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June 1, 2012

The HHS mandate and religious liberty - Voicing faith takes more than a tweet - What a 2012 hospital chaplain does - Work and family: competitors or allies?

In this edition:
1. Dehumanizing the elderly.
2. Giving a voice to faith.
3. Voicing faith takes more than a tweet.
4. Current quotes on religious freedom:
a) Religious liberty and the HHS mandate.
b) Church bodies file lawsuits.
5. Work and family: competitors or allies?
6. Ministry: A 2012 hospital chaplain.
7. Human trafficking at summer Olympics.

1. Dehumanizing the Elderly

When society views the elderly "as a problem or a threat," it loses sight of their "value in their own right" and the role they can play as "a resource for families and communities, especially in an increasingly fragmented social and cultural world," Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said May 15 in an address in Leicester, England. The British cardinal is Westminster's retired archbishop.

"An aging population certainly presents its challenges -- not least to our prejudices -- but it is also an extraordinary gift," the cardinal commented. He cautioned that when society concludes that the aged represent "an expensive inconvenience, a threat to resources and lifestyles," it no longer sees them as persons, but as problems.

When this situation prevails, a silent "process of dehumanization has begun," Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said. It is a situation that "permits a slow erosion of dignity," and it "concerns the preciousness of human life."

Failing "to care adequately for our elderly," neglecting them or treating them callously suggests that they are considered "a commodity and are being subjected to "the logic of 'inconvenience' and 'disposability,'" the cardinal added. He challenged his audience to ask whether a "deep reverence for humanity in all its different conditions" has been lost.

Society fears the elderly in a variety of ways, according to the cardinal. His concern was that in loading the elderly down with these fears ("the fear of dementia and Alzheimer's, the fear of growing dependence and the loss of autonomy, the fear of exhausting resources"), society sanctions violence against them.

Violence against the elderly "need not only be physical" but can assume other forms, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said. Violence "can be cultural," witnessed in the way viewpoints of the elderly are dismissed or in which the elderly become objects of blame. Violence also "can be political," witnessed in the ways "we justify withdrawal of vital services or quietly and privately deny their right to life."

But "you do not care for what you do not cherish," the cardinal said. He proposed that the way others view the elderly reflects the way these others see themselves. He explained:

"Age may indeed strip us of our borrowed robes, but if all we see when we are naked is fear, inconvenience and loneliness, we have become blind to the grace of what is indescribably human. We have exchanged the precious gold of our substance for a manufactured counterfeit and called it progress."

2. Giving a Voice to Faith

When and where do Christians give voice to their faith? The conversations - the dialogue - they have with others are an important context for giving faith its voice today, according to British Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster. But it is crucial to consider not just whether faith gets expressed, but how it is expressed, he suggested in a May 15 speech in Durham, England.

Dialogue in the archbishop's view is an art that involves "attentive listening." He considered it important that "those involved in dialogue take great care not to misunderstand their interlocutor" and that "they take care not to distort or misrepresent the other with whom they are engaged."

In addition, the voice of faith must be a voice "for today," he said. Thus, "replaying the voice of yesterday will not be enough, even if a yearning for the familiar or even a nostalgia for the past are frequently at play within us."

What should be sought in conversations in which we give voice to our faith is "a true understanding and exchange, not an easy and superficial confrontation or argument," Archbishop Nichols said.

He recalled a sermon he heard that illustrated his point. The sermon discussed the episode in the Acts of the Apostles when Philip met an Ethiopian eunuch and helped him "come to faith." The Ethiopian invited Philip into his chariot so that they could speak together. Archbishop Nichols said:

"The crucial phrase, as emphasized in the sermon I heard, was this: 'So he urged Philip to get in and sit by his side' (Acts 8.31). It was from that position, being side by side, that Philip is able to engage in conversation, offer insight in response to questions, leading the Ethiopian to baptism. To sit side by side is to be ready for dialogue."

It is best, Archbishop Nichols suggested, that "our own personal communication, which is usually about the very ordinariness of life," be shaped by "the different qualities of dialogue: listening, understanding and shared empathy."

