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

September 28, 2014

Pastoral planning for a diocese's poorest areas -
Resurrecting the sense and essence of mercy -
Domestic violence, a pastoral challenge -
Chicago's new archbishop

In this edition:
1. Chicago's new archbishop.
2. Archbishop Cupich on ministry.
3. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Words of a Vatican astronomer.
b) Domestic violence, a pastoral issue.
c) A lived sense of mercy.
4. Resurrecting the sense of mercy.
5. Planning for a diocese's poorest areas.
6. Hospitable parish spaces.

1. Chicago's New Archbishop

The Chicago Archdiocese will install its new archbishop Nov. 18. It was announced Sept. 20 that Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., 65, will succeed Cardinal Francis George, 77, who suffers from cancer.

Asked if his appointment sends a message to the church in the U.S. about Pope Francis' agenda, the now-Archbishop Cupich responded: "I think the Holy Father is a pastoral man. I think that his priority is to send a bishop, not a message."

A pastoral letter the new archbishop published in the Spokane Diocese this summer casts light on his approach to pastoral planning and evangelization. Titled "Joy Made Complete," the pastoral letter took up the conclusions of the Know, Love and Serve Leadership Summit of 50 leaders in the diocese who met in April after the diocese first consulted its parishes. "Joy Made Complete" identifies pastoral priorities over the next four years.

The leaders - lay women and men, religious-order members, priests, deacons - had the task of discerning "the pathway God is opening" for the church in Spokane at this time and "under the exciting and energetic leadership of Pope Francis," the pastoral letter explained. Spokane's diocesan newspaper published the letter Sept. 18.

The pastoral at one point challenges the people of the diocese to ask themselves five questions:

"Are you committed to working with fellow parishioners in a collaborative way to make your faith community more welcoming to newcomers and more supportive to members in need?

"Will you step forward to join with others and take responsibility for improving and enriching your parish's worship and its catechesis of the young?

"Will you work to build up new leadership and personally support parish and diocesan stewardship?

"Will you advocate and participate in greater outreach to the poor and the unchurched, and promote Christian unity?

"Will you help to move the agenda of the church from maintenance to mission?"

The pastoral letter adds that "in the end, the question" for the people of the diocese "is the same: Are you ready to join me and your fellow parishioners and take personal responsibility for the work of renewing the church?"

Church renewal, Archbishop Cupich observed in the pastoral letter, always has "begun and been nurtured by listening to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, both individually and as communities."

The success of Spokane's Know, Love and Serve initiative "will require our rethinking of the goals, structures, style and methods of how we as individual Catholics live our faith, and how our parishes and the diocese serve others in continuing the mission of Christ in our time," Archbishop Cupich said.

That, he added, "is exactly what Pope Francis means when he urges us in his apostolic exhortation ['The Joy of the Gospel'] to be bold, creative and above all to 'abandon the complacent attitude that says, 'We have always done it this way.'"

Accomplishing the goals of the Spokane leadership summit and of the pastoral letter will encompass six steps, the archbishop stated:

"Committing ourselves as parishioners and leaders to take up the hard work, with both dedication and charity, to explore new ways of being parish and diocese so that others may come to know the joy of the Gospel.

"Calling forth courageous and visionary leadership, lay and ordained.

"Stepping out into unknown and largely uncharted territory, and trusting each other to share responsibility and ownership for the church.

"Developing life-giving relationships between lay and ordained members, and valuing accountability, collaboration and mutual respect for the gifts of others.

"Moving from maintenance to mission.

"Responding with our personal 'yes' to the question: 'Are you ready to do this?'"

2. Archbishop Cupich on Ministry

Archbishop Blase Cupich discussed his approach to ministry in a July 2, 2013, speech in Melbourne, Australia. He focused particularly on the many people who are skeptical about Christianity or the Gospel.

"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."

What should shape the church's response in this type of situation, according to the archbishop, "is our love of all people, the firm belief that God's grace is working in all of humanity."

The church's response, he suggested, should take skeptical people seriously and resolve to understand them. Furthermore, it 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."

The new archbishop 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."

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," Archbishop Cupich commented in Melbourne. "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."

Archbishop 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." (A report on the archbishop's Melbourne speech appeared in the Sept. 3, 2013, edition of this jknirp.com newsletter.)

