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October 27, 2016

Politics vs. leadership -
Vatican instruction on cremation -
Dialogue's essential, positive role in ordinary life

In this edition:
1. Catholics and Evangelicals.
2. Dialogue's role in ordinary life.
3. Principles for dialogue at home.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Reflections on The Joy of Love.
b) U.S. unity after Nov. 8.
c) Politics vs. leadership.
5. Vatican instruction on cremation.

1. Catholics and Evangelicals in Dialogue

The need for dialogue between Catholics and Evangelical Christians is growing today, and the degree to which members of both communities misunderstand each other still must be addressed, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops suggests in a just-published resource titled "Our Evangelical Neighbors - A Catholic Reflection on Evangelical Christianity." (You will find the resource on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' website, www.cccb.ca.)

"With the decline of mainline Protestantism in Canada, Evangelicals are more and more likely to be the non-Catholic Christians that Catholics encounter today. There are Evangelical churches, educational institutions and service projects all across Canada, and they are growing and vibrant," the resource notes. It points out that Catholics "also meet Evangelicals in the halls of power, where they are frequently on the same side of contentious social issues."

Furthermore, it says, "Evangelicalism is rapidly expanding in many places around the world, especially the global South -- in places like Brazil, for example."

The role lay people, families and others can play in making dialogue between the two communities a reality and promoting understanding is underscored by the resource. "For either dialogue or criticism to be fruitful, it must be rooted in personal relationships between fellow Christians who recognize one another as brothers and sisters, and who are sincerely seeking the truth," it states.

"For this reason," it comments, "the most significant ecumenical dialogues between Catholics and Evangelicals today are not those of the scholars, pastors and theologians who attend official meetings and publish books and papers. As important as that work is, it is totally dependent on the informal dialogue of the Christian life between believers," including:
  • Those who marry into each other's families.

  • Those working in the same office.

  • Those "who pursue justice together in our communities outside abortion clinics and inside soup kitchens."
"Only these dialogues, where believers care for, pray for and work with one another can prepare the soil in which the results of the more official dialogues can grow," the resource states. It says to readers: "Believe it or not, the prospects for future dialogue depend, in great part, on you."

U.S. Evangelicals often are portrayed in the media "as synonymous with the Republican Party," the resource observes, quickly adding that "such a stereotype is not helpful for understanding our neighbors."

It encourages greater awareness of the "breadth and nuance" found "in the political commitments of Evangelicals in both Canada and the United States." It says that "in this they are very much like Catholics."

Pointing to areas of similarity in faith, it notes that "both Catholics and Evangelicals can say the Nicene Creed without crossing their fingers." Moreover, the resource considers it "important to underscore that 'Evangelical' does not equate to 'fundamentalist,' but fundamentalism is part of the heritage of Evangelicalism, and traces of it can be found in many Evangelical communities."

Many Evangelicals "are more open to the findings of contemporary science and biblical criticism than the label fundamentalist implies," it notes. It calls attention to "just how diverse a group Evangelicals are."

According to the resource, "many Evangelical Christians have serious questions about whether Catholics are truly Christians." Yet, it says that in recent years, "as Evangelicals get to know more Catholics who live a deeply personal relationship with Christ," some have begun "asking Catholics simply, 'Tell me about your relationship with Jesus.'"

Here the resource offers this advice to Catholics: "If an Evangelical asks you if you are 'saved,' it may be helpful to answer as if they had asked, 'Tell me about your relationship with Jesus.'"

2. Dialogue's Essential Role in Ordinary Life

Dialogue is sorely needed in families, workplaces and schools, between world religions, as well as between the church and the world, Pope Francis suggested during a special Year of Mercy audience Oct. 22 in St. Peter's Square in Rome.

Our world would be so much better off, he proposed, if people listened to each other and explained themselves meekly rather than shouting at each other. Dialogue is a means of acting mercifully, he stressed.

In fact, he characterized dialogue as an essential component of mercy, viewing it as the way a husband and wife can understand each other, people of different religions can live in peace and the church can see what must be done to foster the common good in society.

Dialogue serves as a sign of respect for others, while at the same time expressing charity toward them, Pope Francis said. Dialogue allows people to view each other as gifts from God.

Dialogue "helps people to humanize relationships and to overcome misunderstandings," he explained. Pointing to the "great need for dialogue in our families," he exclaimed: "How much more easily questions could be resolved if we could learn to listen to one another!"

