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St. Juan Diego’s Cup of Tea

The Unofficial Patron Saint of lay-persons, St. Juan Diego strikes again. This time, with Interwebz. Alright, for those of you who don’t know St. Juan Diego is actually an unofficial patron saint of Laypeople, ask anyone who follows anything related to Guadalupe. But anyways, we’re here to day to talk about laypeople, and specifically, their cup of tea.

Matthew Warner over at the National Catholic Register published an article a while back on the way that some bishops are troubled by the Catholic bloggers out there. Bishop Gabino Zavala, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Communications Committee expressed concerns over when bloggers take upon themselves the mantle of Magisterium and use judgmental, or hurtful language or engage in personal attacks. He said “Such actions shatter the communion of the Church that we hold so precious.”

While I do agree that some bloggers out there may take it too far with cynicism, surely what the bishop means by having us not “assume the role of the Magisterium” is not passive acceptance of anything that comes from higher-ups. Surely this cannot mean we are not to speak the Truth, or evaluate decisions with confidence. We might read the statement wtih cynicism and say that this is clerical elitism, but I suspect that’s not his point. I suspect his point is that the demonization of our leaders, rather than disagreement is the heart of the issue. I do not assume Bishop Zavala to be saying that Catholic bloggers should die off. Speaking pastorally, he makes a point. Catholics have not only the image of, but are supposed to have actual unity. They are supposed to have a unity that shows them not to be splintering at the seams with rage for one another, but in the common unity of faith, they are to be united even when disagreement is necessary.

The Digital Diocese

Bishop Ronald Herzog said, “Social media is proving itself to be a force with which to be reckoned. If not, the church may be facing as great a challenge as that of the Protestant Reformation.” I have to agree. The Reformation was a confluence of religious, political and technological changes that are being mirrored in our own day, but at a much more alarming rate. The Church has the responsibility to shore up Her presence online and lead the way in digital presence online. I thought long and pondered well the statement by Bishop Zavala, and I think implicit in his statement is a recognition of a second Tea Party in America. No, not the Tea Party Express, nor any other political Tea Parties. It’s a Lai-Tea Party (pronounced just like laity). A movement that is increasingly recognized by the hierarchy of Catholic bloggers and news reporters who are taking to arms with certain issues and even working hard to bring the faith into the digital age. The Bishops are recognizing the growing social force that is the Catholic blogosphere and the presence of the “Digital Diocese” in our everyday lives. The web has garnered reporters and pastors and made the Catholic online community worth contending with and recognizing.

To define the Lai-Tea Party movement in brief: I coined the term today, while thinking about the effects the Tea Party had on American Politics. The Tea Party is a social reform movement that started in America sometime between 2008 and 2009 and focuses on reforming American social life and fiscal life. The Lai-Tea party movement is a conservative social reform movement that is usually perpetuated by the laity, though some notable priests have made an online presence. This movement has actively devout Catholics hoping to influence politics, social justice, family and life issues, social media and even Church politics in the public sphere by pressing for Orthodox commitments to the faith. These bloggers are grassroots movements, often centering charismatically on the best and most thoughtful and Orthodox bloggers. They openly call for the laity to support certain leaders and agendas over others, and are haivng an increasing effect on Catholic culture in America. Evidence shows that these bloggers, and tweeters are strongly pro-life, devout and ardent for the Orthodox expressions of their faith. Not only that, they have a growing voice in American politics, pro-life organizations and grassroots business support. For example, a 30 year old mother of three might have a blog on culture and parenting, and have relatively little impact in her immediate social circle, yet have a following of 15-20,000 regular readers. This is a prime example of what’s at the heart of the Lai-Tea movement.

There is a growing Catholic lay presence in the goings of of Catholic life and culture in America. I think this can be a very good thing, especially because it is this creative and Orthodox laity who are fighting to retain the Tradition of the Church, and to revitalize her authenticity and voice in our own world today. The “Digital Diocese” is basically what Catholicism is online, a collection of various Churches coming together, and right now the head is loosely the Pope Himself through his Apostolic exhortations and statements on New Media. He’s the most outspoken of all the Catholic Bishops on New Media and Catholicism st least as far as I can tell. Right now this digital diocese has no specific Bishop, or head to report to. It is a growing web presence and mayhap should even have it’s own Bishop someday, but we’ll leave that up to the Vatican and Pope Benedict and his successors.

