Discerning the Discerners

Tony brings up a point many parishioners might offer. People in a ministry of discernment (and lots of others, for their own respective fields) might hear:

“My question is what qualifies you to supernaturally determine what gifts God has given me? What if I said that I don’t think you have a gift for helping people discern their gifts? What if I said your gifts might probably lie elsewhere?”

First, it is the individual’s responsibility to be open to God in life–prayer life, certainly, but also in one’s life in the parish and in the world. If the challenge is rooted in prayer as opposed to one’s affective sensibility, then the question is possibly valid. That said …

It is the pastor’s responsibility to oversee the discernment process. That might mean actual spiritual direction or discernment for the pastor with others. Or it might mean delegating that responsibility to others more skilled. In either case, we’re operating from a standpoint of trust. Do parishioners trust their pastor? Do they trust his judgment when he delegates?

It is also important that the gifts God bestows are not intended as a target source on the individual. Spiritual gifts are meant for the benefit of others. As a musician, when I play to have fun, I’m not necessarily exercising a spiritual gift. When I play in church, the intention is to facilitate the singing and prayer of others. The “gift” is not “for me.” When people speak of their gifts as they would their talents or possessions, as a personal quality, one of two things might be in play. Perhaps they lack the vocabulary to express the reality of giftedness and the gifted person is authentically serving others. Or perhaps this is narcissism. How can one find out? Probably only through the medium of trusting another person, asking, and then listening for the answer.

Attacking the messenger is a sign of avoidance. The persons themselves feel threatened, so the human reaction is to threaten in turn. “I don’t think you’re orthodox.” “I think you’re a syncretist.” “Who gives you the right?”

Again, one of two things might be going on. It is possible the person is in fact, gifted, and has discerned well, but has never had their giftedness adequately reinforced in the parish. In other words, the person lacks appropriate self-esteem. Or the person might not be called, and deep down, they realize a long arduous process might be ahead to explore their real gifts and their community’s unmet needs as they set aside an activity they’ve been doing more for themselves.

Ultimately, the discerners will be known by their fruits. If your parish is thinking about bringing in consultants for any reason, examine the fruits. Ask for several references, and possibly, ask point-blank for them to recommend someone who might not have thought 100% of their service.

It boils down to trust. Is there not anyone whom you would trust with your gifts? If not, can you really be sure you’re embedded in an exercise that is of God?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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37 Responses to Discerning the Discerners

  1. howtocentral says:

    Trust is a helpful lesson for the laity…and unending! Pastoral controls are often political but I guess controls are necessary when a pastor envisions a given-outcome…and directs ‘the right people’ needed to accomplish that. I mean, my personal experience is of lending moral-support to friends who’ve asked me to attend their committee meetings and had the pastor inquire ‘what are you doing here?’ That’s when I learned that so-touted ‘welcome, open-communication’ was very squarely-etched.

  2. Keith Strohm says:

    Todd,

    I responded to Tony in the comment boxes on that thread! This is a fascinating discussion!

  3. Brigid says:

    Keith, I assume you are a CSI fan of some sort. Thank you for your answer to Tony but please consider Todd’s fine questions above in particular the discernment process in regards to “good fruit.” I, for one, have seen programs similar to CSI come and go for many years now. And I support them with gusto *if* they bear fruit. How is CSI different from others? Oh, and BTW, I have decided to label you as “emergent Catholics,” since I believe you are borrowing much of what you do from that movement within Evangelical Christiantiy.

  4. Keith Strohm says:

    Brigid wrote:

    Keith, I assume you are a CSI fan of some sort. Thank you for your answer to Tony but please consider Todd’s fine questions above in particular the discernment process in regards to “good fruit.” I, for one, have seen programs similar to CSI come and go for many years now. And I support them with gusto *if* they bear fruit. How is CSI different from others?

    Brigid, I am, indeed, a fan of CSI. I teach for the Institute, and before that I worked for 14 years in youth and adult formation.

    I absolutely agree with Todd’s insistence to judge by the fruits of an organization. I think that the workshops offered by CSI are different from others because they:

    1. Offer an exposure to the Theology of the Laity that is rooted in both scripture and Magisterial teaching

    2. Offer a theological and practical understanding of the charisms that are rooted in scripture, Tradition, and the lived experience of the Church

    3. Utilize a well-developed tool (the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory) that helps individuals reflect on patterns in their experience to begin the discernment process.

    4. Provide continued assistance in the discernment process with personal gifts discernment interviews and a multiple week small group discernment processes.

    5. Focus almost exclusively on life outside the parish walls, living out discipleship in the secular sphere and not just within the Christian community

    In addition, the CSI offers a seminar specifically targeted to pastors and pastoral leadership on how to help form laypeople for their mission in the world.

    Over 10,0000 men and women have gone through the Called & Gifted program. The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive; the material seems to connect with people’s actual experiences.

    Because of the Institute’s work, their are parishes that are committed to evangelization and lay formation in Idaho, Texas, Iowa, Washington, California, and South Carolina. Parishes are forming their own gifts discernment teams in Seattle, San Francisco, Boise, Spokane, Dubuque, Nashville, Houston, Greenville, Atlanta, Colorado Springs. There are whole dioceses in which everyone from the Bishop down to the local volunteer catechists have been through the Called & Gifted process.

    The Dominicans of the Western Province have integrated the C&G worskshop into their own seminarian formation programs, and we have done the C&G workshops for seminarians at St. Patrick’s seminary in CA.

    Fr. Michael Sweeney and Sherry Weddell, the co-founders of the Institute presented the material to Cardinal Stafford from the Pontifical Council on the Laity and he was excited about the work that the Institute was doing.

