home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page
October 9, 2007

An Invitation to Participate in Our Online Forum -- Finding the Value in Your Work; Creative Dimensions of Pastoral Planning -- and Much More

In This Edition:
-- Online forum: Ministry in mission parishes.
-- When addressing a group: A reflection.
-- Bringing your work's value into focus.
-- Creative dimensions of pastoral planning.
-- Current quotes to ponder.
-- Where mission begins and what the mission is.
-- Creating a hidden underclass of workers in the U.S.
-- How much do Americans know about Islam?
-- The urgency of interreligious dialogue.
-- Surprising news for conscientious people.

Your Forum for Pastoral/Ministry Dialogue: Let Us Hear From You

Priests and others serving in mission parishes and dioceses had a lot to say when they responded to a spring 2007 survey conducted by this Web site's sponsors. One priest said his biggest problem is finding the time needed for his parish work. He travels a 285-mile circular route to minister in six parishes. Another priest said he would welcome insights on serving as pastor of more than one parish/community.

Another respondent said he would find it helpful to learn how priests in small parishes are coping. Yet another respondent wanted information on serving small communities better.

Do you have insights and observations that respond to the kinds of concerns raised by the respondents to this survey? Would you be willing - for the benefit of others - to share those insights and observations with this Web site as part of a conversation on ministry in mission regions?

Perhaps you have good news to report about an approach to evangelization that worked for your parish. Perhaps others would benefit from knowing about your parish's adult-education program, or youth ministry, or how parishes in your region collaborate, or about your multicultural ministry. If so, please e-mail your reflections to this address for possible inclusion in an upcoming edition of this newsletter: cndgibson@comcast.net. For example:

-- How do priests in small parishes cope?
-- What do you find most challenging about serving more than one parish?
-- How do you find the time you need for your ministry?
-- What does collaboration in ministry mean in your situation?

The survey mentioned above was sponsored by the Catholic Church Extension Society as part of an effort to look to the future of this Web site.

Thank you.

Think About This the Next Time You Address a Group

A little story about a prominent professor who frequently was invited to speak to large audiences was told by Bishop John Leibrecht of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., in a September 2007 column for the diocese's newspaper, The Mirror. Perhaps you'll recognize some of your own experience in it:

"Commenting on his experiences, [the professor] said: 'Every time I accept an invitation to speak, I really make four addresses. First is the speech I prepare in advance. Second is the speech I really make. Third is the speech I make on my way home, which is much better than the first two. Fourth is the speech which the newspaper next morning reports that I made, which bears little or no relation to any of the others."

Bringing Your Work's Value Into Focus

If the work we do is to have meaning for us, "we need to feel that it makes a difference," Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee says in the September-October 2007 edition of Health Progress (www.chausa.org/pub/mainnav), a publication of the Catholic Health Association of the United States. His article, titled "God at Work at Work," suggests it is helpful to step back and reflect on the "big picture" that emerges from the work one does.

A fascinating example of the different ways in which four individuals might describe the value -- the big picture -- of a single work task is offered by Bishop Sklba. For this, he turns to the assembly line at an automobile plant where four people each perform the very same work. The bishop writes:

"Ask the first person 'What do you do?' and the answer might be: 'I put this little screw into the edge of the car door like this.' The second person, performing the very same action, might respond, 'I make cars.' The third individual, again employed in inserting the same type of screw, could say, 'I help get kids to school safely.' Finally, the fourth person might step back, smile and say, 'I help people journey through life toward their final destiny, the welcoming arms of a loving God.'"

Bishop Sklba concluded that "the same limited action has a capacity for a bigger and bigger context." The four people in his example "have very different ideas about the work they do." Thus, "they may have significant differences in their respective levels of satisfaction."

To discover the "bigger picture" in our work, Bishop Sklba believes that it helps to sit back and to explore how that work expresses "three great works of God." He explains: "We speak of the work of God as creation, redemption and sanctification. Each of these three major works of God, subtle and mysterious, can illumine our own work." How is our work creative, redemptive, sanctifying?

Bishop Sklba writes: "God's action in the world is woven into the daily lives of God's people, who become partners with God in the gradual transformation of the world. Even the smallest action can be used by God for dramatic purposes."

