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February 13, 2008

What Makes People Happy? - Eucharistic Table: Dining With the Lord of Justice and Peace - Ministry Success Story in Washington: "The Light Is On for You" - Hispanics in the U.S. in 2050 -- What Lent is For: Breaking the Cycle of Negativity and Resentment

In This Edition:
-- Locating the cross in ordinary life: Ash Wednesday revisited.
-- What can we say about happiness? New book says quite a lot.
-- Which road leads to happiness?
-- "The Light Is On for You" program renewed in Washington.
-- Opportunity to break the cycle of negativity and resentment: Lent.
-- Current quotes to ponder: the story of two wolves; a note on cell phones, conversations and connections.
-- The eucharistic table: Dining with the Lord of justice and peace.
-- Catholics and their cathedrals: Servant ministry.
-- The U.S. population in 2050: Noteworthy Pew study projections.

Locating the Cross in My Life, in Yours: Ash Wednesday Revisited

"Some of the stuff we hear about Lent suggests that we look for what I would call luxury crosses or substitute crosses," Benedictine Father Donald Talafous of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., wrote in a reflection for Ash Wednesday. He said: "Instead of handling well the cross that is right before us, we decide on something more satisfying to our egos, like an hour on our knees each day or skipping meals. These crosses can be about as significant as the ones that rock stars hang around the necks or from their ears."

Father Talafous recalled Francois Mauriac, the French novelist and journalist, saying that "the only genuine crosses are those we have not chosen ourselves." The priest asked: "Aren't these what Jesus calls 'our' crosses? What are they? For example: the stress that comes with our work; a difficult person we must work with; some nagging physical problem which has no simple solution; putting up more patiently with some grouch or, better yet, not being one ourselves; facing that morning task with more alertness. Let us take up our cross daily; if we haven't lifted it lately, it's right there. All we need is a closer look."

Father Talafous writes a brief, daily online reflection/meditation for any interested person that is found at www.saintjohnsabbey.org/reflection/.

Finding the Right Words for "Happiness"

"Eight out of ten Americans say they think about their happiness at least once a week," writes Eric Weiner in a new book titled "The Geography of Bliss" (Twelve Books; wwwTwelveBooks.com). The book raced onto best-seller lists in early February.

Do you know anyone who wouldn't like to be happy? Maybe the interest in this book is explained, at least in part, by an innate, human desire for happiness. Weiner discovered, nonetheless, that people don't find it easy to talk about happiness. "We have far more words to describe unpleasant emotional states than pleasant ones," he writes; it is difficult to get people to talk about happiness because "they literally don't have the words for it."

The author traveled the world interviewing people about the meaning of happiness and assessing the happiness quotient in nations from Iceland and Moldova to Denmark and Switzerland, from India to Britain, the U.S. and yet others. "All cultures value happiness, but not to the same degree," he says. He comments that "in America, few people are happy, but everyone talks about happiness constantly. In Bhutan, most people are happy, but no one talks about it."

People in Switzerland "know instinctively that envy is the great enemy of happiness," Weiner says. And in Qatar, where allotments of money flow freely to citizens, people apparently are not really the happier for it.

Some of Weiner's most interesting insights derive from his study of what at one point he calls "the young science of happiness," as well as from general conclusions reached after all his traveling and interviewing. Readers of this newsletter probably won't be surprised to hear that "people who attend religious services report being happier than those who do not." Weiner also says there are indications that we humans are "hardwired for altruism."

"Social scientists estimate that about 70 percent of our happiness stems from our relationships, both quantity and quality, with friends, family, coworkers and neighbors," says Weiner. And when it comes to happiness, beaches are optional, but trust and gratitude are not.

What about money? Does it pave the way to happiness? "Money matters," but not in the way people tend to believe, according to Weiner. "Extreme poverty is not conducive to happiness," he says, but money buys happiness only "up to a point" - a point that "is surprisingly low." Today, he observes, Americans on average are "three times wealthier than we were half a century ago, yet we are no happier."

People chase after things that they believe will make them happy, only to find out that those things don't make them happy, Weiner says. The human brain's wiring comes into play here, he suggests. "We assume that our intense feelings of wanting something - a new car, winning the lottery - means that, once obtained, these things will make us happy. But that is a connection that, neurologically speaking, does not exist," he writes.

The book is easy to read and, many times, quite amusing. It made me think. It especially made me wonder why happiness -- so much on our minds - isn't probed in depth more often. I've read much more about depression in recent years than about happiness; both are important topics, of course. Is happiness ever a topic that parish small groups explore?

Weiner asked a guru in India if happiness is the highest ideal. It isn't, the guru said. "There is something higher than happiness. Love is higher than happiness."

What Road Leads to Happiness?