    Brigid wrote:

    Oh, and BTW, I have decided to label you as “emergent Catholics,” since I believe you are borrowing much of what you do from that movement within Evangelical Christiantiy.

    It would be helpful if you could highlight what it is you think we have borrowed from the Emergent movement. It certainly isn’t anything theological. We embrace the fullness of the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ as given to the world in the Church. The Emergent movement is compromised by a post-modern worldview that denies objective truth as a reality and, as a result, rejects some fairly foundational Christian principles.. The Institute holds to every creed and teaching of the Catholic Church, so I’m not sure the analogy holds.

    In fact, I’d venture to say that there is nothing, either in approach or in theology, that the Institute does or teaches that isn’t rooted firmly in the Catholic faith.

  5. Neil says:

    I would like to offer a quick response to Tony’s questions (“My question is what qualifies you to supernaturally determine what gifts God has given me? …”). They might resolve into: “What gives you the authority …?”

    That said, we should explore what “authority” means in this context. I think that we must begin by distinguishing “authority” from “power.” As William Placher has written in a review of a recent book by Oliver O’Donovan, “Those who truly have authority recognizably stand for what is right and for a shared tradition, the two elements that make up the common good.” This is true even if those who have “authority” have no “power” to punish or coerce.

    The “authority” of someone who assists in discernment comes from their ability to see things for what they are – to identify a right course of action that “follows from” Scripture and tradition. Such a person is able to show me that a particular action or way of life would reflect the character of the God who called me and the character of the Body of Christ to which I belong (Rowan Williams’ words), and, if I were to carry out that action or proceed on that way of life, I would be more faithful to my real identity as a Christian.

    This person isn’t just telling me about my own future. She is saying that I might manifest Christ if I follow a certain path, and this is a gift to the entire community. She is implicitly agreeing to look for Christ in my life and to receive the gift that I might eventually give. Thus, she is, in a way, telling me about her own future. Discernment, then, is about a shared future in which we might both participate.

    In short, perhaps we should look at discernment as a process of sharing …

    Best,
    Neil

  6. Keith Strohm says:

    Neil,

    Thanks for your insights on discernment! What a powerful way to look at the process…

    Keith

  7. Brigid says:

    Keith, it may not be theological but my impression is it’s more cultural. There are many resources but current definitions are found in the most recent issue of Christianity Today (I just read it, not available online) is the concept that the Church or parish is not as important as the call of the Disciple. You can find a defintion of it at Wikipedia under “emerging Church movement.” While your Catholic version of it @ CSI is different in many respects (you are Catholic, of course) the cultural aspects are very similar.

  8. Keith Strohm says:

    Brigid,

    I think there may, in fact, be some cultural things that are similar, but these cultural pieces are not foriegn to the Catholic experience over the last 2000 years.

    I, and the rest of the Institute would definitely disagree with emerging Church statement that the call of the disciple is more important than the Church. In fact, we would teach (as the Church would teach), that the call of the disciple is inseparable from the call of the Church–that we are called as individuals because of our membership in the Mystical Body of Christ–the Church. We are first and foremost a People…and then individuals of that people. True discernment is impossible apart from that Body–reflecting not only upon Tradition and dogma, but also in concert with other members of the Body.

    One of the things that the Institute has come across in the course of its history is the reality that the call and formation of the disciple has been largely ignored or under-emphasized–and it is this issue (among others) that we would like to address.

    The conversations that have sprung up in parishes, diocese, and online in regards to these issues have been fascinating and are, I believe, part of the unpacking of the 2nd Vatican Council, an activity the Church will be about for 50+ more years.

  9. Brigid says:

    Most, if not all, in the Emerging Christian movement would agree with your assessment of Church and disciple as inseperable. They would use the language that the “building” or a specifc denomination is not as important. CSI would say particular parish or diocese or “progressive vs. traditional” Catholic is not as important. The terms are different but the aim is the same: the individual call. All I’m trying to say is you are taking a movement already within American Protestantism and fitting it into Catholicism. Is this bad? No — if it remains fully Catholic. Which, as others have pointed out elsewhere (and I think the commentary at dotCommonweal was the best) can at times be elitist and separate which is a red flag for many, including myself. One of the things I have learned in my many years of Church work is a greater appreciation for the folks who just *show up* or seem to have some sort of great personal prayer life or have a call to mercy works and yet seem, from my outside opinion, to have very little communal language to *explain* why they are so faithful. They rarely talk about it. They cringe at the idea of a discussion group. They are loathe to share a prayer and *yet* they keep showing up! These are the Catholics *I* have learned to admire the most lately. And yet, if you approaced them as CSI or Opus Dei or Neocatechumenate or Charismatic: they would RUN they other way!

  10. Keith Strohm says:

    Brigid,

    I definitely see what you are saying. I did want to make a few comments:

    You wrote:

    CSI would say particular parish or diocese or “progressive vs. traditional” Catholic is not as important. The terms are different but the aim is the same: the individual call.

    While the Institute woud say that progressive vs. traditional Catholic is not impotant, it would very much say that the local parish or diocese is essentially important. The parish is the local Church inserted into a neighborhood, and as such it has a particular “call” that may very well be different than the parish in another neighborhood. Discerning the individual all is just one part of the equation. Parishes are not simply interchangeable organizational units.

    You wrote:

    I have learned in my many years of Church work is a greater appreciation for the folks who just *show up* or seem to have some sort of great personal prayer life or have a call to mercy works and yet seem, from my outside opinion, to have very little communal language to *explain* why they are so faithful. They rarely talk about it. They cringe at the idea of a discussion group. They are loathe to share a prayer and *yet* they keep showing up! These are the Catholics *I* have learned to admire the most lately.

