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May 9, 2015

Structural sin and urban unrest -
What makes Christian life a pilgrimage? -
Interreligious dialogue in delicate contexts -
Religious life at a crossroads

In this edition:
1. Consecrated life at crossroads.
2. Religious in the world of today.
3. Challenge of interreligious dialogue.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) To speak of love.
b) Baltimore today: structural sin.
c) The unrest in Baltimore.
5. What a just wage is.
6. Why Christian life is a pilgrimage.
7. Wanting the best for others.

1. Consecrated Life at a Crossroads

Are religious orders living "at the beginning of a new era or simply at the end" of one? The answer is probably both," Precious Blood Father Robert Schreiter said in an address Feb. 12 during the inauguration of the Center for the Study of Consecrated Life at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Father Schreiter, a Catholic Theological Union theologian, probed issues that consecrated life faces today. He asked, "Are we living in a time of upheaval that will call forth new forms of consecrated life even as current institutes either radically reconstitute themselves or disappear altogether?"

Most international institutes of consecrated life "have been grappling now for 20 years with a radical shift in their demographics," with their membership aging and diminishing in the North Atlantic region, while often "experiencing dramatic growth in Africa and Asia," he noted. Thus, for example, it recently "was acknowledged that the country with the most Jesuits is now no longer the United States but India."

Also, he noted, a thousand "of the 7,000 members of the Society of the Divine Word hail from Indonesia, and now Bahasa Indonesia is an official language" of that order, "while German -- the language of the founder -- no longer is."

Father Schreiter believes "we are only at the beginning of a profound realignment within international religious institutes" of both human and financial and material resources.

A factor "sweeping across" consecrated life today "is Pope Francis' vision of a renewed, more evangelical church that is closer to people and their struggles in general, and to the poor in particular," Father Schreiter told his audience.

He stressed that the shape of the world consecrated men and women inhabit always has been "defining for the founding of religious institutes, be it for critical engagement with the world or for a countercultural withdrawal from it."

Several strong characteristics of today's world that deserve attention were highlighted in Father Schreiter's speech. He said:
  • "Migration is changing the face of the world as the majority of the world's population now live in large conurbations that have created a pluralization of societies never before seen on such a scale."

  • "Erratic patterns of global capitalism are increasing patterns of inequality in many parts of the world," and that "is a tinderbox for future conflict."

  • All this "is happening amid climate change that will cause oceans to overwhelm coastal areas, put potable water at a premium and may interrupt food security."
Father Schreiter acknowledged that "the founding and development of religious institutes is not solely constituted by social processes." But, he suggested, "a critical, reflected engagement" with the world "is always part of concrete discipleship." (Father Schreiter's speech appears in Origins, CNS Documentary Service, the edition dated May 14, 2015.)

2. Roles of Religious in a New World

The contemporary world is "post-secular, it is plural and it abounds in peripheries," Father Schreiter commented in his Catholic Theological Union speech. He said that "the world, of course, is a very big place. And anything that can be said will be a generalization." Still, he proposed that "these three pivotal points give us a view into certain aspects of the contemporary world and, in so doing, suggest an evangelical response to it."

He said, for example, that just "below the surface of militant or even humdrum secularity and consumer societies can be discerned a gnawing hunger for something larger than ourselves," a hunger "found especially among the young."

While this kind of hunger "can be channeled into positive forces for good and for a better society," Father Schreiter noted that it also can "be derailed into something like jihadism, as we are now seeing in Syria and Iraq."

In a post-secular world people also need "stillness and presence over against the juggernaut of globalization and the relentless assault of the social media," he commented.

Father Schreiter next pointed to the influence had by migration and "global flows of information, images and products" in making "pluralized societies increasingly the case everywhere in the world." He suggested that because religious institutes themselves already are engaged in "interculturality and interreligious dialogue," they may be in a position to help show the way to living in pluralistic situations.

Finally, Father Schreiter turned attention to the "peripheries" that characterize our world. These include "the peripheries of the poor and voiceless, of the immigrant, the refugee and the trafficked persons, of oppressed women, of a deteriorating environment." These people and issues "are on the peripheries because they have been pushed there by powerful centers who want to disregard them, disown them and put them out of reach," he stated.

However, "they are not peripheral to human existence or to God's design," he said. He ranked the preferential option for the poor among the "most important developments in Catholic social teaching." It tells us, he said, "that God is revealed in a special way among those who are made peripheral by the powers of this world."

