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May 18, 2013

Careerism in the church -
Stepping out of a consumerist mode -
The difference it makes when human dignity is recognized -
Challenges families encounter today

In this edition:
1. Why recognizing human dignity matters.
2. Money's dominance and the poor.
3. Stepping out of a consumerist mode.
4. My good and the common good.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Careerists in the church.
b) Families that struggle.
6. Family life today demands a choice.

1. Why Recognizing Human Dignity Matters

It makes a big difference when the human dignity of every person is acknowledged within society, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles indicated in a May 1 speech on Catholic-Jewish relations. Speaking at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, he expressed his conviction "that this truth about the sacred image and destiny of the human person holds the key to the rebirth of charity and compassion in our society."

The Jewish and Catholic traditions share an understanding "that the worship we owe to God demands that we revere the image of God that we find in our neighbor," the archbishop said. He urged Catholics and Jews to work together to communicate a message in today's society that "the human person is sacred" and "that every man and woman is created in the image and likeness of God."

A concern for the archbishop was that "we've lost our reverence for the individual" and for life itself.

A task for Catholics and Jews is to restore "appreciation of the sacred image of the human person," according to Archbishop Gomez. He urged Catholics and Jews "to make this truth the substance of our preaching, our religious education, our work for justice" and "to bring this truth into our homes and neighborhoods."

Civic leaders also need to hear this message. The archbishop explained, "We need to remind our civic leaders that the people they serve are the image of God, that each one of them has a great dignity and a great destiny."

Archbishop Gomez recalled a Midrash familiar among Jews which says, "A procession of angels passes before a human being wherever he or she goes proclaiming, 'Make way for the image of God!'" He said, "The men and women of our times need to hear this good news."

Moreover, he exhorted, "we need to be the ones who tell them that their lives are not trivial, that humans are not just random beings, contingent products of evolution, going through life with no 'why' or reason."

Archbishop Gomez stressed that "if we all lived with this awareness" of everyone's human dignity, "it would change the way we think about our life together in this city and in this country." As a result, he said:

"We would fight poverty because it insults the dignity of the person created in God's image. We would fight for greater sharing of our resources because we have a duty to help the weak, who are called to holiness and heaven. . . . We would work for peace in our streets and better schools because only this is worthy of the children of God."

2. The Economy, Money and the Poor

"The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal," Pope Francis said May 16 during a ceremony to welcome four new ambassadors to the Vatican.

He spoke forcefully on the need for an economic order guided by ethics. A point he drove home was that people today often must "struggle to live," and that frequently enough they must struggle even "to live in an undignified way."

In the pope's view, one reason for that situation is to be found "in our relationship with money and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society." He said that "the financial crisis we are experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in a profound human crisis -- in the denial of the primacy of human beings!"

Pope Francis addressed the ambassadors on the need for a financial reform that is guided by ethics and "that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone." However, he said, this would "require a courageous change of attitude on the part of political leaders."

The problem is that in these matters ethical considerations often are considered a "nuisance" or "regarded as counterproductive" because they relativize "money and power," the pope observed. He added that ethics may be viewed "as a threat because it rejects manipulation and subjection of people" and "because ethics leads to God, who is situated outside the categories of the market."

Nonetheless, "ethics -- naturally not the ethics of ideology - makes it possible, in my view, to create a balanced social order that is more humane," Pope Francis said. He encouraged financial experts and political leaders in the nations the ambassadors represent "to consider the words of St. John Chrysostom: 'Not to share one's goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs.'"

In our times, "while the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling," the pope stated. He said, "This imbalance results from ideologies that uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation."

It should be acknowledged "that the majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences," said Pope Francis. "Fear and desperation," he commented, "grip the hearts of many people, even in the so-called rich countries."

Pope Francis said he "loves everyone, rich and poor alike." Yet, he added, "the pope has the duty, in Christ's name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them."

. . . 3. Stepping Out of a Consumerist Mode

In the Western world people are "shaped from cradle to grave" in patterns of consumerism, Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., wrote in his April monthly message to his diocese. The bishop reflected on the implications for everyone in the church of Pope Francis' accent on simplicity and service.

