home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page
November 15, 2007

The Value of Prison Ministry; U.S. Bishops' Fall Meeting; What Leadership Means; Next Steps in Iraq; Gratitude's Practice; Pastoral Planning Goals; The Catechist's Witness - and more.

In This Edition:
-- Military personnel and their families: Recognizing war's cost
-- U.S. bishops' new statement on Iraq policy.
-- What leadership in the church is and is not.
-- Parish financial audits.
-- Gratitude: One of the basics.
-- The catechist's witness.
-- Current quotes to ponder on meditation; the environment; how secular reality and secularism differ.
-- Goals of pastoral planning for dioceses and parishes.
-- Why prison ministry matters.

What War Costs: Addressing the Well-Being of Military Personnel and Their Families

Don't forget "that when members of the [armed] forces go to war, their families go too, every day in their hearts, until their loved ones come home, alive or dead, healthy or injured," Bishop Thomas Burns, bishop for the armed forces in England and Wales, said in a Nov. 7, 2007, pastoral letter And "few ever return from war unmarked," the bishop said. "The experience returns with them, to trouble them."

The British bishop cautioned that while providing "post-operational medical care" for those with physical and/or mental-health problems represents a service "second to none," it is a fact that "not everyone has access to it -- or immediate access." Bishop Burns said: "It may not be until a year or two has passed that chronic suffering catches up unawares. By then the serviceman or woman may have left the forces and is deprived of the support that previously came from the military environment."

Similar concerns were found in a statement on Iraq policy issued in the U.S. Nov. 13 by Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash. He spoke as president of the bishops' conference on behalf of the nation's bishops during their fall meeting in Baltimore.

"There is a moral obligation to deal with the human, medical, mental health and social costs of military action," Bishop Skylstad stated. He wrote, "Our concern for human life and dignity extends to the members of our own military." …

… U.S. Bishops on How and When to Leave Iraq

"Our nation must now focus more on the ethics of exit than on the ethics of intervention," Bishop William Skylstad said in a statement he issued on behalf of the U.S. bishops Nov. 13. Meeting in Baltimore, the bishops had devoted time to a draft of the statement one day earlier.

The statement urged the nation's leaders to be "more realistic about the difficult situation in Iraq" and carefully to consider "the likely consequences of a withdrawal that is too rapid or not rapid enough." Bishop Skylstad wrote: "Some policy-makers seem to fail to recognize sufficiently the reality and failures in Iraq, and the imperative for new directions. Others seem to fail to recognize sufficiently the potential human consequences of very rapid withdrawal. These two forms of denial have helped contribute to partisan paralysis."

Noting that the bishops' conference for almost two years has called for bipartisan action on Iraq, the statement encouraged national leaders "to focus on the morally and politically demanding but carefully limited goal of fostering a 'responsible transition' and withdrawal at the earliest opportunity consistent with that goal." Building "a just peace" in Iraq "demands a comprehensive political, diplomatic and economic effort," said the statement.

What Leadership Is and Is Not

A misunderstanding of the meaning of "leadership" represents "one of the great challenges to our society and culture" today, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., said in his speech as president opening the U.S. bishops' annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Md., Nov. 12. Leadership is seen in some circles "not as a service to the common good, but as a means to victory and dominance," said the bishop. He said the success of leadership that follows the model of Christ's leadership cannot be measured "moment by moment."

Bishop Skylstad completed his three-year term as bishops' conference president at the fall meeting, and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago was elected new president, succeeding Bishop Skylstad at the meeting's conclusion. Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., was elected new vice president of the bishops' conference.

"We often hear calls in society for strong and decisive leadership. At the same time, however, there is resentment toward those who seem to 'lord it over' others," Bishop Skylstad observed. Bitterness surrounds many issues and decisions within U.S. society, he said.

Yet, said the bishop, "the power of leadership is both a reality and a necessity. And so, the questions for us as bishops are these: What is the nature of our leadership and authority, and how do we exercise it? To answer, we must look to the true model of leadership: that of Jesus of Nazareth."

Truth is the source of Christ's power and its goal, Bishop Skylstad said. "We cannot in fidelity to [Christ] renounce or weaken our proclamation of the truth." Still, the bishop said, "even as the basis of our leadership is the moral and doctrinal truth for salvation given by Christ, our leadership is shaped by Christ in a further way. That is, he 'did not regard equality with God [as] something to be grasped'; he took on the form of a slave (Phil 2:6-7)."

