Blessed Oscar Romero

Today is a day many people have been waiting for a very long time: the beatification of Oscar Romero, one of my great heroes.

Romero’s path to sainthood, however, has not been without controversy.  There are some who during his life viewed him (and some who continue to view him) as a Marxist or, in one commentator’s words “a poster boy for the left-wing cause.”

I think there is no better answer to the charge of Marxism than the words Romero spoke during his homily on the feast of the Ascension in 1977, three years before his assassination.  The message of the bishops in the Documents of the Second Vatican Council, he preached

condemns this false understanding of tradition that wants to present the Church as simply spiritual – a Church of sacraments and prayers but with no social commitment or commitment to history.  We would betray our mission as pastors, if we were to reduce evangelization to mere practices of individual piety and the participation in non-incarnated sacraments.  The Pope says: Evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 29).  My bothers and sisters, let us not place our faith in some corner and reduce it to some private place and then live in public as though we had no faith.  The Council said that this divorce between faith and our private life is one of the great errors of our time (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 43).  So great is this error that in the name of this error, the Church is called subversive because she wants to lead Christians to a faith commitment in their concrete life.  My dear Catholics, let us study this right doctrine and wisdom of the Church.  Then we will understand that priests and Christians who live their Christian commitment in the world are far from being communists or Marxists or subversives.

Blessed Oscar Romero, pray for us!




What Are you Standing There Looking at the Sky?

Today is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord – at least in the diocese in which I currently live.  (I confess a part of me will never get used to the Sunday celebration of what I grew up knowing as “Ascension Thursday.”)

Our first Mass reading records Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he ascends – the commission to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria,and to the ends of the earth.”  After his Ascension, “while they were looking intently at the sky,” two men dressed in white garments appear to them and ask,

While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

Why indeed!  As I’ve probably written before, when I hear those reads, what I hear is “What are you doing standing around here? You have work do to. Don’t be looking up there – he’s not going to be doing the heavy lifting from now on – he’ll come back in his own time. Right now it’s up to you.”

As I heard the words this morning, I was reminded of Danielle Rose’s song, Rejoice!, which carries that same sense of the words. Here it is:

Don’t just stand there looking up at the sky.  Go out and proclaim the Gospel to all the world!

Pope Francis and the Joy of the Gospel

Yesterday was the first of a four session Lenten Adult Education Series at Our Lady of Lourdes on Pope Francis and the Renewal of the Church. I was the speaker for this opening session, which focused on Pope Francis and the Joy of the Gospel.

We selected The Joy of the Gospel, the Apostolic Exhortation issued on November 24 of this past year, as the kick off for this Lenten program because Pope Francis’ document tells us a lot about who this Pope is, what he is up to, and what he thinks a renewal of the Church looks like. Indeed, in paragraph 17, Pope Francis describes the document as presenting “some guidelines which can encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality.”

My talk focused both on what we learn from the document about Pope Francis’ spirituality and how he believes we are meant to be in this world.

You can listen to the talk I gave at our gathering here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 50:16.

If you are in the Twin Cities area, the remaining three sessions of the series are March 23, 30 and April 6 on The reform of the Vatican and the Role of the Laity (Fr. Michael Joncas), Spiritual Discernment in the Life of Faith (Fr. Tim Manatt), and Personal Witness, Charity and Justice (Fr. Dan Griffith).

The Joy of the Gospel and What it Means to Believe in God

Last night I gave a talk at St. Thomas More Catholic Church here in the Twin Cities on Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. I wondered whether the bitter cold would keep many people from venturing out (had I not been the speaker, I know I would have been tempted to stay home), but we had a great turnout

My talk was divided into two parts. First, I highlighted certain aspects of the document that are a reflection of Pope Francis’ Ignatian Spirituality (particularly appropriate for this audience, since ST. Thomas More is a Jesuit parish). Second, I focused on ways in which the document builds on some of the fundamental principles of Catholic Social Thought. After each segment, I gave the audience time to reflect on several questions I gave them. After the second reflection period, I gave some time for some small group sharing about insights a challenges after which I opened it up for question and answer and discussion.

When I talked about how the Exhortation expounds on some of the central principles of the Church’s social teachings, I began with a discussion of the principle of human dignity – hardly surprising, since the entirety of the Church’s social doctrine begins with the recognition of the inviolable dignity of the human person.