He urged institutes of consecrated life "to reimagine" themselves "in terms of these peripheries" and to ask: "Where are they? Who are they? Why are they? And how shall we respond?"

3. Interreligious Relations in Delicate Contexts

Pope Francis thanked the Catholic bishops of the West African nation of Mali for "knowing how to preserve the spirit of interreligious dialogue" in the "delicate context" that has arisen for them in recent years. He also congratulated them for their "pastoral sensitivity in the field of promoting the human person without consideration limited to ethnic or religious affiliation."

Christian-Muslim relations in Mali generally were good over time, and the pope pointed that out in remarks to the bishops May 7. But in parts of Mali violence broke out in recent years with a rise of Islamist efforts to impose the law of Sharia.

"I would like to direct your attention toward the person of Christ in the delicate situation that your country has faced in recent years, including security challenges," Pope Francis told the bishops. He said that "at times, this situation has undermined the coexistence between the various sectors of society, as well as the harmony between men and women of different religions."

Mali's past is "synonymous with admirable traditions, among which are tolerance and cohesion," Pope Francis observed. He expressed his "nearness" in the present situation not only to the Catholics of Mali but also to their "fellow citizens of all social classes and religions, men and women of good will involved in the fight against intolerance and exclusion."

The pope said that "in any particular church the synergy inspired by charity is needed to ensure its credibility" and in Mali "the charity and unity lived in the church are among the most important signs of fruitful dialogue with other religions, an expression of authentic Christian witness."

In the current situation, the pope said, "Christian communities and their pastors are called to give an even greater witness to their faith based on the unconditional acceptance of Gospel values." Despite serious problems facing the church in Mali, it "shows a beautiful dynamic in its work of evangelization, preserving a profound respect for conscience," the pope noted.

He also encouraged the bishops to pay "particular attention to the situation of women" in their nation, promoting their role in society and fighting abuse and violence against them.

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

To Speak of Love: "Modernity talks about love, there are love songs, . . . but deep down people know that they are actually not very good at loving, the self-giving sacrifice it takes, and that they are afraid of the commitment it might take and the vulnerability that comes with loving, the consequences of it failing. And so, for all the talk and sentimentalizing and romanticizing about love, I think that people in the modern world are actually not very good at it." (From a May 6 Vatican Radio interview with Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia, who that day became a member of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.)

Structural Sin and Baltimore Today: "Freddie Gray's death has brought to the surface longstanding issues of what we call in Catholic moral theology 'structural sin.' Structural sin or social sin goes beyond individual wrongdoing. It is the sum of peoples' injustice and indifference that end up creating a society where it is difficult, almost impossible, for human beings to flourish, to lead lives that are happy, productive and secure. When we see loss of life, abandoned row houses, lack of jobs, failing schools, drugs, insecure family situations, mistrust between communities and civic officials, and we see this going on decade after decade, then we must acknowledge the right of people who see no way out to make their voices heard, to lift up their frustration and anger publicly -- yet to do so in a way that does not create more injustice and more destruction. We are here as a church community because we want to make a difference. . . . We want to build bridges of repentance, reconciliation, understanding and trust. We want to take our rightful place in a larger dialogue, both local and national, that will truthfully and effectively address the deep systemic issues urban neighborhoods and families are facing. May our broken hearts be a source of healing!" (Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore speaking May 3 during a Mass for peace in that city, where violence erupted after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.)

The Unrest in Baltimore: "Recent disturbances in Baltimore are about much more than racism and police brutality; it's about unemployment, lost jobs that will never come back, the diminishing middle class and the disappearing American dream. . . . New work opportunities are desperately needed because the jobs performed by the grandfathers of many of the young men in Baltimore and elsewhere are gone forever." (Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, writing May 4 in his diocesan blog.)

5. What a Just Wage Is

What is a just wage, and how is it determined? An Irish bishop weighed in on that topic May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

In a homily on the meaning of work, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, Ireland, said that the need of employers to make a profit is not all that matters in determining what a just wage is. What must be taken into account, he said, is "the need of the worker to live with dignity and to provide for the needs of his or her dependent family members."

Yes, he said, it is right that employers and entrepreneurs earn a profit "to compensate for their investment and for the risk that they take." However, he added, "the profit made by those who control capital should not be disproportionate to the income received by those who provide the work that ultimately gives value to capital."

Furthermore, he said, it is not the work a person does that gives value to his or her life. "On the contrary, the value of what is achieved through work is first and foremost due to the fact that it is a person who does the work."