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

Talking With a Vatican Astronomer: [Questions about the Big Bang theory and the origins of the universe, or the circumstances surrounding the star of Bethlehem, or the end of the world are] "profound questions, and they're real questions, but the questions aren't always what you think the words are saying. . . . You have to dig underneath and say, 'When people are worried about what was the star of Bethlehem, they really want to know how much does God act in the universe? Did God make that star? Does God arrange things? Does God use divine coincidences? . . . I don't think people understand nearly well enough about being a scientist and about being a religious person, a member of a religious order or just a devout Catholic. It's fun. It's supposed to be fun. If it's not fun, you're doing it wrong. God makes himself known through joy. . . . I get joy when I see a new insight into how the universe works in my very tiny field of science. I get joy, along with a sense of contentment and peace, in a church in prayer. I get joy when I work with the poor, when I work with students, when I work with the elderly." (Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, new president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, the fundraising arm of the Vatican Observatory, quoted in a Sept. 19 Catholic News Service report by Dennis Sadowski. Brother Consolmagno is co-author of a book to be published in October by Image Books titled, "Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? . . . and Other Strange Questions From the Astronomers' Inbox at the Vatican Observatory.")

Domestic Violence, a Pastoral Problem: "For us, as a church, [domestic violence] is a serious pastoral problem. Addressing domestic violence is just as central to the Catholic mission as helping the poor and the hungry. . . . One in four women in America is a victim of domestic violence, and every six hours a woman in this country dies at the hand of her spouse. . . . What that means is that these victims live next door to you or down the street. They may be sitting in the next pew at Mass. It is a crime that usually occurs behind closed doors, but it doesn't stay there. It spreads out in concentric circles. It is also a safe environment issue, not only because of the danger to the abused spouse, but because of the children who witness the abuse. Children who grow up in violent homes are six times more likely to commit suicide. They are 24 times more likely to commit sexual assaults and 75 times more likely to commit crimes against people. . . . Victims of domestic violence should be encouraged to seek professional help which is available. Information on resources may be obtained from the diocesan Safe Environment Office. . . . Domestic violence is unacceptable and against the will of God." (From a Sept. 19 blog entry on the diocesan website by Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas.)

A Lived Sense of Mercy: "I believe Pope Francis is calling for a return to [a] 'lived sense' of the mercy and compassion of God, who always accompanies us. One of the challenges is to find ways to recreate a culture of mercy in the church. . . . We also need to be clear that there is a distinction between that culture of mercy and the acts that are necessary for forgiveness and conversion. Mercy is the air we are to breathe; forgiveness and conversion are the pathway we are to walk." (Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, speaking in late September to journalists about the October 5-19 extraordinary assembly of the world Synod of Bishops on the family.)

4. Resurrecting the Sense of Mercy

The world and the church "need a new resurrection of the sense of mercy," Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said in a Sept. 24 homily for the Mercy International Association, an organization of the congregations of Sisters of Mercy and groups related to them around the world.

The archbishop used the term "resurrection" because, he said, "ours is a faith of resurrection, where God's activity is not that of humiliation but of raising up, and enabling, and encouraging, and giving new hope and vision."

The challenge Pope Francis posed for the October extraordinary assembly of the world Synod of Bishops on the family "is to be open to ways of applying the primacy of mercy to particular situations while remaining faithful to fundamental truth," Archbishop Martin said.

He believes that "the implications of the primacy of mercy will only be understood when we grasp how all human relations must be characterized by mercy and not just self-interest, but also that mercy is not passive acceptance of everything -- a soft spirituality -- but is also part of the path of living the cross."

Though mercy often may be regarded "as a sort of privilege, something that in my niceness I grant to someone else, even though they might not deserve it or that I was not obliged to give," it actually "is of the essence of the Christian life," Archbishop Martin stated. His remarks drew upon German Cardinal Walter Kasper's recent book "Mercy, the Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life" (Paulist Press), a book Pope Francis said had done him "much good."

There was a time when mercy "was reduced to a sort of lucky escape from the consequences of hard judgment." Thus, it hardly was viewed as "the essence of the Christian life," the archbishop noted.

He said, "If we are trapped into an image of God whose justice is primarily punitive, we will never see mercy as essential to the Christian concept." But God "is the Father of the Prodigal Son" and "is out there looking and waiting" for his son's return.

The world "is very harsh, especially for those who do not meet the criteria for worldly success: celebrity, wealth, good looks, outward success," Archbishop Martin observed. "And indeed, below the surface even of those who appear to be successful there is very often a deep sense of anxiety and anxiousness."

