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September 26, 2007

Stewardship and Evangelization; Education, Cultural Diversity, Priesthood, Social Justice - and More


In This Edition:

-- Stewardship and cultural diversity.
-- Education at Red Cloud School.
-- Catholic schools instill self-confidence and hope.
-- Religion class: Creative tensions.
-- Crisis hot line for men in ministry.
-- Priestly burnout: The causes.
-- Liturgical encounters with Scripture.
-- Four evangelization steps.
-- Four dimensions of parish justice ministry.
-- From awareness to action: Moving toward solidarity.
-- Current words to ponder.
-- Extraordinary ministers of Communion and the homebound.
-- Endnote: Prayer not a luxury.

What Stewardship Has to Do With Cultural Diversity

Stewardship -- cultivating all the gifts entrusted to the Christian community -- is necessary if the church is to respond to its cultural diversity, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles says in a pastoral letter on stewardship released Sept. 8. He points out that the Los Angeles Archdiocese is "blessed with people who represent many different cultural, racial, ethnic heritages, and very diverse language and socio-economic groups." But he believes that with this blessing comes "a challenge."

What challenge? The challenge to "develop and use all the gifts and talents entrusted to our care. It means developing new structures for participation, collaboration and accountability in mission and ministry. It means reaching out in new ways to people who are marginalized, suffering or in any kind of need."

Stewardship is central to discipleship, and it is "central to evangelization, which is the principal mission of the church," Cardinal Mahony writes. He says that the church's "message will be all the more persuasive if the bearers of the good news do not squander the gifts they have received, but are good stewards of what God has given."

What is a steward? Cardinal Mahony describes a steward as "one who cares for what properly belongs to another. Good stewards take care of the goods entrusted to them." Christian stewardship is "the gift of our time, skills, abilities and our financial resources," given "in response to the gift we have received."

Cardinal Mahony holds that "faith without action is pointless." He adds: "Faith takes the form of discipleship. And the faithful disciple is a good steward of the gifts given by God."

Ministry of Education at Red Cloud School

"Encouraging children to believe that they can do it, whatever 'it' is for them, is practically a mantra" for Jesuit Father Peter Klink, president of the Red Cloud Indian Schools at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwest South Dakota, and for the schools' faculty and staff, writes Julie Bourbon in the June 2007 edition of National Jesuit News. Father Klink says, "The voices that say Indian kids won't amount to much are the voices that the school is committed to helping their students banish."

Speaking of the schools' children, who range from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, Father Klink says: "You look into their eyes and see possibility. How do you keep that growing? How do you keep that spark? Not only the light of faith but the light of who they are?" The priest says, "We're about the building of hope."

The Jesuits have been successful at Pine Ridge, says Tina Merdanian, Red Cloud's public relations director, because they "worked in partnership" and dialogue with the community. The article notes that native artists designed many elements of the local Holy Rosary Mission Church.

The ministry at Pine Ridge "has to be a ministry of empowerment,'" Father Klink says. It is, he explains, "a balancing act of presence to and with the Lakota people, all within an open, receptive and accompanying environment." He adds, "Education, coupled with faith: You don't get much more empowering than that."

The Self-Confidence and Hope Catholic Schools Can Instill

Catholic schools can provide students "with the intangible ingredient we call self-confidence and, therefore, hope," Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington said Sept. 19 in his keynote speech to the Mid-Atlantic Catholic Schools Consortium, held in College Park, Md. This is particularly important for students surrounded by poverty, crime, violence and the disintegration of family life, he indicated.

"Many of our urban schools are an oasis of hope in an otherwise desert of intellectual, spiritual and personal support," Archbishop Wuerl said. He attributed this quality of Catholic schools to the academic excellence and faith formation found there.

Archbishop Wuerl said: "If we speak in terms of what our Catholic schools offer, we can identify three specific realities that are integral to Catholic education: academic excellence, faith formation and the intangible reality of confidence in oneself and, therefore, hope for the future."