It is noteworthy here that the new pope, in his remarks reported above to four new ambassadors to the Vatican, worried that even human beings are coming to be seen as "disposable" in a culture of intense consumerism. Pope Francis suggested that a "faceless" economy lacking "any humane goal" has a way of reducing the human person "to one of his needs alone, namely, consumption."

Pope Francis said: "Worse yet, human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods that can be used and thrown away. We have started a throw-away culture."

Bishop Hubbard's message accented the need "to break free from the lifestyle of high consumption, of wasteful depletion of resources and of the affluent use of service and leisure" in order to "truly listen to what Gospel values have to say."

Today, "we are bombarded incessantly with high-powered advertising techniques that seek to define and create more and greater needs," Bishop Hubbard said. These advertising techniques, moreover, "not only seek to define and create needs, but to shape the attitude and personality of the consumer."

In this context, "the self becomes the center of the universe," the bishop wrote, and other people become "things to serve one's needs." What is more, in this context efficiency becomes the moral norm, and "whatever works" becomes the means of achieving goals.

Bishop Hubbard believes, he said, that "we in the church can make a valuable contribution in today's world and society by taking the initiative to offer an irrefutable counterwitness to the consumerism of our day."

He encouraged "adopting a lifestyle that enables us to live with what is sufficient," one that "is less dependent upon money, power, prestige, influence and possessions," and at the same time "more open and available in service to others."

The bishop encouraged "a lifestyle "characterized by simplicity in clothing, diet, entertainment and transportation, and by prayers for, advocacy on behalf of and service to the poor."

4. My "Good" and the "Common Good"

The ethical question underlying "all human activity and interaction" is concerned about the "good" and what pursuing the good implies, Cardinal William Levada said in an April 21 lecture. The aims of a new apologetics, he suggested, call for an examination of "the 'good.'"

Cardinal Levada, an American who is a retired prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke at Saint Thomas More, the Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

The text of his lecture, which analyzes the meaning and dimensions of apologetics today, appears in the May 23 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. The cardinal discussed the "good" and its implications in the process of mentioning various aspects of the content of the new apologetics.

"All cultures have codes by which 'good' and 'bad' behavior is identified and taught, promoted and punished. We cultivate virtues that help us to seek and do the good in our lives, to contribute to peace, to love our neighbor even as ourselves," Cardinal Levada observed.

But "with the growing complexity of a globalized culture, we have learned as well to look beyond the individual good to the common good," he said. "It is this 'common good' that over the past century and a half has been the object of a social teaching or doctrine in the church."

This social doctrine "constitutes an important dimension of our responsibilities as citizens of the world in which we live," the cardinal added. He believes that "a new apologetics should include an assessment of these responsibilities in the light of the challenging economic, political and environmental issues of the time."

Why should this hold a place in the new apologetics? Because it "can help us respond" to a caricature of Christian people that stems from viewing them only as "people who here have no lasting city," since they are "citizens of both 'the City of Man' and the 'City of God,'" he explained. It is a way of addressing the assumption among some that Christians are people who say their prayers, "long for heaven and forget about the needs" of their surrounding world.

But "Catholic social teaching -- our too well-kept secret -- belies such a caricature," Cardinal Levada said.

Catholics, with their social teaching on the common good, certainly do not hold that the needs of their neighbor, the needs of peace at home and abroad or the needs of "an environment for which the God of the Bible makes us responsible" can be ignored, the cardinal commented. He said:

"If anything, it is neosocialist policies that ignore the dignity of the human person and human freedom, and a Randian neocapitalist quest for riches without any apparent social conscience that prevent the 'common good' from becoming the peaceable goal of humanity," he said.

Among his other observations, Cardinal Levada recalled that "older apologetics tended to be polemical. And not just Catholic apologetics, either." People know that "religious differences can get very heated and quickly devolve into 'we're right and you're wrong,'" he said.

However, he continued, the approach in apologetics today "should be one of dialogue, not diatribe," though "this does not mean falling into indifferentism."

Cardinal Levada also turned attention to the purpose of apologetics. He said that "as regards affirming the truth of Christian revelation, sometimes people have the impression that apologetics entails proving that the Christian religion or the Catholic faith is true." But he suggested that "the purpose of apologetics is more modest, although it is still essential."

