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October 17, 2016

Is there any joy this election year? --
Failed communication equals human division -
How mercy and justice interrelate -
Children fleeing conflict

In this edition:
1. Election-year rhetoric.
2. Finding joy this election year.
3. When communication fails.
4. Interrelating mercy and justice.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Children fleeing conflict.
6. Misunderstanding Laudato Si'.
7. Anglican-Catholic dialogue today.

1. This Election Year's Rhetoric

The rhetoric of the current U.S. presidential election year must not be allowed to repeat itself in the future, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Oct. 13.

"Too much of our current political discourse has demeaned women and marginalized people of faith," he observed. "This must change." He said that "true to the best hopes of our founding fathers, we are confident that we can and will do better as a nation."

The archbishop's comments came after a week that witnessed controversies involving the campaigns of Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

One controversy involved the release by NBC of a 2005 audio clip of Trump making lewd sexual remarks regarding women. The other controversy involved the Oct. 11release by WikiLeaks of what it said was an email chain among top officials in Clinton's campaign that referred critically to powerful U.S. conservatives who are converts to Catholicism.

The archbishop stressed that "the Gospel is offered for all people for all times. It invites us to love our neighbor and live in peace with one another." He insisted that "the Gospel serves the common good, not political agendas."

His statement called attention to the issue of religious liberty in the campaign. "There have been recent reports that some may have sought to interfere in the internal life of the church for short-term political gain. If true, this is troubling both for the well-being of faith communities and the good of our country," Archbishop Kurtz wrote.

He encouraged Catholics and all people of good will "to be good stewards of the precious rights we have inherited as citizens."

Addressing public officials as well, he said that they are expected "to respect the rights of people to live their faith without interference from the state." The loss of this right would mean the loss of "the very idea of what it means to be an American," he said.

Archbishop Kurtz urged "politicians, their staffs and volunteers" to "reflect our best aspirations as citizens."

2. Locating Joy This Election Year

"Can we find joy in politics - especially today?" Or "does everything have to be so serious that there's nothing to be happy about?" Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin posed those questions in a Sept. 30 column in The Criterion, the Indianapolis Archdiocese's newspaper.

Archbishop Tobin is one of three U.S. church leaders just named to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis. They will be installed in the college Nov. 19. The other new U.S. cardinals are Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago and Bishop Kevin Farrell, former bishop of Dallas, Texas, who has just taken up duties as prefect of the newly created Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

Cardinal-designate Tobin observed in his column that some issues in the current U.S. presidential election year represent "matters of life and death." He asked, "So what is there to be joyful about at this time?"

The Sept. 30 column was the third he wrote recently on voting and political issues. "I refuse to believe that politics has to be gloom and doom," he said.

He proposed "three simple suggestions for finding joy in politics" that seem worth quoting. He wrote:

"First, don't take things personally. If you think a candidate is dishonest or untrustworthy, don't vote for him or her. But don't let it make you angry, depressed or miserable. Our nation and our church have been through worse times; with the help of God, we will recover!"

He added: "Taking things seriously doesn't mean taking them personally. Vote your conscience, and then move on. Ultimately, the outcome is in God's hands."

"Second, don't get mad -- get even. I don't mean to suggest that we should seek revenge. On the contrary, as Pope Francis says in his exhortation on 'The Face of Mercy,' forgiveness is the only way to live joyfully. Regardless of the context, revenge only makes things worse."

Instead, "by 'getting even'" he means "voting for candidates who are inspiring and trustworthy, and working for policies that promote the good of all. If enough people work for the common good, corruption in politics will become a thing of the past."

"Third," he wrote, "find the good -- wherever you can -- and stay focused on it. 'Every cloud has a silver lining' may be a cliche, but there's a basic truth here. If we look for the good, we will find it. If we only focus on what is sad and depressing, we'll never experience joy."

Cardinal-designate Tobin said it is true that "we have many problems today," but "hope and joy are in our DNA as Christians." Furthermore, "we have boundless opportunities fueled by the grace of God."

3. Getting "Communication" Right

"Where communication fails, division begins," Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said during an Oct. 3 Mass in Dublin, Ireland, for members of the legal community.

