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October 1, 2012

A church, not a political party -
Year of Faith begins -
The purpose of a business: not profit alone -
New evangelization

In this edition:
1. October's big faith agenda.
2. Current quotes to ponder:
a) New evangelization.
b. Year of Faith in action.
3. What a business should do.
4. Opportune moment: Ethics, business.
5. Human lives: a too-big-to-fail concern.
6. A church, not a political party.
7. What the word "liturgy" means.

1. October's Big Faith Agenda

The opening in Rome Oct. 7 of the general assembly of the world Synod of Bishops means that this October is the church's month of the new evangelization. The synod focuses over the course of three weeks on "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith."

Four days after the synod's opening, a Year of Faith commences in the church. It begins Oct. 11 and ends Nov. 24, 2013.

In his October 2011 "motu proprio" proclaiming the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict noted two important anniversaries it marks. He said:

-- The Year of Faith begins Oct. 11, 2012, "the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council."

-- Oct. 11, 2012, "also marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church."

What is the Year of Faith really all about? Are its purposes self-evident?

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, explained recently that Pope Benedict thought it was right to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of Vatican Council II and the 20th anniversary of the catechism's publication with a year dedicated to "encouraging Catholics to study, profess and demonstrate their faith."

In his "motu proprio," the pope spoke of the Year of Faith as "a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion." He said that "faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received" and "communicated as an experience of grace and joy."

At a time of "profound change" in the world, the Year of Faith encourages "reflection on the faith" in order to help believers "acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel," the pope said. He urged "a concerted effort to rediscover and study the fundamental content of the faith."

An intensification of "the witness of charity" is among other goals of the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict said. He commented:

"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."

2. Current Quotes to Ponder

New Evangelization: "New evangelization is the challenge given to all of us to repropose the Gospel to those who have heard and have forgotten, and to those who have yet to hear the good news. . . . If there are many who do not understand who the church is, what her mission is, who do not understand the church's true identity, it falls to us, . . . members of his church, to share with them that good news. . . . Planting the seed [of faith] may mean that we learn new styles of communication, open our hearts to a more culturally diverse community, study more deeply the mysteries of the faith, reach out with confidence and invite a neighbor to attend Mass, forgive a long-held grudge or focus on a new and more influential approach with a son or daughter, father or mother or spouse who is away from the practice of the faith." (From "The Church, Our Spiritual Home," a September 2012 pastoral letter by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington)

Year of Faith in Action: "We want to remind everyone about our Catholic roots here. All around our diocese there are the missions, chapels and other historical reminders of the missionaries that brought our faith to this area. . . . Each parish has its own faith history about early members that built their church on a bedrock of faith. During this Year of Faith, we encourage all parishes to explore and spread their own faith stories. In October, the New Vision [diocesan] newspaper will publish the first feature story about a vicariate, . . . to be followed by a different vicariate each month. The October newspaper also will publish the first in a series we're calling 'Faith Journeys.' These are stories written by lay people in our diocese. We asked the . . . writers to reflect on those who inspired them to embrace Christ, as well as to include some information about what has challenged their faith. Hopefully, your own parishes will be publishing similar faith journey stories in your parish bulletins or by some other means. We hope these stories will inspire our own faith." (From the Sept. 24 online "Monday Memo" addressed to the diocese by Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz.)

3. What Businesses Exist to Do

"In a world of sharply rising inequality" that still too often is "driven by seemingly insatiable desires for more, we urgently need to reframe how we collectively understand what business is for," Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, told a conference of some 200 business leaders that he hosted in London Sept. 18.

The conference devoted attention to a blueprint for business today. A key need for businesses is to be trusted, Archbishop Nichols proposed to the business executives. He said the first question a currently skeptical public will ask is, "Why should we trust you?"

Leaders in the church today from the pope to the local bishops and from Catholic university professors to concerned business executives are focusing renewed attention on issues of business ethics. The recent recession and the global economic downturn prompted a fresh examination of the purposes of business enterprises.