    I agree with you! And in fact, these are the folks that the Institute’s work tends to connect with the most. “Ordinary” Catholics. For many of them, hearing about the charisms validates their experiences and lets them know they don’t necessarily need to be more active within the parish.

    You wrote:

    And yet, if you approaced them as CSI or Opus Dei or Neocatechumenate or Charismatic: they would RUN they other way!

    Yes, I can definitely see that. But the Institute doesn’t approach people as “The Institute” in a parish. Once a parish has a workshop, they usually integrate the further discernment tools on their own, if they wish to do so. Often, the pastoral staff gets together and works out a plan that takes in to account the history and uniqueness of their parish. In most cases, the Institute isn’t really even mentioned further.

    We don’t have CSI discussion groups, nor Called & Gifted prayer groups. There is a small group gifts discernment process, but it does not focus on the Institute. We are an apostolate (rather than a Movement) that provides resources and tools so that parishes can live out more fully what Christ and His Church has asked them to be.

    Now, there may be “ordinary” Catholics who will run from the idea that the parish is going to begin discernment as a communal discipline, but in the parishes that have really begun this process, that hasn’t been the case. These parishes have found their members embracing this culture of formation.

  11. Brigid says:

    Keith, identify more the resources and tools. Also, how does all of this compare to what some term the “house Church” movement within mainline Protestant denominations? Again, I am just trying to point out that what CSI does is just a re-hash of stuff we’ve seen before. Again, this is not bad if it bears fruit but, IMHO, it can be bad if it bears elitism.

    [Todd, as always, thanks for letting us use your space here. You are a graious host...]

  12. Sherry Weddell says:

    Brigid:

    This is Sherry Weddell writing from Seattle. Since I developed the gift discernment process 13 years ago and co-founded the Institute with my partner-in-crime, Fr. Michael Sweeney (who frankly had no interest at all in Protestants were doing) 10 years ago – long before I had ever heard of the “emerging Church” movement, I can assure you that our work is not derivative of that movement in any way. Neither I nor Fr. Mike Fones have had any direct contact with the “emerging church” movement in any way.

    You know, it is entirely possible for two groups in the 2 billion member Christian community to have some of the same thoughts at the same time without it being derivative. We share the same Scriptures, the same basic Christian faith (without minimizing the very real differences between Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox), are given the same Holy Spirit and face some of the same challenges in the early 21st century.

    What would be really weird is if we didn’t come to *any* of the same conclusions.

    What I find truly amazing is the inability of people to believe that that we are finding what we teach within the vast riches of the Catholic tradition. Not just conciliar and post-conciliar teaching but in the patristic literature and the experiences of the ancient church, in St. Thomas, in the experiences and teaching of the saints and mystics and lay apostles throughout the ages. All we are doing is asking different questions of the same immense tradition and *therefore* seeing different things and connecting different dots.

    And that kind of creativity is deeply Catholic.

  13. Sherry Weddell says:

    Brigid:

    The wide-spread concern about elitism that has been raised in several discussion on several blogs is amazing.

    I’m going to start resorting to Mother Teresa’s response: “Come and see.”

    Never once, in all our years of working with Hispanic workers in packing plants and farmers in Iowa, and Mary Kay reps in Atlanta, and plant workers in Seattle – never *once* after working directly with 25,000 Catholics in all walks of life on 4 continents – has anyone at any level who has actually experienced our work (bishop, pastor, diocesan staff, parish staff, ordinary Catholic in the pew, liberal or conservative) expressed even a whiff of concern over elitism.

    The vast majority of our work is popular and designed for ordinary Catholics in ordinary parishes. The theology that undergirds our work is high-end but the end product is entirely popular.

    I have to spend a lot of time training people how to teach well at a popular level (As our many teachers can testify, they get tired of the mantra: story, story, story, funny, funny, funny!).

    And word of mouth has spread like wild-fire across the globe because ordinary Catholics find the Called & Gifted incredibly empowering. (We went to Indonesia because we did a workshop in San Francisco and a woman there enthusiastically e-mailed a good friend in Jakarta. Three days later we had a solid invitation to go to Indonesia where we did C & G’s for a thousand Catholics. Welcome to ministy in the age of the internet).

    In end, all I can do is say: Come and See.

    Check out our event calendar (www.siena.org) and drop in on a Called & Gifted near you. Or get a copy of the cd of Fr. Michael and I teaching a live workshop.

    Come and see.

  14. howtocentral says:

    Well, some entity that could possibly temper and aide the very passionate response of a layperson with maybe an immature faith or lack of understanding would be helpful in ministry. What form that entity should take might look different from parish to parish, depending on the size and pastor and leadership structure. Just this fall, for instance, “Joe” stepped up to the plate and asked to catechize a group of middle schoolers in our parish using the pastor-approved Didache series. At least half of the mother’s of these middle school students do or have homeschooled their children and the other half have their children in Catholic school and receive daily religion class. Catholic mothers…especially these that strive so actively to live out their faith in their families are very very particular about the structure and content of curriculum and Joe didn’t follow the book. Joe deviated extensively and parents complained to the pastor. Other parents stepped in to ‘help’ Joe who became angry and argumentative with the other teachers in class. Joe was so offended that he quit and even switched parishes, convinced he was not only called to teach but to teach that particular class. What to do about Joe?

  15. Brigid says:

    Where did Keith go? Why is Sherry stepping in all of sudden? I thought we were having a nice chat here. I want the discussion to continue and now I’m being told to stop it here and visit your site… Why is that? Why do I have to “Come and See?” Why can’t I ask questions and point out that I have “Gone and Seen” and note that *IMHO*, you are part of what term “emerging Church” for Catholics. What is wrong with pointing that out?

