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January 30, 2008

Focus on Health: Exercise; Anxiety - Ten Ways to Observe the Year of St. Paul - The Overlap of Racism and Poverty - Lent 2008 - Youth Ministry

In this edition:
--The pope's message for Lent 2008: almsgiving.
--Almsgiving and charity from Christian to Christian.
--How poverty and racism overlap and why it matters.
--Poverty perspective: Jobs in the Internet age.
--Current quotes to ponder on health issues: anxiety; the sedentary lifestyle; movement and exercise.
--Office formed for the new evangelization of youth and young adults.
--Does youth ministry get the attention it needs?
--Preparing for the upcoming Year of St. Paul.
--Ten ways to celebrate the Year of St. Paul.

Lent 2008: Focus on Almsgiving

Almsgiving is a way "to deepen our Christian vocation," Pope Benedict XVI says in his message for Lent 2008. Almsgiving is the theme of the pope's message, made public Jan. 29.

Lent "stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters," the pope writes. In fact, giving to others has a potential to change us. The pope says, "By drawing close to others through almsgiving, we draw close to God; it can become an instrument for authentic conversion."

According to the Gospel, almsgiving "is not mere philanthropy." Rather, it is "a concrete expression of charity," which is "a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor," the pope explains. And don't forget, as the pope insists, that there's "more joy in giving than in receiving."

Pope Benedict says that according to the Gospel, "we are not owners but rather administrators of the goods we possess: These, then, are not to be considered as our exclusive possession." The goods we possess are "means through which the Lord calls each one of us to act as a steward of his providence for our neighbor."

A "typical feature of Christian almsgiving," according to the Gospel, is that "it must be hidden," the pope writes. Thus, everything "must be done for God's glory and not our own." It's of little use to give "one's personal goods to others if it leads to a heart puffed up in vainglory," the pope writes. …

… Christian-to-Christian Almsgiving

Pope Benedict XVI's message for Lent 2008 includes this comment about the particular responsibility to give alms in nations where Christians are in the majority. He writes:

"In those countries whose population is majority Christian, the call to share is even more urgent, since their responsibility toward the many who suffer poverty and abandonment is even greater. To come to their aid is a duty of justice even prior to being an act of charity."

When I read that, I couldn't help thinking back to something Pope Benedict said in his first encyclical, "God Is Love" ("Deus Caritas Est"). In the encyclical he insisted that members of the Christian community must be givers who indeed are actively concerned about all people in need; and he pointed to a "specific responsibility" on the part of the church's people to provide for their own members in need because the church is a family. Here's what he wrote (No. 25):

"The church's deepest nature is expressed in her threefold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God ('kerygma-martyria'), celebrating the sacraments ('leitourgia') and exercising the ministry of charity ('diakonia'). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.

"The church is God's family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life. Yet at the same time 'caritas-agape' extends beyond the frontiers of the church. The parable of the Good Samaritan remains as a standard which imposes universal love toward the needy whom we encounter 'by chance' (cf. Lk. 10:31), whoever they may be. Without in any way detracting from this commandment of universal love, the church also has a specific responsibility: Within the ecclesial family no member should suffer through being in need. The teaching of the Letter to the Galatians is emphatic: 'So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, and especially to those who are of the household of faith' (6:10)."

How Poverty and Racism Overlap, and Why It Matters

Any campaign that hopes to prove effective in reducing poverty in America today must also confront the "unresolved racism" that still permeates the nation's life, says Catholic Charities USA. The agency released a major paper Jan. 21 in Detroit titled "Poverty and Racism: Overlapping Threats to the Common Good." If we hope "to uproot the scandal of poverty, we must also be agents of racial justice," the paper stresses.

Pastors, theologians, scholars and activists are called upon by the Catholic Charities paper "to help all Americans to deepen our understanding of white privilege and the ethical challenges it poses for a nation struggling to commit itself to genuine racial equality." Racism, says the paper, "is not only absolutely incompatible with Christian faith and belief, but also a dire threat to our nation's future." However, the paper says, the "national commitment to racial equality has been half-hearted, at best."