Pastoral Planning's Creative Dimension

A pastoral planning process currently under way in the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., is not primarily about closing, merging or consolidating parishes, "although such realities may be part of the outcome," Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany said in a September letter to the diocese. Rather, the process "is first and foremost about ensuring that we are making the best use of the gifts God has shared with us," he said.

Already, through town meetings, deanery gatherings and local planning groups, the process has prompted some creative thinking and proposals that have impressed him, Bishop Hubbard said. For example, he noted:

1. "One suburban planning group is contemplating the establishment of a youth center sponsored and financed by all the parishes in that cluster to serve the spiritual, social and faith formation needs of teenagers."

2. Yet another "suburban planning group has been talking about how best to assist parents with children between conception and age 5 by providing better baptismal and pre-school programs, handouts for home activities and rituals, and groups for mothers during the day to share faith and talk about issues of child rearing."

3. A planning group in the city "is discussing joint ways to extend outreach to shut-ins, those in nursing homes, new immigrants, the separated and divorced, gays and lesbians, and those incarcerated in the local jail." And,

4. In a more rural area, one planning group "is seeking to develop more effective ways to be of service to the wider community by starting a deanery-wide justice/advocacy group to better identify basic needs in the region, and to cooperate with Catholic Charities and the New York State Catholic Advocacy Network to educate parishioners about legislation that affects the poor as well as to encourage parishioners to contact their elected officials to support or oppose legislation."

The Albany Diocese's two-year, participatory planning process -- known as "Called to Be Church" -- seeks "to engage pastoral leaders and parishioners in re-imagining and re-visioning" the church's mission and ministry "in the Diocese of Albany in light of declining numbers of ordained priests and vowed religious, shifting demographics, growing secularization and changing stewardship resources," the bishop said.

Current Quotes to Ponder

Preaching and Story-Telling. "Who doesn't enjoy a good story? Jesus' effectiveness as a preacher has much to do with his story-telling talent. His stories, even very short ones, … make immediate contact with our life experience, and then he draws a clear and compelling lesson that relates to our happiness, our integrity, our salvation, our call to live the Gospel." (From a Sept. 16 homily of Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine)

The Power of Fear. "Many people think the opposite of love is hate, but that is not the case. The opposite of love is fear. Gandhi once said, 'A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.' When we are afraid we are capable of many things to avoid the source of the fear; in fact, fear sometimes can make us do terrible things -- it brings out the worst in us. Love brings out the best. And it often requires us to take chances; to love is to risk rejection and ridicule. Love is the greatest theological virtue because it includes the others. To love is to have faith and to hope." (From a September Web-site entry of the Office of Catholic Youth in the Archdiocese of Toronto, Ontario)

Respect for Life. "In this third millennium life too often is seen as disposable, of little value and worth. Yet to us as people of faith, life is good, precious, from the hand of God, to be treated with dignity and respect. The church's teaching on life is critical today, a time when we see human fetuses thrown in garbage cans, bodies strewn on the streets of Iraq, hostages beheaded while people watch on the Internet, the massacre in Darfur. We do not seem to learn." (From the Oct. 1 "Monday Memo" by Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz.)

Forgiving for Real. "There are many ways of forgiving. It's often done reluctantly, holding back, conveying continuing guilt to the recipient. Sometimes forgiveness is done as a favor. Worse, at times the forgiver, in a form of blackmail, implies that the other's sin will still in some way be held over him. With [the father of the Prodigal Son], though, the forgiveness was total, offering to treat the son's sins as though they had never happened. And it was joyous." (From a Sept. 15 homily in Vienna, Austria, by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's top foreign affairs official, to ambassadors accredited to International Organizations)

Where Mission Begins and What the Mission Is

Archbishop Edwin O'Brien recalls once being told "of an evangelical congregation that posted a sign at the edge of its parking lot, a sign everyone had to pass on their way home after Sunday services. The sign read, 'Mission Territory Begins Here.'" The archbishop mentioned this during a homily Sept. 30 for a Vespers service, one day before his installation as the new archbishop of Baltimore, Md.

Pointing to the importance of evangelization, Archbishop O'Brien commented that "so much of Catholic life today is spent on questions of institutional maintenance. Yet amid the importance of those efforts and the busyness that ensues, during all those meetings and consultations, we dare not forget that maintenance is not our primary business. Preaching the love of the risen Christ is!"

