his flock and the ability to actively minister to them, Bishop Van Thuan was tortured by his enforced idleness.

One day the divine message came to him.

Everything you desire to do is excellent work, helping others, increasing vocations, providing reassurance to your flock and evangelizing non Christians. These are God's works, but they are not God.

Bishop Van Thuan was called by his isolation in prison to realize what is true for all who are involved in the active life. What we do for God is good, but it is not the goal or summit of our lives. Rather, we are called to follow God Himself.

This is important to remember always, but especially when we have good success in our lives or alternatively when we experience dejection and failure. At both times, at ALL times we can pray with Cardinal Van Thuan the words he wrote from prison:

Why, Lord are you
abandoning me?
I do not want to desert your work,
I want to complete it....
Kneeling before your altar
close to the eucharist,
I heard your answer, Lord:
"It is me you are supposed to be
following, not my work."

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Christ... the King?

In my younger years I was an opponent of heirarchy and an advocate of consensus building egalitarianism in the Church (Lutheran, at that time). In late 20th century theological parlance I was much more content to dance in Sarah's circle than to climb Jacob's ladder.

However, in recent years my now nuanced view could be summed up in the bumper sticker "Heirarchy happens." Wherever there are two (or more) sentient beings there is going to be leading and following, first and second, speaker and listener. The opposite of heirarchy is not democracy, it's anarchy, at least in the realm of the divine.

The unique revelation of Christianity is in its definition of that heirarchy. Yes, yes, I understand how few monarchies still exist in the world, but in order to truly understand heirarchy, Christian-ly speaking, we have to go to the origin and model, our King Jesus.

Here are some helpful words from the Bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI, on the topic:

"Jesus of Nazareth... is so intrinsically king that the title 'King' has actually become his name. By calling ourselves Christians, we label ourselves as followers of the king....God did not intend Israel to have a kingdom. The kingdom was a result of Israel's rebellion against god. The law as to be Israel's king, and through the law, god himself... God yielded to Israel's obstinacy and so devised a new kind of kingship for them.

The king is Jesus; in him God entered humanity and espoused it to himself. This is the usual form of the divine activity in relation to mankind. God does not have a fixed plan that he must carry out; on the contrary, he has many different ways of finding man and even of turning his wrong ways into right ways...

The feast of Christ the king is therefore not a feast of those who are subjugated, but a feast of those who know that they are in the hands of one who writes straight on crooked lines."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

She Dances to Angels' Music.

Presentation is everything! How often we've heard that adage in food preparation. It's the mantra of Food Channel addicts everywhere. But today Eastern Christians as well as those of us in the West celebrate another kind of presentation, the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And Her presentation tells us everything we need to know about Her and Her God.

Mary's presentation isn't specifically mentioned in Scripture. However, presentations of children are a commonplace theme in Hebrew tradition, from Samuel the prophet to John the Baptist. Extraordinarily pious parents were often expected to dedicate their children to the Lord, sometimes leaving them in the Temple precincts for upbringing and education.

So, it is no surprise to find in early Christian tradition (c. 120-170) a rather lengthy treatment of Mary's early life. The Protoevangelium of James recounts Anne's hesitation at bringing Mary to the Temple at the tender age of two and Joachim's aquiesence. Mary's special status is clearly recognized. Anne makes her bedroom a shrine or sanctuary to protect her. And when Mary is finally presented to the Lord at age 3, she hears the angelic choirs and dances to their music on the steps of the Temple.

Is it really so unexpected to see such reverence for our Blessed Mother so early in the tradition? The Protoevangelium utilizes motifs and language drawn from the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke. The later Marian doctrines (her sinlessness, her closeness to God) are not outlined clearly. But the author of this second century book clearly understands Mary as possessing a very special place in salvation history, close to the Holy Heart of God.

And so she is.
I have found her to be all that the Church claims for her, and more. St Augustine of Hippo puts Mary in her proper, though exalted, place as the One who first did the will of the Father in bringing His Son to earth. We need to follow her as she follows God. We pray with Mary "let it be done to me according to Your Word."

From a sermon of Augustine (Today's Office of Readings):

Stretching out his hand over his disciples, the Lord Christ declared: Here are my mother and my brothers; anyone who does the will of my Father who sent me is my brother and sister and my mother. I would urge you to ponder these words. Did the Virgin Mary, who believed by faith and conceived by faith, who was the chosen one from whom our Saviour was born among men, who was created by Christ before Christ was created in her – did she not do the will of the Father?

Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father’s will, and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood. Hers was the happiness of first bearing in her womb him whom she would obey as her master.

