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November 13, 2015

The laity according to Vatican II -
The power of our words -
Archbishop Cupich addresses immigration conference -
Year of Mercy at an opportune moment

In this edition:
1. The power of words.
2. Improving the words we use.
3. Laudato Si' as a social encyclical.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Religious liberty.
b) Racism.
c) Year of Mercy is timely.
5. Justice for immigrants conference.
6. Immigration, a moral issue.
7. The laity according to Vatican II.

1. The Power of Words: Part 1

Words are powerful in creative or destructive ways. When the power of human words is taken seriously, "we begin to notice how much of what we had planned to say doesn't really need to be said at all," Jesuit Father Tom Casey said in a Nov. 5 speech.

The Irish priest addressed a Catholic communications conference in Maynooth, Ireland. He is a lecturer in philosophy at St. Patrick's College in Maynooth.

He titled his address "The Creative and Destructive Power of Words" because, he explained, "words are both the problem and the solution, words are where we are wounded but they are also the way to healing."

Words, Father Casey said, "can and do limit us, but words can also lift us up to bigger hopes and more generous possibilities."

Some destructive words "can cause irreparable damage," he pointed out. For "words can be used as weapons" and "can be as sharp as knives." Nonetheless, he said, "the gift of speech is the most useful gift that God has given us."

A question Father Casey proposed was, "How can we use this amazing gift for the good?" Its answer, he stressed, "isn't self-evident." He said:

"We need to learn to talk as though it were for the first time - all over again. Jesus came to save us. And a vital part of being saved is that our words need to be redeemed -- just as much as the rest of us."

Father Casey believes that words can "kill the soul or make it blossom like a flower." Words "have the power to kill your dream or to kill a relationship." But words "can also transform your life, such as the three words 'I love you.'"

He advised that "our words, and the images and metaphors they contain, are shaping how we see things and the way we live." These are words, he said, that "we have absorbed, words we take for granted, but words we need to question."

This is important, he suggested, because "words can and do limit us, but words can also lift us up to bigger hopes and more generous possibilities."

2. Words Part 2: How to Improve Them

How can people improve upon their words? Father Tom Casey asked that question in his Nov. 5 speech in Maynooth, Ireland, on the destructive and creative power of words.

A problem, he suggested, is that "we are often not aware of how loaded are the words and images we use. Our words carry a whole worldview, and like an iceberg, most of it is under the surface because there are all sorts of hidden images and assumptions underlying the words we actually use."

Noting that "we rarely hear words in public discourse that do justice to" a human being's true depth, he called attention to words by the writer C.S. Lewis on the wonder of being human. Lewis wrote that "there are no ordinary people" and that the people "we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit" are, indeed, "immortals."

Father Casey cautioned that "the words we use to describe people truly affect the way we treat them." Improving our words, however, is more than a matter of "modifying our vocabulary."

One of his key recommendations for improving our words was to find a Sabbath space and time, "not just once a week but at least once a day." Sabbath time for him "is a time of stillness, of silence, of listening, of being offline, of fasting from our own words. It is a time or receiving, not of achieving."

Sabbath time, he continued, "is not about grasping things, but allowing ourselves to be grasped by the wonder of everything. It is a time of letting go, of no longer trying to figure out what we can get from others and from the world. It's a time of prayer." It is about celebrating God's goodness and "God's gifts to us for their own sake and not in order to get a reward, not to get something out of doing it."

It is by "immersing ourselves regularly and repeatedly in that receptive stillness that we receive the grace to speak in a creative and upbuilding way," said Father Casey. His conviction was that "all the best sounds emerge from a deep well of silence, a well that has been washed clean of internal chatter as well as external words."

3. Laudato Si' Viewed as Social Encyclical

The spring 2015 encyclical of Pope Francis on the environment, Laudato Si', holds a place among the church's social encyclicals, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said Nov. 2 in a speech at Ohio State University in Columbus.

"Laudato Si' is not a 'green' ecological or climate-change document but a full social encyclical," Cardinal Turkson stressed. With this encyclical, he said, "we understand the word 'earth' -- especially its poorest inhabitants, its most vulnerable species and systems -- in a new and hopefully responsible way."