  16. Keith Strohm says:

    Brigid,

    Sorry about my disappearance. We are having a good chat! I have to hit my word count for today, so I’m less present than usual online. I would take Sherry’s post as an interest in the conversation and an invitation to come to a workshop.

    I will definitely continue this conversation–I owe you a response to some questions. I’ll finish that up after I pound out some more words. I can’t allow myself the luxury of surfing the net when I’m writing…I get too distracted! :)

    Keith

  17. Sherry Weddell says:

    Brigid:

    Sorry. I wasn’t trying to horn in on a private conversation or take Keith’s place. I presumed that a conversation taking place in a public comment box is open to others to participate in.

    Since you had expressed the opinion that we are part of the emerging church movement and since Keith wasn’t part of CSI in the beginning and I am the only person posting here who was actually there and well, developing the Called & Gifted and founding the Institute and all – I thought you’d want to know that that wasn’t, in fact, the case.

    Guess not.

    If you think we have a lot of things in common with Emerging Church movement, ok. Maybe we do. I don’t know because as I ‘ve said, I know hardly anything about it and haven’t had contact of any kind or even read any books on the subject.

    But you can’t really insist we are “part” of it or derived our ideas from it when the one person present who knows for sure says none of us have ever been involved with the movement or influenced by it or in contact with it or had even heard of it until years after we got going.

    Being an actual part of a movement is not just a state of mind.

    And the “Come and see” thing was related entirely to the subject of elitism. That’s why I dealt with it in another post.

    Now I will bow out altogether and let you and Keith converse.

  18. Brigid says:

    Ok, thanks Sherry. I was just wondering… I look forward to Keith’s return

    How are your consults and programs at parishes different/same than the good ol’ Life in the Spirit seminars from the 70’s and 80’s? Renew from the 80’s and 90’s? Neocatechumenate Way from 2000? I’m just trying to understand where CSI and your term “intentional disciple” fit it to what has been done in US parishes since VII. Just trying to put you into a context.

  19. Sherry Weddell says:

    How are your consults and programs at parishes different/same than the good ol’ Life in the Spirit seminars from the 70’s and 80’s? Renew from the 80’s and 90’s? Neocatechumenate Way from 2000? I’m just trying to understand where CSI and your term “intentional disciple” fit it to what has been done in US parishes since VII. Just trying to put you into a context.

    The short answer: we’re not related to or derived from any of the above. I’m a convert and so had no knowledge or experience of the Church until the late 80’s and have never attended or been part of a Renew process in any way or the Neo-catechumate in any way. Nor have I ever attended a Life in the Spirit seminar although I think I was asked to give a talk at on the seminar session but it never happened. Fr. Michael Sweeney, with whom I founded the Institute had no background in any of the above either.

    The Institute arose out of a personal collaboration that began at Blessed Sacrament parish in Seattle between Fr. Michael (who was pastor) and myself (parishioner and grad student) in the mid 90’s. Our primary Catholic influences were intellectual with a strong Domininican slant: Vatican II, John Paul II, St. Thomas Aquinas, Yves Congar, Josef Pieper, etc.

    I can’t explain it and it certainly wasn’t part of anyone’s plan. It was just one of those spontaneous God things. When Fr. Michael and I got together, intellectual and creative sparks flew. Who knew? I suppose you can think of us as the theological equivalent of Micky Rooney and Judy Garland saying “hey, gang, I know what we can do. Let’s put on a show!”

    In my case, I brought my background at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA and in the global evangelical missionary movement and the knowledge of the cutting edge stuff that passionately apostolic Christians are doing all over the world. Also, I’d created the gifts discernment process 3 1/2 years previously and had been offering it in the Seattle area and re-working and re-writing it as I went.

    Our purpose: To actually implement what the Second Vatican Council and the Church since has asked for in the area of the theology, evangelization, formation, and apostolic support of the laity.

    And to do it in the only place that 98% of lay Catholics have access to: the local parish.

    If you’d like to read the story of our beginnings, it’s available on our website at http://www.siena.org/library/creation.html. It was written in the summer of 1997 just as the Institute began and so you can see what we were thinking at the very beginning.

  20. I appreciate the discussion going on here, and was just made aware of it this morning. I’m the current Dominican co-director of the Catherine of Siena Institute, and have worked with Sherry, Keith, and a host of other collaborators for about two and a half years. I, too, have no experience in the charismatic renewal (other than presiding at one Mass for a charismatic group), emerging Church movement, or Evangelical Protestantism. I have been impressed with the work of Sherry and Fr. Michael Sweeney because it is so thoroughly rooted in the Church’s Magisterial teaching, scripture, and Thomistic thought. Whenever Sherry and I work on developing new materials, we begin by reviewing conciliar and post-conciliar documents, as well as looking at Scripture for inspiration. Sometimes I wonder if people think we’re drawing from Evangelical ideas because the Evangelicals are drawing ideas from Scripture, too (or unwittingly “rediscovering” ideas that were already in Catholic thought centuries ago.)

    After fifteen years in pastoral ministry, I can say that I have met and loved many, many good Catholic men and women. Among them were people who were prayerful, who just “showed up” at Mass and other sacraments, who did good works, and one day imploded. One woman suddenly divorced her husband of 15 years, left her children, and married a professional baseball player. Others left and joined Evangelical churches because they thought no one cared about them in their parish. Others struggle silently with illness, fear, unemployment, addiction because they live in a popular Church culture saturated with an American “go it alone” attitude.