Now listen and see if the words of Scripture do not agree with what I have said. The Lord was passing by and crowds were following him. His miracles gave proof of divine power. and a woman cried out: Happy is the womb that bore you, blessed is that womb! But the Lord, not wishing people to seek happiness in a purely physical relationship, replied: More blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.

Mary heard God’s word and kept it, and so she is blessed. She kept God’s truth in her mind, a nobler thing than carrying his body in her womb. The truth and the body were both Christ: he was kept in Mary’s mind insofar as he is truth, he was carried in her womb insofar as he is man; but what is kept in the mind is of a higher order than what is carried in the womb.The Virgin Mary is both holy and blessed, and yet the Church is greater than she.

Mary is a part of the Church, a member of the Church, a holy, an eminent – the most eminent – member, but still only a member of the entire body. The body undoubtedly is greater than she, one of its members. This body has the Lord for its head, and head and body together make up the whole Christ. In other words, our head is divine – our head is God.

Now, beloved, give me your whole attention, for you also are members of Christ; you also are the body of Christ. Consider how you yourselves can be among those of whom the Lord said: Here are my mother and my brothers. Do you wonder how you can be the mother of Christ? He himself said: Whoever hears and fulfils the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother.

As for our being the brothers and sisters of Christ, we can understand this because although there is only one inheritance and Christ is the only Son, his mercy would not allow him to remain alone. It was his wish that we too should be heirs of the Father, and co-heirs with himself. Now having said that all of you are brothers of Christ, shall I not dare to call you his mother? Much less would I dare to deny his own words.

Tell me how Mary became the mother of Christ, if it was not by giving birth to the members of Christ? You, to whom I am speaking, are the members of Christ. Of whom were you born? “Of Mother Church”, I hear the reply of your hearts. You became sons of this mother at your baptism, you came to birth then as members of Christ.

Now you in your turn must draw to the font of baptism as many as you possibly can. You became sons when you were born there yourselves, and now by bringing others to birth in the same way, you have it in your power to become the mothers of Christ.

Mother of the Church, Mother of our Lord, Mother of us all, pray for us, that we may hear and heed God's Word.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Another One Gone to God

Here is an article concerning a recently deceased priest of my diocese.... we have so many good priests, and still far too few....

He was from Africa and was a strong influence on the parishes he served and his earthly family, as the story notes.

Rev. Peter Njoku was a parent figure to many
Nigerian-born and St. Thomas-educated priest served parishes throughout the state and led a cultural group.

Last update: November 18, 2006 – 8:58 PM Minneapolis Star Tribune

Throughout his life, the Rev. Peter C. Njoku believed child-rearing was a responsibility that reached far beyond the child's parents, and he practiced what he preached. Njoku took responsibility for six nephews, bringing them from his native Nigeria to Minnesota to be educated. When a young niece's mother died, he adopted the girl as his own.

While tending his parish at St. Jerome's Catholic Church in Maplewood, Njoku spent time on the side collecting books and educational materials to be shipped to schoolchildren across Nigeria. Njoku died shortly after he offered communion at a Mass Nov. 12, while visiting his hometown of Owerri, in southeastern Nigeria. He was 60.

The Rev. Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas University, met Njoku the day after he arrived in the United States from Nigeria, back in 1977. "I suggested he meet me for dinner at St. Thomas at 6 p.m.," Dease said, chuckling at the memory. "He didn't show up. The next day I asked him what happened. He said he and his friend had waited until the sun went down, which in Owerri happened at precisely 6 o'clock." But, Dease said, it was June in Minnesota. By sundown, the St. Thomas dining room had long since closed, and Njoku and his friend went hungry that night.

Dease helped Njoku transition to American life and the two became lifelong friends.
"He was a good priest, a mountain of integrity," Dease said. "One of the most cheerful, happy people you would ever meet and really devoted to the spiritual care of people."
None of which stopped Njoku from delivering a cannon-shot tennis serve that left his opponents scrambling across the tennis court. "I got trounced regularly," Dease said. "I will miss his buoyant spirit."

Njoku found counsel for his parishioners as often in Shakespeare as in scripture, with the occasional African proverb thrown in. "He was the parent figure in my life for the last 10 years," said Nnamdi Njoku, 30, one of Njoku's nephews, who attended St. Thomas and who now works in finance for Medtronic. "He was the person my cousins and I went to for guidance, whenever we had any issues, big decisions to make," he said. "There was no pretentiousness with him."