The church's social encyclicals meet "the need to enunciate the basic principles of the church's social teaching," he explained. He added, "We find Laudato Si' solidly within this tradition, for it wants to accompany humanity in facing the crucial 'new problems' of social exclusion and environmental degradation that threaten our common home."

This encyclical "can and must have an impact on the important and urgent decisions" that need to be made, said Cardinal Turkson. It purposely was released "in June to allow time for it to influence the road to the U.N. climate change conference in Paris Nov. 30 to Dec. 11."

The cardinal insisted that "Pope Francis is adamant that dialogue is the only way to seek solutions that are truly effective" on matters related to a "low-carbon, climate resilient future." But "negotiation does not always involve dialogue," he observed.

"If the Paris summit lacks dialogue," the cardinal continued, "its outcome will easily resemble previous global summits on the environment, which, [the pope] says in Laudato Si, 'have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment.'"

An "authentic dialogue" that involves "honesty and transparency" is what Pope Francis is proposing, Cardinal Turkson said. "This means not allowing the particular interests of individual countries or specific groups to lead the negotiations. It means, rather, to negotiate based on the principles which the social teaching of the church promotes: solidarity, subsidiarity, working for the common good, universal destination of goods and a preferential option for the poor and for the earth."

The hope is, moreover, that the encyclical's message will "be integrated into the active commitment of citizens who organize to make the pope's message resonate in the halls of power and who demand courageous action on the part of leaders and negotiators in favor of the poor and of the planet."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Reflecting on Religious Freedom: "The human person, because endowed with intellect and will, cannot be reduced to a life that simply craves a peaceful social order where the state's only obligation is to allow people to do what they will so long as the screaming is kept to an audible minimum. . . . The state need not judge the claims of the church, of philosophers or of artists, only recognize that the freedom they require to flourish is based on a human recognition that there are more important things than better telephones and more efficient means of human manipulation of the physical universe. . . . The church, like the philosopher, must have freedom to live her community life free from interference by the secular order precisely so that the goods of the whole person can have a chance to be operative and exercise their influence on the wider society." (From a Nov. 5 talk at the University of Notre Dame by Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas. He spoke to a symposium observing the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Liberty.)

Racism: "Racism is . . . a profound warping of the human spirit that enables us to create or tolerate callousness or indifference toward each other. Racism is a soul sickness that says some lives are worth less than others and some are beyond our concern. We are called to lament, to grieve, to mourn, to be aware, because that's what leads to racial conversion." (From a Catholic News Service report on a Nov. 6 address by Father Bryan Massingale, a theologian at Jesuit-run Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis. He spoke to priests, seminarians and officials of the New Orleans Archdiocese.)

Year of Mercy at an Opportune Moment: "From the state of things in our world, [the Dec. 8 arrival of the Year of Mercy] is none too soon. . . . Everywhere we see the unwelcome and harsh reality of hatred, violence and despair -- both openly expressed and frequently acted upon -- all too present in every community. . . . The events of Ferguson, Charleston, Baltimore and many other locations remind us that our entire nation needs -- more than ever -- the gift of mercy that crosses all those racial, cultural and political chasms that too often divide us. . . . Our neighbors who are undocumented immigrants need the gift of mercy to help them to achieve what those immigrants from all other generations and times have achieved: a better life for themselves and for their families. Those Christians and other repressed groups in the Middle East need the gift of mercy so that they can once again live in peace with all of their neighbors, without fear of persecution or even death. The poor in our midst need the gift of mercy so that they can attain the human dignity that belongs to each one of God's children. . . . We need to pause and to reflect on what genuine mercy is all about, and how it can and is intended to change us and to change the world in which we live. . . . Mercy is a twofold grace -- for those who receive it and for those who extend it toward others. . . . We all need to experience the gift of mercy in our own lives and then extend that same mercy to those around us." (From the Nov. 8 homily of Atlanta's Archbishop Wilton Gregory given in observance of National Black Catholic History Month at Our Lady of Consolation Church in Charlotte, N.C. The parish, its website states, is "a Catholic Christian community celebrating the rich heritage of both Roman Catholicism and African-American traditions," and it seeks "to become a beacon of hope and strength in our community through outreach and sharing of our time, talents and treasures.")

