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December 15, 2016

Christmas advice for couples -
Advent insights -
Harmful effects of today's partisanship -
Politics and the common good

In this edition:
1. Christmas in uncertain times.
2. Partisanship's ferocity.
3. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Making immigrants scapegoats.
b) Politics and the common good.
c) Christmas advice for couples.
4. Visit an online Advent calendar.
5. Advent tips for a joyful life.

1. Christmas in a Time of Uncertainty

"Today the story of Christmas is retraced in the life of our world," Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose, Calif., wrote in his 2016 Christmas message. He said that "in the harrowing journeys of migrants across the borders of nations -- and even into our own country -- the flight of the Holy Family becomes real once more."

The bishop cautioned that "the insecurity, suffering and death that so many refugees experience cannot go without our care and our attention." For, "Jesus, the Word made flesh, is present in all who walk their treacherous paths."

Among its meanings, the story of Christmas "is about journeys of discovery and escape, of pilgrimage and a young family's flight to safety," the bishop commented.

Earlier, in a Nov. 23 "pre-Christmas message," Bishop McGrath wrote about the "uncertainty in these weeks following the national elections" in the U.S. At this time, he said, "we must respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and friends, and those who live and work with us."

The bishop spoke "in a special way . . . to those among us who live in fear - fear of discrimination, of deportation, of having their families torn apart." The diocese, he said, was working with other local agencies and institutions "to address both the fears of our people and steps to defend the human rights of every individual, regardless of ethnicity, place of origin or religion."

Bishop McGrath's message recalled these well-known words of the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ."

The bishop noted that San Jose's mayor, Sam Liccardo, pledged to "all who feel threatened by possible action" that, "We've got your back." The mayor said, "We cannot control the events in Washington, but we can do much to care for each other here at home."

The church makes the same pledge, the bishop insisted. He wrote, "We stand together in solidarity and accompaniment with those most in need. We cannot and will not abandon you because Jesus promised never to abandon us."

2. Partisanship's Harmful Role in America Today

The role partisanship plays in the lives of Americans today needs to be altered, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, Calif., said in a Nov. 28 speech at the Catholic Immigrant Integration Initiative Conference held at the University of San Diego.

One's choice of political party "has ceased to be merely a political category and instead has become a wider form of personal identity," the bishop observed. "This," he said, "often has searing negative impacts within families, friendships and civic life, as citizens increasingly confine themselves within partisan media and culture silos, and are encouraged in their anger against those who disagree."

Today "there is a profound sickness in the soul in American political life. This sickness tears at the fabric of our nation's unity, undermining the core democratic consensus that is the foundation for our identity as Americans," Bishop McElroy commented. He said that "it is our responsibility to heal our nation through actions of civic engagement which lie beyond the boundaries of party structures and indeed of government itself."

Healing the nation will not only mean altering the role played by partisanship, but "recapturing a sense of solidarity in our country's social, political and economic life," the bishop said. This will require recognizing that the bonds of social unity are born of a sense that we all owe a debt to the society of which we are a part.

It will be necessary, according to Bishop McElroy, to "turn as a society from selective outrage based upon partisan and ideological categories to a comprehensive compassion for all those who are suffering in our midst, combined with care, analysis and action."

Thus, he said:

"The reality that young black men fear for their security when facing law enforcement,

"The sense of dispossession felt by young white men in the Rust Belt without a college education,

"The fear that police face every day trying to protect society,

"Rampant patterns of sexual harassment and assault directed against women,

"The institutionalized patterns of poverty and ever-increasing economic inequality in America -

"These are all wounds in our society which must be addressed."

The bishop then turned to the immigration issue in the U.S. "During the past months the specter of a massive deportation campaign aimed at ripping more than 10 million undocumented immigrants from their lives and families has realistically emerged as potential federal policy," he noted.

But this, he said, must be labeled "for what it is -- an act of injustice which would stain our national honor in the same manner as the progressive dispossessions of the Native American peoples of the United States and the internment of the Japanese."

He called it unthinkable that the U.S. Catholic community "will stand by while more than 10 percent of our flock is ripped from our midst and deported." Equally unthinkable, he added, is "that we as church will witness the destruction of our historic national outreach to refugees at a time when the need to offer safe haven to refugees is growing throughout the world."

The bishop considered it "important to keep in mind that in recent days President-elect Trump had signaled a more focused immigration policy aimed at stanching the flow of new undocumented immigrants at the border and deporting those guilty of substantive crimes." It is important, he said, "to engage in dialogue with the administration and Congress to try to achieve the just application of these two principles."

Bishop McElroy cautioned, though, that "a stance of waiting has its perils. For it can lead to the ever greater normalization of mass deportations, which will be harder to stop down the road."

The bishop said that if the new administration in Washington embarks upon a policy of massive deportation, "the Catholic community must move immediately to wide-scale opposition. And we must move with the same energy, commitment and immediacy that have characterized Catholic opposition on the issues of abortion and religious liberty in recent years."

For, Bishop McElroy said, "the church can never acquiesce in or cooperate with such a grave evil in our society."

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

On Making Immigration a Divisive Wedge Issue: "Undocumented immigrants have become a kind of 'scapegoat,' an easy target to blame for broader problems in our economy and society. . . . But undocumented workers are not the problem. The real problem is globalization and deindustrialization, and what this is doing to our economy, to our family structures and neighborhoods. This is not a 'white working class' issue only, as the media reports it. Whites, Latinos, Asians, blacks and others are all suffering from the breakdown of the family and the vanishing of good-paying jobs that make it possible to support a family. Right now we need to stop allowing politicians and media figures to make immigration a 'wedge issue' that divides us. We need to come together to study these issues and find solutions. . . . What we are waiting for is politicians and media figures who have the will and the courage to tell the truth and to lead." (From a guest column by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles published Dec. 5 by Catholic News Service.)