Njoku served a number of parishes in Minnesota, including St. Peter Claver in St. Paul, St. Michael in Pine Island, St. Mary in Bellechester, St. Paul in Zumbrota and Most Holy Trinity in St. Louis Park. Njoku was also a co-founder and leader of the Umunne Cultural Association, a St. Paul group that serves as the hub of activities for Nigerians from the Igbo tribe.
Njoku will be buried in Owerri on Friday. A prayer vigil is scheduled for 7 p.m. that day at St. Jerome's, 380 Roselawn Av. E., Maplewood. The vigil will end at dawn.

This Dying Year and Our Mother

"Here lies another day during which I had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me, and tomorrow begins another. Why am I allowed two?
- G. K. Chesterton

As we get closer to the end of the Church Year, I always feel a pull on my heart, resonating with all of the apocalyptic, "end-of-time" scripture readings.

This is not because I believe the Second Coming of Christ is going to happen any time soon. I lived through that 'Hal Lindsey" phase in my teen-age years (the early 1970's if you are counting). I even wanted to go to a Bible School rather than a "real" accredited college because accreditation didn't really matter if the end was nigh.

As I have gotten older I have realized that there is a far more important fact to be faced, and we humans are loathe to do so. Death is inevitable....

No matter what the external world indicates we will all,
all of us without exception, face death and the final reckoning.

I know that statement sounds a little morbid, but this insight is very real to those of us who have known death in our families and among our friends.

And in a supreme irony of fate, the simple recognition of that sobering fact makes the stars shine a little brighter, the frost nip a little nippier on the nose. The recognition that some day all of this will be gone (at least for us) makes us more thankful than ever for what we do have, right now, where we stand in this life.
Do you remember the character Emily in the Thornton Wilder play, Our Town? Every passing Autumn I feel a little more empathy with her anguished, unheard cries from beyond the grave in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire.

"Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?"

Life passes so very quickly, doesn't it?

But I also have a new Companion on my journey this year. She has helped me face my own mortality, because of Her own journey to the Father. I hope you will find Her too. She is a great Companion in Sorrow. Here is a quote about Her from that saint whose doily-laced Holy Card forms the header to this post:

Love Mary! She is loveable, faithful, constant. She will never let herself be outdone in love, but will ever remain supreme. If you are in danger, she will hasten to free you. If you are troubled, she will console you. If you are sick, she will bring you relief. If you are in need, she will help you.

She does not look to see what kind of person you have been. She simply comes to a heart that wants to love her. She comes quickly and opens her merciful heart to you, embraces you and consoles and serves you. She will even be at hand to accompany you on the trip to eternity. -

Saint Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Practical Words from a Master Mystic

Sometimes it's hard to find the right balance between being with others whom we love while also craving the solitude which we know helps us come closer to God. It's a real balancing act.

Especially for this tail end of the Church year, here is some advice from Meister Eckhart (around 1260-1327), Dominican theologian, from his Spiritual Conversations.

“We must pray always and not lose heart”

Someone asked me the following: Many people would like to withdraw completely from the world and to live in solitude so as to find peace there, or to remain in church. Could it be that this is the best one can do? I say: No!

And this is why. The person with an upright attitude is at ease everywhere and with everybody; but the person who is lacking in integrity is uncomfortable everywhere and with everybody. The person who possesses God alone has in mind only God, and all things become God alone for him.
Such a person carries God in all he does and in every place, and that person’s every activity takes on a divine character…Certainly, for this, zeal and love are necessary as well as attentive watchfulness over one’s conscience, vigilant, true and effective intelligence, which directs our entire spiritual attitude where things and people are concerned.

One cannot acquire that intelligence through an evasive attitude by fleeing from things in order to find refuge in solitude, far away from the external world. On the contrary, one has to learn an interior solitude wherever and with whomever one might be.
One has to learn to penetrate to the bottom of things so as to take hold of God there… That is how we must be filled with the presence of God, remodeled after the form of the God of love, and we must be entirely one with him, so that God’s presence might illuminate us without our least effort.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Wake up, sleepyheads.

As in the days of Noah, so will it be.....

From Saint Gregory of Nyssa (around 335-395), Monk and Bishop, Homily 11 on the Song of Songs

“They ate and drank, they bought and sold.”

The Lord gave his disciples important recommendations so that they might shake off like dust everything earthly in their nature and might thus be raised to the desire for supernatural realities.

According to one of these recommendations, those who turn towards life on high must be stronger than sleep and must always remain watchful… I am talking about the drowsiness that arises among those who are plunged in life’s lie through illusory dreams such as honors, riches, power, pomp, the fascination of pleasure, ambition, the thirst for enjoyment, vanity and everything that their imagination leads superficial people to seek madly.

