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February 16, 2012


Making kindness a Lenten project -
Reaction: HHS contraceptives rule revision -
Active participation in the Eucharist -
Why humane workplaces matter

In this edition:
1. Lent: Connecting silence to authentic dialogue.
2. Making room for kindness in Lent.
3. Counteracting indifference to others this Lent.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) active participation in the Eucharist;
b) youth ministry, essential in parishes.
5. A mental health project's pastoral care.
6. Reaction to revision: HHS contraceptives rule.
7. Why workplaces ought to be humane.


1. Lent: Connect Silence to Authentic Dialogue

"Cultivate the value of silence" this Lent. That is the recommendation of Joe Towalski, editor of The Catholic Spirit newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Towalski wrote:

-- "Silencing our voices and our minds can help us deepen our relationship with God and broaden our awareness of his presence in our life."

-- "Silence coupled with attentive listening can also help us deepen our relationships with others we encounter every day of our lives in our families, workplaces and communities."

Towalski drew inspiration for his unique approach to the topic of silence in Lent from the 2012 message of Pope Benedict XVI for World Communications Day, to be observed May 20.

The pope said a balance of words and silence is needed for effective communication. To achieve "authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people," these two dimensions of communication need "to alternate and to be integrated with one another," he added.

When either words or silence dominate, "communication breaks down," Pope Benedict wrote. The domination of just one of these two dimensions of communication leads to confusion or creates a sense of "coldness." But when silence and words complement each other, "communication acquires value and meaning," the pope believes.

Why is silence valuable? Pope Benedict's Communications Day message said that in "remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested."

Thus, "space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible," the pope said.

Towalski, reflecting on the papal message and connecting it to Lent, said in an editorial that "silence plays a vital role in our communication with others: It forces us to listen more closely, evaluate ideas more thoroughly and temper our responses.

He asked, "Who wouldn't like to see more of that kind of communication taking place during presidential debates or television talk shows? Or during discussions on important social policy issues facing our state and nation? Or even in our workplaces and around our family dinner tables, where all of us have trouble at times not interrupting or raising our voices?"

But Towalski thinks that cultivating the value of silence "will take more than just silencing our voices." It also will be necessary "to silence our minds from time to time by unplugging from the 24-hour cycles of news, entertainment and social media so we have the 'mental space' to rejuvenate ourselves and reflect more deeply on our lives, our relationships and the world around us."

With all this in mind, Towalski urged readers to "book some additional time" for silence during Lent.

2. Making Room for Kindness in Lent

A good Lenten theme song "would be Glen Campbell's 'Try a Little Kindness,'" Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., proposed in his Feb. 2 monthly message to the diocese.

In past eras the church's people were urged to give something up for Lent, Bishop Hubbard observed. "However, he said "the key to Lent" is found by viewing "it less as a burdensome obligation and more as an opportunity to do something positive."

Expressions of kindness need not assume "dramatic forms," the bishop stressed. For example, he said:

"[Kindness] might find expression in listening to our spouse, children, co-workers or friends more patiently and sensitively. It might heed the advice of Rev. Adolfo Nicolas, superior general of the Jesuits, who suggests that before speaking you should ask three questions about what you will say: 'Is it true, is it kind and gentle, and is it good for others?"

Kindness is an admirable quality, Bishop Hubbard pointed out. He recalled a remark of the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who once said that when he was young he admired "clever people," but when he grew old he admired "kind people."

And kindness, said the bishop, has a way of reflecting "the words and the actions of Jesus, who against all prohibitions of the day" spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well, saved a bride and groom at Cana from embarrassment after their wine supply ran short, healed a woman who touched his garment's hem and gave sight to a blind man at the pool of Siloam.

3. Lent: Counteracting Indifference to Others

"Concern for others entails desiring what is good for them from every point of view: physical, moral and spiritual," Pope Benedict XVI says in his 2012 Lenten message. It calls attention to the "profound aspect of communion" by which "our existence is related to that of others, for better or for worse."

The papal message urges that Lent be viewed as an opportunity "to be concerned for one another, and not to remain isolated and indifferent to the fate of our brothers and sisters."

Indifference and disinterest in the fate and the needs of others may be "masked as a respect for 'privacy'" or may result from being "wrapped up in our affairs and problems" to such an extent that "the cry of the poor" is not heard, the pope says.

Yet, he insists, "the Lord's voice summons all of us to be concerned for one another. Even today God asks us to be 'guardians' of our brothers and sisters," and to "establish relationships based on mutual consideration and attentiveness to the well-being, the integral well-being, of others."