    As I look at my life, especially my life of faith, I find that I benefit tremendously from being able to share my journey with others. Even though I’m a strong introvert, I still tend to talk to others about things – and especially people – that are important to me. When I receive good news, you can bet I tell others about it, even people I don’t know very well. I’m not saying everyone should be charismatic, or extroverted, or say, “Praise God” at the end of every sentence. I do believe, after studying the Scriptures and many documents from our popes and bishops, that every Catholic should ask themselves – if talking about their relationship with Jesus sounds odd – the question, “WHY?” Especially since Jesus says “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father…Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:32-33, 37-38) Jesus seems pretty adamant about the importance of making him the priority of our life, and the significance of sharing that relationship with others.

    Sandwiched in between that is this prediction, which may, in part, explain why we may be afraid to speak of our faith. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’

    Perhaps we value peace (at the cost of not evangelizing) rather than helping others encounter Christ and His Body, the Church.

  21. A couple of thoughts on AUTHORITY, which Neil mentioned above – The etymological roots of the word have to do with “causing to grow,” which has obvious ramifications when we speak of parents’ authority over their children. In religious life (of which I’ve been a part for 23 years), superiors are given a tremendous responsibility regarding the deepening of the faith and the personal development of the friars over whom they’ve been given authority. Otherwise, the role of the superior could be seen as 1) simply doing what the community or individual friar wants, rather than challenging the community and individuals within it to grow or 2) being a permission to impose my will upon others.

    Authority is seldom seen as a call to help others grow, and even in those situations where it is, it is rarely exercised. One reason for this is most of us avoid the pain associated with growth – and don’t take kindly to those who offer us the opportunity!

    Also, it’s important to note that authority is given by another – in the case of religious life through the agency of the friars themselves – both when the superior is elected, or appointed by the Provincial and his council. But even in these situations, the superior is only (or should be) an instrument of God, Who is the true giver (really delegator) of authority.

    In the case of the lay Catholic, you receive authority, power and jurisdiction to stand in Jesus’ place for others by virtue of various offices you might be given that flow from baptism, confirmation, matrimony. Examples of offices a lay person might have include the office of spouse, parent, godparent, RCIA sponsor, and Confirmation sponsor. But even beyond these offices, we can be instruments of God in helping others to grow. I believe we should look for opportunities, and invite others to help us grow in our faith and in the discernment of our gifts, both spiritual (charisms given for the benefit of others, as mentioned in the post) and natural. Because in the discernment of spiritual gifts, for example, three areas have to come together: how I feel when the charism is called forth (am I energized, is it at all prayerful, for example); what actually happens (are people learning, being encouraged, experiencing the mercy of God, etc.) and what kind of feedback to people give me (both direct, verbal feedback as well as indirect or behavioral feedback).

    In the case of “Joe” in howtocentral’s comment, he received feedback, but didn’t accept it. Presuming it was given lovingly and consistently, there’s not much more one can do than to point out the evidence and pray that he learns to accept the feedback. But it can also be important to try to learn what’s at stake for him in teaching that he feels so convinced he’s called to do it. It would also help him to point out areas where he might be gifted, but not realize it.

  22. Brigid says:

    I am surprised that you know so little about these other groups I am mentioning. I hate to say this but it sounds like you are creating something for parishes in a vaccum. Why do you *not* know about these other parish-based lay initiatives? Where’s your “market research,” so to speak? I am all for these sorts of groups and know well about them. Again, I am only try to understand your background and experience within the context of *history* that has gone on in many parishes since Vatican II.

    Many of these groups have said this in the past: “so thoroughly rooted in the Church’s Magisterial teaching, scripture, and Thomistic thought. Whenever Sherry and I work on developing new materials, we begin by reviewing conciliar and post-conciliar documents, as well as looking at Scripture for inspiration.” So do many others. HOW is what you do so different? I am really trying to understand.

    Again, all that you do may be just great but I am trying to understand where you fit in. BTW, is Keith ever going to come back?

    [Thanks, Todd. I am not trying to be difficult here but I am trying to understand why they are so unaware (and almost defensive about) the groups I am mentioning...]

  23. Bernadette says:

    I’ve been to at least four Life in the Spirit seminars and worked on another couple and I would say that the LITS crowd I know would not view the Catherine of Siena Institute’s gifts discernment process as charismatic. In my experience, the people who respond to C&G are not the “group” or “movement” folks, but the outsiders who are searching for why they like what they like or do what they do. They come to realize that they aren’t totally nuts but have a functioning charism.

  24. Hi, Brigid;
    I said “I, too, have no experience in the charismatic renewal (other than presiding at one Mass for a charismatic group), emerging Church movement, or Evangelical Protestantism.”

    The only Catholic movement I mentioned there was the charismatic renewal. I have been involved in ATEC (Adults and Teens Encounter Christ – a spinoff of TEC), Engaged Encounter (was in leadership with a married couple), Evangelization Retreats, college student retreats, RCIA, Renew, and I’ve been part of two men’s groups for eight years and the religious assistant to the Tucson lay Dominicans for four years. It’s a big Church with lots of different movements and different ways to support and express one’s faith. I’ve also been a part of a nearly 800 year old “movement” (the Dominicans) and that has taken a good chunk of my time! I have friends in Regnum Christi, Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, Focolare, and friends who wouldn’t dream of being in any of those movements.

    If I sounded defensive, it was only because I felt you were suggesting that we were basing our work on that of evangelicals. In fact, in a four day workshop we give called “Making Disciples, Equipping Apostles” we introduce participants, mostly parish leaders, clergy and lay, to a wide variety of Catholic evangelization and formation processes that are being used in parishes around the country. Almost all of that research was done by Sherry, much of it quite painstaking, as lots of them are “grassroots” and known only in certain regions. Some of them are quite successful in terms of facilitating powerful and long-lasting conversions.