All these things pass away with the fleeting nature of time; they belong to the domain of appearances… Hardly have they seemed to exist when they disappear like the waves of the sea…So that our minds might be free of these illusions, the Word invites us to shake this deep sleep from the eyes of our soul, so that we might not slip away from the true realities by becoming attached to that which has no consistency. That is why he suggests that we be watchful when he says: “Let your belts be fastened around your waists and your lamps be burning ready.” (Lk 12:35)

For when the light shines before our eyes, it chases sleep away, and when our kidneys are held tight by a belt, they prevent the body from succumbing to it… The person who has fastened the belt of temperance lives in the light of a pure conscience; the trust of a child illuminates his life like a lamp… If we live like that, we will enter into a life that is like that of the angels.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

How Much Is Enough? Extreme Religion in the Dock

I heard THOSE words again (Luke 17:10) at Mass several days ago now.

"When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”

Is this a recipe for burn-out? A call to radical discipleship? An excuse to "diss" others who don't measure up? A reason to feel (even more) guilty? Naw!

We live in a society (American) that treasures moderation, especially in religion. Don't get too involved now , or over-extreme or overly committed to any one idea, task, or ideology. In America, we're for "what works, " what's "practical" and hence accomodating, easy, and palatable to the majority.

And who can blame us? We could all point to examples of extremism in religion which damage the ecology/ social fabric/ stability of our lives. I won't even go there.... you can cite your own examples, from burning towers to the door bell ringing in the middle of the ball game. Ding-dong. It's the Avon lady of religions, come to save your soul on your own doorstep. How inconvenient. How inappropriate.

The utilitarian, the democratic, the "let's-all-just-agree-here" populism which has ruled the roost in America for generations provides us a barrier with which to keep out the crazies, the unruly, the extreme. It's very helpful that way.

However, that same civil religion can also prove to be the greatest enemy of true religion. This is true because a low-grade, commitment- resistant faith allows us to bail out whenever the discussion gets too uncomfortable, challenging, or close to home.

It is like a cow attempting to communicate with a dog. Same class, different order, definitely different genus and species.
However, I WANT to be different, to be pro-Christ and contra-cultural in the finest Niebuhr-ian sense. It's the winsome radicalism of Jesus, of Ghandi, of Mother Teresa. It's the radicalism that never ceases to cry out for the God of the Poor, the God who challenges and changes us, the God who died and rose for us.

So, call me radical. Go ahead. I dare 'ya.

I like the challenge of religion lived on the edge, as long as and especially when that edge is close to the Heart of God. No matter what we do, we can never love God or love others too much. and that IS a challenge to all of us.

Emptiness in their Hearts

Warning: Long article ahead.

A friend e mailed me the attached article this morning. I was struck by the comment from the Chinese convert about the emptiness left in the hearts of the Chinese in the wake of communism's demise.

I am not sure that I buy the author's analysis of Weigel and the Church's doctrine. However, the article is thought-provoking on several levels.

It left me thinking about the following questions:

1. What spiritual vacuum exists in North America which might correspond to the Chinese hunger for things spiritual?

2. How can we re-cast our understanding of the de-Christianization of Europe and the brittle and crumbling individualistic "state religion" of America in order better to reflect the actual need of souls?

It is obvious to me that people all over are hurting and in need. Less obvious is how we are prepared to offer our lives for theirs in service, or to winsomely offer them an nourishing, winsome spiritual alternative to radical Islam, secularism.

Any thoughts out there?

Published on The Brussels Journal (
The Outcome of Two Cultural Revolutions: While China Turns Christian, Europe Turns Muslim
By Fjordman
Created 2006-11-14 15:39

At the beginning of the 21st century, Europe is being Islamized, while China is being Christianized. This proves that if God exists He must have a sense of humor. Buddhism and Taoism still claim most worshippers in China but the state-sanctioned churches count up to 35 million followers. The underground churches are estimated to have 80 million members or more, about 12 million of them Catholics, the rest Protestants.

In a Beijing beauty salon, convert Xun Jinzhen explains why Christianity has become so popular: “We have very few people who believe in communism as a faith, so there’s an emptiness in their hearts.” Among the Chinese converts are some figures from the 1989 democracy protests.

According to Han Dong-fang, “I think human beings need something at a spiritual level. We don’t want to believe we are coming from nowhere; going nowhere. In China we have traditionally followed Buddhism. We had quite a deep religion. But communism destroyed everything. When communism became this corrupted thing which failed everybody, people still needed a belief. I think that’s the reason for Christianity in China .”

