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September 3, 2013

Love and truth belong together -
Notes on ministry, skeptics and a cultural-warrior approach to society -
Jesus' approach to "others" - The pope on chemical weapons and Syria -
Dialogue called essential to growth

In this edition:
1. Truth's necessary link with love.
2. How Jesus approached "others."
3. Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
4. Talking with skeptics about faith.
5. Helping others untie life's knots.
6. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Syria and the road to peace.
b) Immigration reform.
7. Dialogue, essential to growth.
8. March on Washington 50th anniversary.

1. Necessary Link of Truth and Love

The necessary bond of truth and love was a theme of the Aug. 9 speech by Canadian Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec City to the convention of the Major Superiors of Men, held in Nashville, Tenn.

The archbishop accented the need in evangelization to inculturate faith, even when evangelization involves people who already are Christians but are, to one extent or another, inactive in the practice of faith. ("Inculturation" refers to the effort to present teachings and express faith in ways that can be understood by the people of a culture.)

He also pointed to the loving and not "doctrinaire" approach Jesus took in his Gospel conversation with the Samaritan woman. In addition the archbishop urged people in ministry to realize that many inactive Catholics never have experienced a personal relationship with Christ.

His speech and another recent speech discussed in this edition of the jknirp.com newsletter by Bishop Blaise Cupich of Spokane, Wash., underscored the Gospel's centrality in attempts to communicate about faith.

"I have always admired how Jesus can always speak the truth in love and love in truth," Archbishop Lacroix said. He held that "love and truth are made to go together, it's a perfect marriage!"

Furthermore, "there should never be any divorce between these two very important realities of Christian living," he told the religious order superiors. "I truly believe we need to learn from Jesus how to better conjugate these two words together: 'truth' and 'love.'"

But there are challenges to meet in maintaining the connection of truth with love, Archbishop Lacroix suggested. He said:

a) "We are sometimes tempted to mellow down the truth, as not to hurt anyone."

b) "Other times we are willing to tell someone all the truth, but without love."

But, the archbishop concluded, "in both situations we are not faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Jesus "shows us we can love and live in the truth at all times," the archbishop said.

What is worrisome for the church, Archbishop Lacroix indicated, is that many of "our own fellow Christians, in our own countries and in our own hometowns," never have "experienced a close and personal relationship with Christ."

Yet, he said, these are "our brothers and sisters to whom we must speak in a way that rekindles their faith in the Lord, in a language that not only they can understand but that will bring hope and meaning into their life because the Word of God will sound true."

Accenting the need to inculturate the faith, he said that today "we don't have to travel to foreign countries to encounter different cultures," since "in our own cities and communities our fellow citizens have changed their ways of living, of thinking, of believing."

The world we inhabit "has become a huge mosaic of mentalities, a kaleidoscope of ideas and beliefs," said the archbishop. "This is the new world, the new culture into which the good news of the Lord must resound. Inculturation is the task we must accomplish to reconcile the world within the plan of God."

. . . 2. Jesus' Approach to "Others"

Archbishop Lacroix rejected any notion that faith can or should be imposed on others in his Nashville address to superiors of men's religious orders. "We have nothing to impose to anyone, whether they are Catholics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, of other faiths or without faith," he said. "But we have someone wonderful to present to our brothers and sisters, someone who can change their lives and give them abundant life and eternal life: Jesus Christ."

The archbishop observed that "Israel, the land where Jesus of Nazareth was born, lies at the crossroads of many civilizations." He invited his audience to "remember the enumeration of peoples" to whom Peter spoke Pentecost morning.

No doubt, the archbishop said, "Jesus frequently met women and men who lived differently and had beliefs that were foreign to his own religion, to his native language and to his particular cultural background." The Gospels, the archbishop noted, "depict many of his encounters with some of these people: Romans, Samaritans, Canaanites and others." Also, "within his own homeland" there were "Pharisees and scribes, kings and high priests, men and women of all trades and conditions."

How did Jesus relate to all these people? His "attitude toward" them "is unanimously respectful of their human dignity, albeit he doesn't always approve of their ideas or their deeds," Archbishop Lacroix explained. He said Jesus' "teaching is never doctrinaire or magisterial. He prefers to speak in parables to convey his ideas, never to impose them. He rather lets his listeners find the answer to his Words that will lead them to a conversion of their heart."

The archbishop said, "The way Our Lord chose to evangelize in the multicultural context of his country is in many ways still relevant in ours."

A passage in the first encyclical of Pope Francis, titled "The Light of Faith," was cited when the archbishop discussed the relationship of truth and love, and the need to inculturate faith in an attempt to communicate about it with others. Pope Francis wrote:

"If truth is a truth of love, if it is a truth disclosed in personal encounter with the Other and with others, then it can be set free from its enclosure in individuals and become part of the common good. As a truth of love, it is not one that can be imposed by force; it is not a truth that stifles the individual.

