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

August 20, 2014

Finding God in darkness, as well as light -
Korea: Pope's detailed discussion of dialogue --
Life in community, broadening the challenge -
Labor Day 2014: young adults

In this edition:
1. Jobs plight of young adults: Labor Day.
2. Dialogue in detail: The pope in Korea.
3. What "empathy" means for dialogue.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Pope Francis on church and China.
b) Who Jesus is for "me," for world.
c) Community, broadening the challenge.
5. Finding God in darkness.
6. On not avoiding the dark.

1. Jobs Plight of Young Adults: Labor Day

Labor Day offers "the chance to see how work in America matches up to the lofty ideals of our Catholic tradition," Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, wrote in the annual Labor Day message issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This year's message calls special attention to the realities of the job market for today's young adults, a concern expressed frequently by Pope Francis. Young adults are bearing the "brunt of this crisis of unemployment and underemployment," according to the archbishop. He noted that "the unemployment rate for young adults in America, at over 13 percent, is more than double the national average" of 6.2 percent.

For young adults "fortunate enough to have jobs," he said, "many pay poorly." Thus, "greater numbers of debt-strapped college graduates move back in with their parents, while high school graduates and others may have less debt but very few decent job opportunities." And the "situation is even worse in other parts of the world."

Archbishop Wenski stressed the necessity of "meaningful and decent work" if young adults hope "to form healthy and stable families." He pointed out that the marriage rate "declined by close to 20 percent in the last 40 years, and the birth rate is the lowest on record." Furthermore, "among young adults, the decline in marriage has been steeper, at 40 percent."

While "not the only reason, many young adults, because they are unable to find decent work, are delaying marriage and starting a family," the archbishop wrote.

Recent improvements in the U.S. job market means that "some Americans who have found stability and security are breathing a sigh of relief," Archbishop Wenski said. He noted that "sporadic economic growth, a falling unemployment rate and more consistent job creation suggest that the country may finally be healing economically after years of suffering and pain. For those men and women, and their children, this is good news."

Nonetheless, "digging a little deeper," the reality of "enduring hardship for millions of workers and their families" is clear, he wrote. Today "the poverty rate remains high, as 46 million Americans struggle to make ends meet," and "the economy continues to fail in producing enough decent jobs for everyone who is able to work, despite the increasing numbers of retiring baby boomers."

It is a concern that "there are twice as many unemployed job seekers as there are available jobs, and that does not include the 7 million part-time workers who want to work full time," said Archbishop Wenski. "Millions more, especially the long-term unemployed, are discouraged and dejected."

In the U.S., a nation of immigrants, "we recognize that a vibrant and just economy requires the contributions of everyone," Archbishop Wenski wrote. He said that immigrants today "who come seeking decent work to support their families by and large complement, rather than displace, American workers."

However, "we need to fix our broken immigration system to stop the exploitation and marginalization of millions of people, as well as address the development needs of other countries. In doing so we would also level the playing field among workers, provide more opportunity for all who can work, and bring about a needed change of attitude toward migrants and refugees."

2. Dialogue Viewed in Detail: The Pope in Korea

Addressing several hundred bishops of Asia during his Aug. 13-18 visit to South Korea, Pope Francis explored in considerable detail the workings of dialogue, a theme mentioned more briefly by him when he spoke this summer to priests in Caserta, Italy. (The most recent edition of this jknirp.com newsletter covered his remarks on dialogue in Caserta.)

He said to Asia's bishops, who serve in a region that is just 3 percent Catholic, that on their "vast continent, which is home to a great variety of cultures, the church is called to be versatile and creative in her witness to the Gospel through dialogue and openness to all." Dialogue, he made clear, "is an essential part of the mission of the church in Asia."

He asked, "What should be our point of departure and our fundamental point of reference" in undertaking dialogue with individuals and cultures?

He responded that "we cannot engage in real dialogue unless we are conscious of our own identity. We can't dialogue, we can't start dialoguing from nothing, from zero, from a foggy sense of who we are."

Yet, neither "can there be authentic dialogue unless we are capable of opening our minds and hearts, in empathy and sincere receptivity, to those with whom we speak," the pope continued.

Thus, "a clear sense of one's own identity and a capacity for empathy" represent "the point of departure for all dialogue."

Explaining this further, Pope Francis commented:

"If we are to speak freely, openly and fruitfully with others, we must be clear about who we are, what God has done for us and what it is that he asks of us.

"And if our communication is not to be a monologue, there has to be openness of heart and mind to accepting individuals and cultures. Fearlessly, for fear is the enemy of this kind of openness."

It "does not always prove easy" to express our identity, the pope said. He cited three challenges here:

First, he mentioned "the deceptive light of relativism, which obscures the splendor of truth" and "pulls us toward the shifting sands of confusion and despair."