It is generally stated that the basis for asserting the dignity of the human person is the belief that each human being is created in the image of God and that in every person there exists “the living image of God.” Pope Francis expresses that in an even more basic and clear way, saying, effectively, that one cannot say one believes in the Father or the Son without accepting the dignity of the human person. He writes:

To believe in a Father who loves all men and women with an infinite love means realizing that “he thereby confers upon them an infinite dignity.” To believe that the Son of God assumed our human flesh means that each human person has been taken up into the very heart of God. To believe that Jesus shed his blood for us removes any doubt about the boundless love which ennobles each human being.

“No one,” he tells us, “can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love.

I think this is something we need to deeply appreciate. We often treat “I believe in God,” as no more than a simple factual assertion of God’s existence. But Pope Francis reminds us that saying “I believe in God” is an acknowledgment of something having to do with God and each other. When we say “I believe in God,” we are not just mouthing words about the existence of a God, but professing belief in something that has real consequences for how we live our lives.

Update: My talk has now been uploaded on youtube. Here it is:

More Mystics (And Some Talk About Evangelization)

Before leaving for the Camino, I gave talks at the first three sessions of a Fall Reflection Series at the law school on Praying with the Mystics. In my absence, my colleague Jennifer Wright presented the final two sessions of that series, the first on Margery Kempe and the second on the author of the Cloud of the Unknowing. I thought those of you who followed the early part of that series might be interested in hearing those talks and seeing the prayer material connected to them.

You can access a recording of both of Jennifer’s talks here or stream them from the icons below. You can find the prayer material here and here.

Author of the Cloud of the Unknowing Talk:

Margery Kempe Talk:

One of the other programs I arranged to have presented at the law school in my absence was a Mid-Day Dialogue on Evangelization in the Catholic and Protestant Traditions, featuring my colleagues Fr. Dan Griffith and Joel Nichols. As with all Creo en Dios! podcasts you can access them from the libsyn site (link above). You can also strem it from the icon below:

Charity and Evangelization

Yesterday morning I spoke at Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis on the subject of Charity and Evangelization. This was the first of a three-session series on Catholic Social Teaching and the New Evangelization that kicks off a new year of Adult Faith Formation at Lourdes.

My talk focused on two broad questions. First, what is the meaning of charity from a Catholic perspective? Second, how is Catholic charity related to evangelization?

Charity is not optional. As Pope Benedict said in his Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, charity “is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. Evangelization is no less central for Catholics, indeed, all Christians.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 35:54.

P.S. I now have about 170 podcasts on a variety of topics posted here on Creo en Dios! You can see them all listed on the podcast page here. You can also find them all on iTunes.

Lambs among Wolves

Jesus told his disciples that he was sending them out as lambs among wolves. Since we are commissioned as were the disciples to go forth and preach the Gospel, it might be worth reflecting on what it means to be sent out as lambs to wolves.

As lambs. I read a reflection recently that raised the question of what lambs were used for during biblical times. The minister observed that some were used for food; some would be raised to provide milk; some of the flock’s wool would be made into warm clothing; some lambs would be bred to increase the herd; and some would serve as a reminder of the Passover. In addition, sheepskin would also be used to prevent and heal open ulcers.

That is actually quite helpful. If we are sent as lambs, we want to use our lives to feed the hungry, provide drink for the thirsty, clothe the naked, bring healing to the sick, bring others to Jesus. flock, recall your mighty deeds of deliverance, bring healing to the sick.

As wolves. Here we might ask what are the wolves we face as we go forth to preach the Gospel? My friend and colleague Fr. Dan Griffith offered some thoughts on this in a recent sermon. It is easy to name some of the wolves. Cynicism. Relativism. Materialism. But if you spend some time reflecting, I’m guessing you will come up with some other, perhaps ones that are particularly dangerous wolves for you.

We are all sent like lambs among wolves. It is good to be prepared.

The Story of a Catholic Parish

I just finished reading Michael White and Tom Corcoran’s book, Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost and Making Church Matter. White is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland and Corcoran is a lay associate in that parish. Together, they present the story of how they brought an ailing parish back to life, in the process providing some important lessons for those of us interested in both reaching the “dechurched” (those who have drifted away or turned their backs on their church) and deepening the discipleship of those who are part of parishes.

Let me share some of those lessons, although if I wanted to make this post short, I could write simply: “Read this book. I mean it. It is really worth your time.”