The task when giving voice to faith in the context of a conversation is "to be on the lookout not so much for the points of opposition but for the points of possible agreement, not so much for controversy as for convergence, not so much for highlighting what is missing as seeking out the good that is to be found in the other, without ignoring or glossing over real differences," Archbishop Nichols said.

One thing necessary "to fashion a voice for today" is "an attentive listening to the heartbeat of the age of which we are a part," Archbishop Nichols said. His advice was "to work hard at understanding the day and the age so that our voice has a certain coherence, so that what we say 'makes sense.'"

However, he added, in doing this "we have to remember that the Word to which we are giving voice has an unchanging truth, an abiding grasp on reality that we, of ourselves, cannot achieve." Of course, "there is a tension here."

Practical charity is among the other ways Christians give voice to their faith, Archbishop Nichols said. For, "the words of Gospel truth begin to ring true when they are accompanied by deeds of kindness and goodness. It is charity which gives them their cutting edge."

Actions that express goodness are actions in which faith can find a voice "on every street corner, in the kitchen and in the workplace, among friends and strangers, in every part of the broad pathway of life," he said.

3. Voicing Faith Takes More Than a Tweet

"We can be inundated with information from countless sources, but it is all in short, snappy and slick snippets. To communicate the truth of our faith, however, this kind of communicating will not work," said Archbishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla. For this, the 140 characters of a tweet "are simply not enough."

In a May 29 blog entry based on his address to a Jesuit high school graduating class, Bishop Lynch discussed today's social media. He said:

"For some time I have observed the typical social interaction of young people with each other and with others through the use of the so-called 'social media.' I know it is here to stay, and to argue too strongly against it could put one in the category of simply being a 'dinosaur.'"

However, "communicating and living the full message of our Christian life requires far more than tweeting and texting." So it is important to expand beyond social media, though even the church can use these new communications tools, he said.

Abbreviated forms of communication are encountered in more than Twitter these days, the bishop observed. He said, "If one stops to look at today's media as a whole, we find ourselves enmeshed in a culture of the sound bite."

As a result, "news programs try to fit all stories into a segment that lasts 30 seconds or perhaps a minute or two for a longer, feature report. Today we tend to prefer reading headlines and/or watching highlights of speeches, debates or even sporting events," Bishop Lynch said.

He wondered what might have happened "if the apostles in the Upper Room when Jesus appeared to them had simply reached for their iPhones and taken a photo of Thomas reaching out to Jesus." Would the "depth of Thomas' confession have been fully revealed" if the apostles tagged the photo "Thomas and Jesus" and posted it on Facebook with a caption that read, "My Lord and my God"?

Bishop Lynch wrote, "The story of our salvation is so immense that simple sound bites or snapshots will take us nowhere." He finds the new communications technologies "incredibly impersonal," he said.

The apostles nearly 2,000 years ago could not post a video of Christ's resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit on YouTube. "They could, however, let it shine through their lives and their speaking, and this is precisely what they did," the bishop pointed out.

He said, "The apostles went out after receiving the Holy Spirit and told of the wonders that God had done for them, and everyone heard them speak in their own language." This was accomplished without benefit of "Google Translate." Instead, the apostles "did it with their actions: curing the sick, healing the lame, casting out demons, feeding the hungry, caring for widows and orphans."

What's more, the people who then began to follow the apostles "did not retweet their words; they told and retold their stories and repeated their actions."

How should the Gospel be communicated in a world that seemingly is "limited to 140 characters and driven by the sound bite"?

Bishop Lynch encouraged the graduates themselves to become the "characters" that communicate the message today. Through their words and actions, he said, they will "build up a social network for the kingdom of God on this earth."

4. Current Quotes on Religious Freedom

A) Religious Liberty and the HHS Mandate: "The Department of Health and Human Services [Jan. 20] announced that it had no intention of changing the mandate it had proposed in August, which would force virtually all employers -- even those with conscientious objections -- to provide health coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. The mandate would be subject to an extremely narrow exception, one that covers houses of worship, but leaves out the manifold ministries of charity that flow directly from that worship. This has now become the most critical religious liberty challenge that we face in the United States today.

