home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page
October 22, 2007

What Blessed Mother Teresa's Spiritual Darkness Means for Others in Ministry; What Parish Councils Do; Making Oneself Present to Others to Carry the New Evangelization Forward; Year of St. Paul - and More

In This Edition: -- Openness to the church of those who participate in Mass infrequently.
-- Carrying the new evangelization forward: On being present to others.
-- What Mother's Teresa's spiritual darkness says to others in ministry.
-- Resource for pastoral ministers and others on upcoming Year of St. Paul.
-- Current quotes to ponder.
-- Poverty inside out: Income volatility's impact on the poor.
-- What parish councils do.

Catholics Who Infrequently Participate in Mass: Are They Open to the Church?

People are open to participating in church activities, provided these activities touch their lives and respond to their human and spiritual needs, said Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby. He addressed Canada's Catholic bishops during their mid-October general meeting, which focused in a special way on the new evangelization. Bibby teaches at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta Province and is a noted writer.

Sixty-two percent of infrequently practicing Catholic adults in Canada and 40 percent of youths are open to more participation in church activities, he told the bishops. Thus, people are more open to involvement in the church than generally is believed to be the case. Bibby's scientific research contradicts the often-heard argument that organized religion is a thing of the past. "God is at work in our culture," he told the bishops.

What needs to be noted, however, is that these people are looking for "a pastoral response," Bibby believes. "And nothing is more important for them than their families. If you want to involve these people, you must reach their families." Bibby said that "people are receptive to greater involvement [in the church] if they find it to be worthwhile."

"Making Oneself Present to the Other": Carrying the New Evangelization Forward

Evangelizers are people who make the "Spirit of the risen Christ" visible to others. But to do this, evangelizers need to make themselves present to others. What this presence entails was discussed in a speech to the Canadian bishops' mid-October general assembly by Auxiliary Bishop Claude Champagne of Halifax, Nova Scotia. What is needed is "a loving, respectful presence toward those to whom we are sent, Bishop Champagne said.

To be present to others means "seeking to discover" them, "knowing them for what they are, in their culture, their mentality, in their search for a full human life, for the profound meaning of life," the bishop commented. He explained: "We are invited to receive the questions of our contemporaries. Thus, in going toward young people, we approach them with interest in them as individuals, in their lives, their joys and sorrows, their dreams and despair, but also their commitments, loves, friendships, questions and fears. We must therefore recognize those whom we address."

There are times when such a presence "will be the only possible means of evangelization," said Bishop Champagne. For, "some of our contemporaries have developed an allergy to all preachers and all forms of preaching." Still, he observed (in a discussion of dialogue as a dimension of the new evangelization), "opening ourselves to the truth and beauty of the other can open the heart of the other" to that to which we bear witness.

Among challenges the new evangelization faces is that found among some whose past catechesis didn't lead them to believe that the Gospel really constitutes good news, Bishop Champagne said. "For some, our message is limited to prohibitions," he said. "Our challenge is to show that the news we bring is good for living in freedom and happiness." In that case, "under the action of the Holy Spirit, we must learn how to discern when hearts are open once again to receiving our message."

One "prerequisite" of the new evangelization is that those who evangelize first experience the good news, said Bishop Champagne. He said, "We cannot share the good news unless we have welcomed it in our own lives."

The bishop had one cautionary note with a theological overtone. He cautioned his audience not to think it is they who make God present in the world. Rather, God "was already there long before we arrived." The Spirit of the risen Christ "precedes us in the world," and "we make visible his presence and action." Bishop Champagne said, "The important thing is to recognize him, welcome him and collaborate with him."

What Mother Teresa's Spiritual Darkness Says to Others in Ministry

Commenting on recent revelations that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta experienced a profound spiritual darkness during which she did not feel God's love and presence, and had doubts about her mission, Father Matthew Lorrain, vocations director in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, La., wrote the following in a September vocations newsletter for priests and seminarians:

"Priests experience darkness as well, and we would hardly be of much use to our parishioners if we did not also struggle with doubt and desolation. There have certainly been periods in my own life when prayer was devoid of feeling. Spiritual wisdom counsels that in moments of darkness we are to maintain our routine, however empty it may feel, and continue to work and pray as if we felt God's presence. Eventually God's presence returns and brings with it some new insight, consolation or appreciation of our union with Christ."