Christ "came among us and lived with us in a way that proclaimed the truth, but he did so first and foremost by example," Bishop Skylstad said. "Without compromise, Christ reached out with love and patience. But his leadership was not one that measured success moment to moment."

Christ's leadership "was a service, summarized by the magnificence of the washing of the feet, of the prayer for unity and of submission of himself to the cross for us. … Few in our climate today would see that as a successful form of leadership." However, the bishop continued, "that is the model we are called to emulate," and humility is at the root of such leadership.

Among other comments, Bishop Skylstad said that a good leader "recognizes that he does not have all of the insights, all of the answers. As leaders, we are called to recognize the value that each person brings to the conversation and to recognize that our primary role is to bring about unity in truth. That unity often comes at a price: It costs us our egos; it costs us our individualism. It is a pearl purchased at a great price, but it is a pearl that is priceless."

Parish Financial Audits

A parish's trusting atmosphere can be exploited by a dishonest staffer, Bishop Daniel Walsh of Santa Rosa, Calif., said in a report to the U.S. bishops during their mid-November meeting in Baltimore. "While the vast majority of our pastors, parish finance councils and staff does excellent work in managing very limited resources to the maximum advantage, we have all seen reports of occasional financial mismanagement in parishes," he said. Bishop Walsh is chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Diocesan Audits.

Bishop Walsh's report encouraged annual reporting by all parishes and cautioned against the presumption that each and every employee views his or her work as a ministry.

A group of fiscal officers, the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, was invited to give the committee a report discussing the value of parish audits. The management conference affirmed that "strong systems of internal controls are necessary to reduce risk of fraud, misuse, waste and embezzlement."

More on Bishops' Baltimore Meeting

When this edition of the www.jknirp.com newsletter was finalized, the U.S. bishops' fall meeting in Baltimore was still in progress. In our next edition we will discuss documents approved by the bishops near their meeting's conclusion -- highlighting, in particular, what those documents say about pastoral action and ministry.

Gratitude: One of the Basics

"Every regular meeting of every group that meets under Catholic auspices (parish councils, faculty meetings, education commissions and the like) should conclude with a formal, deliberate act of thanksgiving," Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, Ohio, said in an October 2007 pastoral letter.

The archbishop proposed that the person responsible for a meeting's opening prayer also be responsible for preparing the prayer of thanksgiving at the end. The concluding prayer's purpose is to remind participants "that gratitude is supposed to be part of everything we do and that, wherever there is Christian activity, there is always reason for thanksgiving."

A fundamental responsibility for church ministers is "to lead the faithful to gratitude, to teach people how and why to be grateful," the archbishop said.

Archbishop Pilarczyk's pastoral letter comes after a process of consultation and formation in the Cincinnati Archdiocese on the Christian meaning of gratitude. "Thankfulness is simply part of our life as grown-up members of the church," the archbishop wrote.

The archbishop related gratitude directly to stewardship. Stewardship, he said, is "doing thanks."

"If you are not thankful, you haven't been paying attention to the ways in which God has been generous to you in the past and continues to be generous to you in the present," said Archbishop Pilarczyk. What is there to be thankful for? Everything from our health, our families and friends to the "complex of gifts and capabilities that make us the unique persons that we are and that enable us to participate in carrying out the providential plan of the Lord for his creation," the archbishop wrote.

Furthermore, he said, "if we are reflective and humble enough we will also be able to see the action of God in those aspects of our lives that seem to be painful and difficult."

However, "we are called not only to say thanks to God, but to do thanks," Archbishop Pilarczyk said. "This expression of gratitude in action is what is called 'stewardship.'"

When it comes to stewardship, Archbishop Pilarczyk explained, the one thing "that we have to hang onto above all is that stewardship is about gratitude. … Stewardship is only secondarily about helping the parish pay its bills. It's only secondarily about providing food and shelter for the poor. Stewardship is about gratitude. It's about expressing in action our awareness of God's goodness to us."

The archbishop noted that most explanations of stewardship speak in terms of using "our time and our talents (abilities, skills, etc.) and our financial resources to perform acts of gratitude to the Lord" -- acts "directed toward those that the Lord loves, toward the poor and the needy, toward our parishes and schools, as well as toward other agencies of philanthropy and benevolence."