"This is the first time that the federal government has compelled religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their moral teaching. Compounding the problem, the exemption has the federal government defining which religious institutions are 'religious enough' to merit protection of their religious liberty.

"For these reasons a great number of Catholic dioceses, charities, universities and other Catholic institutions around the country found it necessary to file lawsuits this week against the federal government, challenging the mandate as a violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

"This is not about the Catholic Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the church -- consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions -- to act against church teachings. . . . This is not a Republican or Democratic, a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American issue. The church forms its positions based on principles -- here, religious liberty for all, and the life and dignity of every human person -- not polls, personalities or political parties." (From a May 24 address by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, given in Washington after he received the inaugural Religious Freedom Award)

B) Church-related Entities File Lawsuits Against Federal Mandate: "The lawsuits are efforts to 'vindicate the country's constitutional and traditional commitments to religious freedom and pluralism,' according to University of Notre Dame Law Professor Richard W. Garnett. . . . 'These latest lawsuits, like the many others that had already been filed, are asking the courts to enforce the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and to protect religious liberty and conscience from a regrettable and burdensome regulatory mandate,' says Garnett. . . . 'This mandate imposes a serious and unnecessary burden on many religious institutions' commitments, witness and mission. It purports to require many religious schools, health care providers and social welfare agencies to compromise their institutional character and integrity. In a society that respects and values diversity, as ours does, we should protect and accommodate our distinctively religious institutions and welcome their contributions to the common good.' "Garnett emphasizes the lawsuits do not challenge or object to the broad goals of the Affordable Care Act and do not seek to limit any employee's access to the drugs and procedures in question. 'These lawsuits are not asking the courts to endorse the plaintiffs' religious views, only to respect and accommodate them,' he says. 'Religious institutions are not seeking to control what their employees buy, use or do in private; they are trying to avoid being conscripted by the government into acting in a way that would be inconsistent with their character, mission and values.'" (From a University of Notre Dame press release May 21, the day 43 Catholic entities, including Notre Dame, filed lawsuits in 12 federal district courts challenging the constitutionality of a federal regulation that would require many church-related organizations to cover contraception in their health care plans, along with certain other services objected to on religious grounds)

5. Work and Family: Competitors or Allies?

The theme of the May 30-June 3 World Meeting of Families, held in Milan, Italy, undoubtedly is of interest to almost anyone in pastoral ministry: "Work and Celebration." The theme challenges families to reflect on the relationship of work and family life.

Planners of the meeting recognized that, on the one hand, the work people do to earn a living may compete for time and energy with their family life.

At the same time, the planners hoped to encourage families to find ways for work and family life to build on each other. After all, in the church's vision work is not understood as a curse but is valued for the contribution it makes to a person's human fulfillment.

The World Meeting of Families remains under way in Milan as this edition of the jknirp.com newsletter is finalized. The meeting, sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, is hosted by the Archdiocese of Milan. A World Meeting of Families is held every three years.

Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Milan June 1 to participate in the meeting. The family is the first place individuals become aware that the world does not revolve around just them, he said in a speech that day.

The family is where one learns that the driving force is not egoism, but self-giving, and "it is in the family that the light of peace begins to light up in the heart," a light that is meant to radiate out into the world, the pope said.

The 2012 meeting came at a critical time for families struggling with the effects of a global economic downturn that, for many, meant unemployment, lower wages, the loss of savings and other profound difficulties.

Workshops on the family and the workplace were held during the early days of the Milan meeting. A concern expressed in one workshop was that even when urban areas are worker friendly, they can be "hostile to families." While cities "require human capital" for work that must be done, they may fail when it comes to respecting the family that produces this human capital, said a speaker.

A religious sister suggested to the workshop that the workplace needs the benefit of feminine qualities. "In order to reconcile work and families, we must reintroduce feminine qualities into the economic system -- qualities such as intuition, prudence, the ability to cooperate with others and to admit our vulnerability," she said.

Catechetical materials developed for the Milan meeting accented the value of work not simply as a means of supporting a family, but as a means of growth for individuals. The point was made that through work people express and give shape to their basic human dignity.

