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October 16, 2011

A different kind of Red Mass homily: humble public servants --
Advantages, disadvantages in priest's attachment to local community --
Greed's harm to common good --
Why U.S. bishops reissued 2007 political responsibility document

In this edition:
1. A priest's place in a local community: pluses, minuses.
2. Do diocesan presbyterates have personalities?
3. Priestly fraternity: Across generations and cultures.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) How the church in the world moves from self-satisfaction to renewed mission;
b) Greed harms the common good;
c) Archbishop tweets on state DREAM act.
5. A different kind of Red Mass homily: humble public servants.
6. Bishops reissue election year document: new introduction.

1. Priest's Place in One Local Community: Pluses, Minuses

Diocesan priests tend to "spend their entire lives ministering within the same local church," Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta observed in an Oct. 5 speech at The Catholic University of America in Washington to a symposium on the priesthood. "Diocesan priests are pretty much identified with a specific territory called a diocese," and "this framework offers them many particular advantages and a few obvious disadvantages," the archbishop said.

An advantage of the attachment of diocesan priests to a specific territory is that they "become well acquainted with the people, the traditions, the customs and the perspectives of their region. They literally are grounded in the very lives of their people," Archbishop Gregory pointed out. He said:

"Parish priests discover much of their spiritual strength from within the familiar world that defines their lives. They actually journey toward the Lord Jesus alongside and in the company of the very people that they serve and love, and they experience the reciprocal love of the people."

The personal support that parish priests find among their people "sustains them and manages to bring them a level of satisfaction that many other occupations simply may never achieve," the archbishop commented.

But "this blessing" is accompanied by a "shadow side." Archbishop Gregory said that "occasionally diocesan priests may become to some extent quite narrow in their vision of the world that lies just beyond the confines of the territory of the local church or perhaps even that of their particular assignment. They become parochial in the precise negative sense of that term."

The church, he continued, "must be catholic," and "Catholics are to be concerned about the world that lies beyond our comfort zone." He said, "While a parish priest finds support, strength and comfort within a specific pastoral context, he is also called to connect with a world that lies perhaps just beyond the confines of his own assignment."

Still, a sense of belonging to the people they serve is among the factors that Archbishop Gregory has found to "directly and greatly influence the happiness of priests." Other factors, in Archbishop Gregory's assessment, are:

-- "A vibrant and deep prayer life."

-- The sense of being part of "the community of priests to which they belong."

"The experience of being valued, loved and cared for by others, and perhaps most especially by their bishop."

Archbishop Gregory said he has found "that those same factors are necessary components of what makes a bishop happy."

2. Do Presbyterates Have Personalities?

I want to quote one brief section of Archbishop Wilton Gregory's Oct. 5 speech at The Catholic University of America in full. You may find his suggestion that diocesan presbyterates possess unique temperaments and histories insightful or thought-provoking. He said:

"Each presbyterate that I have had the privilege of serving and to which I have been equally privileged to belong has had its own unique temperament and history. Chicago, Belleville and now Atlanta each have their own stories, heroes and legends.

"The luminaries that belong to each fraternal community of priests are sacred to those men. The early diocesan pioneers, the institutional builders, the spiritual visionaries, the comic personalities that helped to establish each local presbyterate live on in those stories and fables that keep their memories alive.

"In a real sense, you cannot know a presbyterate without knowing its history and heritage. One cannot become a true part of a presbyterate without listening to its stories and coming to appreciate its legends.

"There are also moments of great sorrow that each local presbyterate has shared - moments that defined them as ministers of a particular local church. In the telling of those stories, there is a healing, and a strengthening, and a bonding that helps the younger clergy come to know, admire and appreciate the generations that preceded them.

"Each new generation of priests should also give hope to their older brothers and remind them that the church has a future and that the mission of Christ Jesus will continue into tomorrow -- perhaps in ways that may differ from the past but always continuing the priestly office of Jesus Christ."

3. Priestly Fraternity: Across Generations and Cultures

Fraternity -- a sense of community -- among priests is essential in Archbishop Wilton Gregory's view, but he believes it must "include more than mere physical proximity." In his Oct. 5 speech at The Catholic University of America he said that "just being in the same place at the same time" is not enough.

Priestly fraternity "must invite and allow sincere and honest sharing across age, cultural, ethnic, and ideological differences that may at first seem frightening, if not impossible to transcend," Archbishop Gregory said. It is insufficient, he proposed, for a presbyterate to be "a mere ministerial association or a casual alliance of religious professionals."