Second, he said that "superficiality" threatens "the solidity of our Christian identity." It is essential to be grounded in Christ. Without such a grounding "the truths by which we live our lives can gradually recede, the practice of the virtues can become formalistic and dialogue can be reduced to a form of negotiation or an agreement to disagree" in order "not to make waves." The pope said "this sort of superficiality does us great harm."

A third challenge or temptation takes the form of an "apparent security to be found in hiding behind easy answers, ready formulas, rules and regulations." Pope Francis said that "Jesus clashed with people who would hide behind laws, regulations and easy answers" and "called them hypocrites."

Continuing, Pope Francis insisted that "faith by nature is not self-absorbed; it goes out. It seeks understanding; it gives rise to testimony; it generates mission. In this sense faith enables us to be both fearless and unassuming in our witness of hope and love."

The pope then repeated that it is "living faith in Christ which is our deepest identity, our being rooted in the Lord. If we have this, everything else is secondary." Dialogue begins "from this profound reality." The simplicity of Christ's word will become "evident in the simplicity of our lives, in the simplicity of our communication, in the simplicity of our works of loving service to our brothers and sisters."

Finally, the pope explored the meaning of the "empathy" that he considers essential for dialogue. "We are challenged to listen not only to the words which others speak, but to the unspoken communication of their experiences, their hopes and aspirations, their struggles and their deepest concerns," he said.

3. What "Empathy" Means in Dialogue

The kind of empathy Pope Francis had in mind in his speech to Asian bishops while in Korea is "the fruit of our spiritual insight and personal experience, which lead us to see others as brothers and sisters, and to 'hear,' in and beyond their words and actions, what their hearts wish to communicate," he said. "In this sense, dialogue demands of us a truly contemplative spirit of openness and receptivity to the other."

So "I cannot engage in dialogue if I am closed to others," the pope stated. The openness that is required, however, is even more a matter of "acceptance" in which we say to the other: "Come to my house, enter my heart. My heart welcomes you. It wants to hear you."

This "capacity for empathy" will enable "a true human dialogue in which words, ideas and questions arise from an experience of fraternity and shared humanity." To "get to the theological basis of this," Pope Francis said, "we have to go to the Father. He created us all; all of us are children of one Father. This capacity for empathy leads to a genuine encounter - we have to progress toward this culture of encounter - in which heart speaks to heart."

In such dialogue we will be "enriched by the wisdom of the other and become open to traveling together the path to greater understanding, friendship and solidarity," the pope told the Asian bishops.

"With my identity and my empathy, my openness, I walk with the other," Pope Francis explained. He said: "I don't try to make him come over to me, I don't proselytize. Pope Benedict told us clearly, 'The church does not grow by proselytizing, but by attracting.'"

The pope hoped, he said, that those nations of Asia "with whom the Holy See does not yet enjoy a full relationship may not hesitate to further a dialogue for the benefit of all." He was not referring to "political dialogue alone, but to fraternal dialogue," he concluded.

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Pope Francis on the Church and China: "When we were about to enter into the Chinese airspace [en route to Korea], I was in the cockpit with the pilots, and one of them showed me a register and said, 'We're only 10 minutes away from entering the Chinese airspace, we must ask authorization.' One always asks for this. It's a normal thing, one asks for it from each country. And I heard how they asked for the authorization, how they responded. I was a witness to this. The pilot then said, 'We sent a telegram,' but I don't know how they did it. Then I left them, and I returned to my place, and I prayed a lot for that beautiful and noble Chinese people, a wise people. I think of the great wise men of China, I think of the history of science and wisdom. And we Jesuits have a history there with Father Ricci. All these things came into my mind. If I want to go to China? For sure! Tomorrow! We respect the Chinese people. The church only asks for liberty for its task, for its work. There's no other condition. Then we should not forget that fundamental letter for the Chinese problems which was the one sent to the Chinese by Pope Benedict XVI. This letter is actual [relevant] today. It is actual. It's good to reread it. The Holy See is always open to contacts. Always. Because it has a true esteem for the Chinese people." (Pope Francis, speaking during an in-flight press conference Aug. 18 while returning to Rome from South Korea; translation by America magazine.)

Who Jesus Is for "Me" and the World: "The struggle to identify Jesus and his role as Messiah continues today. Some say individual Christians and the whole church should be Elijah figures, publicly confronting systems, institutions and national policies. That was the way Elijah saw his task. Some say, like Jeremiah, that the reign of Christ, through his church, is the personal and private side of life. Indeed, there are many in our world today who would like to reduce religion and faith to an exclusively private affair. Jesus probes beyond both approaches and asks, 'You, who do you say I am?' In Peter's response, 'You are Messiah,' blurted out with his characteristic impetuosity, we are given a concept that involves both of the approaches and transcends them. The Messiah came into society -- and into individual lives -- in a total way, reconciling the distinction between public and private. The quality of our response to this decisive question is the best gauge of the quality of our discipleship." (From a biblical reflection Aug. 18 for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time by Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who heads the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation based in Toronto, Ontario.)