First is the dual goal of conversion and ongoing conversion. That is, it is important to recognize the need to both develop a vision for reaching the “lost,” the “de-churched” and a plan for the spiritual growth and maturity of the already existing members of the parish. At Nativity, White and Corcoran referred to the internal focus (aimed at the people in the pews) as “discipleship” and the external focus (outreach to those not yet part of the parish) “evangelization.” The words are less importnat than the realization that both foci are necessary.

Second is the need to shift from a consumer mentality. Real discipleship is not possible unless there is a parishioners are weaned from a consumer mentality, a mentality characterized by shallow commitment and ceaseless demands. Merely offering more and doing more simply feeds into a consumer mentality. One thing that is abundantly clear from White and Corcoran’s discussion is that consumer exchanges lack transformative power and that a parish simply cannot win playing a consumer game.

Third (and not unrelated to the second) is the need to develop the mindset that every member of the parish is a minister. If people are only being served they are consumers. The goal should be that every member is part of some ministry team serving the church family and the community. Unless that happens, there will always be an “us” vs. “them” culture. White and Corcoran remind us that “lay ecclesial ministry is not a Plan B for the dearth fo vocations, but the mature fruit of the baptized.”

For each of these, they share strategies born of their own experience. They also share some useful information on a number of other subjects, including the need for strong preaching, the importance of community, the need to develop habits of increased giving and, importantly, on characteristics of strong leaders.

Finally, they remind us how much Catholic parishes can learn from thriving evangelical churches and from innovative business leaders. We should not be shy from learning from the successes of others.

More on the “New” Evangelization

Evangelization is a “hot topic” in the Catholic Church these days, as it should be: as Pope John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici, “The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in evangelization.” Given the current emphasis on this central topic, I’ve recently read several new books on the subject. I was a bit disappointed by the one I just finished, The Parish Guide to the New Evangelization: An Action Plan for Sharing the Faith, written by Fr. Robert J. Hater and sent to me by The Catholic Company as part of its reviewer program.

For someone who has never read anything on the subject of evangelization, the opening chapter does a competent job in explaining why evangelization is central to Catholicism and that it is a lifelong process. It also raises some of the challenges of evangelization.

But for something labeled a “Parish Guide” and an “Action Plan,” the book is short on any new, real concrete steps that would aid parishes in strengthening their efforts at evangelization. (I say that despite a final chapter labeled “A Practical Process.”) The most that is offered is a suggested process for a parish to begin to think about the issue.

I have several specific criticisms of the book. First I found it very repetitious; certain points are made over and over again. Yes, scripture is essential. Yes, liturgy is important. But such points need not be made with the frequency with which they are made in the book. In some sections consecutive paragraphs say the same thing in different words.

Second, some of the points made are so self-evident as to not be worth mentioning. “Evangelization happens in every day life.” When else would it happen? “The most basic way to ensure good catechesis is to have well-prepared catechists.” I should think so!

Third, some of the distinctions are not clearly drawn. For example, one chapter talks about different sectors of evangelization – cultural, social, communications, economic and civic and political. They are presented as separate but as I read the descriptions, I found it hard to distinguish one from the other in some cases, nor was it clear why the distinctions were necessarily helpful.

The subject of evangelization is an important one. But I think there are more challenging and helpful books out there than this one for parishes that want to take on the challenge of deepening their commitment to evangelization. Among those are Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples (about which I’ve written before) and Michael White and Tom Corcoran’s Rebuilt.

Putting Jesus’ Command Into Practice

Yesterday’s first Mass reading from Acts records what the priest who said Mass at St. Benedict’s Monastery yesterday afternoon called the first incident of the disciples putting into practice Jesus’ command to “love one another as I have loved you.”

Paul and Silas are beaten and imprisoned. As they pray to God, an earthquake shook the foundations of the jail, such that “all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose.”

As the prest suggested in his homily, what happens next is not what you might expect. One would expect someone who had been unjustly beaten and imprisoned and who had been praying for release would have hightailed it out of there as soon as the door flew open. That is not what Paul did, however,

Paul’s concern was for the jailer, who upon waking and seeing the doors opened was about to kill himself, knowing he would be blamed for the escape of the prisoners. He begged the jailer not to harm himself, assuring him that the prisoners were still here. At that, the jailer “asked for a light and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’”

Paul gave up his own self-interest and stayed for the sake of the jailer. And, because Paul lived Jesus’ instruction to love as Jesus had loved, he then had the opportunity to further evangelize – through the efforts of Paul and Silas the jailer and his family were baptized. If we live Christ’s love, the priest reminded us, we will make disciple for Christ.