It is noteworthy that the capitalist economy of China and South Korea is booming at the same time as Christianity is spreading among Chinese and Koreans. Christianity is retreating in Europe , which is in serious economic decline. Korean and Chinese students of European classical music play Beethoven, Bach and Mozart while Western youth listen to Gangsta rap and enjoy Arabic music at Islamic cultural festivals. Will the dynamic of individualism bloom in China while it is suffocating in Europe where it was once championed?

During the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards youth militia, created by Chairman Mao to use against his rivals, destroyed great numbers of priceless Chinese historic buildings and artifacts. The education system ceased to function, as young people were encouraged to criticize and disparage all traditional institutions as well as their parents and teachers. There was an anti-Confucian campaign and widespread persecution of religion, both seen as parts of the established culture that needed to be crushed to pave way for the new Marxist society.

The Chinese Cultural Revolution took place in the late 1960s and early 70s. At roughly the same time, there was a “Cultural Revolution” in the West in the form of the “hippie” youth rebellion. The Western Cultural Revolution, too, was influenced by Marxist thinking, including radical Feminism, and attacked, albeit less violently than their Chinese counterparts, all established institutions, including the traditional culture and religion as well as the authority of parents and teachers. Quite a few Western observers sympathized with the Chinese Revolution. Some even praised Mao’s teachings and spread his Little Red Book.

The Cultural Revolution in China was so violent and destructive that it greatly contributed to discrediting Marxism in the country. Only a few years later, after Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping initiated capitalist reforms. Marxism unhinged the traditional religion in China , leaving the door open for Christianity. Marxism unhinged the traditional religion in Europe , leaving the door open for Islam. Nature abhors a vacuum. I believe the Chinese got the better part of that deal.

The major difference is that while the Cultural Revolution in China is now universally considered a crime, the people behind the Cultural Revolution in the West in many ways won, and are in a near-hegemonic position in our media and academia to shape public discourse. The Chinese Cultural Revolution was, by comparison, a violent, but briefer episode, while in the West it became an institutionalized, ongoing project stretching over decades, continuing its mission of discrediting Western culture and disconnecting Westerners from their religious roots from within Western universities and media.

Some argue that at least the Western Cultural Revolution didn’t physically destroy the cultural treasures of the West, just the Christian culture that produced them. This is only partially true. Indirectly, since it paved the way for Muslims, who some consider allies in their quest to destroy Christian Western culture, it opened the doors to people who may well physically destroy the un-Islamic European cultural treasures, the Louvre, Rembrandt’s paintings at the Rijksmuseum, just like they previously did to pre-Islamic culture all over what is now the Islamic world. The Western Cultural Revolution may in the long run prove to have been even more destructive than its Chinese counterpart, whose excesses later triggered a revival in China , while the very survival of Western civilization is now in question.

The situation in Western Europe was made worse by Eurabians and Euro-federalists, not all of them Leftists, groups with a different agenda but with a shared interest in breaking down the traditional European national cultures through mass immigration and Multiculturalism.
I have heard arguments claiming that Catholic countries are more resistant to Multiculturalism and Muslim immigration than Protestant countries such as the Netherlands or Sweden . These persons would thus disagree with my calls for the United States to return to its Anglo-Protestant roots, since they view Protestantism as a part of the problem.

According to Alexander Boot, “ Spain, Italy and France today appear more, shall we say, Western than the countries of northern Europe . The latter had their defenses stripped away by Protestantism.”

Maybe I’m biased in this regard since I come from a Protestant country myself, but I am open to all arguments that can be proven. I will not dismiss the possibility that Italy , for instance, may have put up stronger cultural resistance to Political Correctness than Norway . However, even in nominally Calvinist the Netherlands and Lutheran Scandinavia, the native population has higher birth rates than in Catholic Italy, and I’m not convinced that Catholic Spain under its current Socialist government is stronger than Lutheran Denmark.

A comment at The Brussels Journal said: “The other problem with Christianity is that most public intellectuals still balk at actually believing in it – our Fjordman above; Theodore Dalrymple; Oriana Fallaci – all of them declare themselves atheists while touting Christianity. There is no way that this kind of thinking is going to build a realistic resistance – functioning ideologies absolutely require that the elites believe the same as the masses, albeit with more sophistication and detail.”

I take it as a compliment to be compared to the likes of Dalrymple and Fallaci. There are several reasons why I hesitate to give my unconditional support to the Church. The first is that Christianity can be a tad too soft in dealing with Islam. I’m more in the “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” camp myself. But above all, because the Church itself has been infected by the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. I know Oriana Fallaci grew closer to the Catholic Church towards the end of her life, but I sometimes wonder whether she was fully aware of how much Islamic apologists have infiltrated the Vatican .