Whenever "communication breaks down within the human community, then selfish interests begin to dominate," the Dublin archbishop stressed. His homily compared the unifying type of communication that flows from God with another type that pits people against each other.

"When the common good and common purpose do not prevail, then a damaging cancer can appear which inevitably reaches into every element of society, and communication and participation become replaced by polarization and marginalization," he commented.

"The communication which is the gift of the Spirit," the archbishop stressed, "is not the empty spin of much of modern communication. It is the establishment of a regime of love and of respectful encounter which incarnates in every generation God's great commandment of love."

Communication "is not just about words; it is about hearts and minds; it is the gift of reaching out beyond our own interests and concerns to be able to understand and enter into fruitful and caring interaction with others in truth and love," he said.

Communication is "the language of God," Archbishop Martin stated. However, he pointed out, "the Christian God is not a distant God who dwells in isolation. Our God is rather the one who unconditionally reaches out to us. He is the one who communicates his own identity, who reveals himself in love and in mercy."

The archbishop cautioned that "if we have difficulty in understanding that God's name is mercy, then we will have great difficulty in understanding the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ." Moreover, "if we have some name of our own for God, then we may well have ended up with a false God."

Public authorities have the task, he said, of ensuring equity, protecting the weak and curbing "the arrogance of those who exercise power." And the legal system "has its role in independently and vigorously ensuring that men and women, and indeed children, citizens and not, have equitable access to what they need to realize their God-given potential."

4. How Mercy and Justice Interrelate

The present moment is a critical one "in our nation's history" -- a "time when America seems to be almost paralyzed by a political polarization that impedes our ability to address effectively a whole host of pressing needs," Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis said Oct. 2.

In a homily for the annual Red Mass in Washington's St. Matthew's Cathedral, celebrated in conjunction with the opening of the U.S. Supreme Court's new term, he addressed members of the legal community and called attention to the church's current Year of Mercy, accenting the relationship of justice and mercy.

If Pope Francis "is correct in his assertion that 'where there is no mercy, there is no justice,' and I think he is, it would be a mistake for anyone involved in the administration of justice to turn a blind eye to the demands of mercy," Archbishop Hebda said.

"The church is keenly aware of the importance of your work, oriented as it is to the promotion of the common good," he said. "Men and women of good will throughout this nation depend on you to protect their liberties and to help us create and preserve a 'just and wisely ordered' society."

The archbishop told members of the legal community that "in offering infinite mercy, our God does not deny justice"; rather, as Pope Francis notes, God "envelops it and surpasses it with an even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice."

Pope Francis "is certainly not asking us to offer a less than vigorous representation of our clients or to take our eye off the ball that is justice, but rather to go beyond justice, to exceed the requirements of justice, to pursue justice with a brotherly or sisterly love for all the persons involved in the issues or disputes that come before us," the archbishop said.

"Working in an environment so often populated by Jane Does and John Does," he said, "we need to remember that real people are at the heart of what we do and are affected by the decisions that we make." (The text of Archbishop Hebda's homily appeared in the Oct. 20 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

Children Fleeing Conflict: "Fifty million children around the world are on the move. They are running from conflict, extreme poverty and various forms of abuse and exploitation. Their numbers have dramatically increased in recent years. For instance, according to Catholic Charities, the number of unaccompanied children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border between 2004 and 2011 averaged 6,800 per year. In 2012 that total jumped to over 13,000 children, then to 24,000 in 2013 and then up to 90,000 in 2014. A couple of weeks ago, 10,000 refugees and migrants, in just two days, were rescued from sinking boats in the Mediterranean Sea. Between 20 percent and 40 percent of them were unaccompanied children. Refugee and migrant children, in particular unaccompanied ones, face multiple dangers. They are prime targets for traffickers and exploiters. When a boat sinks they are the most likely to drown. They are the first ones to suffer hunger and thirst. They are the most vulnerable to extreme weather as they move through deserts and forests. . . . The Holy See notes with particular sadness that the primary cause of today's mass displacements of populations is man-made: namely, wars and conflicts. Indeed, 28 million of the 50 million children on the move were driven away from their homes by conflict." (From an Oct. 14 statement to a U.N. General Assembly committee by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, who heads the Vatican's U.N. Observer Mission.)

