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July 28, 2015

Catholic children and their 21st century parents -
The church and the high court's same-sex marriage ruling -
Vatican reacts to U.S./Iran nuclear deal

1. Evangelizing: No situation is Godless.
2. Catholic children and their parents.
3. Study of Catholic parents.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Vatican on Iran nuclear accord.
b) On not really knowing Jesus.
c) Strength of Latin American church.
5. Reacting to same-sex marriage ruling.
6. Death penalty and Gospel of mercy.
7. Growing old in these times.

1. Evangelization Notes: No Situation Godless

"Don't go into any situation believing it is Godless," British Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster told participants in an evangelization conference known as "Proclaim '15." Speaking July 11 in Birmingham, England, he proposed it is vital in evangelization to realize "that the Holy Spirit precedes us wherever we may go or be sent."

To make his point, the cardinal told of "going one evening to the Financial Standards Board in the City of London to take part in a dinner discussion about ethics in banking." The situation felt "out of my depth," he said. But, he added, he "was consoled by the fact that the Holy Spirit was already there."

The Spirit was present "in the goodness of the people I met, in their deep unease at what was happening in their profession, in their puzzling over what was to be done," the cardinal observed.

So the situation was not Godless, he insisted. He recalled that "a very experienced and well-established defense counsel" once said to him "that among all the murderers, cheats and villains he had defended he had never met a person who was all evil."

The cardinal concluded: "The Holy Spirit is always there before us! If we miss that presence we will lose our way."

The Spirit's action is central to the mission of those who evangelize, Cardinal Nichols suggested. Not only does the Spirit precede them wherever they go, but the Spirit gives the gifts needed to discern what to do, what to say and "how to bring faith to life" in the particular situations evangelizers encounter.

"Evangelization is not about superior planning, greater efficiency and high-class management. It is about love and trust and openness to the Holy Spirit," said the cardinal. He explained that the Spirit "gives us this 'sensus fidei,' [a] 'feel' for faith in action."

Cardinal Nichols anchored his observations on evangelization in the theology of baptism. "By baptism we are made one with Christ. What is his is to be ours. His mission is ours," the cardinal said. Christ's mission "is handed on to us."

A purpose of the Proclaim '15 conference was to "support, inspire and encourage new expressions of parish evangelization." Cardinal Nichols insisted that evangelizers in parishes are not groups "of like-minded people who agree on a program of action." Instead, they "are participants together in the mystery of God."

2. Catholic Children and Today's Parents

"How does an institution that is nearly 2,000 years old connect" with the Catholic children being raised in America today? This question is posed in a newly released study sponsored by Holy Cross Family Ministries and conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

The study report focuses on Catholic parents but concludes with several incisive observations on Catholic children. These are children, it observes, "who have never used a television without hundreds of channel options. They have no memory of a time before the Internet."

The report adds that many of these children "have coexisted with the creation of YouTube, Twitter, iPhones, the Xbox and the widespread adoption of Wi-Fi." Moreover, these children "are inclined to believe they will come of age during a time of virtual and augmented reality devices, self-driving cars and intelligent robots."

The report wonders whether these future adults will choose to be members "of a local brick-and-mortar institution and attend its services weekly," and how they even will "come to know what their faith is about," given that a significant percentage of them are not enrolled in a parish or school religious education program or that just 22 percent of their parents attend Mass weekly.

The study is titled "The Catholic Family: 21st Century Challenges in the United States." Conducted in fall 2014, it polled adult Catholics nationally between the ages of 25 and 45 who are parents of a minor child. The first report on the overall study was released during the June 2015 national Catholic Media Convocation in Buffalo, N.Y. Additional reports are to be released in the months ahead.

3. Catholic Parents: Findings of the Study

Some findings of the study of Catholic parents just released by Holy Cross Family Ministries are rather positive from the church's viewpoint, while other findings present challenges.

Summarizing a few of the findings, the report notes that "a majority of parents attend Mass at least once a month. More than four in 10 regularly read their parish bulletin. Parents are just as likely as older Catholics to believe the church's core teachings without doubt."

It is noted by the report that a majority of Catholic parents, 53 percent, "are in a parish at least once a month, compared to 43 percent of all adult Catholics."

At the same time, the survey results "indicate that many 21st century parents do not have their children enrolled in the church's religious education programs. For many, religious education appears to happen at Mass and perhaps in the home." But, the report asks, "How is this happening?"

The report says that "more than two-thirds [of the parents], 68 percent, do not have any of their children enrolled in formal Catholic religious education." But 42 percent of parents who attend Mass weekly have a child enrolled in parish-based religious education, and 27 percent of parents who attend Mass monthly have a child enrolled.

Among its findings the study shows that "a majority of parents report that they eat dinner together as a family every night (51 percent)," while one-third of parents say their family eats together "a few times a week (35 percent)."

Sixty-two percent of the parents "say that their family gathers together outside of dinner at least once a week for a game night, movie night, family discussions or family prayer."