The new paper is part of the Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America, an effort sponsored by Catholic Charities to cut the U.S. poverty rate in half by 2020. The paper contends that "racism entails more than conscious ill will, more than deliberate acts of avoidance, exclusion, malice and violence perpetrated by individuals." It holds that racism also "describes the reality of unearned advantage, conferred dominance and invisible privilege enjoyed by white Americans to the detriment, burden and disadvantage of people of color."

Speaking in Detroit, Father Larry Snyder, Catholic Charities USA president, said that "the ghosts of our nation's legacy of racial inequality continue to haunt us." Father Snyder said, "To adequately and seriously address poverty in this country, we must have a candid conversation and subsequent action that changes the impact race has on poverty."

America's changing demographics must be taken into account by all who are concerned about racial justice, according to the paper. America, it says, is "becoming more racially and culturally diverse than ever." These demographic shifts are forcing the U.S. to confront the "unfinished business" of its "struggles for racial justice and inclusion."

"African Americans, Latino Americans and Native Americans are about three times as likely to live in poverty as are whites," the paper notes. It says, "The most extreme poverty in the United States is concentrated in specific geographical areas such as the urban cores of major cities and Native American reservations."

But "managing our demographic transition and forging a new American identity will not be easy," the Catholic Charities paper says. Why? Because the task is "burdened by a history of racial injustice, social intolerance and cultural privilege."

Racism is a difficult issue to address in America, partly because "most Americans lack an adequate understanding of how 'persistent and destructive' this evil continues to be," according to the paper. In addition, "white Americans are often oblivious to white privilege and how deeply embedded racial advantage is in our nation," it says. …

… Addendum: Jobs in the Internet Age

Access to the Internet is a distinct advantage today when it comes to employment, according to the Catholic Charities USA paper on poverty and racism. I call attention here to this very brief section of the paper because pastoral ministers and parish councils, particularly in parishes that offer any forms of service to job seekers, may find it worth considering and discussing. The paper says:

"The fact of the 'digital divide,' that is, the gap in information technology access between racial groups and economic classes, is the subject of recent public discussion. What often goes unnoted, however, are the economic consequences of this 'digital exclusion' in an information economy. Research suggests that 'people with access to the Internet have better access to life opportunities such as living-wage jobs.' We therefore advocate increased measures that provide low-cost or free Internet access to impoverished communities of color."

Current Quotes to Ponder

Accent on Health -- Anxiety in Perspective: "Walking up Wells Street in Chicago not long ago, I passed a storefront yoga studio. … What made me stop and take notice that day was a sign in the studio's window. 'Stress,' it announced, 'is connected to 99 percent of all diseases. … I had been worrying a lot - worrying about work, worrying about friends, worrying about the list of chores waiting for me at home - and that sign didn't do much to ease my worries. … Nothing stresses me out more than someone telling me I need to relax. And once I had read that sign, I had something else to worry about. Now I was worried that all that worrying was going to kill me. I'm not the only one who's so fretful about fretting. … According to [an Anxiety Disorders Association of America] 2006 survey, almost half of American workers experience 'persistent stress or excessive anxiety on a daily basis,' and nearly a quarter have taken prescription medication for their stress problems. … Of course, anyone who's ever been really anxious knows just how frighteningly real the problem can be. My anxiety might have been all in my head, but I could still feel it in my chest. Which is why everyone from the National Institutes of Health to the corner yoga studio wants me to do something about all that stress, all that worry, before it kills me. …If there is any measure of hope to be found in anxiety it is this: that this nemesis, even as it seems to want to kill us, is also sporting enough to warn us of the need to do something to stop it." (From "Feeling Anxious?" by Andrew Santella, in this winter's edition of Notre Dame magazine, published by the University of Notre Dame.)

