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Posted August 10, 2007

1. Three Priorities for Priests

An Italian priest asked Pope Benedict XVI July 24 what should be the priorities for today's priests, who are "burdened by many duties" in the "management and administration of parishes, pastoral organization and assistance to people in difficulty."

The pope met with priests from northern Italy during his vacation in their region, responding to questions they raised; the Vatican later published a transcript of the pope's responses.

Pope Benedict responded to this priest's question by saying that the three "great priorities" for priests are "to pray, to provide care, to preach." The pope said he is familiar with what it means to have a lot to do. Thus, he added, "it is necessary to determine the right priorities and not to forget the essential: the proclamation of the kingdom of God." What is needed, he said, is to "find the balance between" the priest's three priorities "and keep them ever present as the heart of our work."

But along with interweaving these priorities, priests should take into account their "own limitations," Pope Benedict said. A humility "that recognizes the limitations of our own strength is important," he continued. "All that we cannot do, the Lord must do. And there is also the ability to delegate and to collaborate. All this must always go with the fundamental imperatives of praying, tending and preaching."

Discussing the three priorities, the pope said:

1. Prayer. "Without a personal relationship with God nothing else can function, for we cannot truly bring God, the divine reality or true human life to people unless we ourselves live them in a deep, true relationship of friendship with God in Jesus Christ." Thus, "the first imperative is to be a man of God in the sense of a man in friendship with Christ and with his saints."

2. Providing care. "Jesus said: Tend the sick, seek those who have strayed, those who are in need. This is the church's love for the marginalized and the suffering," the pope explained. He commented that "rich people can also be inwardly marginalized and suffering. 'To take care of' refers to all human needs, which are always profoundly oriented to God." Moreover, the pope said he views sacramental ministry as "part of this 'tending.'"

All of this leads to the conclusion that "it is necessary for us to know our sheep, to be on good terms with the people entrusted to us, to have human contact and not to lose our humanity, for God was made man and consequently strengthened all dimensions of our being as humans."

3. Preaching. The pope asked, "What do we preach?" He responded: "We proclaim the kingdom of God. But the kingdom of God is not a distant utopia in a better world which may be achieved in 50 years' time or who knows when. The kingdom of God is God himself, God close to us who became very close in Christ."

2. Current Words to Ponder

Don't Rush the Present Moment: "The world in which we live has set an impossible pace. We have forgotten about the sacredness of now or, as some put it, 'the sacrament of the present moment.' One Buddhist writer sums it up eloquently: 'Our true home is the present moment. To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment.' A Scottish writer, Mary Slessor, also reminds us: 'Christ was never in a hurry. There was no rushing forward, no anticipating, no fretting over what might be. Every day's duties were done as each day brought them, and the rest were left to God.'" (Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam, Ireland, in a July 28, 2007, homily)

What Makes Marriages Work? "'Sharing household chores' now ranks third in importance on a list of nine items often associated with successful marriages -- well ahead of such staples as adequate income, good housing, common interests and shared religious beliefs. Some 62 percent of adults say sharing household chores is very important to marital success. Another three in 10 adults says sharing household chores is 'rather important' to a successful marriage. In the public's ranking of keys to a successful marriage, 'sharing household chores' still trails far behind the perennial leader -- 'faithfulness' -- which is rated as very important by 93 percent of survey respondents. But household chores are now nipping at the heels of the second-place item - 'happy sexual relationship,' which draws a very-important rating from 70 percent of survey respondents." (From a July 18, 2007, report by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Pew Research Center on a survey it conducted of American adults. The center studies social issues, attitudes and trends.)

On Going It Alone: "We Catholic Christians believe we are called by Jesus Christ to come together as church in our following of him. We need to gather with each other in faith. You can do many things alone, but some you can't. You can't get married alone; you can't have a friendship for one; and you can't be a Christian church off in the corner by yourself. In a time and culture that so prizes individualism, we Catholics acknowledge that only together in faith can people become a church." (Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco in a July 29, 2007, homily)

3. The Parish and Its Older Members

Many helpful suggestions and insights for parish ministry are found in the pastoral letter Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn., just released on the church and its older - senior - members. Two dimensions of a church approach to seniors are spelled out. First, the archbishop observes, seniors often will be "a source of wisdom, energy and strong leadership" in the parish. Second, many seniors require some assistance with daily living, and "most parishes are already involved in providing assistance to their elder members."

How might the church and its parishes interrelate with senior members?

1. The church community could recognize that this stage of life "can be an opportunity for renewal of the mind, body and spirit." The community ought to "increase opportunities for elders to stay connected to their church and their neighborhood," Archbishop Flynn suggests. He notes: "Research is demonstrating that the later years can truly be a golden age, a more fulfilling time to grow old. No longer must our beloved older adults go home, sit and wait to die."

Archbishop Flynn believes "it is important to help aging adults rediscover their strengths, interests and goals." He writes, "Let us help them live vital lives by emphasizing their talents, dreams and goals."

2. The church community can assist seniors in ways such as these:

-- "Educating parishioners about the needs of the elderly.
-- "Organizing volunteers to provide transportation, home services, friendship and spiritual counseling to seniors.
-- Making "land and/or facilities available for long-term care residences and programs.
-- "Cooperating with other parishes, churches, providers and community groups to meet the needs of the elderly.
-- "Providing innovative programs in Catholic schools that teach students about the process of aging and that engage them in programs that bridge the young and older generations."

