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January 18, 2008

Preaching in a Multicultural Church - Does All This New Technology at Home Leave Time to Spend With Others? -- Ministry to and With the Aging -- The Consuming Quest of Security -- Evangelization Approaches -- and more!

In this edition:
--Ministry to and with the aging.
--Preaching in a multicultural church.
--Are popular Latino religious practices a blessing?
--Ministry to and with diverse cultural groups.
--Deeds plus words plus asking and listening: Evangelization approaches.
--Current quotes to ponder: technology explosion at home; baptism; mature faith.
--How much security is enough for us?
--Faith choice: Is it always easy?

Growing Older in New Ways

A vision of "a future full of hope for an elder population" is presented by Jesuit Father Myles Sheehan, a physician, in the January-February 2008 edition of Health Progress, a publication of the Catholic Health Association of the United States. In his vision "health and aging are not simply about preventive care and interventions for specific illnesses and problems." He would like to see more "respect for what aging brings to human life and awareness of the human needs that older persons, indeed all persons, need to flourish."

His article appears at a time when more and more books and articles are exploring what it means to grow older in the 21st century -- when, to put it plainly, many older people aren't actually so old. One popular book today ("You Staying Young," by Drs. M.F Roizen and M.C. Oz) even invites readers to assess their "real age," which based on various criteria may be considerably younger than their "calendar age"! Father Sheehan's article also appears at a time when pastoral ministers are reminded in one way or another almost daily that America's older people are diverse - diverse in their needs, capabilities and potential to contribute to the world around them.

The fastest growing segment of the U.S. population today "consists of individuals 85 years old and older," says Father Sheehan, citing U.S. Census Bureau data. His positive vision of growing older in America today is not a matter of being "delusional," he insists. Rather, his vision "offers the opportunity for health care, the Catholic community and an increasing older population to develop new models that recognize some of the vulnerabilities of aging" but that also create "person-centered living opportunities that allow creativity and new possibilities."

Father Sheehan hopes that aging will come to be seen not so much as a problem, but as an opportunity. He is a professor of medical education at Loyola University Chicago's Stritch School of Medicine.

The priest-physician writes: "There is something profoundly wrong in thinking that older persons need to rest and be entertained. Older persons can thrive in engaging and vibrant settings, like schools, caring for young people, working in church rather than watch TV and listen to someone play old songs on the piano."

One of Father Sheehan's large concerns is what he terms "aging apartheid," which means "the placing of older persons in old-age communities or facilities where the old and sick are clustered together." He says: "Social and community aspects available to many older persons are pretty meager. Some like bingo and eating dinner at 5 p.m. A lot don't." The writer is concerned about the isolation of older people from people of other ages.

He says that healthy aging is about "much more than good cholesterol, exercise and joint replacements." Furthermore, he believes that "sometimes the biggest threats to health in aging are not a lack of medical resources, but a lack of imagination in how we envision the life and role in community of older persons, and how we welcome the elderly into the church."

Father Sheehan says:

-- "Health and aging require a broad look at what it means to be human."

-- "Older people, grandparents and great-grandparents can be fantastic apostles and creative evangelizers."

-- "Failing to recognize the experience and insights of older persons that can engage and attract younger people neglects a gift that is given to us with increasing longevity."

His hope, Father Sheehan explains, "is that those who can create the future of aging can imagine something better than what we do now and look to a future that is full of promise."

Preaching in a Multicultural Church

Several misunderstandings about what is needed for effective preaching to members of the Latino, African-American and Asian communities in the U.S. were addressed in a speech Atlanta's Archbishop Wilton Gregory gave Jan. 13 in Rome. The African-American archbishop delivered this year's Carl J. Peter Lecture at the Pontifical North American College -- an annual lecture for seminarians on preaching. He challenged seminarians to correct stereotypes they may harbor about members of these cultural groups.

For example, the archbishop said, it is a misunderstanding to believe that "preaching in a multicultural context ought not to be too intellectually demanding" and that "it is both appropriate and necessary to 'downshift' in presenting the Gospel, since many people in these communities have limited education and limited backgrounds." This, said Archbishop Gregory, "is really a dangerous fallacy. It assumes that complex understandings and expressions of human experience, and of the gift of faith are only possible in a circumscribed context that belongs to us in the mainstream or dominant cultural pattern."