    Every one of those processes was examined carefully, and we tried to present their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the situations to which they seem best adapted (for the unchurched but curious, fallen-away Catholics, typical parishioner, converts, etc.) One of the evangelization tools being used by many parishes in the east, apparently, is “Alpha” which IS a Protestant evangelization small group process that poses some real problems for Catholics. For example, it presumes that you aren’t a Christian until you’ve “accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior” and says virtually nothing about the sacraments. We point out those issues and tell people if they’re insisting on using it (as many already are) it needs some serious correcting and filling of gaps.

    What I think is “different”, if anything, with the Institute is that Fr. Michael Sweeney and Sherry both “connected the dots” between many different magisterial documents, following threads that spoke of the Church’s mission to the world and the laity’s involvement in it.

    For example, in searching a variety of documents for references to charisms, Sherry found that priests are called by the Church to
    Recognize
    Uncover with faith
    Acknowledge with joy
    Foster with diligence
    Appreciate
    Judge and discern
    Coordinate and put to good use
    Have “heartfelt esteem” for
    the charisms of all the baptized.

    But to put that all together, you have to look at the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 30; Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests, 9; I Will Give You Shepherds, 40, 74; Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People, 32.

    As a priest, I would find the above description an exciting and integral part of my priesthood. Unfortunately, even having read those documents before working in the Institute, I hadn’t “seen the bigger picture” regarding charisms (or even really understood what they were).

    I hope this helps explain a little more about the Institute and how we’re different from some groups in the Church and similar to others.

  25. By the way, I presume Keith’s working on the writing he uses to support himself! I’ve got to get back to work on some missions I have to give this Lent.

    Peace

  26. Brigid says:

    And that ends that!

    Well, Father, you do sound like, what I would term, an “emerging” movement/apostolate within the Church (Catholic or not) that is using all sorts of materials and writings and such from before that says: the individual is just as important as the Church. This is great. This is good. BUT, whenever I have seen these “movements” come and go, what is at the heart is: 1) Dynamic Leader who is often quoted (here, Sherry Wedell) 2) Attitude of: we looked at all the other groups and we have the best from all of it 3) We will help your Parish/Diocese/School form disciples/leaders that will *stay* in the Parish 4) You need to do this or your Parish/Diocese/School will continue to flounder.

    Look, most US dioceses and parishes have been hard hit for all *sorts* of reasons. I am all for finding ways to revitalize individual Catholics, parishes and diocese. I guess *I’m* of the opinion that it should come from *within* the local base. And, depending on the Bishop, it’s unfortunate that it does not often happen. So when an outside “apostolate” or “movement” comes in with yet *another* way for us to draw closer to God, yeah, my back is up. Been there, done that. And I am not going to now start bashing my parish or my Bishop. On the contrary: they are busy men who have a lot to do esp. in dispensing those seven sacraments *we* need. God bless ‘em. Hard to be an ordained minister these days…

    Thanks for stopping by and thanks for clarifying, Father, but most of all, thanks to our gracious host, Todd, for letting me carry on here!

  27. Brigid says:

    BTW, I just want to clarify, that my initial post re: CSI was @ Open Book:

    http://amywelborn.typepad.com/openbook/2007/01/unintentional_m.html#comments

    Where I stated:

    What’s the big deal? As Amy said, these movements and communities have been around for years. Here PBXVI addressed them last summer:

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/pont-messages/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20060522_ecclesial-movements_en.html

    We are a big Church, folks!

    [Thanks be to God... it's what keeps me Catholic!]

    Posted by: Brigid at Jan 26, 2007 12:45:55 PM

    Again, it is helpful when explaining CSI to others (esp. us old crusty parish types in St. Blogs) to put it in a context and *respect* those movements and aposoltes that are currently feverously working in the Church.

    BTW, I think Alpha is just fine. Why do you begrudge its Protestant roots? Heck, many in CSI have Protestant roots! Nuthing wrong with tapping into the wisdom from our separated brethren, I say.

    Peace!

  28. Keith Strohm says:

    Brigid,

    Hey!! I’m still here. This is my first chance to really stay awhile, as I rocked through my wordcount yesterday and got up this morning at 6:00 AM and hammered out my wordcount for the day! :)

    So, let’s see what I missed:

    You wrote:

    I am surprised that you know so little about these other groups I am mentioning. I hate to say this but it sounds like you are creating something for parishes in a vaccum. Why do you *not* know about these other parish-based lay initiatives? Where’s your “market research,” so to speak?

    Brigid, like most apostolates, the Catherine of Siena Institute grew out of the experience of its founders and the positive fruits it bore as it began. Very few apostolates or movements begin with a market research survey or even an in-depth examination of what others are offering.

    As a marketing executive, I can tell you that such a beginning would be the way that I would prefer to go…but I’ve also seen products hit the market and sell without any prior market research because there was a need in the marketplace that wasn’t being met.

    The Called & Gifted Workshops are one such “product.” They have had a positive effect and they continue to grow precisely because there is a need for them that no other offering is filling. If, during the last ten years the CSI were duplicating efforts of another apostolate or group, they would have found that out.

    Here’s what makes the C& G workshops (and the CSI) different from any other group or offering:

    No one else in the Catholic Church today offers a comprehensive tool for discerning spiritual gifts.

    No one else connects that discernment process with the Church’s theology of charisms, theology of the laity, and theology of mission.

