I got a press release this week from the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference noting that newcomers to the Catholic Church finish their preparation during Lent.

It lists 10 things Catholics can do to welcome new members: “pray; listen; participate; attend the Easter Vigil; have a welcoming spirit; witness; invite; get involved; ongoing conversion; and…

Know mystagogy is for all.”

Mystagogy? I don’t believe I’ve ever heard the term.

An explanation on the release looked like this: “After celebrating the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist, the newly initiated continue their formation in the faith in the period called Mystagogy (which means “interpretation of mystery”), when they reflect on their encounter with Christ in the sacraments and learn more about their faith. This period is ongoing and essentially what all members of the Church do throughout our lives: grow deeper in faith and relationship with Christ, constantly discerning his will.”

So mystagogy has to do with the period after initiation. It’s a time to begin to come to terms with the…mystery.

The website of Father Paul Turner of Cameron, Mo., explains: “Mystagogy affects new members and old members alike. Newcomers deepen their understanding of what happened to them at Easter. Their presence in the community brings new life to those who have been members for a while. In your kitchen you may have followed the same recipe a hundred times. But when your friends taste the results for the first time, their enthusiasm brings new pride to your work, new joy in the meal, new life to an old dish. Mystagogy enriches the whole community.”

I found a website called, run by a husband-wife team of Methodist ministers, which states: “Literally, mystagogy means leading those who have been initiated into a mystery into its deeper meaning and significance for their lives.”

The Jewish future needs leadership

A new study on what the Jewish community might look like in 20 years warns that the Jewish community suffers from a lack of leadership, especially young leadership.

The study was prepared by an Israeli think tank, the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, the Jewish Week and other media are reporting.

The finding on leadership kind of surprises me since there are a million Jewish organizations out there, most run by pretty competent professionals.

Or so I thought.

A section on leadership in the report includes this:


The Jewish People is facing a serious paucity of high quality leadership – spiritual, political and organizational – with no clear trend of improvement. Current leadership, both in Israel and in Jewish institutions, with few individual exceptions, appears to lack the capacity to meet the challenges facing the Jewish People and a deep understanding of changing realities and new ideas for coping with them that are able to assure, as much as possible, the long-term sustainable thriving of Jewish communities around the world and the thriving of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, which add up  synergistically to the thriving of the Jewish People as a whole. Jewish leadership positions in Israel and in other Jewish communities do not attract the best and brightest – with some notable exceptions. Efforts to attract and prepare the best and the brightest for leadership are inadequate, and despite some beginnings, including on the Jewish civic society level, the entry of younger persons into leadership positions is very slow. There is also a very pronounced lack of spiritual leaders acceptable as such by major parts of the Jewish People.


Synergistically, huh?

The report misses the mark, according to Steven Bayme, national director of the William Petschek Department of Contemporary Jewish Life at the American Jewish Committee, who told the JW that the study does not address the significance of the growing Orthodox population in the U.S. and Israel.

I’ve heard others say that this is one of the most important issues facing American Judaism. The Orthodox world — including Hasidic Jews — is growing fast, while the non-Orthodox community is stagnant or shrinking.

Many of the most visible Jewish groups in the U.S. have long had a Conservative or Reform or secular perspective. But this may change.

Bayme told the JW:


In America, there is a specter of a deep divide between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox. The 2000 Jewish population survey said the Orthodox in the United States numbered 8 percent. But if you look at Jews under 35, the Orthodox were 17 percent of the population. And if you looked at children under 18 in affiliated Jewish homes, the number was 38 percent. And more than one-third of the children in affiliated homes are in Orthodox families. So we are witnessing a tilt in the Orthodox demographic and it will grow in the years ahead.

Big thinkers to study…evil

If you read this blog, you know that I have been somewhat obsessed with digging up religious explanations for natural disasters — big shots of natural evil that devastate the innocent.

I even wrote a book about it.

In recent weeks, I’ve been sorting through religious perspectives on the earthquake in Haiti and now the quake in Chile.

So I was surprised to get a release today from the Templeton Foundation announcing a new, three-year study into the (listen for Orsen Wells’ voice here)…”problem of evil in modern and contemporary thought.”

headerTempleton (providing a $1.7 million grant) is teaming with the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame to bring scholars together to hash out some very old, very difficult questions.

We’re talking fellowships, conferences, seminars, publications, public events — the best academia has to offer!

As the project’s website puts it:


The widespread and devastating effects of evils are often all too clear. The questions of how and why such evils exist in a world that, according to many, is created and sustained by a loving and powerful God have been collected under the name “the problem of evil.” In its most general form, the problem of evil concerns the relation between God and the broken world around us. If God is all-powerful and all-loving, whence evil?


A project overview notes that critics of religion often cite “natural evil” like the Haitian quake as proof that “the world is, after all, blind, pitiless, and indifferent.”

