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November 24, 2014

Catholic leaders on Obama's immigration action --
Archbishop Cupich on church's mission: seek, invite, accompany -
How synod discussion mirrored Vatican II

In this edition:
1. Church today: putting fear aside.
2. To seek, invite and accompany.
3. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Assisted suicide.
b) Double tragedy: immigrants' plight.
4. Synod discussion: mirroring Vatican II.
5. The ecumenism of martyrs.
6. Bishops on Obama immigration order.

1. Church Today: Putting Fear Aside

"The church in our day is called to be faithful to its mission . . . by putting aside her fears and the allure of false securities," and leaping "into the turbulent but creative waters of life in the world with the guidance of God and the charge of the Gospel," said Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago. In his installation homily Nov. 8, he stressed that "not being afraid is the gift that separates the disciple before and after the resurrection."

Archbishop Cupich underscored the continuing effects of Christ's resurrection. "The resurrection is not just a past event but an ongoing reality," he said.

The Gospel reading for the Chicago installation Mass spoke of Jesus walking on water. "I don't do walking on water. I can barely swim," Archbishop Cupich informed the congregation. But he pointed to a way the Gospel reading and the second reading from the Acts of the Apostles complemented each other.
"Read alongside the story of Paul's missionary journey," the Gospel text "becomes a point of reference to understand the meaning of the resurrection, how the risen Lord is working in our midst today and how disciples in all ages, how the church in our time should view its mission."

To put it simply, the archbishop added, "we are to join Christ in seeking out, inviting and accompanying, by abiding with those to whom he sends us." He devoted his homily to an examination of those three aspects of the Christian mission: seeking, inviting and accompanying.

2. To Seek, Invite and Accompany

To fulfill the mission of seeking others, it is important "to go back to where our journey of faith began, to be in touch with the joyful experience of being transformed by the intimacy God offers us, to be willing to share it with the next generation," Archbishop Cupich said in his installation homily.

"We face in our day the formidable task of passing on the faith to the next generation, of evangelizing a modern and sometimes skeptical culture, not to mention inspiring young people to serve the church as priests and religious," he observed. But "it all seems so daunting, as daunting as walking on water. We are at sea, unsteady in our approach."

Catechists and other educators "are on the front line of this struggle," and "so, too, parents and grandparents wonder if they are going to be the last Catholics in their family," the archbishop stated. Similarly, "bishops and priests find that the good news is increasingly difficult to proclaim in the midst of great polarization in church and society."

Young people, the archbishop noted, are "attracted to authenticity of life, where words match deeds." He exhorted his listeners not to fear letting "our young people know about our life with God and how it began." Stay close to the young, he urged, and "tell them what it means for us to believe." Tell them "how the Gospel has brought joy and meaning to us, and transformed our lives."

This kind of "witness of personal faith many times has made the skeptic take a second look, has inspired vocations," Archbishop Cupich said. In his experience, moreover, it "animates our advocacy on behalf of human dignity with joy and compassion, purifying it of anger, harshness and fear."

Second, after the mission of seeking others out, is the mission to invite others. Archbishop Cupich said:

"Jesus seeks out, but then he invites. 'Come,' he says to Peter, 'walk on the stormy waters with me.'" Peter's response "is the kind of daring and boldness required today, the courage to leave our comfort zone and take an entirely new step in our faith journey, both personally and as a community."

True, the archbishop continued, "there is resistance in each of us to take that risk." It is a "resistance to change, to grow, to become more."

Archbishop Cupich said that "Jesus invites us not only to take the risk of leaving our comfort zone but also to deal with the tension involved in change, not dismissively but in a creative way, and to challenge each other to do so." What form might this challenge take?

"Maybe we hear that challenge today as a call to leave behind our comforting convictions that episodic Sunday Mass attendance is good enough, that we don't really have to change our habitual bad behavior, our unhealthy dependencies, our inordinate attachments, because we can get by as we are," the archbishop explained.

Pope Francis voices the mission of invitation, Archbishop Cupich said. "He is challenging us to recognize that Christ is always inviting us to more, to greater things. It is the invitation of Jesus, 'Come, take the risk of being more.'"