George Weigel is an American conservative, Roman Catholic theologian and the author of the book The Cube and the Cathedral. Weigel writes that Western Europe “is depopulating itself in numbers greater than at any time since the Black Death of the 14th century. When an entire continent, healthier, wealthier and more secure than ever before, fails to create the human future in the most elemental sense — by creating the next generation — something serious is afoot.”

He believes this is caused by spiritual boredom: “Europe, bored, asks only to be left alone with its pleasures. […] Europe's effort to create a tolerant, civil, democratic civilization by cutting itself off from one of that civilization's sources — Jewish and Christian convictions about the dignity of the person — is likely to fail.”

However, in another essay, Weigel states that: “We know that, in the past, Christians used violence to advance Christian purposes. The Catholic Church has publicly repented of such distortions of the Gospel […] Can the church, therefore, be of some help to those brave Islamic reformers who, at the risk of their own lives, are trying to develop a parallel Islamic critique of the distorted and lethal ideas of some of their co-religionists?”

This is a deeply misplaced comparison. The Crusades were a brief and isolated event in Western history, triggered by more than four centuries of unprovoked Islamic aggression. It may have helped stem the expansion of Islam, thus saving Western civilization. We may owe an apology Jews and Eastern Christians who unwittingly got caught up in it, but we owe none whatsoever to Muslims.

Three Christian high school girls were beheaded as a Ramadan “trophy” by Indonesians who conceived the idea after a visit to Philippines Jihadists. Javanese trader Hasanuddin appeared in Jakarta Central Court charged with directing the murders. After discussions with friends, he decided that beheading Christians could qualify as an act of Muslim charity, and found an “excellent” target – a group of schoolgirls who traveled by foot.

The Islamic practice of beheading dates back to Muhammad and his companions, who massacred hundreds of Jews of the Banu Qurayza tribe in Medina , dumped their bodies in a ditch and sold their women and children as slaves. This is not a “distortion” of Islamic teachings; it was done by the founder of the religion, who later had sex with one of the women who had just watched her husband being murdered that very same night. Exactly how does this compare with the example of Jesus?

In a quote brought to my attention by Lawrence Auster’s blog, the official doctrine of the Catholic Church (in the Nostra Aetate document of the Second Vatican Council from the 1960s) says about Islam: “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God.”

How can I defend Christianity from secularists who say that it is pretty similar to Islam if the Church and even some “conservative” theologians insist on the same absurd equivalence?
My main problem with wholeheartedly supporting the Church is that it is, at best, lukewarm in defending the West by confronting Islam. If there is such a thing as evil then Islam is evil. If the Church cannot recognize that, then what good is it? Give me some determined and armed atheists who fight for their children’s freedom rather then some lukewarm Christians who engage in dialogue with Muslims.

Although I am not a believer I respect the Christian influence on Western culture, but at the same time I am pragmatic enough to support forces that are capable of defending Europe and the West against Islam. If the Church can demonstrate that it is up to the task, I will give it stronger support. Until then, I will give it conditional support only because it gives only conditional support to the West.

How the West Was Lost Author: Alexander BootASIN: 1850439850

A Blossom from the Little Flower

Therese of Lisieux never used to be one of my favorite saints. Back when I was going through my divorce in 1996 someone suggested that I read her autobiography and I tried. Honestly, I tried. But I kept thinking as I read it "what could a 19th century French girl teach me?" Back then her observations seemed far too maudlin, almost sacharrine.

I don't know precisely what changed. Perhaps I grew up a bit. Maybe I got more used to Gallic Catholic piety. But now her words and even more her humble attitude function like a beacon to the soul, guiding me home to a safe harbor.

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus (1873-1897), Carmelite, Doctor of the Church from Autobiographical Manuscript A, 84 r°

“The reign of God is in your midst”

It is above all the Gospel which supports me during my prayer. There I find all that my poor little soul needs. There, I always discover new lights, hidden and mysterious meaning. I understand and know from experience “that the reign of God is in our midst”.

Jesus doesn’t need books or scholars to teach souls, he who is the Scholar of scholars teaches without the noise of words. I have never heard him speak, but I feel that he is in me.

He guides me at every moment, he inspires me with what I have to say or do. Just when I need it, I discover lights that I had not seen yet. Most often, this does not happen above all during my prayer, but rather in the midst of my day’s occupations.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

More on Self Giving Service from a Master

Light on today's Gospel reading from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997),
Foundress of the Missionary Sisters of Charity A Simple Path.

“We are useless servants."