Seventy-six percent of parents say, however, that "they more often pray by themselves than with family members," while 7 percent "say they more often pray with family members than alone." Seventeen percent "pray alone and with family about equally."

The report shows that "66 percent of parents say that it is 'very' important to them that their children celebrate their First Communion." A large majority of parents who participate in the Mass "at least once a month feel that First Communion and confirmation for their children are 'very important.'"

Another noteworthy finding of the study shows that 47 percent of Catholic parents said "they were unaware of Catholic media." Moreover, 62 percent of the parents indicated "that they have not used religious or spiritual-related media content (print, video or audio) in the three months prior to being surveyed."

Among parents who were aware of Catholic media, 30 percent "said they are indifferent to most offerings, and 18 percent said they enjoy most offerings."

The report says that "parents are more likely to watch religious or spiritual television than watch religious or spiritual video content online" and that they "are more likely to read a print religious or spiritual book than the same type of content in an e-book." It says that parents "are more likely to listen to religious or spiritual audio using radio or a CD than on a mobile device or online."

Commenting on all this in its conclusion, the study report says that "Catholic parents are rather unlikely to use Catholic media, especially online."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Vatican Reaction to U.S.-Iran Nuclear Accord: "The agreement on the Iranian nuclear program is viewed in a positive light by the Holy See. It constitutes an important outcome of the negotiations carried out so far, although continued efforts and commitment on the part of all involved will be necessary in order for it to bear fruit. It is hoped that those fruits will not be limited to the field of the nuclear program but may indeed extend further." (Press statement July 14 by Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, after announcement of the nuclear accord between Iran and the United States)

On Knowing, But Not Really Knowing Jesus: "Hope opens the heart to receive what it yearns for. If one doesn't expect great things from Jesus, the heart remains shuttered to the touch of his grace. . . . Many believe they know Jesus, and that's the reason they don't get to know him. . . . People in our time believe they know Jesus, and that's the reason they disregard him. The lack of a careful look at Jesus impedes the perception of faith and closes the heart to hope. This is so because it closes the eyes to the invitation to see something more and to know him better. Those who reach faith know Jesus as Lord and God precisely because they keep their eyes open in his presence. . . . The world tells us . . . that faith is to believe something without reason and to accept a truth with blind eyes. It is actually the opposite. Faith knows and follows Jesus with open eyes. It doesn't allow poor hope and false knowledge to get in the way of seeing and knowing more profoundly." (From a homily by Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, given July 12 in Brownsville)

Pope on Strengths of Church in Latin America: "The Latin American church has a great wealth. She's a young church. And this is important. She's a young church with a certain freshness, with some informalities, not so formal. Her theology is rich, it's searching. I wanted to give encouragement to this young church, and I believe that this church can offer us much. . . . The richness of this people, of this church, is that she is a young church -- a treasure, a living church. This is important. . . . These new nations of young people strengthen us. As for the church, a young church with so many problems, this is the message I find: Don't be afraid of this youth and freshness of the church. She may also be a little disorganized, but with time she will be and will do us so much good." (From the press conference of Pope Francis during his return flight to Rome after his July 5-12 visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. He was responding to a reporter who asked: "What was the message you wished to give to the Latin American church during these days? What role can the Latin American church have also as a sign to the world?")

5. The Church and the Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

U.S. Catholic leaders reacting to the June 26 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage reaffirmed church teaching on marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and sought to balance this teaching with the demands of respect for homosexual persons.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta said that this development makes his "ministry as a pastor more complex." It demands, he said, "that I both continue to uphold the teachings of my church regarding the sacrament of matrimony while also demanding that I insist upon respect for the human dignity of both those who approve of the judgment as well as those who may disapprove."

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said June 26 that "regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable."

The court's ruling "does not settle the question of marriage today," he said. Archbishop Kurtz called it "immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage."

He urged Catholics "to move forward with faith, hope and love: faith in the unchanging truth about marriage, rooted in the immutable nature of the human person and confirmed by divine revelation; hope that these truths will once again prevail in our society, not only by their logic, but by their great beauty and manifest service to the common good; and love for all our neighbors, even those who hate us or would punish us for our faith and moral convictions."

Texas Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas wrote that "it is important to state that while the Catholic Church can never condone same-sex marriage, the church makes clear that persons with a homosexual orientation 'must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2358)."

The "acceptance of gay and lesbian people must be real and not merely symbolic," Bishop Farrell said, adding that the church "is committed to reaching out to all people."

Yet, he wrote, "Catholic teaching on the sacrament of marriage remains as it always has been: Marriage is the sacred, life-long commitment of one man and one woman, and is about creating new life and the next generation. This requires both a man and a woman." What the court ruling does is to address "the civil definition of marriage. It confirms same-sex marriage as a civil right," said the bishop.

Bishop Farrell noted that the Supreme Court ruling "ensures the First Amendment rights of religious organizations." The ruling states that "religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere convictions that by divine precepts same-sex marriage should not be condoned."