    No one offers tools for continued discernment with small groups.

    To answer your particular question, the Life in the Spirit Seminar seeks to present the kergymatic dimensions of the faith–helping lead people to an understanding and experience of the Love that God has for them through an encounter with the Holy Spirit. While charisms are mentioned, they are not discussed in a systematic way, nor are they connected with the notion of mission or vocation. There is little to no discernment process regarding the charisms, and after the seminar ends, no follow-up with regards to the charisms except as they might be used within the context of a charismatic prayer group.

    The Called & Gifted workshops assume a personal relationship with God and an experience of His Spirit working in the life of the workshop attendee (even if they have never put that language to the experience). In many ways, the C&G workshops can benefit attendees most if they have gobe through a Lie in the Spirit Seminar previously–and that’s exactly how my last parish, St. John the Baptist parish in Covington, WA, arranges the ocurrences of these workshops.

    Regarding your 4 characteristics of movements coming and going, I can tell you that the Catherine of Siena Institute makes no claim that parishes must bring them in or they will flounder, nor does it promise that bringing the C&G workshop will reignite the parish. The workshops are a way to begin the process of intentional discernment which can release the charisms of the community in a more fruitful way. More about this in response to your next point.

    You wrote:

    I am all for finding ways to revitalize individual Catholics, parishes and diocese. I guess *I’m* of the opinion that it should come from *within* the local base. And, depending on the Bishop, it’s unfortunate that it does not often happen. So when an outside “apostolate” or “movement” comes in with yet *another* way for us to draw closer to God, yeah, my back is up.

    My first response is to say, “then why have a Universal Church.” But I think that you may have a misunderstanding of what the CSI is about. I suppose that we are “outside” in the sense that we are extra-parochial, outside the regular parish structure.

    However, the Institute doesn’t lay out a cookie cutter, official CSI way to transform the parish and bring it closer to God. It offers each parish a “new” way of looking at each parishioner and the community as a whole (which is simply the way Christ and the Church look at each lay person and their community) and it offers tools to help the community and individuals discern their charisms.

    And that’s it.

    The CSI recognizes that each community has its particular gifts, mission, and history. And each community must discern and work out the way God is calling it to fulfill its mission. There is no official CSI system of parish transformation. No program that a parish must follow to succeed.

    Even the Making Disciples, Equipping Apostle seminar, which the Institute started to run a few years ago, simply offers parish leadership help in recognizing and identifying the different stages and characteristics of faith development among their parishioners.

    When possible solutions of programs are brought forth to help these parishioners grow in faith, they are taken from other parishes and groups who have “worked from within.”

    The actual practical “how to” steps of helping transform a parish is not explicitly dealt with in the CSI. The Making Disciples seminar is a great opportunity for parish leadership across the country to share what has worked and connect with other leaders who are trying to do the same, but there is no overarching program.

    So much so, that I am in the process of creating an apostolate that will work ‘one-on-one’ with particular parishes helping them take steps that are consistent with the gifts, mission, makeup, and integrity of their particular community. No overarching program, but a set of tools and principles that come from my experience working within parishes to help form and transform them.

    In any event, I have enjoyed this conversation. It seems to me that you have made your decision regarding the Institute and how you will view us, but I hope that if you have the chance to attend a workshop in the future, you’ll stop on by.

    God Bless,

    Keith

  29. Brigid says:

    “No one else in the Catholic Church today…”

    “No one else connects….”

    “No one offers tools…”

    There are fine folks who offer many fine things to parishes who would disagree (and be rather insulted) by your “no one else” claims above. I’m insulted for them.

    Well, Keith & Sherry & Father, I do thank you for trying to show me that you are not elitist but, alas as Amy @ Open Book pointed out, there seems to be a bit of it here. I’m not surprised, really. I mean, in order to sell or promote something you *do* need to believe you are the *best* out there.

    God’s speed with all of that!

  30. Keith Strohm says:

    Brigid,

    I’m sorry if you took what I said as elitist. You asked what differentiated the Catherine of Siena Institute from other movements and groups. I told you what did. Saying that no one ese in the Church offers this isn’t a claim of superiority…it’s a claim of differentiation. Perhaps I could have prefaced what I said differently by writing “I believe that no one else does. . .”

    The central differentiation point is around spiritual gifts discernment. To the bets of my knowledge there doesn’t seem to be a group that:

    a. Offers a comprehensive tool for spiritual discernment that also

    b. Connects the theology of charisms, the theology of vocation, and the theology of mission and

    c. Offers one-on-one and small group discernment tools

    There are plenty of individuals and groups that are doing amazing things in parishes all across the world, and when the Institute finds out about them, we try and connect with them and mention them (particularly at the Making Disciples Seminar). I never claimed that the CSI does these these things better than everyone else, but that they seem to be the only group that does these things in an integrated way.

    Text-only communication is exceptionally difficult to do well because all sorts of non-text and non”verbal” cues aren’t present. There was probably a better way of presenting the differentiators of the Institute (and I think I did it with my description above). There was no intent to sound like the Institute is “the best thing ever above all other endeavors”

    Brigid, I really have enjoyed this conversation, but you seem determined to find fault and take umbrage at what we do. First you mentioned that we seem to have taken our cue from the Emergent Church movement and protestantism. And then when we tried to discuss how we are not connected with that movement and highlighted how the Institute began, you raised red flags about building progranms in a vacuum. And then when we tried to highlight how we don’t duplicate the efforts of other programs, you are insulted because of our elitism.

    I’m not sure that I recall Amy saying that there was elitism in what the Institute was doing, but even so, I really hope that if you have the opportunity to come to a workshop, you’ll do so and judge for yourself the merits (or lack thereof) of the Called & Gifted workshop.