Do the revelations by Blessed Teresa represent the beginning of a new ministry on her part today? Perhaps, Father Lorrain notes. His column says:

"Father James Martin, SJ, author of 'My Life With the Saints,' believes that the revelation of her struggles may mark the beginning of a new ministry for Mother Teresa. 'It would be a ministry to people who had experienced some doubt, some absence of God in their lives. And you know who that is? Everybody. Atheists, doubters, seekers, believers, everyone.'"

Many people these days are saying that they were astonished to hear of the dark night of the soul described by Blessed Teresa in letters that appear in the new book titled "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light," edited by Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, a Missionaries of Charity priest. Father Lorrain notes how the letters reveal that "she had difficulty even verbalizing her struggles until one spiritual adviser suggested that she write her experiences down."

Father Lorrain also points to a comment by a priest with whom Mother Teresa corresponded over a long period of time, Jesuit Father Joseph Neuner, a native of Austria. Father Neuner said: "There was no indication of any serious failure on her part which could explain the spiritual dryness. It was simply the dark night of which all masters of spiritual life know. … There is no human remedy against it. It can be borne only in the assurance of God's hidden presence. … The sure sign of God's hidden presence in this darkness is the thirst for God, the craving for at least a ray of his light."

Check Out This Current Resource for Ministry: Year of St. Paul

An easy-to-use online resource for the Year of St. Paul, to be observed throughout the church from June 28, 2008, to June 29, 2009, is being developed by the Liturgy Office of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. Brief introductions to each of the Pauline letters are being prepared; these will be found worthwhile by discussion groups and their leaders or by individual readers themselves. As of this writing, introductions to Philemon, First and Second Timothy, and Second Thessalonians have been posted to the Liturgy Office Web site (www.catholic-ew.org.uk/liturgy/resources/scripture/paul.html).

"The letter to Philemon is an excellent place to begin reading St. Paul, if you don't know Paul very well or if you think that the little that you know rather puts you off him," says the introduction to Philemon. It offers brief background on the letter, raises some questions for readers to ask themselves as they read through the letter and offers thought-provoking reflections on who the figure in the letter known as Onesimus, often believed to be a runaway slave, might have been and how he might have served the church later on in his life.

The letter to Philemon, says the Liturgy Office discussion, "is a very clever piece of writing, enabling Paul to give expression to the passionate love for Christ that was the driving force of his entire life."

I discussed the Year of St. Paul in an earlier entry on this Web site. If you go to "Dave's Archive" (Find it by clicking on the link at the end of the newsletter material on the jknirp.com home site), you will find an entry titled "Year of St. Paul: Focus on the Bible." That entry offers further background on St. Paul, the secret of his success and how his teaching can be related to parish ministry today.

Current Quotes to Ponder

Migration in Perspective. "Migration has a very high cost, especially for the immigrant. It is not the ideal when it comes to the difficulties encountered by those who feel forced to leave their homeland. It is, however, at times the lesser evil for them. Uprooting from one's family, culture and way of life can bring great loneliness and fear, not to mention the dangers and risks if one seeks to immigrate illegally. The decision to migrate often entails enormous hardships and suffering for the migrants, and many would prefer not to. Many consider it a last resort. …The U.S. bishops recognize the right of nations, including our own, to control and protect their borders. … We are concerned about border security, especially in the face of international terrorism. But we do not believe an enforcement-only immigration policy is just or effective. We support comprehensive immigration reform … based on principles that respect human life and dignity, the requirements of justice and human solidarity." (From a Sept. 20 speech on immigration by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Harrisburg, Pa.)