Accent on Health - Movement: "Older Americans play with video games that promise to keep their minds sharp. Some do crossword puzzles, try to master foreign languages or learn to play musical instruments - all in the hope of staving off Alzheimer's. Now a growing body of research is offering tantalizing evidence that a brisk walk in the morning or maybe some laps in the pool might accomplish the same task." (From "Rx for the Brain: Move," by Lori Aratani, in the Dec. 4, 2007, "Health" section of the Washington Post newspaper.)

Accent on Health - Exercise: "Physical inactivity is an important risk factor for many aging-related diseases. … A sedentary lifestyle (in addition to smoking, high body mass index and low socioeconomic status) has an effect on leucocyte telomere length and may accelerate the aging process. This provides a powerful message that could be used by clinicians to promote the potentially antiaging effect of regular exercise." (From a Jan. 28, 2008, online report in the Archives of Internal Medicine about a scientific study of the effects of exercise on longevity. The study suggested that the length of leucocyte telomeres (telomeres are the ends of chromosomes) is negatively influenced by a sendentary lifestyle that involves very little exercise, while as little as 14 or 15 minutes a day of walking, swimming and other reasonable forms of exercise positively influence the length of telomeres, which are essential to cell division in the human body.)

New Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults

An office with quite a unique name has been established in the Archdiocese of Boston to serve youth and young adults: the Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults. The new office's director, Father Matt Williams, had some thought-provoking comments in January about the church's work with young people and about plans for the new office.

"A recent study out of the University of North Carolina researched how effective different denominations have been in passing on the faith to their young. Catholics came in last," Father Williams said. "If you think of it," he continued, "most of our efforts to reach out to young people revolve around sacraments: baptism, first reconciliation, first Communion, confirmation and marriage. What we fail to do is walk with our young people from one sacrament to the next. Inevitably young people fall through the cracks. Just ask any pastor what percentage of the couples who come to him for marriage in the church he knows personally. Not many!"

Father Williams said that "what is needed is a new vision in which we intentionally organize ministries that accompany our young people through all stages, from early adolescence through adulthood. In this way the church is actively meeting her young people at these crucial moments in their lives."

The new office, Father Williams explained, will consist of CYO, Scouting, middle school and high school ministries, high school priest chaplaincy, high school campus ministry and young adult ministry. "This office will focus on journeying with our young people before, during and after confirmation, through high school, into college and through the discernment of their vocation." He said the office also will "plan and coordinate with the Office for College Campus Ministry, the Vocation Office and Marriage Ministries."

Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley formed a commission more than a year ago to study the faith formation of adolescents and young adults. The cardinal said that in light of the commission's work "we have decided to restructure how we deliver services to youth and young adults."

With the newly established office, Cardinal O'Malley said, "the people who work with adolescents and young adults in the archdiocese will have contact with each other. They will be able to support each other, coordinate their efforts to evangelize, form young people in the faith and prepare them for their vocations in life, especially the call to holiness: the call to priesthood, religious life and the call to marriage."

… Does Youth Ministry Get the Attention It Needs?

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., held a wide-ranging discussion of family life with local Catholics during a December meeting in a parish in Yuma, Ariz., one in a series of forums planned to learn how the local church might be more helpful to parents and grandparents. A report in the New Vision, the newspaper of the Tucson Diocese, said:

"Some speakers said the church needs more programs for children such as those offered in Protestant and Mormon congregations, prompting Bishop Kicanas to say that other denominations 'are doing far more for young people than we are,' even though 'there are some parishes that have some good initiatives.'" Bishop Kicanas called this "a serious concern," and said, "We're not responding as much as we need to to get [youths] more involved." He said Protestants "put more money into youth programs than we do. … I don't know why that is."

Gearing Up for the Year of St. Paul

The letters of St. Paul "reveal an intense, driving personality. The tone of his letters also reveals temperamental struggles," Bishop Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington, Del., notes in a pastoral letter he released Jan. 25. The pastoral letter includes 10 suggested ways to celebrate the upcoming Year of St. Paul (June 28, 2008, to June 29, 2009; those 10 ways appear in full at the conclusion of this newsletter).