He insisted that "living out God's mercy in our lives is not about a gift which we in our discretion hand out and measure out on our terms." Instead, "God's mercy is something we receive in measures which go way beyond our merits."

5. Pastoral Planning for Diocese's Poorest Areas

"We all need to make decisions about where to put our priorities in pastoral planning," Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, said in a Sept. 24 speech in Chicago. "I will tell you where I see my greatest challenge," he explained. It is "how to put sufficient personnel and facilities in the poorest areas of the diocese."

Speaking to the Catholic Extension's conference of mission bishops, Bishop Flores examined several issues in the church's life involving the priority of time over space. "The announcement of the Gospel, the formation in the Gospel and the inculturation of the Gospel create a new space in a world of possessive spaces," he said. "The Gospel frees hearts to serve with generous self-forgetfulness."

His discussion of time and space reflected a concern Pope Francis expressed in his apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel." The pope called for a new attitude in which time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them "links in a constantly expanding chain" (Nos. 222 and 223).

"To give priority to time over space is to make space consciously hospitable and docile to the reality of human life as a mystery of interpersonal growth and development," Bishop Flores said. He suggested that when this happens, the possessiveness and fear that often prevail in the governing of spaces can give way to an understanding that the Holy Spirit is at work in every person.

When it comes to planning for needed spaces in the church, Bishop Flores thinks that what the Gospel asks of him "and what Pope Francis is insistent upon is that pastoral planning and resources not simply go to the places that can afford them."

The bishop pointed out that, for his diocese, some of the "poorest areas are also the areas with the most people." But "parishes with mission chapels in these areas can barely afford to maintain one priest, much less two."

Yet, if he only sends "parochial vicars to the parishes that can afford them," then he is "severely limited. What happens is that the newly ordained don't get a good sense of the needs of the poor in the diocese, and the largest places do not benefit from the presence of a second priest, usually newly ordained and full of vim and vigor."

Bishop Flores increasingly uses "diocesan money to subsidize the salary and expenses of a second priest in the poorest areas of the diocese." He said, "To be a missionary diocese implies that diocesan resources, especially people resources, need to go where most needed, not where best afforded."

6. Bishop Flores: Hospitable Parish Spaces

When it comes to "time having priority over space," Bishop Flores also said that "how we construct and what we construct can be seen in a provocative light." Discussing hospitality in the church, he explained:

"I am more interested in hospitable parish spaces. The issue of hospitable spaces touches upon our response to what the Holy Father calls the poverty of isolation. It is particularly acute in our time, and it knows no demographic limitations. Rich, poor, citizen, undocumented, all can experience a version of it."

Bishop Flores worries "that we do not even know how it is that we give off signals that some people are more welcome at our churches than others. Maybe the poor think that only people of a certain class can go to that parish. Maybe the immigrant thinks that the community people will stare at them for looking different or sounding different."

The bishop tells people, "with a smile, that we have to make 'el primo tatuado y la tía loca' (the tattooed cousin and the crazy aunt) feel welcome at our parish celebrations and at our feast days, and at our Sunday Masses." For, "we may be scaring people away because they do not see us welcoming people who are poor, or the immigrant, or the crazy aunt and tattooed cousin."

Spaces are needed "where the poor can come as well as the rich, the young and the old, the immigrant and the longstanding parishioner," said Bishop Flores. He commented that "a good parish hall with space for classrooms and a kitchen says and does a lot. How can we invite people to take time to meet and enjoy each other if there is no way to offer food?"

This space "doesn't have to look like the lobby of a five-star hotel, in fact it ought not." But its design should say something, namely that "we like people, we like all kinds of people."

The bishop thought too that "parish festivals, especially in our poor areas, are so important." He said, "There are so few places and occasions left in our culture where diversity can encounter itself. Where kids and parents can have a good time together listening to music, eating food, seeing young people, old people, rich people and poor people having a good time together."

Yet, "we are the ones who can still provide those occasions and set up the conditions for those encounters," he told bishops participating in the Catholic Extension meeting. The parish festival, moreover, "is the classic place to put into practice the Gospel injunction: If the invited will not come, then go out to the highways and byways to invite the poor, the cripple and the lame."

"In other words," Bishop Flores said, "like Jesus, we must show the world that we enjoy people, all kinds of people -- even people who have not entered the portal of a church since their uncle Porfirio died in 1968."