"Dialogue breaks down walls of division and misunderstanding." Moreover, the pope said, dialogue "creates bridges of communication and does not allow anyone to remain isolated, closing themselves into their own little world."

Often, however, people are not ready to listen and hear what the other intends to say. People may prefer to interrupt each other in an effort to prove their own points, said the pope. Dialogue, he insisted, requires moments of silence, as well as an ability to welcome the other as a gift from God.

So often we stop another who is speaking in order to say, "No, that's not right." Thus "we don't let the person finish," the pope observed.

He said that through dialogue "we come to know and respect others," and through "dialogue, mutual acceptance and fraternal cooperation" God's "merciful love" is made "more evident in our world."

3. Principles for Dialogue at Home

Church leaders over the course of recent decades have turned increasing attention to the meaning and demands of dialogue. Dialogue is considered essential in fostering greater unity and understanding among divided Christians; it is essential if the members of world religions are to understand each other better and live together peacefully. There is also the dialogue of church and world pursued after the Second Vatican Council.

Today dialogue also is considered essential in marriage and family life, as well as in workplaces, schools and other contexts, as is clear from the report above about Pope Francis' Oct. 22 remarks during a general audience in Rome.

Actually, however, Pope Francis explored the role of dialogue in marriage and family life at some length in The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia), his 2016 apostolic exhortation based on the work of the 2014 and 2015 sessions of the world Synod of Bishops. His nearly 800-world discussion (Nos. 136 to 141) could prove useful in marriage preparation, marriage counseling and preaching, as well as in parish young-adult and youth group meetings.

And these paragraphs in the apostolic exhortation certainly are worth recommending to families themselves.

In one of several principles he formulates to guide dialogue in home life, Pope Francis urges family members to "develop the habit of giving real importance to the other person." He explains that "this means appreciating them and recognizing their right to exist, to think as they do and to be happy."

In family life, the pope advises, it is important not to downplay what the other person says or thinks, "even if you need to express your own point of view." He writes:

"Everyone has something to contribute, because they have their life experiences, they look at things from a different standpoint and they have their own concerns, abilities and insights. We ought to be able to acknowledge the other person's truth, the value of his or her deepest concerns and what it is that they are trying to communicate, however aggressively. We have to put ourselves in their shoes and try to peer into their hearts, to perceive their deepest concerns and to take them as a point of departure for further dialogue."

Pope Francis advised family members to free themselves "from feeling that we all have to be alike." It is important, he suggested, to "keep an open mind" and not to "get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions," but rather to "be prepared to change or expand them."

A "combination of two different ways of thinking can lead to a synthesis that enriches both," the pope emphasized. He said, "The unity that we seek is not uniformity." He advised that "fraternal communion is enriched by respect and appreciation for differences within an overall perspective that advances the common good."

Dialogue is strengthened when one shows "affection and concern for the other person," Pope Francis commented. He cautioned that "fearing the other person as a kind of 'rival' is a sign of weakness and needs to be overcome." He recommended that family members base their positions "on solid choices, beliefs or values, and not on the need to win an argument or to be proved right."

The pope also encouraged couples to "acknowledge that for a worthwhile dialogue we have to have something to say." This, however, "can only be the fruit of an interior richness nourished by reading, personal reflection, prayer and openness to the world around us," he said.

"Otherwise," he added, "conversations become boring and trivial. When neither of the spouses works at this and has little real contact with other people, family life becomes stifling and dialogue impoverished."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Reflections on The Joy of Love, the 2016 Apostolic Exhortation on the Family: "Amoris Laetitia is a document which addresses an extraordinarily wide and varied scenario. . . . Amoris Laetitia is an encyclopedic document, and like all encyclopedic documents much of its most valuable content runs the risk of being bypassed by a preoccupation with just some of its aspects. Admittedly there is a worse scenario: that of not really addressing the document at all or simply paying lip service to it. . . . Pope Francis frames his reflection on marriage and the family around the concept of mercy. Amoris Laetitia has not been an uncontroversial document. Bishops and cardinals have publicly criticized the document or have tried to place their own interpretation on it in such a way as to fail to grasp the insights of Pope Francis. They fear that the emphasis on mercy will weaken the promulgation of the truth. . . . Amoris Laetitia talks above all about paths to spiritual growth to help couples and families find true fulfillment and freedom in the Gospel and the church's rich teaching on marriage." (From Oct. 22 remarks by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, during an event formally launching preparations for the 2018 World Meeting of Families, set to take place in Dublin. The 2015 World Meeting of Families took place in Philadelphia, Pa.)