It is a demand of "the great commandment of love for one another" that a responsibility be acknowledged "toward those who, like ourselves, are creatures and children of God," Pope Benedict says. It is his conviction that "solidarity, justice, mercy and compassion will naturally well up" for us if we cultivate the view that others are our brothers and sisters.

"Being brothers and sisters in humanity and, in many cases, also in the faith should help us to recognize in others a true 'alter ego,' infinitely loved by the Lord," Pope Benedict explains.

The concern "for each other" encouraged by Pope Benedict's message encompasses concern for the "spiritual well-being" of others. In this context he encourages "fraternal correction," saying that Christians "must not remain silent before evil."

But the type of "Christian admonishment" the pope recommends "is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other."

It is "a great service," the pope writes, "to help others and allow them to help us so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives and walk more uprightly in the Lord's ways."

A need always will exist "for a gaze that loves and admonishes, that knows and understands, that discerns and forgives," the pope says.

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Active Participation in the Eucharist: "The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from Vatican II reminds us that the church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to [a] full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations (No. 14). We do not 'go to Mass' in a passive way but are called to pray, listen and sing with the faith community. Though many Catholic devotions are valuable and a part of our long tradition, they should not be prayed during Mass. The Mass is not my private prayer, but God's community gathered as a family praying in one voice with one heart." (From the Dec. 1, 2011, pastoral letter on the Mass titled "Do This in Memory of Me," by Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans)

Youth Ministry, Essential in Parishes: "Many of our parishes have strong youth ministries that offer regular opportunities to learn and share experiences of faith, and offer a place to 'hang out.' Sadly, we have some parishes that offer no youth ministry of any kind, fail to understand the comprehensiveness of youth ministry and only have a program for teen confirmation. I acknowledge the challenges of meeting the many ministerial needs of a parish with sometimes very limited resources. I also submit that youth ministry should be an essential ministry in all of our parishes. We should view this challenge not as criticism or a failing but as an opportunity to look at new ways to minister to and with youth. Every parish has its own unique profile, and a youth ministry should reflect the needs, resources and abilities present there." (From the pastoral letter on youth issued last July by Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, Calif.)

5. A Mental Health Project's Pastoral Care

Though parishes are not primary sources of mental health care, the Gospel "demands of us a positive response to our brothers and sisters who are seeking a way forward in the midst of their difficulties and struggles," British Bishop Richard Moth said in a homily in Leeds, England, during a Feb. 3-4 conference on pastoral care for people with mental health needs.

For parishes, "discerning the right way to welcome and offer help is not always easy, all the more so when great delicacy and sensitivity are required," Bishop Moth said. He is the British bishop for the armed forces and heads a current, short-term Mental Health Project that the bishops established in 2010.

The Mental Health Project's goal is to make Catholic communities places of welcome and healing for those experiencing emotional issues. Bishop Moth said in Leeds that the mission of those involved with the project is "to respect, welcome, support and love those who live with difficulties in mental health."

In its work, which includes funding for local efforts, the project:

-- Provides support and resources for local Catholic communities in responding to people experiencing mental health needs.

-- Attempts to identify and highlight good practice in pastoral care for those with mental health needs and to serve their families and caregivers.

-- Aims to develop a network of those in the Catholic community of England and Wales with a special interest in locally based mental health support.

To say this project is timely "would be to put it mildly," Bishop Moth said in his Leeds homily He recalled that when Pope Benedict XVI visited England in 2010, he "called us to reflect anew on Blessed John Henry Newman's reflection on the 'definite service' to which each of us is called."

The Mental Health Project, Bishop Moth said, "places before the church in this country a 'definite service' - and one that is so needed in these times when the pressures on many people are very great indeed." Among those under pressure, he mentioned:

"The student worrying about fees and examinations; the street dweller trying to get out of the spiral of homelessness; the traveler in prison, lost and alienated from all around; the Alzheimer's sufferer, facing increased memory loss; the family member caring for a loved one; service personnel returning home and unable to share their devastating experiences with family; the young person suffering from an eating disorder."

The list "seems endless," the bishop said. He explained that "the core" of the Mental Health Project" is found "in the dignity that is innate in every human being." The human person's dignity, he added, "is at the heart of the Gospel message and is central to the church's teaching.

6. Reaction to Revision: HHS Contraceptives Rule

A Feb. 10 revision by the Obama administration of a health insurance rule it first announced Jan. 20 is insufficient in the eyes of the nation's Catholic bishops. The question at this point is whether the remaining issues will be resolved between the bishops and the administration.