And since "every bishop is called to further and to deepen the ministerial relationship between Christ and his priests, and among all the priests of a diocese," it is a source of anxiety for a bishop "to have a couple of priests -- and we all have a few -- who never join their brothers at moments of common life," the archbishop noted.

He said some priests "do not attend retreats, ordinations, convocations, clergy study days, the annual Chrism Mass, the funerals of other priests or fraternal gatherings of any type," and "bishops are often stymied to understand why." These priests "must remain a challenge for us as we continue to reach out to them and invite them to rejoin the fraternity of the presbyterate."

But Archbishop Gregory finds that most priests "yearn to engage in the life of the presbyterate"; they "love being together, and the occasions that bring them together generally are punctuated by much laughter and jovial repartee."

It is "the relational nature of the priesthood" that makes "these opportunities for unity so significant and so vital to the health of individual priests, as well as for the presbyterate of a diocese as a whole," in Archbishop Gregory's view.

Moreover, given the increased number of international priests serving in U.S. dioceses, he said that the "occasions and reasons for coming together have become even more essential." In many ways the assimilation of international priests within a local presbyterate "can only be achieved by inviting all of the priests to share in moments together," he explained.

Generational differences among priests can challenge the unity of a presbyterate, the archbishop observed. But he said that "the opportunities of bringing the entire presbyterate together must include viewpoints that challenge each generation and every perspective."

He commented that generational differences always have distinguished "clerics of varying ages." However, he insisted that "even when these differences are sharp and may not seem to be easily reconcilable, there is still the possibility that all of the various groups can learn from one another, each perspective can offer some insight and the presbyterate can be enriched by those who share the same priesthood but may see things through different prisms."

Archbishop Gregory said that "it has always been thus, and I can only imagine that it will always be so."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

How the Church in the World Moves From Self-Satisfaction to Renewed Mission: "When [the church] is truly herself, she is always on the move; she constantly has to place herself at the service of the mission that she has received from the Lord. And therefore she must always open up afresh to the cares of the world, to which she herself belongs, and give herself over to them in order to make present and continue the holy exchange that began with the incarnation. In the concrete history of the church, however, a contrary tendency is also manifested, namely that the church becomes self-satisfied, settles down in this world, becomes self-sufficient and adapts herself to the standards of the world. Not infrequently, she gives greater weight to organization and institutionalization than to her vocation to openness toward God, her vocation to opening up the world toward the other. In order to accomplish her true task adequately, the church must constantly renew the effort to detach herself from her tendency toward worldliness and once again to become open toward God." (From Pope Benedict XVI's Sept. 25 speech in Freiburg, Germany, to Catholics involved in church ministries, lay movements and civic, political or social activities)

Of Greed and the Common Good: "Across the years [since the encyclical "Rerum Novarum"] nearly every pope has repeated and refined and advanced the Catholic teaching that economic life must be ordered to the common good of society, with special care for the weakest and most vulnerable members. Those who have power, whether in the form of money or position, have a duty to risk it for the common good, not simply use it for their own pleasure. Here in the United States a deep strain of individualism finds that message hard to swallow. It's my money, I earned it, and I can use it however I want. That expresses a common mood among us. It's a mood that has helped set up a new crisis of confidence in our institutions." (From a Sept. 29 editorial titled "Greed Is Not Good," by Frank Wessling, in The Catholic Messenger newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa; Wessling is the newspaper's retired news editor)

Archbishop Tweets on the Dream Act: "I am very pleased that Gov. Brown signed into law yesterday the second part of the California DREAM Act. The governor's signature clears the path for immigrant students to further their education so that they can one day contribute their talents and skills to the betterment of our society. These students have already demonstrated their academic ability and commitment; they deserve the opportunity to pursue their goals for the future." (An Oct. 8 message on Twitter by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the second half of the state's DREAM Act -- the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act -- allowing undocumented students who graduate from a California high school to apply for state financial aid to attend college at a state school. With the first half of the act, signed in July, immigrant students at California State University, California community colleges or the University of California became eligible to receive scholarships and loans from private funds on or after Jan. 1, 2012.)

5. A Different Kind of Red Mass Homily: Humble Service

With its focus on integrity and humble, generous public service, the homily Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle delivered Oct. 2 for the annual Red Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington was not exactly your typical Red Mass homily in the nation's capital. The Mass marks the opening of the U.S. Supreme Court's new term.

The integrity of a life lived for others should be sought by Christians, he told the congregation, which included six members of the Supreme Court and other federal government officials.

"It is impossible to overstate the importance of the perfection and integration which self-forgetfulness, generosity and humility bring to a Christian's life of service," said Archbishop Sartain. For, "these virtues manifest our desire not just to do well, but to do the good and to deliberately manifest in our lives the One who is good."

The archbishop said to the congregation of public officials that "each of us, according to the calling given us, has been put 'in charge' of the Lord's vineyard," and that "the vineyard is his, we are his and those we serve are his."

St. Paul, said the archbishop, "recognized that Christian freedom is not only freedom 'from' the constraints of sin but freedom 'for' positive striving for fulfillment in Christ."

He said St. Paul also "knew that at the heart of the Gospel is a mandate," a mandate that at once "draws challengingly on the deepest resources of human freedom and opens up for the individual and for society the most complete fulfillment possible." That fulfillment "is the spirit of loving self-giving, made manifest in acts -- in lives -- of total sacrifice."

Love is what makes the use of the gifts we have perfect, Archbishop Sartain said. He explained that love "makes the gift of oneself beautiful in the eyes of God; it is love which best manifests the presence of God in our personal and public lives."

Furthermore, "this love is not just altruism," the archbishop said. "Rather, it is conscious participation in the sacrificial love of Christ." And the standard Christ sets is the standard "of humble service."

Archbishop Sartain said that "we can barely grasp the extraordinary depth of God's humility, the infinity of his love and the mind-boggling truth that he has invited us to share in his very life and in his care for his people."

6. Bishops Reissue Election Year Document; New Introduction

For the 2012 U.S. election year, the U.S. Catholic bishops decided to reissue the document on political responsibility that they developed in 2007 for the 2008 election year, accompanied by a new introduction.

Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, told Catholic News Service that key leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops decided to reissue "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" because they did not feel there was a need to reinvent the wheel.

The document was "hard fought and well thought out" in 2007, he recalled, and "since it was a teaching document, we felt it was important to keep it intact."

Its new introduction encourages Catholics to use the document to help shape their voting choices in the light of Catholic teaching. "Catholics have the same rights and duties as others to participate fully in public life," it says. And "the church, through its institutions, must be free to carry out its mission and contribute to the common good without being pressured to sacrifice fundamental teachings and moral principles."

Although "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" at times has "been misused to present an incomplete or distorted view of the demands of faith in politics," it remains "a faithful and challenging call to discipleship in the world of politics," the introduction states.

The political responsibility document approved by the bishops in 2007 "does not offer a voters' guide, scorecard of issues or direction on how to vote." Instead, the new introduction says, "it applies Catholic moral principles to a range of important issues and warns against misguided appeals to 'conscience' to ignore fundamental moral claims, to reduce Catholic moral concerns to one or two matters, or to justify choices simply to advance partisan, ideological or personal interests."

The introduction comments that the full political responsibility document "does not offer a quantitative listing of issues for equal consideration, but outlines and makes important distinctions among moral issues, acknowledging that some involve the clear obligation to oppose intrinsic evils which can never be justified and that others require action to pursue justice and promote the common good.

"In short, it calls Catholics to form their consciences in the light of their Catholic faith and to bring our moral principles to the debate and decisions about candidates and issues."

It is added that "the moral and human challenges outlined in the second half of 'Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship' remain pressing national issues." The new introduction explains that, in particular, the national bishops' conference "is focused on several current and fundamental problems, some involving opposition to intrinsic evils and others raising serious moral questions."

The introduction then lists six areas of concern:

-- The "continuing destruction of unborn children through abortion and other threats to the lives and dignity of others who are vulnerable, sick or unwanted."

-- "Renewed efforts to force Catholic ministries -- in health care, education and social services -- to violate their consciences or stop serving those in need."

-- "Intensifying efforts to redefine marriage and enact measures which undermine marriage as the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman, and a fundamental moral and social institution essential to the common good."

-- "An economic crisis, which has devastated lives and livelihoods, increasing national and global unemployment, poverty and hunger; increasing deficits and debt, and the duty to respond in ways which protect those who are poor and vulnerable as well as future generations."

-- "The failure to repair a broken immigration system with comprehensive measures that promote true respect for law, protect the human rights and dignity of immigrants and refugees, recognize their contributions to our nation, keep families together and advance the common good."

-- "Wars, terror and violence, which raise serious moral questions on the use of force and its human and moral costs in a dangerous world, particularly the absence of justice, security and peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East."