Then, in his Oct. 1 installation homily, the archbishop added this note: "Knowledge of the faith is so very important, but what you do with that knowledge is ever so much more important. Likewise the talents and gifts that God gives us: How do we spend them? And at the heart of it all is love: How selflessly do we express it?"

Creating a Hidden Underclass of Workers

A "patchwork of immigration policies" now is coming into existence throughout the U.S., Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, Calif., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Immigration, said Sept. 27. The committee's view that "enforcement-only measures at any jurisdictional level [federal, state, local] will further drive undocumented migrant workers into a hidden underclass and create more fear and suspicion in immigrant communities" was reaffirmed in Bishop Barnes' statement. He said, "State and local laws that seek to force migrants to leave the country by denying them the means to subsist not only violate human dignity, but undermine the common good."

Bishop Barnes expressed grave concern over "enforcement actions that divide families and target schools, churches, hospitals, and social service centers where migrants receive assistance for basic human needs."

At present, loud voices "of division and fear" are heard in the immigration debate. But, "with more education the truth about immigration and migrants in this country ultimately will prevail," Bishop Barnes said. He added: "Migrant workers, including the undocumented, provide great contributions to our nation's economy by working in vital industries such as agriculture, construction and service. Yet, our country has refused to acknowledge these contributions," instead relegating these people "to a permanent underclass of workers."

The nation has the right to secure its borders and "enforce immigration law," but this enforcement must "respect human rights and dignity, and minimize the separation of families," Bishop Barnes said. He noted that the U.S. bishops consistently have said that "comprehensive immigration reform, which reforms all aspects of our immigration system, is the best way to secure our country and humanely and effectively address the problem of unauthorized migration to our country."

How Much Do Americans Know About Islam?

Fifty-eight percent of non-Muslim Americans say that they know little or nothing about the practices of Islam, the Pew Research Center reported Sept. 25. Furthermore, "when asked for the single word that best describes their impression of Islam, far more Americans mention negative words than positive ones" - words such as "fanatic" or "radical," according to the report.

However, it makes a big difference when people actually know Muslims, the report said. "The survey shows that knowing a Muslim is associated with more positive views of the religion. Among those who know a Muslim, for instance, a majority (56 percent) has a favorable overall impression of Muslims, compared with just 32 percent of those who are not acquainted with a Muslim," it said.

… The Urgency of Interreligious Relations

When it comes to promoting respect among people of differing religious traditions, "it is the common good of every society and of the entire world that is at stake," the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Relations said in a message Sept. 28 to the world's Muslims for the end of their holy month of Ramadan.

The statement by the council's president, Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, said: "We are called to spread a teaching that honors all human creatures, a message of love between individuals and peoples. We are particularly responsible for ensuring that our young people, who will be in charge of tomorrow's world, are formed in this spirit." Families, schools, civic and religious authorities all have a duty to invite "each young person to respect those around him or her, and to consider them as brothers and sisters with whom he or she is daily called to live, not in indifference, but in fraternal care."

The Vatican's current emphasis on the urgency of interreligious dialogue was reiterated Oct. 2 in a speech in New York by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's top foreign affairs official, to the U.N. General Assembly. "Dialogue among peoples of different cultures and religions is not an option; it is something indispensable for peace and for the renewal of international life," said the archbishop.

He said also that "respect for human dignity …is the deepest ethical foundation in the search for peace" and that forgetting that principle or accepting it only partially or selectively "is what lies at the origin of conflicts, of environmental degradation and of social and economic injustices."

Later, in an Oct. 6 address to the U.N. General Assembly, Archbishop Mamberti stated plainly: "There cannot be peace without understanding and cooperation among religions. There cannot be understanding and cooperation among religions without religious liberty."

Surprising News for Conscientious People!

A study of nearly 1,000 older Catholic nuns, priests and brothers conducted over a period of 12 years found that it's good to be a conscientious person because it helps to prevent Alzheimer's disease. Highly conscientious people -- people who are disciplined, able to delay gratification, goal-oriented, etc. -- are much less likely than others to develop Alzheimer's, the study indicated.

A report on thus study appeared in the October 2007 Archives of General Psychiatry. It isn't known why it helps so much to be conscientious, but Dr. Robert S. Wilson of Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, an author of the report, said it is possible that this trait helps the brain cope with the causes of Alzheimer's disease.