Academic excellence, the archbishop insisted, "must remain the hallmark of Catholic education." He added, "While we struggle to keep our schools open and strive to provide a tuition low enough to encourage students to attend, we must not, because of that, begin to allow our excellent academic instruction in any way to be diminished." Moreover, he said, "even in a school where the overriding majority of children are not Catholic, the program must remain Catholic. Whoever comes must be prepared to experience our vision of life and participate fully in the program to the extent that the program allows."

The affordability and accessibility of Catholic schools are two essential goals for strategic planners to bear in mind, Archbishop Wuerl said. He offered a list of three "working principles" for those "attempting to foster and enlarge Catholic education." He said, "The school must be Catholic through and through." Second, "a diocesan-wide policy for equitable distribution of educational costs must be developed to maintain affordability." And third, "serious diocesan-wide strategic planning has to take place to ensure the survival of schools in a manner that allows Catholic education to truly be accessible throughout the diocese."

Religion Class: Valuable Creative Tensions

Jesuit Father James DiGiacamo says in an article in the Sept. 10 edition of America magazine that "while exploring religious questions with young people, teachers must preserve a creative tension among some basic aspects of Christian belief and practice." What does he mean? He writes:

"God must be presented not only as creator, lord and judge, but also as friend, lover and companion. Jesus must be presented not only as comforting and affirming, but also as challenging and demanding. Christian living must be presented as involving both the carrying of the cross and the sharing in the joy of the risen Christ." The religious educator adds, "One-sided emphases in these areas tend to produce religious styles that are either grim or flabby."

Crisis Hot Line

A planned crisis hot line for men in ministry is expected to commence operation in January. Called the Upper Room Crisis Hotline, its first 13-week training session for Catholic priests and religious brothers and sisters volunteering to receive the calls was set to begin Sept. 19, it was announced this month. Known as TURCH, its planners said that it will serve men in ministry who seek "counseling, information and referrals, suicide prevention and crisis intervention." Its services also will include "reassurance calls" to aged "priests and religious who either live alone or need companionship during the day or night."

The Upper Room's board of directors consists of Catholic clergy, men and women religious, and select laypersons. The hot line, it says, will serve "any priest or religious brother who needs to talk to an anonymous, compassionate person to discuss or explore life issues or concerns. All calls will be anonymous; no name or other identifying information will be asked or required except in a life-threatening emergency." The hot line's 800 phone number has not yet been announced.

Franciscan Sister Mary Frances Seeley, a counselor, heads up the plan to establish the hot line. A Catholic News Service report early this summer said that the Chicago-based National Federation of Priests' Councils, citing a "demonization of priests by a growing number of the faithful in the aftermath of revelations concerning the sexual abuse of minors in the church, asked her to fashion an easily accessible, interventional buoy for clergymen seeking safe haven and a place to vent frustration without fear of reprisal."

What Causes Priestly Burnout?

"The number of burned-out priests increased when their level of pastoral activity decreased"; burnout increased when priests felt a "disengagement from their ministry," according to an article by Jesuit Father Giandomenico Mucci in the Sept. 15 edition of the Jesuits' Rome journal, La Civilta Cattolica. The journal summarized the results of a survey of priests in the Diocese of Padua, Italy. Carol Glatz of the Catholic News Service Rome bureau had a report on this Sept. 13.

The La Civilta Cattolica article indicated that "a strong spiritual life supported by reading and reflecting on sacred Scripture can help protect priests form the emotional exhaustion of burnout," Glatz wrote. She said that a number of concerns were cited when researchers asked those who indicated they were suffering burnout what had caused this, but "the majority said they felt not enough was being done to address their inner being or inner selves."