As an issue of current concern, business ethics has arisen in a number of recent editions of this jknirp.com newsletter.

Archbishop Nichols discussed two contrasting essentials in the practice of business that he believes are interrelated. First, it is essential to earn a profit. The second essential consideration involves the products or services a business markets, the public it serves and its employees. These, too, cast light on the purposes of a business.

If the "sole motivation" of a business "is to make as much money as possible out of each situation, the project of restoring trust will fail, and so it should," the archbishop said. He explained that this stance by a business "ultimately results in a buildup of mistrust and an eventual backlash from a disillusioned work force, discontented customers and suppliers, and a vengeful public opinion. And then profit goes too."

Archbishop Nichols said that for a business over the long term to retain "the implicit license to operate given by society," its "primary motivation must be, and be seen to be, the desire to provide goods that are truly good, and services that truly serve people."

That, it seems to him, "is the scale of the challenge the financial sector in particular and the business world in general is facing."

Archbishop Nichols challenged the executives to reflect upon businesses that they trust by asking themselves several questions:

-- Do those businesses "develop and reward their workers fairly across all levels?"

-- "What values and behavior do they actually reward?"

-- "Do they meet customers' genuine needs for a useful product and for the information to make a genuine choice?"

-- "Are they transparent in their dealings with suppliers of goods and credit, investors and advisers?"

-- "Do they spell out their purpose beyond profit?" Do they spell out "how the business achieves social outcomes?"

4. . . . Opportune Moment: Ethics and Business

Archbishop Vincent Nichols asked the London audience of business executives he addressed Sept. 18 to stand back for a moment from the agenda of their business in order to consider ethical principles vital to their ultimate success. First of all these include respect for human dignity and service to the common good.

These fundamental principles force people "to look at the human dimension" of their business decisions - "to ask how a decision will affect the dignity, respect and potential for development" of the people affected by it, he explained.

Basic ethical principles like these "challenge and stretch us to re-imagine our action in the world and to re-examine our priorities," the archbishop said.

He pointed out, however, that "simply knowing the moral law or the principles of Catholic social teaching no more makes someone a better person than knowing the rules of football makes them a better player. What matters is practice and the cultivation of habits -- skills -- which over time form character" and make it "easier and more habitual" to act well.

The archbishop asked, "Might not better decisions have sometimes been made about levels of executive pay, aggressive tax avoidance, mis-selling or misleading advertising, and corporate governance and regulatory compliance if solidarity with others, promoting the common good and subsidiarity of decision making were seen to be part of the overall approach to management?"

Many excellent and trusted businesses always have understood the need to consider how the rationale for their existence reaches beyond profitability alone into the lives of those they serve and employ, Archbishop Nichols said. Yet, he observed, "The prevailing culture and especially the relentless focus on short-term profitability make this difficult."

He cautioned that "when businesses see themselves as set apart in some way, free to create their own value system divided from the rest of life, then they are liable to do most harm."

Archbishop Nichols believes that "an extraordinary moment of opportunity" now exists in his country "to question and reset our collective priorities and ideas about what makes for a truly good society and the place within it of a thriving private business sector."

5. Human Lives: A Too-Big-to-Fail Concern

"We often hear it said that Canada has not been impacted as seriously as other countries" by the economic downturn of recent years. And "although that may be true, nevertheless it is of cold comfort to the unemployed or those struggling to find affordable housing," Canadian Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, Alberta, said in his wide-ranging Sept. 24 presidential address to the national meeting of Canada's bishops.

Speaking in Ottawa, the archbishop said to the bishops: "Each of us is aware of the suffering caused to many of our parishioners" by the economic realities of the times. "The economic system needs the light of the Gospel."

Archbishop Smith recalled that two years ago, speaking during a visit to Britain, Pope Benedict XVI, in an "incisive observation," said:

"Where human lives are concerned, time is always short. Yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed 'too big to fail.'