The New Evangelization

Social media, the New Evangelization, and the rise of the Catholic Blogosphere are all hugely important aspects of Catholic life in the 21st Century. New media is shaping the Church towards the empowerment of the laity to serve and evangelize.We must recognize a growing influence of laity in the Catholic Church, and that it’s not a bad thing. The 20th and 21st Centuries have seen a revitalization of lay efforts around the world, and with prelates like Opus Dei in the mix, empowering lay-people for active service is imperative. It is the call of every Catholic to be prophet-priest-king in their own way. Surely those with holy Orders have a special responsibility and means of exercising those, but this does not mean that the laity is irrelevant. The revival of lay-participation on every level of ecclesial life has been hugely beneficial for the growth and maintenance of Catholicism, and without the Digital Diocese, and the freedom of Catholic information online, I wonder how many Protestant conversions and eventual reversions would be stunted.

The Lai-Tea Party in Action

Speaking of the power of the Lai-Tea Party, there have been a few things we can speculate have indirect involvement of Catholic bloggers in their midst.

Huge news this week was the election of Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the Presidency of the USCCB. Reasons for the breaking of a tradition that saw the vote as more of a formality has been the subject of speculation since the upset. The New York Times reported “The vote makes Archbishop Dolan the most visible face of the church in the United States. It also suggested that the bishops were seeking a powerful and reliably orthodox voice to reassert the church’s teaching in the court of public opinion and to disarm critics who insist that the bishops have lost their moral authority as a result of their role in the sexual abuse scandals. Kicanas’ example was far from a shining light in dealing with sex abuse, and Dolan was obviously the most fit for the job. This election is a move to restore a credible face for the American Catholic Church, at least in the opinion of Phil Lawler.

I tend to agree with Lawler, but also have to cite the increased moral accountability demands from the laity. Lawler writes “As the expected ascent of Bishop Kicanas to the USCCB presidency approached, the bishop’s unhappy connection with the [Daniel] McCormack [sex-abuse] case drew new scrutiny—first from a Chicago radio station, then from Tim Drake of the National Catholic Register, and finally from groups representing abuse victims. These abuse victims, were a driving factor as well as the American Hieracrchy’s need for a new face with credible leadership. The laity spoke out, the Lai-Tea Party spoke out, and the election was given to a more credible leader.

Dolan himself denies the caricaturization between pro-life and social-justice issues saying “We bishops would bristle at the characterization that there are some bishops who tend to be more pro-life and family issues while others tend to the social-justice issues.” Whatever the case, there is a noticeably stronger and stronger influence from the laity who are pressing for more Orthodoxy, and a stronger voice on social issues in the public sphere. The American Church wants to be done with sexual abuse and timid leaders who wash their hands of situations will simply not do. It is my suspicion that the active proliferation of news across the web by laypersons and the Lai-Tea party had a lot to do with this election. In other words, thank you Tim Drake.

This Lai-Tea Party is not trying to break from the Church, or become the Magisterium, but has gained a considerable following, and is generating lots of talk and shared ideas on the internet. It is the voice of the Church echoing back to itself the high-standards of ages past. The Lai-Tea Party movement among Catholics need not be a bad thing, if we have the fortitude to recognize it as a correcting mechanism. An empowered and preaching laity is part of the Church’s acceptance of a type of priesthood of all believers. We don’t evangelize as in the classical world with ideas, and doctrines, as much as we need to show people that our faith is a matter of thought, heart, morality, and meditation. Catholicism is a life in service to God with a universal body of believers, not a collection of dogmas exclusively. The Lai-Tea Party wants both the social presence that social-justice advocates are pressing for, as well as an outspoken commitment to Orthodoxy and a swift handling of sexual abuse wherever it happens.

A Call to the Bishops

I think the bishops are right to be concerned about the dark side of all this, that is apologists, bloggers and general Catholic internet users who have mean-streaks and are not witnessing with the charity necessary to make positive witness. I think the bishops are right to ask us to remember charity, and love as part of our witness in the New Evangelization. There are big challenges afoot, and my call to Catholic bloggers and writers out there is to support the Bishops in making the change into the Digital Age. I mean there are a few ideas out there that might help in establishing what I have called a Digital Diocese. If The Bishops are wise, they might take up keeping tabs on their own local bloggers, or publish a document with guidelines and rules for blogging as a Catholic. There should be rules in place that safeguard readers from extremists, and generally cohere with the tone and nature of the New Evangelization. In other words, the Bishops can, by example and perhaps with their own blogs, set the tone and by example demonstrate how the faith is best communicated and taught.