Liturgical Encounters With Scripture

Sunday Mass remains for many today "the only point of contact with the word" of God in Scripture, says the fall 2007 edition of the Liturgy Newsletter of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' National Liturgy Office. Thus, it says, "maximum care should be given to the Liturgy of the Word celebrated during not only the Eucharist, but also the other sacraments." The publication urges that special attention "be given to every moment of encounter with the word during liturgical actions." It says:

"The church today needs to consider how her pastoral activity can make" liturgical encounters with the word of God "more accessible to the faithful."

The proclamation of Scriptural texts "in a clear, audible manner," along with homilies in which "the word resounds in a clear and encouraging manner, and [in which] the events of life and history can be interpreted in the light of faith" are among ways of giving care to the Liturgy of the Word, the newsletter states.

The theme chosen for the Oct. 5-26, 2008, world Synod of Bishops in Rome is "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church." The importance of Scripture in the liturgy is likely to be addressed at that time. The newsletter said that putting into practice "the letter and spirit of the Second Vatican Council on the use of the word in the liturgy "requires a vibrant process of renewal."

Four Evangelization Steps

An interviewer, speaking with Bishop Gregory Aymond of Austin, Texas, commented that "all of us have people in our lives who need Christ," and then asked, "How can we help them know him on a more personal level?" The bishop responded that "in many ways, evangelization is allowing God to use us to awaken his call of discipleship and to nurture the seed of faith in the hearts and spirits of others." He asked, "How can we do that, especially with those whom we perceive as not eager to be in a relationship with God?"

First, Bishop Aymond said, "we can pray for them in our own personal prayer and pray for them by name. Second, we can share with them something nonthreatening about our faith life and our experience of God, and what God has done for us and the way he has called us to himself."

A third step, the bishop continued, is to "invite them to church. They may very well say no, but at least we have extended the invitation. We can also invite them to Catholic Bible study or to an adult education class."

Fourth, "by working with people and gaining their trust, we form a sense of communion," Bishop Aymond said. He explained: "It is in those moments, maybe not by any words but by example, that we show others that we are living our faith and that faith and a relationship with God are indeed important to us. That means very often standing courageously for moral values, for family, for honesty in business and in the workplace, for respect for others and for respect for human life. All of these things speak about our faith and our relationship with God."

The interview with Bishop Aymond appeared in the September 2007 edition of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Austin Diocese.

Four Dimensions of Parish Justice Ministry

Typically, parishes with a human-concerns ministry "do charity, they give out food, things like that." But there is more to such a ministry, said Bob Schuelke, director of human concerns at Three Holy Women Parish on Milwaukee's east side. In an interview with him in the Sept. 20 edition of the Catholic Herald, Milwaukee's archdiocesan newspaper, Schuelke described four dimensions or tasks of a strong human-concerns commission in a parish.

-- First, he said, "is direct service" such as "giving food and clothing."

-- Formation and education represent the second area of responsibility -- "giving the parish the opportunity to realize the issues." In Milwaukee, for example, this might involve realizing that the city is the nation's "eighth poorest and informing them about social justice issues, and giving them the opportunity to be transformed."

-- The third dimension is "advocacy -- finding out the cause of people being in need."

-- Fourth is "empowerment -- being in solidarity and looking at how we can solve this problem together."

The human concerns commission at Three Holy Women Parish is described in the interview as "a complex model with six subgroups and six volunteer parishioner leaders. The groups include shelter ministry, culture of life and dignity, local/global solidarity, hunger ministry, environmental justice and pastoral care. Advocacy is listed under the umbrella of each subhead. Other ministries listed under various subheads in the model include prison ministry, Habitat for Humanity, fair trade, the parish's hospitality center for the homeless and the CROP Walk that raises money for the hungry."

From Head to Heart, From Awareness to Action: Moving Into Solidarity Entering into solidarity with others deprived of life's basic necessities is a process: First, we become aware of the deprivations others suffer, next we move into action, according to Australia's bishops, who released a major statement on global justice Sept. 17. They said:

"When considering our global connectedness, we need to move from the head to the heart. We do the thinking, but then we need to move to action. We acknowledge and understand our interdependence with others whose social and economic reality is so different from our own. We are then inspired to take action."