"Surely the integral human development of the world's peoples is no less important: Here is an enterprise, worthy of the world's attention, that is truly 'too big to fail.'"

6. A Church, Not a Political Party

One section of a just-released pastoral letter by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington distinguishes the nature of the church from that of political parties. The pastoral letter, titled "The Church, Our Spiritual Home," was released in mid-September. It offers an overview of many dimensions of the church's life and faith's meaning.

"Political parties and action groups have a laudable purpose -- to press for a social structure, a political agenda that their members feel is one way to establish a good and just society," Cardinal Wuerl wrote. He said, "Political entities by their nature reflect human preferences and opinion."

However, he said, this "wide array of opinions -- even if held and presented quite dogmatically -- only shows the diversity of human response to issues of public concern. None can claim to be more. Certainly they are not the voice of divine revelation."

Cardinal Wuerl said that "the church has an identity, purpose and teaching that transcends and defies reduction to any specific political philosophy or party." Thus, he said, "when the church speaks about God's law, the natural moral order, right and wrong, it does so not from a political platform or following a political convention."

The cardinal affirmed that "some acts of public policy more fully reflect Gospel values than others, and Catholics may choose to self-identify as members of one political party or another."

However, he added, "one's decision to be a member of the church and to accept her teachings cannot be based on one's political orientation." Cardinal Wuerl pointed out that among those "for whom partisan political allegiance can trump adherence to Catholic faith and moral doctrine, the church's teaching will necessarily be a problem."

Cardinal Wuerl insisted that "the church is not to be confused with the political community, and it is not bound to any political system." He described the political community and the church as "autonomous and independent of each other in their own fields."

It does need to be remembered, he said, "that the individual believer, a member of the church, is at the same time a citizen of the political community. There is not a firm separation of religious conviction from political preference precisely because the faithful believer is a citizen."

He noted that Pope Benedict XVI, in the encyclical "God Is Love," said "that the lay faithful, precisely because they are citizens of the state, 'are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity.'"

Cardinal Wuerl wrote, "We should expect our most firmly held religious beliefs to impact on our political life." At the same time, he stressed that the church draws its inspiration "from the Word of God as it has been faithfully passed on over 20 centuries within the church."

The church, Cardinal Wuerl said, still is "convinced that what it brings to society is in fact what Jesus called 'the way and the truth and the life'" (Jn 14:6). For this reason, he added, "the church is protective

7. What Is "Liturgy"? Work and Dialogue

The word "liturgy," according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, originally referred to a service in the name of and on behalf of the people, Pope Benedict XVI said Sept. 26 in his general audience address in St. Peter's Square. He probed the meaning of "liturgy" as a work of God, of the church and the people.

"The catechism also states that in Christian tradition, the word 'liturgy' means the participation of the people of God in the work of God," the pope explained.

He noted that the first of Vatican Council II's documents was its liturgical constitution, completed in 1963. "By beginning with the issue of liturgy, light was very clearly thrown on the primacy of God," the pope said. "The fundamental criterion of the liturgy is that it should be oriented toward God in order to ensure that we participate in his work," the pope continued.

Liturgical prayer takes the form of a dialogue with God, the pope made clear. Citing the catechism, he said that "a sacramental celebration is a meeting of God's children with their Father, in Christ and the Holy Spirit" - a meeting that takes the form of a dialogue formed of actions and words.

Therefore, he added, "the first requirement for a good liturgical celebration is that it be prayer and dialogue with God, first listening then responding."

The liturgy, Pope Benedict said, "offers us the words, it is up to us to enter into their meaning, absorb them, harmonize ourselves with them." A "fundamental" element of this "dialogue with God in the liturgy," the pope said, "is concordance between what we say with our mouths and what we carry in our hearts."

Liturgy is celebrated and experienced well "only if we maintain an attitude of prayer, uniting ourselves to the mystery of Christ and to his dialogue," which is the dialogue of "a Son with his Father," the pope said.

Pope Benedict referred to the liturgy as a "special place in which God addresses each one of us . . . and awaits our response."