Why Some Are Not More Worthy of Respect Than Others: The Problem With a Weak Vision of the Human Person. "Peaceful coexistence among people is not only threatened by the conflicts between ideologies, but also by indifference as to what constitutes man's true nature. Many in contemporary society actually deny the existence of a specific human nature, which only adds to confusion and, in many cases, hinders authentic dialogue. Clarity in this regard is needed so that a weak vision of the person will not open the door to authoritarian impositions and leave people defenseless and easy targets for oppression and violence. … Without a clear and strong awareness of who we are as persons, it will always be easier to claim that some people are worthy of respect and others are not; some people have the right to life, liberty and religious belief, and others do not." (Msgr. Anthony R. Frontiero, speaking Sept. 25 in Warsaw, Poland, on behalf of the Vatican delegation to a major human rights conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe)

Music in the Church, Old and New. The church must work hard to guide the development of the church's treasury of liturgical music, "not 'freezing' the treasure, but seeking to insert valid modern-day changes into the past heritage in order to obtain a synthesis worthy of the high mission reserved for this divine service," Pope Benedict XVI said Oct. 13 in a speech to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. The pope said he was certain the institute would continue to contribute to a renewal of sacred music's wealth of "precious traditions that is suitable for our times."

Poverty Inside Out: Impact of Income Volatility

Income volatility or instability - the result, for example, of "job loss, illness, and other macroeconomic and personal factors" - is "devastating" for the poor, the bishops of Kentucky say in a pastoral letter released Sept. 20 titled "Just Work." Not only does a "family's ability to pay bills" suffer adversely from income volatility, but so does "its ability to engage in long-term economic planning," the bishops state.

Furthermore, "income instability is linked to food insecurity," a form of "unpredictability" that "obviously leads to a great deal of personal anxiety," say the state's bishops.

In their discussion of poverty, Kentucky's bishops say that "the economic uncertainty and the ever-widening inequality and volatility of so many of our neighbors rise to the top of our list of concerns." Among their observations, the bishops note that over "the last 40 years, Kentucky's Appalachian counties have seen very little change in poverty rates, with 20 percent or more of its residents remaining poor."

What Parish Councils Do

"The primary ministry of the parish pastoral council is to collaborate in planning the way forward for the parish," says a document released in October by the Irish bishops' Commission for Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development." The parish council "is not immediately responsible for implementation of projects but ensures that the projects are carried out. In this way the council enables members of the parish to recognize their gifts for ministry and to use them for the good of the parish and its mission," the commission says. Its document, titled, "Parish Pastoral Councils: A Framework for Developing Diocesan Norms and Parish Guidelines," was issued at the time of the bishops' meeting in Maynooth.

What do parish councils do? The document says that "processes in which the parish pastoral council is involved include:

-- "Reflection and planning: In collaboration with the parish community, identifying their needs and the challenges they face, and reflecting in dialogue with them on what needs to be done.

-- "Animation: Enabling the baptized to discover their gifts in response to the needs and challenges of the parish, and developing these gifts through the provision of training and ongoing formation.

-- "Action: Providing structures that will make connection between the needs and the challenges of the parish with the gifts and resources in the parish and the diocese.

-- "Communication: Ensuring that effective dialogue takes place within the parish, the diocese and the wider community.

-- "Evaluation: Reviewing the life and activities of the parish so that parishioners might have a sense of a developing dynamic Christian community."

In the parish council, priests and people work together "in furthering the mission of Christ in their own place," according to the document. "The parish priest," it says, "has been entrusted with the care of the parish by the bishop. He convokes the meetings and is the president of the council." The document says, "The role of the council in the parish and in particular its role vis-ΰ-vis the role of the parish priest and other ordained ministers of the parish needs to be continually worked out."

"In parishes that do not have a resident parish priest, the role of the pastoral council can be pivotal," the document states. And it observes, "It is now evident that the tasks of establishing and maintaining effective parish pastoral councils require training and support."

Because of its unique nature, "the parish pastoral council requires that a spirit of prayer and reflection should pervade [its] meetings," says the document. It adds, "Since the task of the council involves faith development, it is important that time be taken in each meeting for formation of the members and for nourishing their faith through prayer informed by the concerns of the meeting and the parish, the church, the world and the liturgical year."