  31. Sherry Weddell says:

    Brigid:

    If you are aware of another truly Catholic approach to discerning charisms that is parish-based, please let me know. I’ve been looking for 13 years now and have asked hundreds of leaders around the world from the Vatican on down, and so far, nada. I do have limited resources and only 24 hours in a day, but I have made a strenuous, good faith effort.

    Believe me, I would have saved myself and everyone else a *lot* of work if I had known of one because I had no interest in duplicating what already exists and is working. I have championed a number of existing evangelization processes, for instance, because they are parish-based and successfully address the fundamental issue of intentional discipleship.

    Since our time and resources are so limited, we only create absolutely critical resources that we cannot find out there already.

    Don’t hold out on us, Brigid. Its time to stand and deliver!

  32. Brigid says:

    Keith and Sherry-

    Again, I am trying to put you within a context of what has happened within parishes since VII. Do I really need to name them all, Sherry? LOTS of things have come and gone since 1963. Some good. Some bad. Some truly awful. Some absolutely wonderful. Depends on the diocese. Depends on the parish. Depends on the individual.

    Some programs burned out because of $$. Some burned out because leaders burned out. Some because a Bishop pulled support. Really. I have seen much of it. AND, what you are doing at CSI seems to be wonderful in many ways (like those who have gone before you or are currently working). BUT to act like “no one else” or “nothing else” is like you or has been done like you before is truly insulting and disingenuous to those who have are laboring in the fields– and, those who come to the field!

    I am a TRUE believer in parish-based programs like CSI and I am only trying to understand it. It is WRONG for you to believe me to be against what you’re doing. In fact, my initial post at Amy’s was VERY supportive since I felt many were bashing you there (Amy DID use the word “elite” not me) without looking at what you offered. Again, there are many brothers and sisters in the Church who are doing *fine* things within their dioceses and parishes. They are bringing folks to what you define as “intentional discipleship.”

    [Thanks to Todd for the space to air all this...since an even worse discussion was stopped at Amy's and dotCommonweal.]

  33. Keith Strohm says:

    Brigid wrote:

    Again, there are many brothers and sisters in the Church who are doing *fine* things within their dioceses and parishes. They are bringing folks to what you define as “intentional discipleship.”

    Brigid, we are definitely in agreement with that.

    Brigid wrote:

    BUT to act like “no one else” or “nothing else” is like you or has been done like you before is truly insulting and disingenuous to those who have are laboring in the fields– and, those who come to the field!

    As I’ve mentioned, all we are doing is acknowledging what we offer that doesn’t seemed to offered anywhere else in the Church. We are not trying to say that we are better, nor are we being disengenuous. I’m really sorry that you feel that way.

    I just don’t understand why a claim of uniqueness (which is what you actually asked us to provide–what makes CSI different from all of the other programs) is seen as insulting.

    Anyway, we are probably going to have to just agree that we don’t see eye to eye here. . I have enjoyed the conversation, and hope that we might be able to connect in real-time if I am ever in your diocese.

    God bless,

    Keith

  34. JACK says:

    Brigid:

    It is hard to tell quite what you are after here. So let me just ask: what is the crux of what you want to know?

    I think at the end of the day CSI would say that they simply are shining a lot on what the Church already possesses. In other words, they are helping people recognize the treasure already contained within the Catholic Church and embrace it. That may sound very ordinary in a way and may make it difficult to put in a box: it’s not a movement, not a third order, not a new program-for-program sake. It’s just an effort to proclaim to Catholics what the Catholic Church already says is our dignity as Christians.

    I know many of the movements and programs you speak of. And a good chunk of them share the heart of CSI’s mission. That shouldn’t surprise seeing as we all are part of the one, holy catholic and apostolic church. We have different “accents” but the same language.

    Having said that, I cannot readily identify another group that has quite the same approach as the work of CSI. There’s nothing good or bad in that observation. It may speak to lack of awareness of other endeavors, or the fact that CSI has a novel approach to re-awakening our awareness of an aspect of Catholic heritage. Which is only to say that they might in fact be the first to do something this way, not that they are the better than anyone else.

    I would also caution against comparisons to the emerging church movement. Frankly, because no one knows what that is. Scot McKnight’s nice article notwithstanding, it is nothing as coherent as he presents it to be (although I think his article is a fair take of one of the more even-handed members of that “conversation”, which is how it originally billed itself). There is a commonality in the understanding of the importance of mission, but only in that emergents have discovered some of the longstanding Catholic understanding of mission. But beyond that, emerging church movement is as much a grappling for answers as it is anything else. It is a looking at the bricks of their heritage and saying, there’s something missing, but not quite knowing what that might be. And it precisely suffers from the problem that it doesn’t have the Catholic understanding of encounter with Christ, which sees that event as simultaneously personal and communitarian.

    All that’s to say, I count myself fairly familiar with the emergent movement, and whatever it is, I see nothing in the work of CSI to say that they are “cousins” at all.

    In fact, it is precisely that fact that makes me have such an affinity for their work. I personally am part of a movement. But it has the same aim, in that it is a way to give life in my flesh to what the Church has already taught is the call and dignity of the Christian. It’s often been described as similar to that of an “accent” when speaking a common language. I have a particular accent from the charism of my movement, but it’s the sa

    I think the emerging church movement and house church movement from Evangelicalism is a poor comparison and not apt.

  35. JACK says:

    Meant to delete the last two paragraphs. Ah well.

  36. Brigid says:

    God bless you folks! Just hope you’re around in ten years. And if you are, I just might have you come and do something in my archdiocese..!

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