But this misconception is a dangerous fallacy in another sense, he continued. "It assumes that the questions and the yearnings of people who do not share our exact cultural framework are not quite as complex or agonizing or nuanced as our own." That, he said, "is surely not the case." Archbishop Gregory said that "preachers who would bring God's word to a community must understand its particular forms of complexity and subtlety, especially when they differ from those of the preachers."

Another misunderstanding is reflected in the belief that "preaching in a multicultural context means those addressed are primarily victims of inequity, discrimination and oppression." Archbishop Gregory explained: "Of course, Latinos, African-Americans and Asians have been victims." Thus, "preaching that highlights the Exodus paradigm from slavery to freedom definitively gained through the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ must always have a place in the proclamation of God's word to people whose dignity has been denied."

Yet, the archbishop added, "to identify members of these communities primarily or solely on the basis of victimization can also be a fundamental denial of our dignity. Often against great odds and at great cost they have made decisions and constructed their lives both for themselves and their children. They have been mindful of past wrongs, but even more so they have high hopes that draw them into a future. Preaching must take this into account."

Among other misunderstandings addressed by Archbishop Gregory was this one: "In the preaching event, roles are clearly and irrevocably defined: We are the preachers or teachers, and they are learners." But, he said, "especially in the cross-cultural context, the preacher must also listen and learn. Despite our own propensity to claim a clear role in the preaching process, there is more to the story than we would expect."

Archbishop Gregory asked his audience of seminarians whether they know the power of God's word. Then he asked:

"Can we imagine the possibilities of our own proclamation? Do we know the difference between information, which drives our lives in so many ways, and in truth, which alone can give meaning and direction to life? Do we know the difference between data - bits and pieces, here and there -- and wisdom -- to know how the particulars all fit into the plan and mystery of God? Or are we co-opted by our time and culture?"

The archbishop also asked, "Do we have enough confidence in ourselves as ambassadors of Christ to present ourselves as sources of wisdom?"

The real challenge for one who preaches is to have "a converted heart, a continuing turning heart that believes more and more deeply and from that belief dares to speak," Archbishop Gregory said. He expressed the conviction that "if the preacher truly, deeply, and passionately embraces the word he will share with others in faith, then that word will go out from him and it will find a home in the hearts of those who listen."

Viewing Popular Latino Religious Practices as a Blessing

Reasons to view popular religious practices among Latino and Latina Catholics in the U.S. as a blessing are discussed by Nancy Pineda-Madrid in the winter edition of Church magazine. Her article is titled "The Blessing of a Latino/a Religious Worldview."

Popular religious practices "serve as a reminder that in order to keep faith vibrant and alive, believers must appropriate their beliefs in a tangible manner, through a concrete practice," Pineda-Madrid writes. She is assistant professor of theology and Latino/a ministry at the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry in Boston College's theology department. Church magazine is published by the National Pastoral Life Center, based in New York.

"Through popular Catholicism, Latino/a Catholics have continuously discovered the very real presence of divine mystery in the midst of their experiences of suffering, of yearning, of joy, of betrayal, of mourning," the writer comments. She says, "In Latin America, the faithful learned Catholicism through dramas, symbols and rituals."

Discussing the roots of some popular religious practices among Catholics of Latin-American descent, Pineda-Madrid explains that "the Catholic faith came to Latin America almost two generations before the Council of Trent." Thus, "its origins grew out of the medieval, Iberian Catholicism thriving in Spain in the late 15th and early 16th centuries," a "pre-Tridentine Catholicism [that] expressed its truths predominantly in symbols and rites, and reflected an organic, cosmological, synthetic worldview." On the other hand, she continues, "EuroamericanCatholicism finds its beginnings in the post-Tridentine world of Europe, where Catholic leaders fashioned a much more rationalistic and verbally precise faith in response to the Protestant reformers."

Pineda-Madrid believes that popular religious practices far too often are dismissed by pastoral leaders as "superstitious, immature and syncretistic, and thus a distortion of the authentic practice of Catholicism." In addition, "even Latino/a Catholics must be challenged to take seriously and to honor their own religious birthright," she says.

Popular religious practices "are not necessarily opposed to official church teaching and practice," the writer comments. In fact, she says, popular religious practices have a way of extolling "the larger truth of the sacramental principle." Catholics throughout history have held that God is made known "through the material world in particular concrete ways."