The response by Catholics to a legal and social change such as this one remains what it has been, Bishop Farrell suggested: "to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed, and to witness the healing and forgiving love of Jesus."

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, acknowledged that the court's ruling "makes a nod in the direction of religious liberty." However, he said it is too narrow on this point.

Speaking June 26, he said the ruling "recognizes free speech, the right of religion to teach or advocate with regard to the true definition of marriage, but it does not acknowledge that the First Amendment also protects freedom of religion and the right to follow our teaching," Archbishop Lori said.

Archbishop Lori noted that under the court's ruling "we retain the right to think what we want at home and within the confines of the church." However, he continued, the ruling does not address the First Amendment's free exercise of religion guarantee. The church should be able to operate "our ministries . . . without fear of being silenced, penalized."

It will take some time to analyze the implications of the ruling for the Catholic Church, he said. The ruling bears implications for "hundreds, if not thousands" of laws at all levels, he commented.

Atlanta's Archbishop Gregory noted that "each U.S. Supreme Court decision that has ever been rendered has resulted in deep disappointment for some people and vindication for others. If we all agreed on the outcomes of these divisive cases, there would simply be no reason for the court to convene."

But, he added, "every court decision is limited in what it can achieve," and "this one is no exception. It does not change the biological differences between male and female human beings or the requirements for the generation of human life, which still demands the participation of both. It does not change the Catholic Church's teaching regarding the sacrament of matrimony, which beautifully joins a man and woman in a loving union that is permanent in commitment and open to God's blessing of precious new life."

Yet, Archbishop Gregory wrote, the court's judgment "does not absolve either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Neither is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions continue to differ from our own."

The court's decision, said the archbishop, "confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake."

This is a moral debate that also needs to consider "the way that we treat one another -- especially those with whom we may disagree," Archbishop Gregory said. "In many respects," he continued, "the moral question is at least as consequential and weighty as the granting of this civil entitlement."

He said, "The decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter, especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding its outcome."

6. Death Penalty and the Gospel of Mercy

"The church's opposition to the death penalty should not be seen as indifference to the sinfulness of crime and attacks on human life, but as an affirmation of the sacredness of all life even for those who have committed the most heinous of crimes," two U.S. archbishops said in a statement July 16.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, chairman of the bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called attention to progress made over the past decade toward ending the death penalty in the United States.

"Death sentences are at their lowest level since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976," but "there is still a great deal of work to be done," they said.

The church stands in solidarity with crime victims and their families, Cardinal O'Malley and Archbishop Wenski made clear. They said, "We commit ourselves to walk with them and assure them of the church's compassion and care, ministering to their spiritual, physical and emotional needs in the midst of deep pain and loss."

At the same time, they added, the church acknowledges "the inherent human dignity of those who have committed grave harm, affirming that even as they repay a debt to society they too should receive compassion and mercy." In tending "to the eternal needs of those who commit serious crimes, we must build up a culture of life in matters of justice and punishment," the two leaders affirmed.

"Use of the death penalty," they observed, "cuts short any prospect for transforming the condemned person's soul in this life. Catholic opposition to the death penalty, then, is rooted in mercy. It is also eminently pro-life, as it affords every opportunity for conversion, even of the hardened sinner."

Cardinal O'Malley and Archbishop Wenski said that "to help build a culture of life, capital punishment should be abolished." They explained that "as Christians, we are called to oppose the culture of death by witnessing to something greater and more perfect: a gospel of life, hope and mercy."

7. Growing Old in the 21st Century

"Currently 700 million people, or 10 percent of the world's population, are above 60 years of age. By 2050, it is estimated that this number will double, reaching 20 percent of the global population," the Vatican's U.N. observer mission in New York noted in a July 16 intervention to a U.N. working group on the elderly. "This increasing imbalance is a great challenge," it said, and "puts increased pressure on health care and social protection systems."

The intervention drew "particular attention to the needs of elderly women, who are often excluded or neglected." It stressed that "as the number of older people increases, along with the rise in average life expectancy, it will become increasingly important to promote an attitude of acceptance and appreciation of the elderly, and to integrate them better in society."

The ideal in the Vatican's view "is still for the elderly to remain within the family, with the guarantee of effective social assistance for the greater needs which age or illness entail," the observer mission said.

Discussing the roles of older people in society, the intervention reaffirmed "the right of the elderly to work or to receive relevant skills training." But, it said, "we must be careful that the policies we promote do not play into the same tired narrative that reduces our value as human beings to what we produce, while ignoring our inherent dignity and the countless other ways in which the most vulnerable among us contribute to society's greater good."

The intervention insisted that "the elderly are a resource and essential point of reference in an age when many struggle to find their identity and have lost hope. Their collective memory and wealth of experience support and guide society, providing direction and especially hope to future generations that must not face the struggles of life alone."