Don’t worry about looking for the causes of humankind’s big problems; be satisfied with doing what you can to solve them by giving your help to those who need it. Some people tell me that by giving charity to others, we are clearing the States of their responsibilities towards the needy and the poor. However, I’m not worried, for in general the States don’t give love.

I simply do what I can, the rest is not my domain.God has been so good to us! To work with love is always a way of coming closer to him. Look at what Christ did during his life on earth. He spent it doing good (Acts 10:38). I remind my sisters that he spent the three years of his public life caring for the sick, the lepers, the children and others more. That is exactly what we are doing when we preach the Gospel by our actions.

We believe that serving others is a privilege, and we try at every moment to do it with all our heart. We know very well that our action is only a drop in the ocean, but without our action, that drop would be missing.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Frances Xavier Cabrini: Truth Acting in Love

St Francis Xavier Cabrini was born in Italy and came to America at the urging of Pope Leo XIII in 1889. Here she worked with Italian immigrants, founding schools, hospitals and orphanages in both North and South America. She died in 1917 in Chicago and became in 1946 the first American citizen to be canonized as a saint.

She recognized the faith present in the unlearned, perceiving the mystery of the Truth which leads us to practice love for others. Here is a sample of her wisdom:
Everyone has a heart, the learned and the ignorant. How many uneducated souls with pure hearts have raised themselves to God in blessed contemplation. Thus, even the mysteries that are beyond science and the mind were not superior to the vastness of their hearts.
No, the mind does not comprehend the mysteries of faith, but, because they are mysteries of love, the heart of one who has the gift of faith feels, rather than understands them.
Yes, the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Eucharist are mysteries of a God who makes himself for us father, brother, victim and food. They are proof of an infinite love; the heart perceives the truth because it needs to be infinitely loved.
God our Father,
you called Frances Xavier Cabrini from Italy
to serve the immigrants of America.
By her example teach us concern for the stranger,
the sick and the frustrated.
By her prayers help us to see Christ in all the men and women we meet.

Loving the Church as She Is

I have had an interesting time this past week trying to get my mind around what it means for me to be Church in this place and time. I went to daily Mass on last Thursday, the feast of St John Lateran, and heard something which has made me think.

Now I've never been a fancier of these feast days dedicated to buildings. I guess I've been "schooled" too much in the idea that the Church is the people of God, not a building made of stone. And that is certainly true.

But I am glad I went to Mass that day because I heard a homily from a Jesuit priest on loving the Church as She is. I needed to hear that homily.

I had been in the process of reviewing (and thinking of discarding) some of my para-church affiliations, primarily because I disagree with some of the thoughts expressed and actions taken by the leadership in these organizations. I won't go into details about that struggle, except to say that my issue is not with the Insitututional Church per se as much as with some sub-segments of it. I love my Church- the Roman Catholic Church- and I especially love my home parish. My "beef" has been with some other organizations which exist as charisms within the Church.

In any event, the priest at the Mass talked about loving the Church as she is, warts and all. This started me thinking about my own attitude toward other members of the Church. In particular, I have struggled with ill-feelings towards those Catholic who publicly reject some portion of the Church's teaching, i.e. on artificual contraception, male priesthood, right to life, same sex attraction.

But the upshot of the homily was that we should all pray for the ability to love the Church as God does, that is, without reservation, with malice toward none and charity toward all.

How can we do that when there is so much that divides us? That truly is a work of grace, ... to be able to disagree with someone on an issue, whether it be major or minor, theological or pastoral, and yet still to have the Presence of Christ's Mind so much that we are able to see and love as God does.

I'm not sure how that will happen. But, I will gladly celebrate a dozen feasts for Church buildings if we can only have answered the prayer to which the Liturgy of the Hours directs us in the Commons for a Church Dedication:

you called your people to be your Church.
As we gather together in your name
may we love,, honor and follow you
to eternal life in the kingdom you promise.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Upon this Rock....

I don't know where I found this, but I think it's pretty neat...

More on our responsibilities

I thank my friend Antony H, once and future blogger, for directing my attention to this u-tube video. It places North Americans and our present prosperity in a global context.

Thank you, Antony, for helping me put this past week's American election results in a broader context of the global common good. May the new Congress help us become better citizens of our own society and of the world where God works.

Remembering the Poor

Being America-centric I hadn't realized that today was the Italian Day of Thanksgiving, duly noted by our Holy Father. What he said about the problem of hunger will be good to remember as we approach our own tables of plenty....

