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Open-Source Christianity

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
Cover of Ascend: The Catholic Faith for a New Generation

Cover of Ascend: The Catholic Faith for a New Generation

In the next couple of days the final touches will be made to the design and layout of Ascend and it should then be shortly off to the printer.

One aspect of the book I think is interesting is that it could not have been done without the Internet and especially the open-source movement. As a result, Ascend is more than the product of Vince and me, it is really the product of literally thousands of people around the world, most of whom will probably never even see the book or know that their work contributed to it.

There are more than a hundred images in the book. Many of them are images we negotiated traditional licenses for through photographers and rights-managed agencies like Corbis and Getty Images. For example, that iconic image of Mychal Judge being carried from the wreckage of the World Trade Center is one we found through searching online databases and obtained permission via email. Permission for other images were obtained from The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Hawaii Catholic Herald, the Los Angeles Public Library, individual artists, and the Shrine of St. Therese in Lisieux, France, to name just a few.

But most of the images are from an innovative online community of photographers called iStockphoto.com, where photographers and illustrators upload their work and receive a part of the license fee. It’s a vast cooperative of millions of images by thousands of talented artists.

Other images were obtained from Wikimedia Commons. They are either public-domain images or images graciously released by individuals under Creative Commons or GNU licenses. These are copyright solutions developed within the spirit of the open-source ethic, where individuals share their hard work for the benefit of all. This blog you are reading is an excellent example of the wonders of open-source technology; WordPress is free and is widely considered the best blog solution available. Thousands of people work on WordPress without charge to make it an outstanding platform. WordPress is a shining example of the benefits of the open-source movement.

The book (and this blog post, if you are using the latest versions of Safari or Firefox, the wonderful open-source web browser) uses as its text font Gentium, “a typeface for the nations,” which was developed as an open-source free font to bring better typography to thousands of languages, including many ethnic groups which had no font that accommodated their languages. It is distributed by SIL International, a faith-based group which has as its mission the preservation of the world’s lesser-known languages. Our psalm citations that begin every chapter are in a font developed by a talented Filipino typographer, James Fajardo, who has made his creations widely available at no cost.

Only 10 years ago, Ascend would have been impossible to produce, or at least so prohibitively expensive as to make it practically impossible. Our book is a product of the Internet age, from conception through writing to design and production. Without the ideals of the open-source movement, it would be only a shadow of the work you will soon see. Without the ethos of the hyperlinked Web, we could not have imagined the innovative approach this book takes to proclaiming the Good News.

Of course, this causes us to wonder if perhaps the Church is the original open-source community. In our own low-tech way, we have been sharing ideas and customs and formulations for thousands of years. Is there, for example, any better example of the open-source ideal than the liturgy?

And this brings us to wonder how we as Church will respond to the Internet age. Ah, but that’s a big issue, worth several posts at least. For now, let’s see what impact is made by Ascend, the first Internet-age exploration of Christianity.

“After God, the priest is everything.” Seriously?

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

On Sunday, Fathers Day, Fr. Gerry was in a great spirits. It was, after all, his day. He has adopted children whom he raised as a priest with great love. He was bustling about the sacristy and asked me if there was a Deacons Day.

Smiling, I replied, “No, but there is a year for priests.” Fr. Gerry laughed.

Fr. Gerry is one of those priests who decline honors and sees himself as a servant. These are the sort of priests who are a bit embarrassed that Benedict XVI has proclaimed a “Year for Priests” that began on June 19.

We have been blessed with many wonderful priests in the history of the Church. In our book Ascend, we include profiles of some of them; Ignatius of Loyola, Miguel Pro, Bartolomé de las Casas, Mychal Judge, Thomas Merton, Matteo Ricci, John Henry Newman. And the witness of John Marie Vianney, the Curé of Ars, has stood the test of time to exemplify how a pastor can help to deepen the faith of his parishioners when they open their hearts to the free gift of grace offered by God, who brings all people to himself.

But in his letter proclaiming the Year for Priests, the Holy Father used some rather troubling quotations from John Vianney that seem to indicate Benedict’s approval of a certain clericalist outlook on the life of the Church.

Certainly I do not wish to find fault with John Vianney. His words were directed to a particular people in a particular place and time. I do not pretend to second-guess him. But when Benedict quotes these words favorably in a modern context they present a certain disconnect. These words seem to indicate a certain clericalist mindset that is troubling.

Among the quotations of John Vianney that Benedict cited with apparent approval are these:

“A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy.” I think St. Lawrence would disagree. He said the poor and outcast are the treasures of the Church, not priests.

Benedict quoted John Vianney as saying of the priest: “God obeys him.” Really? Should not the priest obey God?

“After God, the priest is everything!” Wow. So how far after the priest is the Gospel ranked?

“It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth…” Got that? Everyone else is apparently unnecessary. I can almost hear John Henry Newman screaming in despair.

And here is perhaps the most insulting passage in the Holy Father’s letter: “Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshiping the beasts there …” Oh really? I wonder how this passage sounded to the descendants of the Christians of Nagasaki, who kept their faith for hundreds of years without priests when the missionaries were expelled from Japan. I think of Black Elk, the Lakota catechist, who ministered to his impoverished people when no priests could minister there.

Don’t get me wrong. We need priests. And we also need bishops, deacons and laity. When we elevate priests to some sort of divine arbiter between God and humanity, we set ourselves up for the kind of crises we experienced here in the United States with the clerical abuse crisis and we have heard about in Ireland, where priests and religious systematically tortured, raped and enslaved children.

So we have this year for priests. Let’s observe it. Let’s encourage those priests who follow in the way of Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant, and challenge those priests who consider themselves a divine caste above the People of God. It is the role of the laity to remind priests of these word of John Vianney quoted by Benedict in his letter as advice to his fellow priests: “My secret is simple: give everything away; hold nothing back.”

What we need is less triumphalistic, clericalist proclamations such as this letter by our Holy Father that focus on priestly dignity and privilege, and more everyday witness by priests like Fr. Gerry, who strive to live as servants of God’s people.

Many of our parishes have had decades of “years for priests.” When do parishioners get their year?

And So It Begins

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Welcome to The Catholic Story. On this blog we hope to offer you a variety of thoughts on all aspects of the life of faith. We hope you find it helpful and interesting, and we encourage you to come back often as we gather steam.

Who are we? Well, we’ve included a page just to let you know! Of course it’s not there yet, as we’re still building out the site, but for now here’s some basic info:

Deacon Eric Stoltz ministers at St. Brendan Church in Los Angeles. He is a Web developer and author. Deacon Vince Tomkovicz ministers at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in Westlake Village, Calif., where he is also the parish business manager. He is co-authoring a book with Eric.

More to come later; stay tuned!

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