These religious practices have served Latino and Latina Catholics as "a long-term strategy" for holding onto their Catholic beliefs, says Pineda-Madrid. These are people who often were excluded and pushed to the margins of society and the church; for them, appropriating "Catholic beliefs through popular religious practices was, and is, a thoughtful strategic alternative."

Ministry to and With the Church's Diverse Cultural Groups

"A one-size-fits-all approach is often not helpful" when it comes to ministry to and with the different ethnic and cultural groups in the church. These ministries need to be tailored to the particular realities of the people they serve, said Jesuit Father Allan Figueroa Deck, executive director of the new Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. The secretariat, uniting work with various cultural and racial groups under one umbrella, was established by the recently completed reorganization of the national bishops' conference.

"The Catholic Church is an expert in all kinds of diversity. That's what it means to be 'catholic' or universal," said Father Deck. He thinks that in an age of globalization, with its pattern of instant communication and ongoing migration, the church is challenged to find ways to minister both to newcomers and those with deep roots in the United States. This includes every racial and ethnic group, immigrant and person on the move."

Father Deck, a theologian who is also a noted leader and writer in the area of Hispanic ministry, said he is "excited about this opportunity to minister with and to the many faces in God's wonderful house, to celebrate the riches in so much diversity and to promote intercultural dialogue and cooperation." He asked, "Isn't this what Christ was talking about when he commanded his followers to proclaim the Gospel to all nations?"

Deeds and Words; Inviting and Listening: Evangelization Approaches

"If we look to the pages of Scripture we can see that God always speaks through a combination of words and deeds," Bishop Robert Carlson of Saginaw, Mich., says in a Jan. 6, 2008, pastoral letter on evangelization. He says, "The words and the deeds of God shed light on each other."

In fact, the bishop notes, "Jesus himself is the supreme example of this. His words give us something to believe in, while his deeds give us a reason to believe in him."

But the bishop expressed concern that at times today words are being neglected in the process of giving witness to faith. He recalled the memorable saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi calling upon people to "preach the Gospel always" and, if necessary, to "use words." Bishop Carlson writes, "I think people sometimes use St. Francis' lines as an excuse not to proclaim the Gospel with words, as if deeds alone were enough." But "sometimes words are necessary."

Bishop Carlson says: "We know that words alone are cheap when it comes to faith. But we are sometimes prone to forget the value -- even the necessity -- that words sometimes have. How will people get to know the Gospel if we never speak of it? Words are one of the primary ways human beings communicate with each other."

Two additional key words in the bishop's pastoral letter call upon those giving witness to "ask" and to "listen." In other words, giving witness to faith sometimes calls for verbalizing an invitation to others and a willingness to listen to the stories of the people one invites, according to Bishop Carlson.

The bishop expands upon this, making clear his view that when an invitation to another person is issued in the form of a question ("Would you like to come to church with me?"), the will of the person offering the invitation is not being imposed upon the other. The bishop thinks that some people may refrain from verbalizing such an invitation because they worry that this might come across as an attempt to impose their faith.

Thus, the bishop urges those who evangelize to "ask." He explains: "When we ask, we issue an invitation. Whether any hearts will be caught is up to the Lord. Our job, like Peter's, is to lower the nets." He adds, "You might be surprised to find how many people are waiting to be asked whether they'd like to come to church or whether they've ever thought about becoming Catholic."

Finally, Bishop Carlson's vision of evangelization encompasses a time for listening. He advises: If others are invited to come to church, for example, and if they do come, then "have them over for lunch and let them tell you their story." It can be surprising "to find how many people are waiting for a chance to talk about the Lord's role in their lives, or how they are searching for the Lord, or where they're struggling to walk with the Lord." However, the bishop continues, "if we remain silent about our relationship with the Lord - how he has blessed us, how our own journey with him is progressing or where we are struggling -- then we encourage others to do the same."