How is happiness achieved? Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium, had something to say about this in a 2001 speech at Jesuit-run John Carroll University in Cleveland. "Weeklies and magazines are full of recipes for happiness, but without exception they are situated at the level of psychology and physicality. They all fall under the category 'enjoyment,'" the cardinal said.

People often search for happiness -- and for hope -- along "escape routes," the cardinal suggested. Alcohol, drugs and various medications line these routes. What is sought, he said, is an escape from "the responsibility to reflect and exert effort." Cardinal Danneels proposed that the discovery of happiness requires "reflection, self-control, effort, conversion or searching for a more spiritual and ethical life."

Story of a Success: "The Light Is on for You" Program Renewed in Washington

With the success of an effort a year ago in the Archdiocese of Washington that promoted religious education related to the sacrament of penance and a pastoral initiative called "The Light Is On for You" that makes the sacrament easily accessible at a widely advertised, specific time, that initiative was renewed in the archdiocese for Lent 2008. In a January 2008 pastoral letter, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington wrote:

"As was done last year, all priests are invited to participate in this pastoral initiative. On Wednesday evenings, beginning with the first week of Lent, Feb. 13, 2008, until the Wednesday of Holy Week, a priest will be available for confessions in every church throughout the archdiocese. This year, following the discussion at Priest Council, the decision was made to set the time for confessions on those Wednesdays from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m."

Archbishop Wuerl said that "after hearing from the faithful across the archdiocese and in consultation with our priests, it is evident that the initiative was pastorally fruitful and that hundreds or thousands of people experienced the joy of returning to the sacrament of reconciliation, many of whom had not been to confession for decades. In many parishes each successive Wednesday brought more people to church for reconciliation, and in some cases during Wednesday of Holy Week priests heard confessions for three, four or five hours."

One pastor, the archbishop wrote, "observed that 'this program awakened a hunger for the sacrament' in his parishioners, prompting him to expand times for confessions on other days and year round." Priests in the archdiocese were asked whether they would recommend the initiative again for 2008, and "almost eight in 10 priests answered in the affirmative," said Archbishop Wuerl.

Archbishop Wuerl said that while the specific time for "The Light Is On for You" initiative on Wednesdays, "might not be ideal for every parish," a discussion in the priest's council "recognized that the ability to advertise this pastoral program across the whole archdiocese requires some uniformity in scheduling."

The "most important blessing" of the program "has been the spiritual healing and sacramental forgiveness of so many people," said the archbishop. In addition, however, the pastoral program has "highlighted the sacrament of confession in a public way and given an important witness to our neighbors about the importance of God and our need for his help and his mercy."

What Is Lent For? Breaking "the Cycle of Negativity and Resentment"

"Break the cycle of negativity and resentment, of cynicism and hardness" during Lent, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony recommended in a 2008 Lenten message. The season of Lent "is a moment to lift up and offer strength to one another rather than to rip and tear one another apart," he said.

Giving up some small things during Lent helps pave the way to giving up larger things such as negative thinking, brooding resentment, intolerance "for those who hold opinions different from ours," Cardinal Mahony wrote. Of course, Lent isn't just a time to give something up, but to "give in" as well - "to give in to the gifts of the Spirit being offered to each one of us - love, peace, joy, forgiveness, tolerance instead of hatred and revenge."

Lenten light "helps us climb up and out of negativity and divisiveness, breaking their hold on us through small gestures of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation," said the cardinal.

Current Quotes to Ponder

A Story of Two Wolves: "There is a story told about an elder Native American walking in the forest with his grandson. Native Americans have great respect for their elders and the wisdom that accompanies them. At one point along the way after they had spotted a wolf in the distance, the grandfather said: 'Within us there are two wolves. One is mean, vicious and angry, hungry to destroy. The other is kind and gentle.' That was all he said. As they continued walking for a while, finally the grandson asked his grandfather, 'Which wolf will win?' The grandfather reflected silently for a moment and then responded, 'The one you feed.'" (From the 2008 Ash Wednesday homily of Bishop Stephen Blaire, Stockton, Calif.)

Of Cell Phones, Conversations and Connections: "Why are we most often on the cell phone and connected to another person? I suggest that it may be because we are afraid to be alone; we are afraid to be quiet. Would it be possible for us during Lent when we are driving around or even at home to put the cell phone down and spend the time in conversation with the Lord? With the noise of our society and the instant communications of computers and cell phones, we are constantly connected to others, which begs the question, Are we connected to 'The Other,' who is God?" (Bishop Gregory Aymond of Austin, Texas, in a February 2008 interview with the Catholic Spirit newspaper of the Austin Diocese)

The Eucharistic Table: Dining With the Lord of Justice and Peace

1. "The church's eucharistic table is the most important location where we Catholics come to understand and to accept our dignity and our identity as members of the church."

2. "The eucharistic table is the place where we are reminded that there are consequences to and obligations that flow from our dining with the Lord of justice and peace."