After the mission to invite comes the mission to accompany others.

"It is in the incomplete, the in-between and in the brokenness of our lives where Jesus comes to share his life in the Father with us," said Archbishop Cupich. Jesus' coming "is not for the perfect but is for the salvation of souls, for the lost, the forlorn and those who are adrift."

Jesus' communion with human beings "is not just a quick visit." Instead, the archbishop commented, Jesus "wants to be with us to the point of making our lives the dwelling place, the home where he and the Father abide."

After Jesus goes "to the mountain to pray, to be with his Father, he comes into our messy lives with his Father in hand to share our lives where we are," the archbishop said."It is the grace of mercy, totally undeserved and unearned," he added, "that brings about real lasting change and transformation, and gives life." (Archbishop Cupich's homily appears in Origins, CNS Documentary Service, in the edition dated Nov. 27, 2014.)

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

Assisted Suicide and Support for the Dying: "Assisted suicide . . . suggests that a life can lose its purpose and that death has no meaning. Cutting life short is not the answer to death. Instead of hastening death, we encourage all to embrace the sometimes difficult but precious moments at the end of life, for it is often in these moments that we come to understand what is most important about life. Our final days help us to prepare for our eternal destiny. We stand in solidarity with all those who are suffering and dying, and all those who are struggling to find meaning in life. Don't give up hope! We are with you. As friends, families and neighbors we pledge to surround you with our love and compassion until the sacred moment when God calls you home." (From an Oct. 26 statement on assisted suicide by Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Ore.)

Double Tragedy in Immigrants' Plight: "We have chosen terms like 'the undocumented' and the 'illegals' to describe human beings -- women, men and children -- who have been criminalized for seeking refuge and freedom. It is the same refuge and freedom that was sought and received by the ancestors of those who feel no mercy or compassion when it comes to discussing today's immigration problem. . . . There is a double tragedy here. The first is that thousands have had to flee terror and persecution. The second is that their plight has not met with the mercy and compassion and the welcome our forefathers received, but rather has become a political football." (From a Nov. 21 entry to his blog on the diocesan website by Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas.)

4. How Recent Synod Mirrored Vatican II

Some observers are calling attention to a certain similarity in the work of the Second Vatican Council and the work of the October 2014 extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family.

With its Decree on Ecumenism, the Second Vatican Council wanted Catholics to recognize not only that the Catholic Church differs in significant ways from other Christian churches and communions, but also to affirm what all hold in common and all that is good in the others. Fifty years later, some participants in this year's synod sessions in Rome argued that is essential not only to recognize that some couples and families fall short of the church's teachings and ideals, but to affirm all that is good about them as well.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who serves as an assistant to the Vatican Press Office and is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network in Canada, mentioned this in a speech on ecumenism to the U.S. Catholic bishops at the time of their fall meeting in Baltimore. November 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism.

"Vatican II articulated a new theology of church," Father Rosica said in his Nov. 11 remarks. He had in mind the council's teaching that "while the fullness of the church, according to Catholic doctrine, may exist only in Catholicism, there are nevertheless precious elements of it to be found outside that deserve our honor and respect."

It is interesting that "this theme emerged once again" during the 2014 synod sessions, he commented. "Just as Vatican II taught that elements of truth and holiness can be found outside the Catholic Church in other Christian denominations and even in other religions," some members of the recent synod suggested "that elements of truth, goodness and even holiness may be detected and even found in some imperfect yet very real situations of daily life: situations that fall far short of the ideals of the sacred institution of Catholic marriage."

I've reported in earlier editions of this online newsletter that the synod devoted attention not only to traditional marriages and family life but, for example, to the situation of divorced Catholics who remarry without an annulment of their first marriage and to families founded by couples who cohabit without marrying.

Father Rosica's speech focused on various aspects of the ecumenism of Pope Francis. The priest noted that in a May 2014 homily the pope warned that "Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ."

To build bridges, Father Rosica stated, "is the work of evangelization, the work of going out to the whole world to proclaim the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ." In the thinking of Pope Francis, according to the Canadian priest, "building walls is what fearful, insecure people do to protect what they have and to keep others out." However, "Pope Francis wants to build bridges that everyone can cross."