Life in Community, Broadening the Challenge: "The witness of our community living speaks that it is not only possible, but preferable, for all living beings to live in a community of well-being where all are welcome, needed and respected. What if our commitment to community broadened beyond our wildest imagination to include the full diversity of the human community living within the broader diverse community of life? What if we stretched our understanding of community to really embracing our lay sisters and brothers in meaningful and life-giving ways, to really engaging young people in faith-seeking and prayerful ways, to really experiencing other faith traditions in constitutive and reflective ways, to really expanding our circle of partners in mission and ministry in strategic and comprehensive ways? Perhaps the timbre of our religious life has a growing edge to it. The quality of our commitment to community cries out for widening our tents and offering the largesse of our hearts in ways that will surely transform us." (From the Aug. 13 presidential address by Sister of St. Joseph Carol Zinn to the assembly in Nashville, Tenn., of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.)

5. Finding God in Darkness

God is found in the dark of night as well as in the bright light of day, Franciscan Sister Nancy Schreck suggested in a brief set of remarks Aug. 12 concluding the opening session of the annual assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, held in Nashville, Tenn.

"We have a long biblical history of God working with people in the mystery of darkness," she told the assembly. Sister Schreck of the Dubuque, Iowa, Franciscan Sisters is a past LCWR president.

At the time of its assembly, the LCWR continued to deal with an ongoing doctrinal assessment and call for reform by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Of course, many religious orders deal today with other challenging issues as well, including a decline of vocations. Sister Schreck did not say in these comments precisely which issues were contributing to the darkness she had in mind.

Rather, she said, "as we spend these next days reflecting on "The Mystery of God Revealed in Our Midst" I would like to start our explorations by reminding us that not all revelation comes with light."

The LCWR board of directors did say after the Nashville assembly that their "deepest hope" is to resolve the issues between them and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a way consistent with the LCWR's mission and integrity. The board met after the assembly over the course of three days with Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, who was appointed by the Vatican to implement the doctrinal congregation's assessment.

Afterward, the group said that "ongoing conversation with church leadership is key to building effective working relationships that enable both women religious and church leaders to serve the world." It added, "We will continue in the conversation with Archbishop Sartain as an expression of hope that new ways may be created within the church for healthy discussion of differences."

It expressed hope, moreover, that "ongoing conversations between CDF and LCWR may model a way of relating that only deepens and strengthens our capacity to serve a world in desperate need of our care and service."

6. On Not Avoiding the Dark

"The hour is getting late, and I would like to send you into the night with a bedtime story of sorts -- a story of faith," Sister Schreck said as she began her reflection for the LCWR assembly on finding God in darkness. "The problem is that we have associated darkness with evil and created a sense of fear around it, thus seeking to avoid the experience," she observed.

But it takes time to learn "how to walk in the dark." She commented that in doing so "we sign a waiver that allows us to bump into some things that frighten us at first. But all we need do is to ask the mystery of darkness to teach us, to follow the darkness wherever it leads and to become intimate with darkness."

Sister Schreck, a biblical scholar, acknowledged that "there certainly are negative biblical images of darkness." For example, "Scripture often equates darkness and blindness with spiritual failure." Yet, "there is another side of the story."

She recalled that Abraham and Sarah argued with God "about not having the promised offspring," but God told them to go outside and "count the stars if you are able." The night sky became "a key player in their decision to trust God."

Jacob, too, wrestled "in the middle of the night. He had fled from family betrayal down into the middle of nowhere, fell asleep and had a vision." God "more or less" said to him, "Know I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, for I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you."

Here, too, a "night experience" was "a key player in Jacob's decision to believe in God."

The exodus also "happened at night." And, said Sister Schreck, "manna falls from the sky at night."

Later, Sister Schreck delivered a major address titled "However Long the Night" to the LCWR assembly. She observed how an individual's journey through a "mysterious night" is named "conversion" and yields "a more mature love." Can a similar process occur for communities?

"While the dark night of the soul is usually understood to descend on one person at a time, there are clearly times when whole communities of people lose sight of the sun in ways that unnerve them," said Sister Schreck. However, "when a group negotiates this process, it too becomes mature in its ability to love."

Mature love is "able to speak the truth" and is "courageous," she commented. Moreover, mature love "is not self-righteous or rude, not boastful or arrogant," but "knows its true identity and acts on it."