But there is hope. The challenge is to the bishops to step up, and realize the positive impact this can have. You cannot keep people from blogging, or even from disagreeing with you, but you can establish guidelines that further the Church’s cause in the New Evangelization. Then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote “In proclaiming conversion we must also offer a community of life, a common space for the new style of life. We cannot evangelize with words alone; the Gospel creates life, creates communities of progress; a merely individual conversion has no consistency.” So too, a merely individual proclamation of the faith has no consistency. If the Bishops seek to outline guidelines of charitable communication so that the Catholic blogosphere can be a community of life it is possible. It is possible to create a culture progressing towards life, the Lai-Tea Party has proven that with the increased attention on Catholic bloggers even by the bishops and Rome. It is possible to establish a well ordered Digital Diocese, the impetus is on the bishops, their staffs, and Catholic bloggers everywhere to do so.

Bishop Herzog quoted above also said… social media is not the latest fad, but a paradigm shift…”(emphasis mine).

My call to the bishops is to take advantage of the time and the way in which online Catholic culture is forming, and to step in with their presence, making themselves bishops in not just the physical world, but the digital as well. Maybe then the Church will recognize that the strong arm of Orthodoxy or the bleeding wrist of acquiescence to culture will always be the laity. Without contact with the people of the digital age, and recognition that it is the laity that will lead the frontiers of online participation, the hierarchy does poorly to establish an online presence. But if there is a motion to be drawn together, and take advantage of existing structures, we can do so much more.

A Call to The Lai-Tea Party

You know who you are. You’re a blogger, a mother, a father, a Catholic.

The New Media will either be Babel, or a type of second Jerusalem, a community that empowers people to go forth in loving power, towards social justice, towards upbuilding of families, towards a technologically savvy Catholic Church.

What it becomes is up to us, and I think we have gotten off to a great start. From where I’m standing, we have a lot to do, but we’ve already done so much.

The New Evangelization and the New Apologetics are not so much about refuting arguments or winning numbers as they are about developing connections with people in our daily lives and online who can share in friendship with us.

5Things to briefly Keep in Mind:

1) We are witnesses, and to that end, we must be united. -We must hold true the values of communion over conflict and common cause over splintered debates.We are the presence of the Church online and in some ways, we are the priests to the online world. We have a priestly vocation to embody Christ

2) It is ok to disagree, it is not ok to debase. -When arguing a point, winning the argument is not the most important thing in the world. Arriving at the Truth in love is. If you cannot reach the Truth through logic, drop it. It’s not the end of the world. I can’t remember the last time I got flamed and was excited to change religions or point of view.

3) We may have a growing social presence, but we are not the Magisterium. -We have a responsibility to embody the Truth of the Church, and to uphold that in our lives, but we do not have the responsibility to pronounce anathemas, or excommunications, or any other sort of unnecessarily inflammatory language.

4) Remember that online presence is as Spiritual and Moral as it is Intellectual and Social. -What I mean is, when you engage your online life, do so spiritually. Do it morally. Surf the web with charity, temperance, moderation, self-control. Sometimes those things can be challenging, but they are necessary. We are a massive laity, and we do well to act as we should, and in so doing give the internet’s Catholic voice not simply voice, but a soul also.

5)

Young people [bloggers, thinkers and writers] of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer, be coherent with your faith and generous in your service of brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to his word, draw strength from the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and penance. The Lord waits you to be intrepid apostles if his Gospel and builders of a new humanity.

-Pope John Paul II

With the Prayers of St. Juan Diego, St. Josemaria Escriva, Pope John Paul II and all the saints who pray incessantly for and with the laity, we should all recognize the call to preach the gospel at all times.

In Closing Our Father Benedict Says “… I renew the invitation to make astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications. May the Lord make all of you enthusiastic heralds of the Gospel in the new “agorà” which the current media are opening up…”

To which I say, Amen.

Tea and Theology- or, My Life after Pastoring

So, I haven’t touched on this issue in a while and it’s partially out of neglect for my blog, and partially because it’s a bit of a touchy subject sometimes. But here we are, and I know you all love reading about my personal life, so here we go.

I stopped pastoring for many reasons, none of them include me hating the Church or thinking all Protestants are hell-bound heretics. I think I stopped pastoring mostly as a matter of integrity.

Here’s what I mean, I was a good leader, in my own opinion. I worked hard, studied and spoke well, and developed some hopefully lasting effects on my previous church. However, I didn’t ever see eye-to-eye with them. It was a job. One where my faith had to be hidden, and where my allegiances to Rome and the Church Fathers had to be kept secret because a different Tradition had superseded the Catholic ones in my church.

I served well, and even saw lasting effects in my kids and in the adults I taught on Sunday evenings, but it was a job. I know that at my alma mater, the spiritual advisors were not often the people with the titles but that weird kid on the floor who just seemed to know God. I was one of those guys, at least I’ve been told I was one of those guys. The program tried to capitalize on me, but I always preferred my indirect approach, my counsel at two in the morning in the living room for our dorm, where we could sip coffee and talk about real life. I never joined that program.