6. Misunderstanding the Ecology Encyclical

It often is assumed incorrectly that Laudato Si', Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical on the environment, "dealt only with climate change and the environment," Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said Oct. 12 in a speech to a health-care symposium in Berlin, Germany.

But while the issues of climate change and the environment are crucial, he said that Pope Francis did not restrict his teaching in the encyclical "to these themes alone."

The world, along with its poor, represent "the two fragilities which lie at the heart of Pope Francis' integral ecology," Cardinal Turkson explained. The encyclical's "principal objective," he said, "was to propose a social teaching of the church that creates awareness about the immensity and urgency of the challenge" of the earth and the poor today.

An "urgent appeal for a new dialogue about how to shape the future of our planet" was expressed in the encyclical, and the pope expressed "profound faith and trust in humanity's ability to work together to build a common home," said the cardinal.

"Important principles for true dialogue" are found in Catholic social teaching, he pointed out, and he offered an overview of "three helpful principles" for promoting dialogue that can lead to positive action.

The three principles cited are "solidarity, subsidiarity and the common good."
  • "Solidarity means we care about the concerns of others as much as our own," he commented.

  • "Subsidiarity means we accept others as equals; they speak for themselves, we listen, and we help them to participate if they need such help."

  • "As for the 'what' of dialogue," he observed that "Catholic social teaching tells us to always focus on the common good, and to show special concern for the poor and for the earth."
In the encyclical the pope addresses "those in high station in politics, business and science," as well as "those who live and work in very humble circumstances," encouraging them to "commit to meeting the needs of all who live on this planet and of the planet itself."

For, "we are all in this together, each of us responsible for the other," said Cardinal Turkson.

7. The State of Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue

It might appear that the issues dividing the Anglican and Roman Catholic communities today are sufficient to cripple or spell the end of the ecumenical dialogue between them. But in a common declaration signed Oct. 5 at the conclusion of an evening prayer service in Rome, Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby expressed full commitment to continued dialogue.

"While, like our predecessors, we ourselves do not yet see solutions to the obstacles before us, we are undeterred," their declaration stated. It said, "In our trust and joy in the Holy Spirit we are confident that dialogue and engagement with one another will deepen our understanding and help us to discern the mind of Christ for his church."

Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby insisted that "wider and deeper than our differences are the faith that we share and our common joy in the Gospel." Their churches' "ability to come together in praise and prayer to God, and witness to the world, rests on the confidence that we share a common faith and a substantial measure of agreement in faith," their declaration stated.

The two leaders said that "much progress has been made concerning many areas that have kept us apart. Yet new circumstances have presented new disagreements among us, particularly regarding the ordination of women and more recent questions regarding human sexuality." Moreover, "behind these differences lies a perennial question about how authority is exercised in the Christian community."

These issues, they said, are among concerns today "that constitute serious obstacles to our full unity."

But the differences between them mentioned by the declaration "cannot prevent us from recognizing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ by reason of our common baptism," they affirmed. Nor should these issues "ever hold us back from discovering and rejoicing in the deep Christian faith and holiness we find within each other's traditions."

Stressing the importance of work undertaken together in the world, the declaration said it is essential that the world "see us witnessing to this common faith in Jesus by acting together." The two churches "can, and must, work together to protect and preserve our common home" and must join "in a common cause to uphold and defend the dignity of all people," it said.

In their discussion of "common endeavors" in the world, the pope and the Anglican archbishop noted that:
  • "In a culture of indifference, walls of estrangement isolate us from others, their struggles and their suffering."

  • "In a culture of waste, the lives of the most vulnerable in society are often marginalized and discarded."

  • "In a culture of hate we see unspeakable acts of violence, often justified by a distorted understanding of religious belief."
"Our Christian faith leads us to recognize the inestimable worth of every human life and to honor it in acts of mercy by bringing education, health care, food, clean water and shelter, and always seeking to resolve conflict and build peace," said the two leaders. "As disciples of Christ we hold human persons to be sacred, and as apostles of Christ we must be their advocates," they stressed.