Stewardship's practice "is not a once in awhile thing, any more than our gratitude to God is a once in awhile thing. Gratitude and the expression of it … are constituent elements of our Christian spirituality," the archbishop said.

The Catechist's Witness

If catechists are witnesses to faith, what kind of witnesses are they? "While our witness of faith is deeply personal, it is never merely personality driven; it should never feed our egos. Instead, like Mother Teresa, we should pray not to get in the way of God's working within ourselves and those we are called to serve," Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., said in an Oct. 27 address to the Bridgeport Diocese's 2007 Catechetical Congress.

Discussing the ongoing formation of catechists (and his own ongoing formation), Bishop Lori said, "I am being formed in Christ not just for my sake but for the sake of others." The bishop commented at one point that "catechesis is not merely a store of religious truths which we expect young people to file away in their minds. Rather, we are called to help them see how Christ reveals us to ourselves, how Christ, the Father's Son made man, shows us that truly we are made in God's image and likeness, and how to attain happiness in life amid its vexing questions and sorrows."

Of course, catechists play a role in communicating the church's "common language" to others, Bishop Lori told the catechists. The way "the faith is formulated in the Scriptures, the creed and the teaching of the church provides a common language with which we can catechize," and "failing to help our young people know such basic terminology as 'paschal mystery,' or 'Trinity,' or the meaning of the word 'sacrament' impedes them from knowing and embracing their faith." The bishop clarified his point with examples from the world of finance and technology, saying:

"It's hard to be enthusiastic about finances if you don't know the difference between revenue and expense, or to be skilled at computers if you don't know what a hard drive is. So as part of our formation, there is a need to become familiar with the formulas of the faith … and to become deeply familiar with their meaning."

Bishop Lori also discussed inculturation of the faith as he explored the various dimensions of a catechist's role. In the Bridgeport Diocese, he said, diversity is growing; "Mass is celebrated in 14 languages on most weekends." The bishop described diversity within the diocese as a gift, while saying that it also brings home "the challenge of proclaiming the Gospel in a way that not only touches the mind but also the deepest levels of the person where one's cultural identity is embedded." He added:

"While most won't learn 14 languages, we can and should grow in our familiarity with our own heritage and the cultural heritage of others who are members of the diocese. Cardinal [James] Hickey once said that we should never make people choose between the faith and their culture. As every culture is clarified and purified by the one faith, it also becomes the vehicle by which the faith is transmitted and a source of enrichment for our understanding and love of the faith."

Current Quotes to Ponder

What Meditation Is All About: "Meditation is not some esoteric spiritual practice for would-be mystics. It is a refinement of our way of being conscious. The untamed mind spins its own processes, which can result in states of worry. Meditation is a gentle way of harnessing the immense capabilities of the human brain. … In meditation we search for God in our own story as it unfolds every day." (From "Articulating Inner Events," by Father Leoncio Santiago of Chicago, in the September-October edition of Upturn, a publication of the Association of Chicago Priests)

How Humanity and the Environment Interact: "My delegation believes that protecting the environment means more than defending it. Protecting the environment implies a more positive vision of the human being in the sense that the person is not considered a nuisance or a threat to the environment, but one who holds oneself responsible for the care and management of the environment. In this sense, not only is there no opposition between the human being and the environment, there is established an inseparable alliance in which the environment essentially conditions man's life and development, while the human being perfects and ennobles the environment by his or her creative activity. … The primary concern of my delegation is the importance of grasping the underlying moral imperative that all, without exception, have a grave responsibility to protect the environment." (Archbishop Celestino Migliore, head of the Vatican Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, addressing the U.N. General Assembly Oct. 29)

Differentiating Secular Reality and Secularism: "The secular reality is the world in which we live, the world which God loved so much. Secularism is the ideology which believes that there is no answer to the fundamental questions about the meaning and destiny of human life. … By failing to answer the question 'Who are we?' we reduce ourselves. … If we do not ask those questions we no longer see ourselves and one another as we truly are, but simply in various roles -- a citizen, or an employee, or an example of a social problem -- with no 'bigger picture.' … Flannery O'Connor once pointed out that in a world which has lost the sense of the divine power 'that could produce the incarnation and the resurrection,' people become 'so busy … reducing everything to human proportions that in time they lose even the sense of the human itself, what they were aiming to reduce everything to.' … The attitude of religion to the secular is not that it is evil or that it is false, but that on its own it cannot bear the weight that we are placing on it." (From a Nov. 6 speech by Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick, Ireland, to the Cιifin Conference in Ennis, Ireland)