I was incredibly shocked when I became a pastor. It’s not that I didn’t have the gift for it, I just had never intended it, in my first year of overzealous Christian efforts I thought I might sell all my belongings and start a worldwide ministry in Asia or something, but after that first year, I came back to where God was calling me.

I have always been the go-to-guy, but never the pastoring type. I love answering questions, I love talking about God, but I don’t know that pastoring was my calling. I’m still thinking about priesthood in the Eastern Catholic rite, but that’s neither here nor there. I have lots of questions and few answers. Getting back to the point, I feel I never really retired. Sure I let behind a title, which some people still use. Some call me Reverend, which always makes me laugh or blush or otherwise shy, and some use pastor which still makes me giggle, but is a bit easier to stomach.  I left behind a title, but pastoring is forever. I still minister to my friends, to my colleagues, to the people I work with.

Thursday I went on a sales call for my new job, and I had a great time. Earlier that day i had been reading Pope John Paul II’s thoughts on the subject of work in his book The Way to Christ and I loved what he had to say. He basically said that work is a means to an end and never an end. It can be seen as providing something useful to those who receive our work. We can and must see our clients as humans, as beneficiaries of the services we provide in whatever work we do. He said that work can humanize us to the extent that we allow it to humanize those we come into contact with.

I wrote my girlfriend, the Secret Vatican Spy and told her as much before I met with my clients, and that changed the entire tone of the meeting in my mind. I had had this vision more or less in mind, but with the words of the Holy Father I was set. I knew what it meant, and I knew that it would have positive effects on my work life. My boss has the same view, he never pushes a sale, we are guests and servants, ministering with the work of our hands and the talents imparted to us to help renovate homes. I believe i what I do because I see the help that it can bring. I love that.

Another thing that I have been working on is attending my friend’s Tea and Theology which is an informal seminar on all things theological. Last time we talked about ecumenism. Last night we talked about the relevance and importance of the doctrine of the Trinity in daily life and how it applies not just as an idea of God, but how it can become part of our worldview.

The tea and theology group really helps me be in community outside the Catholic sphere which can be helpful in maintaining a hierarchy of priorities. I think the Tea and Theology group has invited me to participate in acts of charity, answering questions and testing my Catholic faith without being attacked. It’s a safe environment and one where there’s an orthodox leaning friend, a guy who grew up calvinist and is now as he terms himself “post-protestant” since he feels like he’s not actively protesting the Catholic church, a Charismatic Evangelical and another charismatic who is attending RCIA classes at another parish here in town. The intra-faith perspectives are really helpful and the pastoral bent that these talks sometimes take is definitely helpful in the transition.

I may not be a pastor in title anymore, despite the fact that I guess I’m still legally such, it’s comforting to have other things to do in the Church. I love my friends, I love my girlfriend and the way she facilitates this sometimes arduous transition. I mean, I miss my people, I miss the intensity of the pastoral life, I miss the projects and the deadlines, and the frustrations, the failures and fears. I miss the budget meetings sometimes, and the stale smell of that southern baptist sanctuary, i miss the lovely people, and the way they loved me.

My life after pastoring though, is one of peace. I have rest, I have struggles too, and difficulties, not least of which has been actually settling in to all the changes. But in the long and short of it, I have rest, I have peace. i have time to meditate and to study, I have time to think and to feel, and to live. I appreciate the silences, and the sunsets more, and I have found that when life makes no sense, and I don’t have the answers, I’m part of a larger family of faith.

My priest is awesome, he’s welcoming, and encouraging, our deacon is a thoughtful and quiet man, my sponsor is the most humble man to ever live, after Jesus; my girlfriend is a portrait of Christian courage and stands strong for family values and supports me at every turn. My friends have been really supportive, my friend who grew up Calvinist is a wonderfully thoughtful man, and he’s extremely encouraging. I love everything about where I am.

Sometimes I miss being a pastor, and then I realize I never really left anything but the title. I have retired my rebellions against the Roman congregation, and come into the fullness of faith. We are all sacramental manifestations of the Lord until he comes. I still help, I still do everything I did before becoming a professional pastor. I was a pastor before the title, and remain pastoral after the title has left me. I just do so with a bigger Church and bigger purpose in mind, and I don’t need to invent the answers. I love being able to turn to the saints openly, and to be humble enough to seek answers with instead of for my friends. I love being able to share in Christ’s work where I am right now, especially since it involves tea, and theology.

Surviving Conversion

Sometimes I feel as if the next two weeks will definitively kill something in me. You may or may not know what I mean. I am about to retire from pastoring, for good.