International Politics and the Common Good: "It is worth noting that international politics has reacted weakly - albeit with some praiseworthy exceptions - regarding the concrete will to seek the common good and universal goods, and the ease with which well-founded scientific opinion about the state of our planet is disregarded. The submission of politics to a technology and an economy which seek profit above all else is shown by the 'distraction' or delay in implementing global agreements on the environment and the continued wars of domination camouflaged by righteous claims that inflict ever greater harm on the environment and the moral and cultural richness of peoples." (From the Nov. 28 speech by Pope Francis to the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.)

A Neglected Issue for Couples at Christmastime: "During the recession, the biggest problem facing couples was a lack of money and financial pressures, because so many people were out of work and getting in debt. But over the past year the pressure of time has overtaken financial difficulties to become the dominant theme in the caseloads I've had. It's obviously good that so many more people are back working, but the downside of that is that many are now struggling to find quality time to devote to their relationships. . . . What I've also noticed from the couples I've seen is that many don't think it's a big issue. They tend to say to me something like, 'It may sound trivial, but we just don't have the time any longer to spend with one another.' I explain to them that it is highly significant, and we try to work out a solution." (Tony Moore, a counselor with Relationships Ireland, quoted in a Dec. 13 Catholic News Service report titled "Marriage Advice: Make Time for Each Other, Especially at Christmas," by Nick Bramhill.)

4. An Online Advent Calendar Worthy of a Visit

Though the days of Advent are moving fast toward Christmas, you still may want to take a look at the online Advent calendar appearing on the website of the Irish Catholic bishops conference (www.catholicbishops.ie/advent-calendar). It is a good spirituality resource for individuals, families and small groups. Consult it now, and keep it in mind when Advent arrives next year.

Advent is "a time of waiting, conversion and of hope," the calendar states. It describes Advent as "a period of devout and expectant delight" due to its twofold character as "a time of preparation for the solemnities of the Christmas season, in which the first coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered," and a time "when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ's second coming at the end of time."

For each Advent day the calendar offers an audio reflection and other thoughts and prayer intentions meant to lead deeper into this season's meaning. Each day also offers what the calendar calls a "faithbyte."

The faithbyte for Dec. 2 said, "As followers of Jesus Christ, we recognize ourselves to be 'a pilgrim church sent on mission.' The Gospel sets us free, inviting us to carry the light of Christ to others. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Christian community continually seeks to live and to proclaim the word of God, expressing it in human words and deeds, giving it new life."

A faithbyte Dec. 9 said, "By our actions, our words, our prayer, our example of love, we can be credible, if imperfect witnesses to Christ."

The calendar's Advent prayer intentions the same day read: "1. We pray for those who mourn; that the Lord may remove their sadness. 2. We pray for our political leaders; that they may govern with justice and protect the interest of the most vulnerable members of society."

Its prayer intentions Dec. 2 read: "1. We pray for all who spread the Gospel; that they may preach the good news fearlessly and encourage people to rejoice in the Lord. 2. We pray for all those who are struggling as a result of poverty; that they may receive what they need."

5. Advent: Ten Tips for a Joyful Life

The Dec. 7 entry on the Advent calendar found on the website of the Irish Catholic bishops conference offered10 tips from Pope Francis for a more joyful life, saying:

"In an interview published in part in the Argentine weekly 'Viva' in July 2014, Pope Francis listed his Top 10 tips for bringing greater joy to one's life. We share them with you today:

"1. 'Live and let live.' Everyone should be guided by this principle, he said, which has a similar expression in Rome with the saying, 'Move forward and let others do the same.'

"2. 'Be giving of yourself to others.' People need to be open and generous toward others, he said, because 'if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.'

"3. 'Proceed calmly' in life. The pope, who used to teach high school literature, used an image from an Argentine novel by Ricardo Guiraldes, in which the protagonist -- gaucho Don Segundo Sombra -- looks back on how he lived his life. 'He says that in his youth he was a stream full of rocks that he carried with him; as an adult, a rushing river; and in old age he was still moving, but slowly, like a pool' of water, the pope said. He said he likes this latter image of a pool of water -- to have 'the ability to move with kindness and humility, a calmness in life.'

"4. 'A healthy sense of leisure.' The pleasures of art, literature and playing together with children have been lost, he said. 'Consumerism has brought us anxiety' and stress, causing people to lose a 'healthy culture of leisure.' Their time is 'swallowed up' so people can't share it with anyone. Even though many parents work long hours, they must set aside time to play with their children; work schedules make it 'complicated, but you must do it,' he said. Families must also turn off the TV when they sit down to eat because, even though television is useful for keeping up with the news, having it on during mealtime 'doesn't let you communicate' with each other, the pope said.

"5. Sundays should be holidays. Workers should have Sundays off because 'Sunday is for family,' he said.

"6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people. 'We need to be creative with young people. If they have no opportunities, they will get into drugs' and be more vulnerable to suicide, he said. 'It's not enough to give them food,' he said. 'Dignity is given to you when you can bring food home' from one's own labor.

"7. Respect and take care of nature. Environmental degradation 'is one of the biggest challenges we have,' he said. 'I think a question that we're not asking ourselves is: Isn't humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?'

"8. Stop being negative. 'Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem. That means, 'I feel so low that instead of picking myself up I have to cut others down,' the pope said. 'Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.'

"9. Don't proselytize; respect others' beliefs. 'We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: 'I am talking with you in order to persuade you.' No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing,' the pope said.

"10. Work for peace. 'We are living in a time of many wars,' he said, and 'the call for peace must be shouted. Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive' and dynamic."