Goals of Pastoral Planning for Parishes and Dioceses

"A pastoral plan for a diocese is very different from a corporate strategic plan," Bishop Gregory Aymond of Austin, Texas, said in an interview in the November 2007 edition of Austin's diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Spirit. Bishop Aymond said, "The only question asked in a pastoral plan for a diocese is, How can we proclaim the Gospel of Christ more effectively and how can we strengthen the ministry of Christ among us, especially in our parishes, schools and Catholic institutions?"

The purpose of pastoral planning also was discussed in an Oct. 15 pastoral letter by Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Mass. "Simply stated, the goal of pastoral planning is to promote further the church's essential mission of evangelization, that is, bringing Christ to others by reinvigorating the pastoral life and vitality of a given parish or group of parishes," said Bishop McManus. He commented, "The vitality of a diocese is directly affected by the pastoral vitality of the parishes that constitute it."

During the last generation or two in the Worcester Diocese, "a number of social, economic and familial factors have arisen that have dramatically affected the vitality and viability of some of our parishes, particularly those in our larger urban centers," the bishop said. "Parishes that at one time numbered over 1,000 families or more have experienced a radical reduction" of active parishioners due "in some measure" to demographic shifts of population.

It is true that "the economic factor of parish life is an important factor in assessing the present and future viability of a parish," Bishop McManus said. But, he added, other factors also contribute to a parish's pastoral vitality.

Signs of a parish's diminished vitality may be found in "a precipitous decline in Mass attendance, or a dramatic drop in the number of sacramental celebrations such as baptisms and weddings, or the shrinking of a parish religious education program," the bishop said. He acknowledged that when such signs are present, "the financial viability of a parish soon becomes a serious concern."

Why Prison Ministry Matters: Rome Conference

Prison ministry has been an "essential part of the pastoral ministry of the church" from its very beginnings, according to the concluding Declaration of the congress of the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care, held in Rome Sept. 5-12.

In a report to the congress, a Dutch expert on prisons, Anthon van Kalmthout of Tilburg University, said that "all prisoners are vulnerable in one or another way." The person a pastoral worker encounters in prison "is a vulnerable human being with his or her tragedies, broken pasts and personal strugglings," van Kalmthout commented.

Pastoral workers in prisons are people "who can build up bonds with inmates based on trust." These pastoral workers "have the task of giving attention, help and comfort to especially the weakest and most vulnerable fellow human beings," van Kalmthout said.

Imprisonment, he said, "does not only punish detainees themselves," but also their families and friends. And imprisonment "is a sentence which for many is a lifetime punishment, even after their release," van Kalmthout said.

He said that "acknowledging the necessity of imprisonment does not relieve us from the obligation to enforce this punishment in as humane a manner as possible."

Another European expert, Michael Platzer, observed in a report to the prison-ministry congress that many who are incarcerated, "particularly those condemned to death or life imprisonment, are not popular causes." He said, "Sometimes chaplains are the only persons in their corner."

The Declaration issued by the congress stressed that every human being's inherent dignity and fundamental rights "spring from their being 'in the image' of the divine Creator" and that "incarceration, for whatever reason, does not diminish this image."

"Most prisons are overcrowded," and prisoners are abused, while their needs go unmet, the Declaration added. Furthermore, the criminal justice system in many countries "fails to address the needs of children in conflict with the law," as well as the needs of other vulnerable people such as the mentally ill, drug addicts, foreigners and the aged.

The Declaration expressed support for "justice that restores, heals and protects; a justice that makes offenders accountable for what they have done; a justice that provides restitution to victims, who are most of the time ignored and forgotten by the current justice system; a justice that engages the community in facilitating the healing process, thus leading to the reintegration of the victim and the offender into the community."

Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the prison-ministry congress Sept. 6. "Prisoners easily can be overwhelmed by feelings of isolation, shame and rejection that threaten to shatter their hopes and aspirations for the future," the pope said. "Within this context," he added, "chaplains and their collaborators are called to be heralds of God's infinite compassion and forgiveness."

Jails and prisons must contribute to "the rehabilitation of offenders, facilitating their transition from despair to hope and from unreliability to dependability," said the pope.