Current Quotes to Ponder

Pastoral Perspective on Daily Life. Technology Explosion Hits Home: "Many people are spending less time with print and television and more time plugged into interactive media like their cell phones, videogame systems and Internet-connected computers which allow them to build Web sites, create blogs, download films and music, and engage in complex immersive games. And increasingly they seem to be doing that in their own bedrooms, often alone, rather than in communal family spaces. The age of connectivity is a two-sided coin. People have never communicated more. [But] what's the impact of always being connected to the world via one electronic medium or another? And what's the 'interface' between this connectivity and intimacy, with oneself or others? Whether it is parents surreptitiously checking BlackBerrys during their children's concerts or students barely able to be separated from their cell phones during school hours, it is hard to avoid the feeling that people are often more interested in staring at screens than into someone else's eyes. For many people, increased connectivity seems to foster a fear of somehow missing something or someone important if they aren't tethered to a communication device." (From "Good Servant, Bad Master? Electronic Media and the Family," a fall 2007 paper from the Vanier Institute for the Family, a charitable organization based in Ottawa, Ontario; the paper was written by media educator Arlene Moscovitch.) Anticipating Easter: The Light of Christ. "In the Rite of Baptism there is an eloquent sign that expresses precisely the transmission of faith. It is the presentation to each of those being baptized of a candle lit from the flame of the Easter candle: It is the light of the risen Christ, which you will endeavor to pass on to your children. Thus, from one generation to the next we Christians transmit Christ's light to one another in such a way that when he returns he may find us with this flame burning in our hands." (From the Jan. 13 homily of Pope Benedict XVI when he baptized 13 infants in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel)

Along the Way to Maturity in Faith: "We much prefer maintenance of the status quo in matters of faith and daily living, but God often has other plans for the good of our spiritual development. With God's help, our tentative and uncertain 'yes' at the beginning of adult discipleship gradually matures into a generous and beautiful surrender to God's providence. Our human will does not give in easily though, and we can be sure of a great many struggles along the way to wisdom, maturity and acceptance of the unknown." (Father Matthew Lorrain, diocesan vocations director, writing in the January Vocations Newsletter of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, La.)

How Much Security Is Enough for Us?

People everywhere in America are searching for security today. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, people have been guided in many areas of life by a search for security, said Benedictine Father Rene McGraw, a philosophy professor at Benedictine-run St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn. He discussed the quest of security in a recent speech to the university that was excerpted in the winter edition of Abbey Banner, published by St. John's Abbey.

Father McGraw asked, "Where has all the security gone?" He commented on a book by Michael Dillon titled "Politics of Security" in which these issues are addressed. Said Father McGraw: "As Dillon looks at international relations, he sees that the search for security has become the pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. It is not just international relations that are guided by the search for security; it is education, business, housing, religion and philosophy. Indeed it is all our lives."

For example, the priest said, "we look to get a good education in college to ensure a good job so we will have security. Sometimes we even wonder whether we are securing a place in heaven. Yet we are never secure."

Education ought to "make us want to reach a fuller truth. Not security, but truth," Father McGraw said. He noted how for the philosopher Martin Heidegger, "truth is about uncovering. What students should discover is that what was once hidden becomes a little more uncovered."

Thus, in education "what was hidden is revealed." Yet, our insecurity will continue, the priest believes. He said: "The fullness of truth would be the uncovering that comes when all is revealed. Then we would be secure. But that shall never happen this side of eternity."

Father McGraw spoke of the exhilaration felt when, through education, "we uncover one more connection," when it is seen how different areas of learning connect. He said that this exciting experience "is the very heart of liberal education, which is the road to truth -- and insecurity."

A Choice to Make: Faith

"Salvation is not some sort of spectator sport, like bowl games. We are meant to be participants. Salvation was interactive long before television or computers," Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco said in a homily for Epiphany. God's plan of salvation confronts us with choices, the archbishop said.

Epiphany's story of the wise men might be called "A Tale of Two Kings," Archbishop Niederauer proposed. The two kings, of course, are Herod and Jesus. Herod was a powerful and disturbing ruler, Jesus was a small helpless child. The archbishop said: "You and I must choose between these two kings. 'Well, that's easy,' you may say. Is it? Is it really so easy to choose powerlessness, to choose not always being in control, not always trying to know it all, to choose to surrender to God's will in our lives, to choose a spiritual journey that takes us through uncertainties and demands that we trust in God?"

In choosing between the two kings, it is Herod that is chosen "each time we react with suspicion, distrust, selfishness, hardened refusal to forgive, knee-jerk judgments born of prejudices against individuals or groups, or anything or anyone new or strange or different. So many ways too choose Herod," said Archbishop Niederauer.

However, here there is something to learn from the magi, the archbishop said. "They were changed by their journey" and returned home by another route. He said, "Again and again we can, like those wise men, return to our 'country' and to our king, Jesus, 'by another route,' the route of faith."