Dear Brothers and Sisters! Today in Italy the annual Day of Thanksgiving is being observed, whose theme is "The Earth: a Gift for the Whole Human Family." In our families we teach the little ones to thank the Lord always before eating, with a brief prayer and the sign of the cross. This custom must be kept or rediscovered, because it teaches [us] not to take our "daily bread" for granted but to recognize in it a gift of Providence. We should get into the habit of blessing the Creator for each thing: for air and water, precious elements which are the foundation of life on our planet; as well as for food that, through the fecundity of the earth, God gives us for our sustenance. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, asking the heavenly Father not for "my" but for "our" daily bread. Thus he wanted every man to feel co-responsible for his brothers, so that no one would be without what is necessary to live. The earth's products are a gift given by God "for the whole human family."

And here we touch upon a very painful point: the tragedy of hunger that, despite the fact that even recently it has been addressed in the highest institutional quarters, such as the United Nations and in particular the FAO, continues to be very grave always. The last annual FAO report confirmed what the Church knows very well through the direct experience of communities and missionaries: that more than 800 million people live in a situation of malnutrition and too many people, especially children, die of hunger.

How can this situation be addressed that, though repeatedly denounced, is not resolved, but on the contrary is getting worse in different ways? Surely it is necessary to eliminate the structural causes linked to the system of government of the world economy, which allocates the greater part of the planet's resources to a minority of the population. This injustice was criticized on different occasions by my venerated predecessors, the Servants of God Paul VI and John Paul II.

To be able to influence on a large scale it is necessary "to convert" the model of global development; this is required now not only by the scandal of hunger, but also by the environmental and energy emergencies. However, each person and each family can and must do something to alleviate hunger in the world, adopting a style of life and consumption compatible with the safeguarding of creation and with criteria of justice toward those who cultivate the land in every country.

Dear Brothers and Sisters: Today, the Day of Thanksgiving invites us, on one hand, to thank God for the fruits of agricultural labor and, on the other, it encourages us to be committed concretely to eradicate the scourge of hunger. May the Virgin Mary help us to be grateful for the benefits of Providence and to promote justice and solidarity in all parts of the globe

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Real Treat

I'm not sure I totally buy into the somewhat triumphalistic tone of this article. However, it does my heart good (if not my waistline) to be able to enjoy Halloween without so much guilt about participating in any "pagan rituals."

Any other thoughts out there? Hershey's Miniatures, anyone?

The Seventh Sense

In the movie "The Sixth Sense" Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist whose young patient sees dead people. There is a bizarre plot twist at the end which I must give away in order to write this post . Fair warning to those who haven't yet seen this excellent movie. At the end of the movie Bruce Willis in essence discovers that he himself is the dead person and all the others around him are alive.

How like us. Christians have the Seventh Sense, not just the presence of dead people among us, but the presence of God in those people. Its holy day is celebrated on November 1st, the Feast of All Saints.

The dead we always have with us in our memories. And we know that that they have passed over to true Life. They are living the Reality, the Divine Truth, of which this present life is simply the shadowy reflection. They are always with God. Sometimes they are with us also.

Anyone who has lost a loved one knows what I am talking about. My mother died in September 1987. The last time I saw her alive with the seeing of the eyes on Friday, September 4, 1987. She was standing in her housecoat on the porch in the early morning light. She was waving to me as my father pulled out of the driveway to take me to the airport to travel home to Minnesota. The next Tuesday she had a massive heart attack and died in an arm chair in our living room.

In the Fall of 1988 I was assisting with the distribution of communion for the first time at the altar of my internship parish, First Lutheran Church, Longview Texas. During communion for the first time since her death I had the distinct sense that my mother was there with me. The sensation passed, and the service ended. Then, a family friend, my 4th grade Sunday School teacher, came up after church and said with tears in her eyes "Elizabeth was with us today. did you feel it?"

There are even larger "shiver moments" in this holy day. In a sense the curtain is drawn back today and we see a larger Reality, ourselves surrounded by the heavenly host of those who have gone before us to God.

It's an overwhelming feeling. At least for today, this reality ought to feel just as real or perhaps more real than the KFC meals, Excel spreadsheets, and the crunching autumn leaves stirred in the crisp morning air which frame my day.

From the Scripture Reading for Evening Prayer I, Solemnity of All Saints:

You have drawn near to Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jeruslaem, to myriads of angels in festal gathering, to the assembly of the first-born enrolled in heaven, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood which speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
Hebrews 12:22-24

We Catholic Christians have this Seventh Sense, with sense enough at least on occasion to perceive an unseen Reality, the God who is truly Real. As St Augustine put it, "we must fly to our beloved homeland. There the Father is, and there is everything." I am sure that is what William of St Thierry was praying about when he wrote the Countryman's Prayer in the right sidebar.

Today, make this prayer mine, Lord. give me the Seventh Sense. Bring me Home.