The Year of St. Paul was called for by Pope Benedict XVI in observance of the 2,000th anniversary of Paul's birth, which, Bishop Saltarelli notes, historians place between the years 7 A.D. and 10 A.D.

Discussing Paul's personality and what it has to do with the rest of us, Bishop Saltarelli says: "Easily hurt, [Paul] was prone to brooding, especially when the early Christian communities did not live up to the Gospel." What is paradoxical, the bishop adds, is that Paul's "interior struggles offer us encouragement and strength to continue fighting with regard to our own character and temperament struggles. With Paul, we too fight the good fight, endeavoring to allow the Beatitudes, the theological and cardinal virtues, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and ultimately Father, Son and Holy Spirit to reign in us."

Is St. Paul in some ways like today's Christians? Bishop Saltarelli thinks so. He writes: "The great French Catholic historian Henri Daniel-Rops summarized Paul's charism in this way: 'How close he seems to us, this man whom the Divine Light struck down on the road to Damascus -- defeated, yet through his very defeat overwhelmed by a profound anticipation of grace -- for after all, we ourselves are still treading that same Damascus road today! He is, after Jesus, the most vivid and complete of all the New Testament figures, the man whose face we can visualize most clearly. ... And whenever we listen to the least important of his sayings, we recognize that tone of unforgettable confidence attainable only by those who have risked their all."

Paul's conversion and what it tells us about Christian life today is among Bishop Saltarelli's main concerns here. "Paul was complicit in the murder of St. Stephen, the first martyr," the bishop writes. "The Acts of the Apostles tells us that those who were stoning Stephen to death 'laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.'"

The bishop concludes that "Stephen's glowing, peaceful face and his forgiveness of his persecutors as he died must have made an indelible impression on Saul and prepared him for the experience of the risen Lord that he had on the road to Damascus" - an experience that "shattered [Paul's] resistance, causing a complete change of mind and heart, a 'metanoia.'"

The witness given in this instance by Stephen should not be underestimated by us today, the bishop advises. He thinks we should never "underestimate the power of a Catholic life lived with integrity and radiant vitality." He asks, "How many potential 'St. Pauls' might we influence by radiating the power of Christ from deep within as St. Stephen did?"

The best way to celebrate the Year of St. Paul is to ask the risen Lord "what deep and intimate conversion of life he is calling us to," says Bishop Saltarelli. He writes:

"We know from Paul's life that at the heart of conversion is a surrender to the love of the risen Lord. Any interior movement leading from pride to humility, anger to mildness, greed to detachment, lust to a chaste spirit, envy to joy in the talents of others, sloth to zeal, gluttony (including Internet, television, cell phone and Blackberry gluttony!) to temperance is a surrender to the power of Christ's love within. This love allows us to let go of the fear of surrendering completely to Christ so that we can see others with the eyes of Christ."

Bishop Saltarelli is convinced that one of Pope Benedict's goals for the Year of St. Paul "is to have every Catholic hold up a mirror to his or her life and to ask, Am I as determined and as energetic about spreading the Catholic faith as St. Paul was? Is spreading the faith both by example and by our conversations with our friends even a concern?"

An opportunity also is presented by the upcoming year "to rediscover the Roman Catholic Church's contemporary biblical scholarship," says the bishop. "The church's scientific approach to the sacred Scriptures, characterized by a balanced use of the historical-critical method, canonical exegesis and many other sophisticated tools for the interpretation of the sacred texts is well documented in the Pontifical Biblical Commission's 'The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church' issued in 1993 and available on the Vatican Web site," the bishop observes.

The bishop believes that "the popularity of recent books and films which purport to expose church history or to challenge our beliefs serves as a catechetical wake-up call to promote biblical literacy and daily biblical engagement as well as a fuller understanding of Catholic teaching on revelation according to the Catholic principle of the union and harmony of faith and reason." …

… Ten Ways to Celebrate the Year of St. Paul

Bishop Saltarelli's January 2008 pastoral letter proposes the following 10 ways to celebrate the Year of St. Paul:

"1. Pray to the Holy Spirit about your unique and intimate 'road to Damascus' conversion experience that the Spirit is calling you to in the Year of St. Paul.