The U.S. After Nov. 8: "A founding principle of our great nation has been the orderly transfer of power, as an expression of the will of the people. . . . As hard fought as many of our elections have been, our nation has always succeeded historically in coming together in a mature and civil manner, for the benefit of all, for the good of all of the people. . . . This year's contentious and unsettling presidential race threatens our ability to come together as one people. The claims by some of our fellow citizens that they will not accept the final outcome of the election borders on the seditious, portending a future that would be neither civil nor true to our common roots as Americans. We cannot do this. It is not who we are, not who we are called to be. I ask Catholics and all people of good will to come together on Nov. 8 and 9 and on all of the days that follow to continue to forge one nation, subject to the rule of law, and to unite as one American people." (From an Oct. 24 statement by Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose, Calif.)

Politics versus Leadership: "Young people approaching their first experience of balloting should be full of idealism and hope about politics. But there is every indication that many young people, including perhaps some of you here today, feel some of the same cynicism about politics that has become commonplace among their elders. You might, like many voters, think that most politicians are in it simply for themselves and their friends; or that they are completely out of touch with the real concerns of most people; or that the system is so broken that even good-willed politicians end up pawns of party machines, or of the interests that fund them, or of the media that threaten them; or that politics is now so driven by the 24/7 news cycle, the opinion polls and the view to the next election that principles are cast aside and it's all spin. Such reactions are commonplace today, and they suggest that many of those offered to us as 'leaders' are not the leaders we need. How, my young friends, will you be different? . . . Every human being, and certainly every Christian, experiences the tension between the desire for an easy life, on the one hand, and the duty to do the good but hard thing, on the other. . . . [The] willingness to make the good of others your good, . . . to work for the benefit of all, is exactly what I hope marks each of you, . . . You will most likely face some challenges of leadership. So you must keep cultivating good character, practicing good habits of thought, prayer and action, focusing on your ideals and the service of God and others. . . . As leaders of today you will be tested, and I'm confident you will pass with flying colors. And that is what will set you up for being the kinds of leaders our families, professions, academies, industries, arts and sciences, and even our parliaments, need for tomorrow." (From Oct. 12 remarks by Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia, to Catholic school students in the archdiocese.)

5. New Vatican Instruction on Cremation

Before long in many countries, cremation will be considered the "ordinary" way to take care of the bodies of the dead, even among Catholics, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, indicated during a Vatican press conference Oct. 25 at which the congregation released an instruction on burial of the dead and cremation.

Titled Ad Resurgendum Cum Christo, the instruction has dual aims. It reiterates the church's reasons for preferring burial of the dead and provides rules to guide the conservation of ashes in cases of cremation.

The instruction explains that "through the practice of burying the dead in cemeteries, in churches or their environs, Christian tradition has upheld the relationship between the living and the dead, and has opposed any tendency to minimize, or relegate to the purely private sphere, the event of death and the meaning it has for Christians."

However, it affirms, "cremation, in and of itself, objectively negates neither the Christian doctrine of the soul's immortality nor that of the resurrection of the body."

Cardinal Muller told reporters that the church accepts the option of cremation, but not the scattering of ashes and the growing practice of keeping cremated remains at home. "Caring for the bodies of the deceased, the church confirms its faith in the resurrection and separates itself from attitudes and rites that see in death the definitive obliteration of the person, a stage in the process of reincarnation or the fusion of one's soul with the universe," he said.

The congregation issued an instruction in 1963 permitting cremation as long as it is not carried out as a sign of denial of the basic Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead. This permission was incorporated into the Code of Canon Law in 1983.

Yet, the cardinal noted, church law had not specified exactly what should be done with "cremains," and several bishops' conferences asked the congregation to provide guidance.

The new instruction says that "when, for legitimate motives, cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery or, in certain cases, in a church or an area, which has been set aside for this purpose and so dedicated by the competent ecclesial authority."

Conserving "the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted," the instruction states. It says, "Only in grave and exceptional cases dependent on cultural conditions of a localized nature" may the bishop allow this. "Nonetheless," it says, "the ashes may not be divided among various family members."

The instruction says, moreover, that "in order that every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided, it is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects."