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January 17, 2012

Underlying themes of upcoming Year of Faith -
Pastoral insights on marriage -
local church mentors for the poor -
Boston's abuse scandal after one decade

In this edition:
1. Mentors for the poor.
2. Maryland bishops on loving the poor.
3. Current quotes to ponder:
a) What a eucharistic lifestyle means;
b) parenthood and prayer.
4. Pastoral insights on marriage: generosity.
5. Pastoral insights on marriage: support for couples.
6. Boston's abuse scandal a decade later.
7. Themes of upcoming Year of Faith.

1. Mentors for the Poor

Communities of people - parishes, perhaps -- possess a resource for fighting poverty that they may not have acknowledged: the willingness of individuals within the community to help people who suffer from poverty by serving them as mentors.

According to an article titled "Bridges to Circles" appearing in the current, winter edition of Charities USA, a quarterly publication of Catholic Charities USA, "research shows that building relationships across class lines, known as 'bridging social capital,' is critical for people moving from one economic status to a higher one."

And in this way, the article suggests, a community's mind-set about the poor will change, and its knowledge about poverty, as well as its "commitment to reducing poverty," will increase.

A program called Bridges to Circles is described by the article. Through this program, "relationships of mutual respect are built between those impacted by poverty and people from the middle class and wealth." The program helps to ensure that those living in poverty become participants in decisions that influence their future, it says.

Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida launched Bridges to Circles, a community mentoring initiative, in 2008. The program "matches people living in poverty with volunteers who provide emotional support, offer information and advice, and assist with life issues."

Aided over a period of time by the support of volunteer mentors, those who participate in the program "build social networks and gain knowledge of their own resources, as well as community resources that will help them accomplish their plans for self-sufficiency," the article explains.

Program participants are given the opportunity to learn about poverty's impact on their lives and to "set goals for themselves by creating a life plan." And, says Estella Lee, the program's director, the volunteers themselves are prompted "to examine their own prejudices and re-evaluate stereotypes about the poor."

She indicates that both the volunteers and the poor who participate in the program find that "they have a lot of things to teach each other, which is priceless." (The current edition of Charities USA can be found online at www.catholiccharities.org, under "programs.")

2. Maryland Bishops: Loving Those Who Struggle

"We cannot wash our hands of the work of caring for the poor by simply asking the government to do it. However, the government has a crucial role to play, and part of our responsibility is to be sure that our leaders take action when they must," the bishops of Maryland said in a statement Jan. 9, two days before the Maryland General Assembly began its 2012 session.

Baltimore's apostolic administrator, Cardinal-elect Edwin O'Brien, together with two other bishops whose dioceses reach into Maryland, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington and Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Del., asked the Catholics of Maryland, "Are we failing to recognize Christ in our neighbor?"

In a statement titled "When Did We See You Hungry?" the leaders noted that "as Catholics, we encounter Christ himself in the Eucharist." Christ also is encountered "in our interactions with others."

The bishops observed that "while the recession may technically be over, unprecedented poverty, hunger and unemployment persist." They said:

"Loving those among us who are struggling, poor, unemployed or homeless is not merely something that we do out of the goodness of our hearts. Rather, it is an obligation and a requirement of true justice. In fact, the whole of our duty and responsibility as Catholics can be reduced to the one word, 'love.'"

Catholics, said the bishops, "are called to daily integrate our faith with our everyday world. We are called to a place where divine faith meets social action."

There is a duty for the state's Catholics, as citizens, to "make a public call to our local, state and federal governments to urge them to make decisions, pass legislation and appropriate public money in a manner that is charitable, just and reflective of our shared human dignity," the bishops said.

They explained that their intent was not "to ignore a serious fiscal crisis faced by many local, state and federal government agencies." However, the bishops considered it unfortunate "that too often the poorest in our midst are the first to experience severe effects of such government crises."

And, "along with offering relief to the poor," the bishops said that "governments at every level must take greater steps to ensure that economic and tax structures enable small business owners and others to create jobs and increase employment opportunities."

Lay Catholics, priests, religious and parishes, along with other citizens and the state government were urged by the bishops "to provide increased time, support and resources to help the poor" and "to build a society that reflects our shared human dignity."

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

What a Eucharistic Lifestyle Means: "Eucharist is central to the Christian message. For the Christian, Eucharist is not an optional extra to leading a good life. Eucharist is the focal point for establishing what the good life means. It is a life of communion with Christ and communion with one another. A eucharistic lifestyle is not just about outward piety; it is about the fundamental communion of love of the God revealed in Jesus Christ and how that communion of love should be the mark of the Christian community. In the Eucharist we are called to be sharers with the very life of God and then to be uncompromising witnesses to that love in our society." (From the homily for World Peace Day by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland)

Parenthood and Prayer: "Prayer is the first condition for teaching because by praying we prepare ourselves to leave the initiative to God, to entrust children to him, who knows them before and better than we, and who knows perfectly what their true good is. And at the same time, when we pray we listen to God's inspiration in order to do our part well, which in any case is our duty and which we are bound to do. Prayer and the sacraments obtain for us that light of truth thanks to which we are able to be at once tender and strong, gentle and firm, silent and communicative at the right time, admonishing and correcting in the right way." (From Pope Benedict XVI's homily Jan. 8 in the Sistine Chapel for the baptism of 16 infants)

4. Pastoral Insights on Marriage: Generosity

When wives and husbands practice "an ethic of generosity" toward each other, the odds increase that their marriage will succeed and last, according to the annual "State of Our Unions" report issued jointly Dec. 8 by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families, which is part of the Institute for American Values, based in New York.

"Husbands and wives who score high on the generosity scale - both in terms of giving and receiving in a spirit of generosity - are significantly more likely to report that they are 'very happy' in their marriages," the report says. It adds:

"This spirit of generosity is all the more important as couples confront the challenges of parenthood together."

The "State of Our Unions" report is titled "When Baby Makes Three: How Parenthood Makes Life Meaningful and How Marriage Makes Parenthood Bearable."

W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, said that for spouses, "generosity" means "making regular efforts to serve their spouse in small ways - from making them a cup of coffee to giving them a back rub after a long day to going out of their way to be affectionate or forgiving."

What is an ethic of generosity? The "State of Our Unions" report explains that it "encompasses a spirit of service, frequent displays of affection and a willingness to forgive the faults and failings of one's spouse." Expressions of respect for one's spouse also are expressions of generosity.

The report defines "generosity" in terms of doing good things for the other spouse freely, as well as abundantly. Extending generosity to a spouse "is one of the top five" among 10 "predictors of marital happiness for both husbands and wives" that are examined by the report.

The report finds it "striking" that both "the extension and the receipt of generosity in marriage are so highly correlated with marital success."

5. Pastoral Insights on Marriage: Supporting Couples

The Christian witness of married people needs "to find greater expression" in the church, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said in a recent speech. He called marriage "an essential pillar of the Christian life and of the life of the church." The church ought to increase its "investment" in helping "spouses to live their married lives faithfully," the archbishop suggested.

He described marriage as "too important to allow it to be lived below its full potential." And he said:

"We have to restore confidence in marriage and the family. We have to rediscover the true notion of love, which is always self-giving. We have to open our young people to the fact that self-giving becomes fulfilling and life-giving, while self-centeredness only leads to narcissism and self-destruction.

"We owe it to our young people to help them achieve their dreams of a happy marriage and family. Love and fidelity are part of the backbone of fruitful human interaction. We owe it to society and to the common good to see that the love and fidelity of marriage can find a truly enabling social environment."

As a sacrament, marriage "is given for the building up of the church," Archbishop Martin said. The sacrament "confers a mission on the couple, not just regarding their own relationship or their role as parents, but a mission within the life of the church."

"There is a real sense in which the healthy state of family life and love influences the well-being of all individuals and society," said Archbishop Martin. In other words, "marital love is not closed in on itself; it reaches out to enrich the lives of children and even to the wider society."

Based on biblical understanding, the love of a married couple "reflects the love that God has for us and therefore leads us in a unique way to understand who God is," Archbishop Martin said. He added that "God's way of loving" becomes in marriage "the measure of human love."

Thus, the love of a married couple is a reminder that God is neither distant nor "a detached lawmaker," according to Archbishop Martin. He said that "our relationship with God is one that is characterized by his love for us, and our response to him must be through love." (Archbishop Martin spoke Oct. 25 in Dublin to the Iona Institute, which promotes marriage and religion in society.)

6. Boston's Abuse Scandal a Decade Later

"The life of the church in the Archdiocese of Boston (and throughout the world) was forever changed by the revelations of clergy sexual abuse that dominated the news in January 2002," Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said in a document marking the 10th anniversary of the abuse scandal in Boston.

The cardinal reflected "on the journey of the past decade" and included some noteworthy statistics about the archdiocese's ongoing action to prevent the sexual abuse of minors.

The importance of caring for the survivors of abuse and listening to them was accented in Cardinal O'Malley's document. He said that since he became Boston's archbishop in July 2003, the "highest priority has been to provide outreach and care for all the survivors of clergy sexual abuse and to do everything possible to make sure this abuse never happens again."

This priority, he continued, will remain central for the archdiocese in the future. "All initiatives, plans and programs will be structured with reference to outreach and care for survivors and the protection of children," the cardinal wrote.

Underlining the importance of safe-environment training for children and for those serving in schools, parishes and other situations where minors are present, Cardinal O'Malley noted that "approximately 300,000 children have received safe-environment training through their parish schools or religious education programs." Furthermore, he said:

"Approximately 175,000 adults -- including diocesan and religious order priests, deacons, candidates for ordination at archdiocesan seminaries and in diaconate formation, educators, employees, parents and volunteers -- have been trained to identify and report suspected abuse."

The Boston Archdiocese's "policies and practices" today "include working with law-enforcement agencies and community professionals to report and investigate instances of sexual abuse," the cardinal said. And the archdiocese "conducts more than 60,000 criminal-offender, record information checks annually" for those working with minors, whether as employees or volunteers.

Much progress was made in the archdiocese over the past decade in terms of responding to the sexual abuse of minors, Cardinal O'Malley said. Still, he insisted:

"We do not mark this anniversary as a time to congratulate ourselves on our achievements. Rather, we must mark this moment by renewing our full commitment to continuous vigilance for the safety of children."

He said, "Our church will never forget the clergy sexual abuse crisis." In 2002, "traumatic and painful days" were experienced - an experience that "rightfully forced us to address the issue honestly and implement many necessary changes," the cardinal stated.

From now on, the protection of children always will be taken "with the utmost seriousness and gravity," he said. He added:

"We are a church called to mission. While always caring for survivors and making the church the safest environment for everyone, we look to the future with the hope that God will bring good out of this situation and offer hope and healing to all those affected by the crisis."

The cardinal expressed hope that "by seeing the response of the church and by viewing the issue in its proper context," those who have "been away" from the church "will return to join with us to make the church stronger and always a safe place for all people."

The past decade was "difficult for the church," Cardinal O'Malley acknowledged. "Yet," he said, "we are transformed by the experience, and the mission endures." (The cardinal's document appears in the Jan. 19, 2012, edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

7. Themes of Upcoming Year of Faith

The Oct. 11, 2012, start-up of the church's Year of Faith, announced by Pope Benedict XVI in October 2011, occurs on the fifth day of the next session of the world Synod of Bishops, whose theme is "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith."

In planning documents for the Year of Faith, it is clear that a connection is being drawn between the themes of faith and evangelization. Each will be accented during the Year of Faith, which continues until Nov. 24, 2013.

In addition, Pope Benedict noted in announcing the Year of Faith that it begins on the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican Council II.

During the Synod of Bishops, "on Oct. 11, 2012, there will be a solemn celebration of the beginning of the Year of Faith," the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in a note Dec. 7 presenting pastoral recommendations for the upcoming year. The congregation observed that the synod celebration Oct. 11 occurs on the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican Council II.

In his apostolic letter announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict said it seemed to him "that timing the launch of the Year of Faith to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council would provide a good opportunity to help people understand that the texts bequeathed by the council fathers, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, 'have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart.'"

Thus, it appears that the underlying themes of the Year of Faith include not only faith itself, but evangelization and the documents of the Second Vatican Council. A fourth theme is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Here again, Pope Benedict noted that the starting date of the Year of Faith "marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church."

The doctrinal congregation's note said that "the Year of Faith will offer a special opportunity for all believers to deepen their knowledge of the primary documents of the Second Vatican Council and their study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is especially true for candidates for priesthood."

Thus, the scope of the Year of Faith seems fairly broad. It calls for renewed attention to:

-- The contents of faith and the living of faith.

-- Sharing faith with others through the new evangelization.

-- The Second Vatican Council and its documents.

-- The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

"We want this year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope," Pope Benedict wrote in his apostolic letter.

The relationship between faith and charity was among points Pope Benedict considered important in his apostolic letter announcing the Year of Faith - a year he referred to as "a good opportunity to intensify the witness of charity."

The pope commented that "faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Faith and charity each require the other."

In its pastoral recommendations, the doctrinal congregation explained that "the Year of Faith is intended to contribute to a renewed conversion to the Lord Jesus and to the rediscovery of faith, so that the members of the church will be credible and joy-filled witnesses to the risen Lord in the world of today."