The future offers "great promise that elders will be able to live longer and to live vital and dignified lives," Archbishop Flynn writes. "However," he adds, "this promise will not be fulfilled unless our community is well-prepared for the large demographic shift [in the number of seniors] that is coming. This shift will place unprecedented pressures on social systems and care providers, as well as on our parishes and families."

The archbishop announced the formation of a network in the archdiocese to bring several Catholic nonprofit senior-care organizations together to "help meet the escalating needs of older adults and establish a coordinated, comprehensive approach to senior services."

4. The Church and Its Young-Adult Members

Post-modern Catholics - those born since 1960 - represent half the Catholic population, writes Joan Weber, consultant for young adult ministry with the Center for Ministry Development in Naugatuck, Conn., an independent, nonprofit organization. Writing in the current edition of Family Perspectives, published by the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers, she shares several insights about ways of connecting with today's young adults. (Find Weber's entire article online at the association's Web site, www.nacflm.org under "publications."

One of Weber's recommendations is to recognize that young adults long for heroes. "When they were young, they often chose political or sports figures as their heroes, only to be disillusioned" by those they'd chosen. "It is time for the church to share the rich pool of heroes in our communion of saints from St. Francis of Assisi to Archbishop Oscar Romero, from the lawyer who does pro bono work for the poor to the coach who emphasizes fulfilling one's potential over winning," Weber writes.

She also says, as so many commentators do, that young adults nowadays tend to "postpone making commitments, including their choice of vocation." What is needed is "to connect this generation with holy people in all the vocations, including married couples whose love and commitment are sacramental, priests and deacons who are passionate about their calling, dedicated singles and vowed religious who live in fidelity to the Gospel."

At the same time, she stresses that the "adult-ness" of young adults needs to be respected. Leadership opportunities should be made available to them. "We need to trust them enough to make room for them at the table," Weber writes.

An effective, often untapped way to capture the "jaded hearts and imaginations of young adults" is through the inspiration of church social teaching and ministry, Weber advises. While post-modern Catholics "do volunteer work in abundance," they might not equate this with their faith. Weber asks what would happen if the church's teachings about "justice, our preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, our sacred belief in the life and dignity of every person" were shared with these younger church members.

Among other recommendations, Weber emphasizes the need to speak the language of post-modern Catholics, "which for many is the language of the media," e.g. instant messaging, podcasts, googling, cell phones. To relate to this generation, the church must utilize the world of technology "to the fullest to evangelize and share the good news," Weber insists.

5. Individuals in a Communal Church

In the church "we remain individual but only find meaning in a life lived in community," Benedictine Father Godfrey Mullen of St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana writes in the summer 2007 edition of "Monastic Liturgy Forum Newsletter," of which he is editor. Father Mullen says: "Together we are individuals whose identity is clearly most intimately tied with a corporate body. At the same time, the 'business' of that corporate body is transacted among and between individuals."

In the mystery of the body of Christ, "each person remains unique but is intimately defined in terms of the others," the priest writes. "We praise the mystery in which community and individuality are held in exquisite tension," and in which we pray to "be sustained in our personal identities as we grow in identity with the body of Christ we serve."

6. How Cardinal Lustiger Viewed the Lesson of the Holocaust

The World War II Holocaust - the Shoah - "teaches humankind a lesson: that it is called to live up to its dignity and greatness," Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger said in a March 2006 speech at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. Cardinal Lustiger, 80, retired archbishop of Paris, died Aug. 5 in Paris after a long illness. The son of a Jewish couple, his mother was killed in the Holocaust. Raised by a Catholic family, he became a Catholic at age 14.

In his Washington speech, Cardinal Lustiger told of listening to Shoah survivors. He was struck, he said, "by the kindness many of them manifested toward human beings generally. One could feel that precisely because they had undergone the most extreme forms of degrading hatred, after that they could stay alive and overcome despair only by banning all hatred from their hearts"; the survivors knew "that hatred leads to death."

The cardinal believed the Shoah calls upon us:

-- To learn the difference between right and wrong, which is the difference between life and death.
-- To recognize and respect the beauty of the human condition, of human life.

The Shoah was not a natural disaster, an event whose causes were beyond human control, Cardinal Lustiger explained. Rather, the Shoah was based on decisions "made and carried out by human beings." So it "raises the mystery of human liberty" and the kinds of choices that turn peaceful human beings into executioners.

Cardinal Lustiger asked how free individuals choose to become involved in carrying out a collective event such as this. What must be learned, he suggested, is that "the ability to make choices" must be taught. "Human intelligence must always renew its awareness" of what is at stake in human choices and of the difference between right and wrong.

Here, the cardinal said, the biblical message, as found in the Book of Deuteronomy, is instructive. It identifies "good and evil with life and death."

With the Shoah, Western civilization "rushed into the abyss of death," Cardinal Lustiger said. Remembering the Shoah will be useful, he continued, if it leads to the discovery "of how some men, because of the choices they made, became the accomplices of death."

The Shoah "was a dive into the abysmal nothingness of death," said the cardinal; "the executioners eventually were swallowed up in the degradation and annihilation of their own humanity." The memory of this ought to lead societies and individuals faced with decisions about good and evil to realize that those very decisions are choices "between life and death." What first must be transmitted to future generations is "the love of life," which in turn will allow future generations to recognize "the nearly divine beauty of the human condition," Cardinal Lustiger said. (The cardinal's speech appeared in Origins, CNS Documentary Service, Vol. 35, No. 46 - May 4, 2006.)