Things will start cooking this fall with a conference at Notre Dame (not likely to pull too many fans away from football) on Leibniz’s classic work, Theodicy. It will shape up like this:


Leibniz’s Theodicy: Context and Content, held on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the publication of Leibniz’s Theodicy aims to explore this seminal work, the only book length treatise published by Leibniz in his lifetime. The conference will explore its contents, its fit within the Leibnizian corpus, its broader historical context, and its subsequent reception and impact. However, unlike typical conferences focused on a publication anniversary, this conference will also explore how the views expressed fit into the larger intellectual landscape of the period, standing as it does at crucial crossroads: the waning of the post-Reformation, the maturing of the Scientific Revolution, the dawning of the Enlightenment, and the maturing (or some might say implosion) of the rationalist philosophical framework introduced in the early seventeenth century. As a result, papers will focus both on Leibniz and the text of the Theodicy as well their relation to these broader themes.

Hudson Valley Wind Ensemble at Maryknoll on Sunday

The Hudson Valley Wind Ensemble will perform its fourth annual “Music for the World” Concert on Sunday (March 7) at the Maryknoll Sisters’ center in Ossining.

HVWE Group photo 06The 3 p.m. performance will benefict the global work of the Maryknoll sisters.

The program includes Fantasia for Flutes by Vilik and Variations On a Korean Folk Song by Chance.

Tickets ($25) can be purchased at the door or in advance. The sisters are at 10 Pinesbridge Road.

For info: Sister Cheryl Allam at 866-662-9900 or

A Salesian’s reflections on Haiti

My colleague Hannan Adely recently wrote about the Salesian Missions office in New Rochelle coordinating the Catholic order’s emergency response efforts in Haiti.

The Salesians have served some 25,000 young people in Port-au-Prince through schools, orphanages, and other programs.

More than 200 children died in one Salesian-run schools. Nine of the order’s buildings were destroyed, including their HQ for Haiti.

tjndc5-5gqfoacbvev1cfl40jg9_layoutThe worldwide leader of the Salesians, Father Pascual Chavez, visited Haiti last week to see the wreckage himself and offer his support (that’s him at the Marian Shrine Don Bosco Retreat Center in Stony Point in 2007). He’s written a letter about the experience, which includes this:


While I listened to the accounts of those who survived, especially those who managed to escape death after hours or days being trapped between floors, ceilings, and walls, and gradually as I looked at the buildings and homes destroyed, I tried to hear the voice of God which, like the blood of Abel, cried out with the voices of the thousands of the dead buried in mass graves or still under the rubble. I tried to listen to God, who was speaking through the dull sound of the thousands of people struggling to live under the tents, those distributed by the international organizations or those made of rags somehow put together. I tried to open my ears and heart to the cry of God, which could be heard in the anger and feelings of powerlessness of those who see everything that they had built up – either great or small – gone up in smoke, into nothing. It is estimated that the number without a roof over their heads is between 300,000 and 500,000.


I’ve been watching out for religious perspectives on the devastation in Haiti — or in Chile or other areas hit by the tsunami. Father Chavez, like many others, tries to hear God with the suffering.

He blames the devastation, though, squarely on human failings:


It is true that an earthquake of 7.5 degrees on the Richter scale produces a shock with a devastating, incalculable force, but it is also true that in this case the destruction and the deaths are even more enormous on account of poverty in every sense of the word. In this situation one cannot rebuild a life worthy of the name, nor even houses which are safer and more resistant in the face of this kind of violent eruption of nature. Therefore the challenge for today cannot be merely to reconstruct the walls of the buildings, the houses, and the churches destroyed, but it is rather to make Haiti rise again, building it on living conditions which really are human, where rights, all rights, are for everyone and not the privilege of some.

The almost total absence of any government leaves the people stunned by the suffering, submerged in anguish and overwhelmed by despair, wandering around the streets without goal or purpose. This constant walking of the people on a pilgrimage in the struggle for life makes quite an impression. But also at church level, the death of the archbishop, the vicar general, the chancellor, 18 seminarians, and 46 religious men and women, with the collapse of houses, schools, and help centers meant a tragic loss of pastors, so extremely necessary for this people.


Chavez also adds this about the response of the Haitian people: “Certainly to be admired is the religious sentiment that leads the Haitian people to gather together in prayer, a sentiment which is now being greatly exploited by the evangelical sects; and in a similar way, one is amazed at the efforts to return to normality when basically everything has changed.”

Dolan: A red hat for autumn?

Since Archbishop Dolan came to New York a year ago, it’s been widely assumed that he would have to wait to become a cardinal.

Cardinal Egan is only 77 and is eligible to enter a conclave to vote for a pope until he turns 80. In general, it is held that the Vatican does not like to have two cardinal-electors representing the same diocese.

So Dolan would have to wait until Egan, the retired archbishop of NY, is 80.

But this is only a guideline, not a rule. And popes can do whatever they want.

Two Rome newspapers are reporting that Benedict XVI will announce in October that a consistory will be held in November and that Dolan will be one of the new cardinals named.

They also say that Archbishop Raymond Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis who is now serving in a Vatican post, will also get a red hat.

Not named: Archbishop Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., since 2006.

Here’s the interesting thing: The two Roman newspapers in question, La Stampa and il Giornale, have pretty much the same names. They’re either both right or both wrong.