"2. Live Galatians 2:20 -- 'It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me" -- and study the lives of saints from St. Paul to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta who lived these words so inspirationally.

"3. Read and pray the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of St. Paul in the New Testament. Consult, too, the many helpful biblical commentaries and general studies of Paul that are presently available and will become available during the Year of St. Paul.

"4. Take Pope Benedict XVI's challenge and engage daily in 'lectio divina' so that the church will have a 'new springtime' of spiritual growth and evangelization. Discover in a personal way that 'the word of God cannot be chained!' For an introduction to 'lectio divina,' see www.valyermo.com/ld-art.html.

"5. Study the church's teaching on revelation and biblical interpretation in such church documents and resources as: the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation 'Dei Verbum'; the Pontifical Biblical Commission's 'The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church' (1993); relevant sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church [Part One: Sects. 26-184, pp. 13-50] and the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church [Questions 1-32, pp. 5-12]; Pope Benedict XVI's 'Jesus of Nazareth.'

"6. Study and pray through Paul's teaching on the power of the cross of Christ. 'Preach Christ crucified' in the way you carry the cross and the way you help others carry their crosses.

"7. Develop even more deeply a Pauline reverence for the Eucharist and the body of Christ. Read and pray: Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter 'Dies Domini' (1998); Pope John Paul II's encyclical 'Ecclesia de Eucharistia' (2003); Pope Benedict XVI's postsynodal apostolic exhortation 'Sacramentum Caritatis.'

"8. Participate in parish and diocesan Masses during the Year of St. Paul for the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul (Sunday, June 29, 2008, and Monday, June 29, 2009), the feast of the conversion of St. Paul the apostle (Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009) and the feast of St. Stephen, first martyr (Friday, Dec. 26, 2008). Make a pilgrimage during the Year of St. Paul to St. Paul's parish in Wilmington, St. Paul's Parish in Delaware City and Sts. Peter and Paul's Parish in Easton, Md.

"If you should be fortunate enough to visit Rome this year, make sure to visit and venerate the tomb of St. Paul at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Vatican officials announced in December 2006 that several feet below the basilica's main altar and behind a smaller altar they had found a roughly cut marble sarcophagus beneath an inscription that reads 'Paul Apostle Martyr.' The small altar was removed and a window inserted so that pilgrims can see the sarcophagus. Also visit the new ecumenical chapel which will be located in the southeast corner of the basilica (what had been since the 1930s a baptismal chapel). While praying there, ask the intercession of St. Paul for ecumenical progress and full Christian unity.

"9. Seek Paul's intercession to be a more vibrant missionary in the world. Respond to the universal call to holiness and the universal call to mission. Study classical church texts on missionary spirit and evangelization that discuss the life and ministry of St. Paul such as Vatican Council II's 1965 Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity 'Ad Gentes,' Pope Paul VI's 1975 apostolic exhortation 'Evangelii Nuntiandi,' Pope John Paul II's 1990 encyclical 'Redemptoris Missio' and Pope John Paul II's 1999 postsynodal apostolic exhortation 'Ecclesia in America.'

"10. Study and pray the classical paintings of St. Paul such as Rembrandt's St. Paul at His Writing Desk (1629-1630), Caravaggio's The Conversion of St. Paul (1600), El Greco's St. Paul (1606), Michelangelo's The Conversion of Saul (1542-1545), Raphael's St. Paul Preaching in Athens. For an Internet tour of these paintings and other art works that focus on St. Paul, see the Web site: www.jesuswalk.com/philippians/artwork-st-paul.htm. And see the 1981 film 'Chariots of Fire' (and other films with Pauline themes), which examines how Eric Liddell, a Scottish 1924 Olympic runner, lives and speaks about the Pauline 'running the race' of faith and 'feeling God's pleasure' when he runs. This film is a moving commentary on Galatians 2:20-27."