"Since it is born of love, it can penetrate to the heart, to the personal core of each man and woman. Clearly, then, faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others. . . . Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all" (No 34).

. . . 3. Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Jesus' meeting with a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well in Samaria, told in the Gospel of John, was highlighted in the speech Archbishop Lacroix gave to the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. "It is known that the Jews have nothing in common with Samaritans, in fact they despise them," the archbishop noted.

He also pointed out that "the person drawing water from the well is a woman. Moreover, she is a sinner since she lives with another man out of wedlock." What is more, she does not "seem to practice any form of religion." Jesus' meeting with her "appears most unusual, as the disciples themselves seem 'amazed to find him talking to a woman,'" the archbishop said.

Yet, he continued, "the manner in which the Lord leads the conversation gives us a mighty lesson about evangelizing within a context of inculturation."

In the first place, "he greets the woman with respect and engages her in conversation with a subject relating to a chore of her daily life, showing how precious a gift is the water she is about to draw to quench his thirst."

Next, "about her marital life, Jesus receives her explanations as true. Then he respectfully adds a few questions until she reveals that she is in fact living with a man that isn't her husband."

Also, "as to her lack of religious practice, since the temple built on Mount Gerizim had long been destroyed, Jesus doesn't hold it against her."

In the encounter at the well, "the Lord succeeds in dismissing all forms of social prejudice, of religious and sexual preconceptions," Archbishop Lacroix observed. In fact, Jesus "respects the dignity of the Samaritan woman and shows consideration for her culture and her openness to his discourse. He sympathizes with her suffering. He forgives her failures after she has agreed to admit living in a state of adultery."

Jesus "is patient, yet straightforward, in his language in bringing about the truth in [the Samaritan woman's] life," said the archbishop. Jesus "is compassionate and understanding; he has touched her heart."

4. Talking With Skeptics About Faith

"Talking about the faith to skeptics is not a new challenge, but doing so in this age of secularism is," Bishop Blaise Cupich of Spokane, Wash., said in a July 2 speech in Australia. He presented the Dom Helder Camara Lecture at the University of Melbourne.

Bishop Cupich discussed his own approach to ministry, particularly as it relates to people who are skeptical about the Gospel or Christianity. "Let's not be naive about the challenge we face in talking about faith to skeptics in a secular age, he said. It is a situation that "deserves serious attention, but not panic or fear and surely not hostility or a quarrelsome spirit. These emotions should not shape our response."

What should shape the church's response in this type of situation, according to Bishop Cupich, "is our love of all people, the firm belief that God's grace is working in all of humanity." The response, he suggested, should take skeptical people seriously and resolve to understand them.

Furthermore, the response should reflect "an awareness that Jesus often uses such challenging moments to deepen the faith" of his disciples, "to rejuvenate their faith and trust in him."

Bishop Cupich learned "over nearly 40 years of priesthood," he said, "that ministry is most often about helping people untie knots, listening to them, sitting with them, helping them see the larger picture of their lives, especially when they are stuck in trying to make sense of them."

What should give "direction to how we speak," he said, is "our confidence that the Gospel speaks to the deepest longings of the human heart."

In catechesis, he encouraged an approach "that is encounter-based and appreciates the power of the name of Jesus." Bishop Cupich's conviction is that "when the name of Jesus is used intentionally and repeatedly in catechesis, we convey to students, to young people, that Jesus is indeed alive, active and real for their lives."

It is important to remember, the bishop indicated, "that for us revelation is not primarily about God's revelation of the divine will and intention, but about God's self-gift, communication of self. So it is more accurate to speak of Christianity as an encounter or event."

. . . 5. Helping Others Untie Life's Knots

Bishop Cupich was invited in his Melbourne lecture to address the topic of "talking about faith to skeptics in a secular age," he explained. He came at this question, he said, as a pastor, "not as a scholar versed in the social sciences, a debater, an apologist or an advocate defending belief over skepticism or against outright atheism, nor as a cultural warrior distressed at the seemingly relentless attacks on faith and religion in an aggressively secular world."

He came at this topic "as one who just tries to help people untie the knots of life and, when they do, to support and encourage them to see how God is acting in their lives."

The cultural warrior approach to a skeptical world "may seem to some to be our only option, given the aggressive response to believers and religion" today, "but in the end it brings little results other than giving us a temporary feeling of self-satisfaction," Bishop Cupich commented. "But even more so," he said, "it is not the way of the Gospel."

What is needed, he said, "is an approach that is arresting, forcing people to take a second look at the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the way we speak and act."