The rule required most health insurance plans in the U.S., including those provided by many Catholic employers, to cover fully the cost of contraceptives and sterilizations for employees. The revision President Obama announced Feb. 10 would allow religious employers to decline to offer insurance coverage for such services to employees but would compel insurance companies to do so.

The change came after three weeks of intensive public debate in which it was charged that the contraceptives mandate would require religious institutions to pay for coverage they find morally objectionable. The bishops have approached the matter as an issue of religious liberty.

Among questions still asked by Catholic leaders after the revision's announcement is how it would apply to self-insured parties, which include many dioceses and Catholic organizations.

Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., discussed that particular concern Feb. 11 in his online blog. He said that for his diocese, the revision "falls far short of a 'fix.' We are self-insured, with an administrator managing our program for us and gaining the discounts that come with belonging to a larger health care operator."

It appeared the diocese still "would be required, since it acts as a health care insurance provider, to provide the coverage" mandated by the HHS rule, "and now we would have to pay for it, making these morally objectionable provisions even worse," Bishop Lynch wrote. He added:

"So while it was nice to hear the President say that no religious entity who finds this requirement of law objectionable on conscience grounds would be required to participate (I now know that our schools, Catholic Charities, St. Leo University, the cemetery are exempt and that was some progress in clarification yesterday), I as the employer who just happens to run an insurance company for my employees get hit even worse!"

He said, "Perhaps in the days ahead there will be further clarification by the administration on this requirement, but we need to continue to strenuously make our case, seek legislative relief if that remains necessary and 'bang the drums loudly' for the essence of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion."

John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops' conference Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, discussed the rule's revision during the Feb. 12 opening session of the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.

Carr said the rule still presents an "exceedingly narrow definition" of what constitutes a religious organization. "If you're not religious because you care for those who are not members of your faith, if you are not religious because you employ people who are not members of your faith - that's the heart of who we are," he said.

And Carr said that the "inattention to self-insured plans is a major, major problem. It in some way doubles the problem."

Catholic News Service reported that in a Feb. 13 phone interview, Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty, said "religious freedom is too precious to be protected only by regulations; it needs legislative protection."

In a Feb. 13 e-mail to Catholic News Service, an Obama administration official who asked not to be named said the White House plans to convene a "series of meetings with faith community leaders" about the HHS mandate. CNS reported that a particular focus of the meetings, according to this administration official, would be self-insured group health plans, which cover the employees of many Catholic dioceses and institutions.

The official said, "The administration will work with faith-based organizations, insurers and other interested parties to develop policies that respect religious liberty and ensure access to preventive services for women enrolled in self-insured group health plans sponsored by religious organizations."

Of course the very view that contraceptives, including morning-after pills, constitute preventive care for women is disturbing to the Catholic bishops.

At this writing, the HHS mandate remains front and center in our national discussion. Expect to hear a lot more about this in the days ahead.

7. The Humane Workplace

I'd like to conclude this edition of the jknirp.com newsletter with a substantial quotation - a bit of documentation, that is - from a Feb. 8 speech Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, gave at Britain's Cambridge University.

At a point in his speech when he was commenting on the 2009 encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" by Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Nichols discussed the modern workplace and several reasons it is important that it be humane. He said:

"We have got used to a highly distorted and attenuated view of commercial relationships. There are those who would insist that there is no room for gratuity in the workplace. On the contrary, when we go to work we should never be expected to leave our humanity at home.

"The best firms have always known this. And our humanity holds together self-interest and gratuity, and does so more easily when the exchange of business is not thought of as exploitative, but creatively commercial.

"So it is that the satisfaction and reward people get from their work comes at least in part from a sense of the contribution made to the lives of others by the goods or services provided. We have to recognize that the motivations of people vary and that different roles provide different scope for engagement at the human level.

"The best companies, however, strive to ensure that whatever the job a person has, the dignity of the work they are doing and its contribution to the business is valued and affirmed.

"But a business does not only provide goods and services. It also produces an environment, a culture, which, deliberately or not, influences the kind of people we become. Business cultures help to shape and mound human attitudes and behaviors.

"We are all subtly formed by our experience at work: by the quality of interaction, how far there is real respect for people and their differences, the way in which creativity is celebrated, how often people are thanked or blamed.

"This means that the vision and mission of business as articulated by its leaders can and must be judged more widely than by reference to financial returns alone; it also has a moral value."