5. Justice for Immigrants: People on the Move

"As we look across the global landscape at the plight of migrant people, the signs of the times are troubling," Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich said in his keynote address Nov. 11 to the Justice for Immigrants conference sponsored in Chicago by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

According to the United Nations, he told the conference, there now "are more displaced persons in the world than any time since World War II -- as many as 60 million persons driven from their homes" by the destitution that wars and conflicts bring. Half these people are children the archbishop noted.

He devoted his speech to people "on the move," including "migrants, refugees, victims of human trafficking and others who seek security and opportunity." He considered it sad that "a broken political system" in the United States "means that our elected officials continue in their failure to fix a broken immigration system."

Those "dysfunctions" - those two broken systems - are harmful to "us all," he stated. He advised, moreover, that "we cannot overlook the relationship between these broken systems."

Today, close to home, "we see tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and families -- young mothers with children -- fleeing violence in Central America, attempting to find safety in neighboring countries and the United States," the archbishop pointed out. At the same time, he said, "we have witnessed record deportations over the past several years, with thousands of families being torn apart -- children separated from their parents, spouses from each other."

Archbishop Cupich commented on the situation he encounters in Chicago. "Living downtown, I can walk to work from Holy Name Cathedral to the Quigley Pastoral Center, and hear no fewer than a half dozen languages," he said. He added that "Mass is celebrated here every weekend in 47 languages in addition to English."

"Ample evidence" shows that "the diversity which immigration brings has enriched our city, not to mention this country," said the archbishop.

6. Immigration as a Moral Issue

The Catholic Church certainly "supports the right of a sovereign nation to control its borders and to enforce the law," Archbishop Cupich told the Justice for Immigrants conference in Chicago. However, he insisted, "all of this must be done in a way that upholds human dignity and American values."

In acknowledging that "the issues related to immigration and immigration reform are very complex," he also remarked to the conference participants that "as pastoral leaders who work every day with families caught in a broken system, you understand that if we are to improve the situation, the only way forward is to give this discussion a moral framework."

When the discussion of people on the move is framed as a moral issue, it "helps us encourage the general population to take a step back and see the dignity and value of these people," said Archbishop Cupich. In addition, giving the issue a moral framework "provides us with the language to speak about the humanitarian challenges in our own back yard in a way that helps our citizens take a second look at the problem."

Catholic immigration officials, "by standing with people on the move," allow them to "know they are not making this journey alone," he stressed. He told the conference participants that their personal presence and the "presence of the whole church which you represent is a light in the shadowy darkness that marks their lives."

Advocacy by Catholic immigration officials also "keeps the topic of migration alive in the public square," and it "provides the language and moral framework needed to clarify the issues and respond to misinformation," Archbishop Cupich said. He commented that "our experience of knowing the real life situations of people on the move gives our voice credibility."

He told the immigration officials, moreover, that they ought to consider their advocacy "an act of patriotism" that "contributes to the good of the nation."

7. The Laity According to Vatican II

The Second Vatican Council led to a new way of viewing the vocation of the laity in the church and in the world, Pope Francis wrote in a Nov. 10 message to Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and to the participants in a Rome study day marking the 50th anniversary of the council's Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity.

The decree makes clear that proclaiming the Gospel is the responsibility not solely of some "mission professionals" but also of the laity, who are called through baptism to enliven the world they inhabit, the pope observed. The decree serves as a forceful reminder, he said, that the Christian vocation, by its nature, is also "a vocation to the apostolate."

The vocation and mission of the laity were addressed magnificently in Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Pope Francis remarked. These fundamental documents accent the role of the laity as disciples who belong to the people of God and carry out Christ-like roles "in a way proper to them," he said.

Vatican II did not view the laity as members of a second tier in the church who simply execute instructions handed down from above, said the pope. Rather, the laity serve by virtue of baptism and of their natural situation in the world, and they have the mission of inspiring every environment, activity and relationship with the spirit of the Gospel.

Pope Francis recalled that the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World viewed the laity as well suited to assuring that the Gospel is inscribed "in the life of the earthly city."

Note to Readers

I expected in this edition of our newsletter to quote important parts of the 2015 Synod of Bishops' final report, following up on the extended discussion of the synod and its final report in our Oct. 28 edition. But as of this writing the Vatican has not released its translation of the final report. Watch, then, in our next edition for further mention of it.