No one "can be committed to putting right all the injustices in the world," said the bishops. However, they said, "we can decide to act in solidarity with some who are worse off than ourselves." The bishops cautioned, "If we act in solidarity only with our own family and friends, we fail to live the Christian life and we can make no claim to be global citizens."

Solidarity is not a "feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far," the bishops said, quoting Pope John Paul II's encyclical "On Social Concerns"; solidarity "is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good because we are all really responsible for all."

Today, globalization offers people "the possibility of connecting more readily with people across national boundaries, across language barriers and across cultural and religious difference," Australia's bishops said. In this new era, they said, "the good global citizen will explore globalization from the perspective of those who are not faring well."

Current Quotes to Ponder

The hope that sustained a persecuted bishop. "Cardinal Van Thuan loved to repeat that Christians are people of the here and now, of the present moment which must be welcomed and experienced with the love of Christ. And his capacity to live for the present demonstrated his intimate abandonment into the hands of God." The cardinal also "lived on hope, and he spread it to everyone he met. Hope sustained him as a bishop isolated for 13 years from his diocesan community; hope helped him to see, in the absurdity of the events that befell him (he was never put on trial during his long imprisonment), a providential plan of God." (Pope Benedict XVI speaking Sept. 17 to members of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace for the fifth anniversary of the death of Vietnamese Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, former president of the council, whose beatification cause recently opened. The cardinal was imprisoned for 13 years, starting in 1975, in communist Vietnam.)

Transforming destructive memories. "Without memory, we cease to be ourselves, we lose our identity. [But] in the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: 'It is important not only 'that' we remember, but 'how' we remember -- with love or with hate, seeking reconciliation or going after revenge. As Christians, it is the Eucharist which cements and sanctifies our memory. The capacity of our memory to become a source of destruction is transformed in the Eucharist. We too can forgive. That forgiveness, even when it is not asked for, can set us free from the destructive power of the memories which hurt us and compel us toward anger and revenge. This liberation can take place at both the personal and the collective level." (From a Sept. 16 homily of Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, at the Irish College in Paris)

How privileged are we? Something "needs to be said about privilege, which enables people to access socioeconomic status. The nature of privilege is that it is unrecognized. If you are able to stand up and walk across the room, that is the privilege of good health, but we do not think about that. Once we think about the power that we have, be it in health or complexion or income or gender, it becomes a responsibility. (Father Clarence Williams, CPPS, in an interview on race and poverty in the U.S. appearing in the third quarterly edition for 2007 of Charities USA, a publication of Catholic Charities USA)

Online Resource: Extraordinary Communion Ministers and the Homebound

An online resource for extraordinary ministers of Communion appears on the Web site of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (www.archspm.org/ministry/EMComm.pdf). The resource includes helpful advice for Communion ministers to the homebound. "Communion ministry to the homebound entails much more than administering Holy Communion in the assembly," it says.

"You will be acting as a bridge between the assembly and the homebound, thus 'bringing Communion to them in several ways. You connect the homebound to the community when you listen to them and promise to share their news with others," the resource tells Communion ministers.

It says that Communion ministers to the homebound are also pastoral ministers.

Thus, it urges these ministers "to provide a warm, prayerful atmosphere." It says, "You need to be reliably on time and to spend an appropriate amount of time with the communicant." The resource encourages Communion ministers to welcome others who may be present, and it says, "You will seek to listen well, to respond sympathetically and to respect confidentiality, except in circumstances that your pastoral care minister believes are crucial to the person's health."

Endnote on Prayer

Prayer often is "the first thing that we cut out of our lives when we feel the press of time because it seems a dispensable luxury," Dominican Father Brian Shanley, president of Providence College in Providence, R.I., commented in his 2007 commencement Mass homily. But, he said, "prayer is not a luxury," and "if you do not pray you will not remember who you really are in God."