5. What Is "Ecumenism of the Martyrs"?

Several forms of ecumenism are well known. There is formal dialogue, in which points of unity and disunity between divided Christians are examined. There is the ecumenism of shared prayer, as well as work in common for society's benefit - serving the poor together, for example. But in a Nov. 20 letter to participants in a plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Pope Francis spoke of another, less well known form of ecumenism: the ecumenism of martyrs.

The ecumenism of martyrs is a reality because many in other Christian communions also sacrifice their lives for their faith. Pope Francis pointed out that those who persecute Christ's followers make no distinction between the different Christian confessions.

The suggestion is that the martyrs of differing Christian churches sow seeds of future Christian unity in this world.

Speaking last May to Catholicos Karekin II, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, an Eastern Orthodox church, Pope Francis said that "the number of disciples who shed their blood for Christ during the tragic events of the last century is certainly greater than that of the martyrs of the first centuries."

Pope Francis told the patriarch that "the sufferings endured by Christians in these last decades have made a unique and invaluable contribution to the unity of Christ's disciples." Just as "in the ancient church the blood of the martyrs became the seed of new Christians," in the world today "the blood of innumerable Christians has become a seed of unity."

There is an ecumenism both "of suffering and of the martyrdom of blood," and they "are a powerful summons to walk the long path of reconciliation between the churches, by courageously and decisively abandoning ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit," said Pope Francis.

In his 1995 encyclical on ecumenism, "Ut Unum Sint," Pope John Paul II said that "the courageous witness of so many martyrs of our century, including members of churches and ecclesial communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church, gives new vigor to" the Vatican II call for Christian unity (No. 1)

All Christian communities "have martyrs for the Christian faith," Pope John Paul stated (No. 83). He added that "Christians already have a common martyrology." It "includes the martyrs of our own century, more numerous than one might think, and it shows how, at a profound level, God preserves communion among the baptized in the supreme demand of faith, manifested in the sacrifice of life itself" (No. 84).

Pope Francis made clear in his Nov. 20 letter that even though certain ethical issues and stances on church life push some Christian communities further apart in these times, they have not dimmed the yearning for full unity. Fifty years after Vatican II's Decree on Ecumenism, Pope Francis wrote, "the search for the full unity of Christians remains a priority for the Catholic Church and, therefore, it is one of my principal daily preoccupations."

6. Obama's Immigration Order: Bishops Comment

Catholic leaders welcomed President Obama's executive order Nov. 20 deferring the deportations of some 5 million immigrants. Because the order will protect many from the family disunity that a deportation can create, it addresses a key concern of the U.S. bishops. In welcoming the president's action, Catholic leaders also called upon the federal government to take action on comprehensive immigration reform.

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, commented that on a daily basis the church in the United States "in her social service agencies, hospitals, schools and parishes witnesses the human consequences of the separation of families when parents are deported from their children or spouses [are deported] from each other."

He said, "We've been on record asking the Administration to do everything within its legitimate authority to bring relief and justice to our immigrant brothers and sisters."

At the same time, Bishop Elizondo strongly urged "Congress and the president to work together to enact permanent reforms to the nation's immigration system for the best interests of the nation and the migrants who seek refuge here."

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles expressed happiness that "some temporary relief is being offered to help parents and children who right now are living in daily fear that their families will be broken up by arrests and deportations." However, he added, President Obama's executive order is "no substitute for the comprehensive immigration reform our nation needs."

The U.S. immigration system "is broken" and must be modernized "to meet the realities of a global economy. Everyone knows that," the archbishop said. He is concerned that "too many families are being torn apart by deportations, uncertainty about their status and delays in our visa process that can take years, even decades." Moreover, he said, "too many men and women who are immigrants are being exploited in the workplace and forced to live in society's shadows."

It is now time "to make new efforts and new commitments to help our leaders in Washington set aside their differences and come together to find solutions that are just, compassionate, lasting and comprehensive," the archbishop stressed.

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the president's action "will provide relief for a significant number of people." Yet, he continued, "it's just that. It's sort of like putting a Band-Aid on a wound. We still need Congress to act to provide comprehensive immigration reform. That's the real solution."