Bishop Cupich said that as a pastor he looks for "points of contact that will invite people living in this secular age to take a second look at what we have to say and allow them to see that we have something unique to help them untie the knots that are part of all of our human lives."

He said this approach can involve "sharing the pain of the other." This may come about "in many ways: by attending to the complaint of the tired worker, the sigh of the suffering and the criticism of the thinker, by engaging the skeptic with respect."

It can come about, moreover, "through the pastoral sensitivity urged by Pope Benedict XVI in his inaugural homily, thoughtfully recognizing that 'so many people are living in the desert, . . . the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, or loneliness, or destroyed love, . . . the deserts of God's darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life.'"

(Bishop Cupich's address appears in the Sept. 5 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

6. Current Quotes to Ponder

Syria and the Road to Peace: "In these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming. . . . How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children who will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions. . . . Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence. . . . It is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace." (From Sept. 1 remarks by Pope Francis for the Sunday Angelus in St. Peter's Square in Rome)

Immigration Reform: "We ought to be mindful of the large underclass of workers who pick our vegetables, clean our homes and care for our children and senior citizens. It is not the American way to accept the fruits of their labor while denying them its benefits. To continue to do so lessens us as a nation and dishonors the values of work and opportunity that make the United States great. This nation has grown and flourished because of immigrants throughout its history; it still does. It will continue to flourish if we enact comprehensive immigration reform today." (From a Sept. 2 column in the Washington Post by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington)

7. Dialogue: Essential for Growth

"Dialogue is very important for our own maturity, because in confronting another person, confronting other cultures and also confronting other religions in the right way, we grow; we develop and mature," Pope Francis said Aug. 21 to some 200 Japanese junior high school students who met him at the Vatican.

In remarks about dialogue with those who are different from us in some ways, Pope Francis insisted that "becoming acquainted with other people and other cultures is always good for us, it makes us grow." He said:

"If we isolate ourselves we have only what we have, we cannot develop culturally; but, if we seek out other people, other cultures, other ways of thinking, other religions, we go out of ourselves and start that most beautiful adventure which is called 'dialogue.'"

There is a risk that conflict may arise in dialogue when people who are not in agreement become angry. "If during dialogue someone closes himself in and grows angry he may start a fight; there is the danger of conflict, and this is not good," Pope Francis explained. For, he added, "we talk to each other to find ourselves and not in order to quarrel."

Meekness is needed to avoid such conflict, said the pope. He characterized "meekness" as "the ability to encounter people, to encounter cultures peacefully; the ability to ask intelligent questions." It involves "listening to others and then speaking. First listening, then speaking."

And what if those who dialogue do not achieve consensus, do not in the end agree on something? Here Pope Francis commented:

"If you do not think in the same way as I do . . . [if] I think in a different way than you, and you do not convince me, and yet we are friends, I have understood how you think and you have understood how I think."

It is important, the pope said, to recognize that "dialogue is what creates peace. It is impossible for peace to exist without dialogue. All the wars, all the strife, all the unsolved problems over which we clash are due to a lack of dialogue. When there is a problem, talk: this makes peace." 8. March on Washington's 50th Anniversary On the 50th anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., some in America debated the extent to which life for black people and others had advanced over the past five decades. The U.S. bishops weighed in on that issue in a statement by their Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church.

"The dream of Dr. King and all who marched and worked with him has not yet fully become a reality for many in our country," the committee said. However, it lauded "the fact that in our country there is more racial and cultural diversity among the leadership in both the public and private sectors. Many more doors of opportunity are open and certain legal remedies are in place."

Such benefits, it said, "have allowed members of minority racial groups in our country to advance and to offer more fully the benefits of their gifts and talents in efforts to work toward the common good."

The committee said, "We rejoice in the advances that have occurred over the past 50 years and sadly acknowledge that much today remains to be accomplished." It recalled that the U.S. bishops 1979 pastoral letter on racism, "Brothers and Sisters to Us," stated:

"Too often what has happened has only been a covering over, not a fundamental change. Today the sense of urgency has yielded to an apparent acceptance of the status quo. The climate of crisis engendered by demonstrations, protests and confrontation has given way to a mood of indifference, and other issues occupy our attention."

Other issues never should be allowed "to eclipse our belief in the fundamental human dignity of each and every person" or "our responsibility to build up and to transform society in the manner in which the Gospel message of Jesus Christ clearly makes evident to us," said the committee.

The "task that remains," it commented, should be viewed "from the perspective of the continued call to hope and in the light of faith." It recalled that "Dr. King once stated, 'We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.'"

The committee encouraged "positive action that seeks to end poverty, increase jobs, eliminate racial and class inequality, ensure voting rights and that provides fair and just opportunities."