In light of that, the unemployment associated with the economic downturn posed a two-pronged problem, it was suggested. It deprived many families "of the necessary means for survival," while also hindering family members from developing more fully as persons because work was unavailable to them.

The catechetical materials cautioned against making an idol of work. For, when work becomes all consuming, there is no time left for one's family.

Work becomes an idol, the materials said, when it assumes "absolute primacy over family relationships" and "when both spouses are blinded by economic profit, and pin their happiness only on material well-being."

Work patterns, including travel time to and from work, often serve to reduce the time married people have for each other and for their children. Yet, properly understood, the greatness of work is that through it people collaborate in God's continuing creation, according to the catechetical materials. They said:

"The earthly garden is given to people so that they will live in communion with one another and, by working, take reciprocal care of their lives."

6. Ministry: A 2012 Hospital Chaplain

Benedictine Father Roger Botz is a hospital chaplain in St. Cloud, Minn. For him, the attraction of this ministry "is that it is so immediate and personal." He said, "Regularly I meet persons whose emotions are near the surface."

Father Botz talked about his ministry in an article in the spring edition of Abbey Banner, a publication of St. John's Abbey, the Benedictine monastery in Collegeville, Minn.

"It is hugely gratifying to bring to hurting people a God who is incredibly generous, loving and forgiving. Sometimes it is the first time a person has met such a God," Father Botz wrote.

"Years ago Catholic hospital ministry was largely sacramental, caricatured as a retired priest stopping by each patient's room with a 'wave and a wafer,'" Father Botz recalled. At that time "the competencies of a priest were the requirements of a chaplain."

But "recent decades have seen more professional development," he said. "Now clinical pastoral education, solid theological training (minimally a master's degree) and professional certification are the norm."

Today, hospital chaplains are "women and men, Catholic and Protestant, young and not so young. We all work across denominational lines and with people of any and no religion," Father Botz explained.

"A daily procession of unforeseen events" leads Father Botz to "a series of unexpected activities," he said. He is called to the emergency trauma center to see an accident victim. During the day he also may encounter the parents of a sick newborn who request baptism for their child, a recovering addict who "needs his Fifth Step heard" and even "an indigent" who needs bus fare.

He may learn that a cancer patient has died or that a patient suffered a coronary arrest.

In all this, Father Botz said he is "challenged to be a nonanxious presence, an empathic guide and a sacramental companion" to people experiencing grief or pain, searching for meaning and hope, and struggling to cope.

7. Human Trafficking at the Olympics

It widely is believed that a spike in human trafficking surrounds the Olympic Games and other major sporting events.

That is why, with the approach of the July 27-Aug. 12 summer Olympics in London, an effort is under way by a coalition of more than three dozen socially responsible investors to get hotels and corporations to recognize, address and report incidents of human trafficking, which may involve sex trafficking, forced labor and child labor.

In a May 7 letter to Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, four coalition members -- the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Christian Brothers Investment Services, the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility and FairPensions - discussed the effort "to eliminate human trafficking and slavery" by engaging hotel chains and companies that are vulnerable to trafficking.

The letter said, "Companies have the responsibility to respect human rights." Doing so, it added, requires efforts to mitigate "the risk of trafficking and slavery in their operations and their supply chains." According to reports, human trafficking "for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and/or slave labor increases at major sporting events," the letter noted.

In order to make an impact on future Olympic Games, the letter urged the International Olympics Committee to adopt "strong requirements for sponsors, suppliers, partners, providers and host cities" aimed at eliminating human trafficking.

A letter sent to hotels by the coalition said that while they are not considered responsible for the crime of human trafficking, "they are well placed to assist in efforts against it." The letter cautioned hotel owners and operators not to become "inadvertently complicit in human rights abuses."

Hotels were urged to train their staff members to be on the lookout for potential trafficking victims. Staff members need to know how to report anything they observe "that suggests that human trafficking or sexual exploitation of children may be taking place," the letter said.

It also asked hotels to provide information to their registered guests "regarding laws and penalties imposed for human trafficking and sexual abuse of children." In creating and providing such information, hotels reinforce the message that they do not tolerate this behavior, said the letter.