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta made those two points in a Jan. 17 presentation to the Southwest Liturgical Conference's annual study week, held in Tucson, Ariz. When bad weather prevented the archbishop from traveling to Tucson, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson read the presentation on his behalf.

"There is an incontrovertible link between the action of dining and the responsibility to live the unique justice that is revealed to us" at the eucharistic table, said Archbishop Gregory. And the justice revealed there is indeed "unique." Why unique? The archbishop explained:

"Eucharistic justice is not identical with our ordinary understanding of that term. Eucharistic justice is above all patterned after God's perfect justice and therefore not identified, equated or captured with simple fairness or mere impartiality. God's justice is not limited to rendering a debt on what has been earned or merited, but what is given freely even to those who may appear before the entire world to be unmistakably undeserving."

Archbishop Gregory said that the story in Matthew's Gospel of "the workers who labored for different parts of the day and yet in the end were paid the same" reveals that "God's justice is not the same as our idea of justice." The justice of God "defies our categories of justice because it is always tempered with mercy and sees beyond what the human eye beholds in judging our brothers and sisters."

The justice of God "is a justice that comes from the heart rather than from human understanding," said Archbishop Gregory.

Catholics and Their Cathedrals: A Servant Ministry

"While people respect, admire and fear people with worldly power, they reserve their love and affection for people in their lives who are generous, self-giving and put others first," Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco said in a Jan. 16 speech to the Cathedral Ministry Conference in St. Augustine, Fla.

"For 20 centuries," the archbishop said, "this has been the challenge to leaders within the Catholic Church, to bishops, priests, deacons and lay leaders alike: The one who would be first among you must be the servant of the rest." He said, "To be a sign of Jesus Christ in the kingdom, the leader must be servant; otherwise, he will be a countersign."

It is a "great betrayal" for disciples to reverse things "by making their own the values of the world, of lording it over others and bringing that behavior into the church," Archbishop Niederauer said. He called it "an important dimension of our vocation as the people of God" to serve as "a light in the midst of shadow and gloom, a light that reaches out in loving concern to the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the imprisoned, the stranger in our midst and to all our neighbors."

Like the bishop and the entire church, the cathedral "is called to communitywide witness and service," the archbishop said. For, "if the cathedral is the first church of the diocese, then it must follow that the cathedral is pre-eminently the servant church of the diocese."

What does the servant cathedral do? It "needs to share in the bishop's office of teaching the faith and proclaiming the word, both in regular programs and special events," said the archbishop. Moreover, "the cathedral serves the unity of an increasingly diverse flock by resisting a narrow parochialism, by welcoming the particular devotions and faith expressions of different cultures. Sometimes that means getting up earlier in the morning for 'las Mananitas' and 'Simbang Gabi!'"

The "witness of the servant cathedral to the entire community in which it serves" is of increasing importance, Archbishop Niederauer believes. He said, "Again and again the Second Vatican Council and all the Roman pontiffs since the council have emphasized that the Catholic Church is concerned with and called to serve all God's children, of whatever race or language or religious faith."

A cathedral "is uniquely placed within each local church to bring God's people together in worship, prayer, the proclamation of the word and the teaching of the faith, and then to lead them out together in service to the world, always preaching the Gospel and, when necessary, using words," Archbishop Niederauer concluded. (The text of Archbishop Niederauer's speech appears in the Feb. 14, 2008, edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

The U.S. Population in 2050: Pew Study Projections

The Hispanic population in the U.S., "already the nation's largest minority group, will triple in size and will account for most of the nation's population growth from 2005 through 2050," the Pew Research Center said in a study issued Feb. 11. It said, "Hispanics will make up 29 percent of the U.S. population in 2050, compared with 14 percent in 2005."

The study's population projections "are based on detailed assumptions about births, deaths and immigrations levels - the three components of population change," the Pew center noted. It projected that during the period from 2005 to 2050, "the non-Hispanic white population will increase more slowly than other racial and ethnic groups." In fact, it said, "whites will become a minority (47 percent) by 2050."

In 2050, "nearly one in five Americans (19 percent) will be an immigrant, compared with one in eight (12 percent) in 2005," according to the Pew center. "By 2025," it continued, "the immigrant, or foreign-born, share of the population will surpass the peak during the last great wave of immigration a century ago."

The study said that "births in the U.S. will play a growing role in Hispanic and Asian population growth; as a result, a smaller proportion of both groups will be foreign-born in 2050 than is the case now."

The Pew study projected that if current trends continue, the U.S. population "will rise to 438 million in 2050, from 296 million in 2005." It said that "82 percent of the increase will be due to immigrants arriving from 2005 to 2050 and their U.S.-born descendants." The study said that "of the 117 million people added to the population during this period due to the effect of new immigration, 67 million will be the immigrants themselves and 50 million will be their U.S.-born children or grandchildren."