Its purpose, he said, "is to demonstrate that the faith we profess is credible; that is, there are 'reasons for our hope,'" to borrow terminology from the First Letter of Peter. The New Testament letter says, "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope."

. According to the cardinal, apologetics "serves a purpose" not in proving that "the revealed doctrines we believe are true" but in demonstrating "that they are reasonable."

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

Careerism in the Church: "We must never forget that true power, at any level, is service. . . . Let us think of the damage done to the people of God by men and women of the church who are careerists, climbers, who 'use' the people, the church, our brothers and sisters -- those they should be serving -- as a springboard for their own ends and personal ambitions. These people do the church great harm. May you always know how to exercise authority by accompanying, understanding, helping and loving; by embracing every man and every woman, especially people who feel alone, excluded, barren, on the existential margins of the human heart." (From the May 8 address by Pope Francis to religious order superiors participating in the Rome assembly of the International Union of Superiors General)

Families That Struggle: "Today many families are struggling or even broken. To these we express in a particular way our closeness and support. The current pressures on family life are enormous: busyness, financial constraint, unemployment or underemployment, addictions and separation from extended family or other support networks. Moreover, the individualistic and self-centered currents of modern society undermine the virtues of fortitude, self-sacrifice, commitment and hope that enable marriage and family to remain strong and flourish. When a family struggles for these or any other reason, the church wishes to draw near with its message of hope and the services provided by its agencies of social outreach." (From a March pastoral message of the bishops of the Canadian province of Alberta)

6. Family Life Today Is a Choice

For family life to fulfill its most important purposes, a family today must make a reflective, concrete choice to be a family, according to the Catholic bishops of Canada's Manitoba province. In a May 13 pastoral letter, the bishops said family life in today's cultural context "doesn't just happen; it is a decision, a choice."

Family life ministers and others involved in marriage preparation or ministries to already-married couples will find the message in this brief pastoral letter of interest. The bishops' accent on the choice family members face about being a family may cast light on the path to greater happiness at home for many. (The pastoral letter has been posted to the website of the Winnipeg Archdiocese, www.archwinnipeg.ca.)

It is not sufficient simply to "be numbered as a member of a family." Rather, people must "choose emphatically and repeatedly to live as a family -- a family marked by respect, mutual support and encouragement, happiness and laughter, healing and forgiveness, patience and hope," Manitoba's bishops said.

They added, "If we choose again and again concrete ways to be a family, God can indeed give us life, the fullness of life."

People may say or think "that we choose our friends, but we do not choose our family," the bishops pointed out. In other words, people may tend simply to think that "in good times or bad, in sickness or health, in prosperity or poverty, in life or in death our family members are who they are. They simply are God's gift to us."

But "perhaps more than ever before," today "we must choose to be a family," the bishops said. One reason is that "many forces within our society propel us toward individualism, toward self-centeredness in our consumption of goods, our search for personal power, our thirst for pleasure."

In addition, families must contend with the "realities of a fast-paced life (perhaps too fast paced), of mobility, vastly increased technology, having to travel to faraway places for study, employment or career," the bishops observed. These factors "make even more pressing our need to choose to make family central to our lives."

For families, life "has become more complex." The bishops noted that "most often both mother and father work outside the home in order to provide for the family," and "it becomes more challenging to maintain the strong and close relationships which family life demands."

It is difficult, the bishops said, "for most families just to have all members sharing a meal around the same table at the same time -- sharing those precious daily conversations that create bonds and heal hearts."

Families come in all sizes and shapes. However, the bishops said, "whatever the form, whatever the reality across generations," the family "is the principal place in which God's love reaches us, surrounds, nurtures and supports us, and empowers us to share God's greatest gift -- life itself!"

The bishops issued their pastoral letter for the first National Week of Life and Family, an initiative of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Manitoba pastoral letter urged family members to "choose to see and acknowledge with gratitude all that is good, all that lends strength, all that gives and nurtures life within your family, whatever its shape or form."

It added: "Choose to recognize what each member brings to the whole family. Say thank you to each other and to God."