Bishop Doran commented that "the needs of the economy are often offered as an excuse for the exploitation of workers or, indeed, for unemployment." However, he said, "in our attempts to grow the economy, we need to remember that the economy is meant to be for people, rather than people being for the economy."

6. Why Christian Life Is a Pilgrimage

What does it mean to speak of Christian life as a pilgrimage? Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, discussed that question April 25 in his blog on the diocese's website (www.bishopflores.blogspot.com), focusing on the others in one's life, particularly family members.

"To live life as a pilgrimage we must constantly remind ourselves that God has a hand in who is on the road with us," the bishop said.

When Pope Francis speaks about Christian life as a pilgrimage, he intends to call attention to those who accompany us and whom we encounter in our life's journey, the bishop observed. Who is with us in this pilgrimage? Who "might stop along the way to help us," and who might need our help? Those are questions to consider in attempting to understand what this pilgrimage actually is.

"In a certain sense our salvation is based on how generously we respond to the people God puts into our lives," Bishop Flores wrote. He noted that "the Good Samaritan allowed the person in his path to change the direction of his life."

In mentioning that parable, the bishop commented that people sometimes "are a blessing by being a burden. We are blessed when God calls something out of us, to be generous to someone else. It does change us. It makes us more Christ-like."

At times it can appear that the others in our lives get in the way of plans we have made, Bishop Flores observed. He commented that we live in a world where people like to take control of their own destiny, which he said is "OK to a certain extent; we should have a certain amount of control," as well as plans.

However, he continued, "what is absolutely key to the Gospel is the call to live in the truth that life is not only about the plans that I make. It's also about the people God, in his wisdom, puts in the path of life."

Expressing concern about attitudes regarding children in contemporary society, the bishop noted that, indeed, children require time from others and can cause parents to alter plans they previously made. "A child changes our lives," and "you can't predict what a child will require," he said.

Yet, he added, "life is not only or even primarily about what our plans are, and what I want, and what I'm going to get from life, but rather life is also about what God gives us, about what opens up when the unexpected happens." A child, he said, calls for the "kind of giving of ourselves" that "makes our hearts grow in grace."

"Time is especially important" in a family, said the bishop. But that is why he tells parents that "the most important gift you can give to your child is your attention, your time. Children, at all ages, want your time."

Bishop Flores acknowledged that "there are difficulties in families" and that "we all have people who make us uncomfortable, even in families." However, he said, "we can't close the door on them. We need to be open to let people affect us and accept people for who they are. It is at the root of a family. It is the road to reconciliation."

He advised family members: "Just extend your hand and say, 'We are in this together.'"

The great crisis of modern society "is the crisis of family life," the bishop said. Mercy, patience and a "joyful sense of welcoming life" are needed to restore family life, he insisted. He said, "We must have compassionate families, it's the only road to peace. The other road is constant conflict, and the Lord did not make us for conflict."

He concluded, "Our principal job in this life is to look at others and love them to God."

7. Wanting What Is Best for Others

"We have to learn not to make ourselves the center of the universe," Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle wrote in an April 29 column dedicated to the class of 2015, that is, "to those graduating this spring from one stage of life to the next."

The archbishop told graduates that they "will be a part of many teams as the years go by," and he indicated to them that the way they look upon others on these teams is essential to their own well-being. He encouraged young people to "seek the good of others first. Help others to win. Look to the heart, love the soul. Be a trusted friend. Offer encouragement."

Archbishop Sartain called encouragement "a powerful tool for good. To encourage another who is downhearted is a great gift. Wanting what is best for him or her, we offer a smile, a word of kindness, a bit of our time," he wrote, adding that "such small gestures of love and encouragement can give someone strength to continue when the road has been rough. They are a sign of welcome, a way of saying, 'You are a valued part of our team.'"

It is important "to learn the meaning of sacrifice -- that is, how to give ourselves for others and for a higher call," Archbishop Sartain advised graduates. He hoped they would "learn to form genuine give-and-take friendships" and said to them: "We have to be trustworthy and learn to trust. We have to stop judging others and seek the good in them. And we have to want the best for them."

He pointed out that "everyone's path in life is different, and judging the paths of others merely on the surface can be quite deceiving." For, "the one who seems to have everything may be suffering in ways we could never imagine; the one who owns little might have the most to contribute; the one who stands shyly off to the side might be the most faithful friend one could hope for."

Ours is a society "that encourages judgment by appearances," the archbishop observed. But, he said, "we who follow a Lord who sees to the heart and loves our souls are called to live by a different standard. The one I may be quick to judge is my brother, my sister."