As a pastor-convert, I feel like I’m giving up something major, something essential to me sometimes. I feel like my pastorate’s end is something I am partially unprepared for. Having a title isn’t where it’s all at, but it’s a bit strange no longer having an official title two weeks from now. It’s about the type of relationships I guess I am not entirely comfortable with losing, at times. I mean, I know what I’m about, it just makes me thoughtful.

I have answered the Church’s call, I am coming home despite my lack of foresight into what is to come. I am uncertain what my future holds in regards to where I will serve in the Church. I have been looking into both Opus Dei and the Knights of Columbus as places where I might plug in after confirmation. I’d love more info if anyone can offer me some good leads.

Pastors, protestant and otherwise, people who have been in leadership in evangelical communities might have problems with the transition into the Faith. I want to help you and myself along with these loosely collected thoughts. I offer some advice in dealing with this that have helped me manage conceptually, thus far.

3 things that I have been thinking about recently in regard to my conversion:

Redirecting my pastoral energies

I know that I am overflowing with pastoral compassion and that an energy burns inside me to care for others. I am however going to have to learn about taking this energy and directing it through proper channels. Maybe counseling or teaching are in my future, I do not know. The most appropriate channel will be a developing spiritual life until I have further clarification.

I have been preparing to redirect my pastoral energies for months now, by blogging more, and taking a more active role in my iner-personal life.  I have turned to my friends and colleagues for support. I asked my sponsor, (yes, I have one. Yes I know I am a “…grown-ass-man,” as a friend of mine put it; I still wanted a sponsor,) about how he dealt with the transition since he used to be an episcopal priest. He told me to trust the Lord, and let him fulfill pastoral callings in His way, through teaching, and mentoring and maybe someday teaching RCIA and other classes. There are plenty of lay vocations in the church for my skills anyways.

Thinking through Perspective

I had to decide to take upon myself a new set of lenses. I am making a moral and spiritual conversion, not just changing social clubs. This to me means, I am supposed to make a moral and spiritual transformation along the way.

I guess thinking through this I have decided to see all of this as a pilgrimage. From Los Angeles, to Rome. From eclectically mixed protestant multi-denominationalism to the entire wide and deep breadth of the Church’s Tradition. This is what to keep in mind as you make the change.

Remember, it is not easy, it is not always fun. Some converts find ultimate fulfillment, others have harder times, either way, if you’re converting to Catholicism, stand strong, find support, with priests, sponsors, friends, fellow parishioners, the Church Fathers, the Coming Home Network, get assistance, that’s the first thing.

The Second thing is to chill out, and just accept the journey. The journey home is as beautiful as the destination. The anticipation of the Eucharist is just as important as your first communion. Just as every love affair has a developing period, take this time to make moral changes and spiritual preparation for your new life. Spiritual disciplines can help you focus on what’s important. If your faith is flagging or you have second thoughts, pray with the Church. If you’re having issues with the rosary, start with the divine mercy chaplet, or the liturgy of the hours. The way we pray is the way we believe, and if we are having problems with faith, we might be flagging in prayer, though this is not always the case.

Finding a New Place in Church Life

Find a new place to plug in.

I am looking into the Knights of Columbus, and Opus Dei, but rest assured I want to take up a weekly volunteer activity, and be involved with parish life. These things will help me temper my conversion fire into a fire that will last a lifetime. Some converts start strong and then flag and flounder into bare minimums. Instead of doing that, spend time with Jesus’ people. Serve, your family, your wives and husbands, your friends, your priest.

Be of service, and you will find the peace of the Lord working through you, and in turn granting you peace. If you seek to gain peace, to gain the abundant life offered by the Church and her sacraments, participate in them frequently. Take up confession weekly, go to more masses, volunteer somewhere. Read the saints, pray with the saints, order your faith in such a way that is begins to shape your everyday, instead of just your Sunday, or your Friday diet. Let Orthodox faith fill your every breath, and let your interior life with Christ be a blessed burden, rather than a simply tiresome one.

Pastors,  converts, be at peace, and do not let Church be the only thing in your life. Remember your hobbies, your passions, your interests. Remember beauty, and freedom and love. Remember your families. Remember that even if your spouse is opposed to your conversion, you can still find love in their arms. You can still find peace in interaction with them, through service. If they are radically opposed, you can undo their anger or frustration through humble service. Dear friends, fellow converts, be at peace and know that I am praying for you with all the saints.

Note: Dear friends and readers, if you have Opus Dei, or Knights of Columbus info, or just want to leave general feedback, adoring fan comments, or hate mail that calls me a part of the whore of babylon, feel free.

Eli

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