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March 12, 2008

What Resurrection Faith Means: Easter Perspective - A Preacher for Our Times - The Work of Reconciliation: Two Dimensions - Seven Marks of Vital, Growing Parishes - Community Summit Proposed to Address Crime and Violence

In this issue:
-- A preacher for our times: Father Walter Burghardt, SJ.
-- Ministry insights.
-- The church's ministers as reconcilers.
-- Two dimensions of reconciliation.
-- Seven marks of vital, growing parishes.
-- Current quotes to ponder: false religiosity; summit to counteract crime and violence; the Gospel - not just information, but a way of life.
-- Why the resurrection matters: Easter perspective
-- What resurrection faith means.

A Preacher for Our Times: Father Burghardt, SJ

When he turned 80, Jesuit Father Walter Burghardt delivered a speech at Georgetown University in which he said that Vatican Council II literally had turned priests around: "We had to face our people." Paradoxically, Father Burghardt added, people "came to us less frequently for reconciliation, Eucharist, spiritual direction and solutions, yet demanded more of us: to be awfully close to them and still chaste and celibate; to be passionate preachers and community leaders; to live a life that reminded them of Christ the priest."

Father Burghardt died Feb. 16. He was 93. During his lifetime he gained great recognition as a theologian. He served during a period of 45 years first as managing editor, then editor in chief of Theological Studies. He was a noted expert on the church fathers. It is likely, however, that he will be remembered in the years ahead for his passionate interest in preaching. Rather far along in life he began a new initiative, Preaching the Just Word, to improve Catholic preaching across the nation and to bring a focus on social justice to preaching.

In the speech he gave upon turning 80, Father Burghardt commented: "Catholic preaching is often dull as dishwater, what the president of the University of Rochester called 'Saturday Night Live, Sunday Morning Deadly.' If our homilies are to instill new life in the social Gospel, our homilists must be set aflame. [Homilies should offer] not only information, data, skills, important as these are. Even more important, a spirituality, a conversion that turns the preacher inside out, puts 'fire in the belly.'"

He said he hoped to devote "just about every hour" that remained in his life to helping those who preach in the church to transform "each parish into a community of energizing love, to light hope in countless empty eyes, make untold thousands of the marginalized feel that somebody cares, that they are genuinely loved."

Did Father Burghardt himself ever find it difficult or challenging to preach? It seems so, since in a 1997 speech in Cincinnati he said:

"I thank God that homilies murder my sleep, that when the insights fail to come acid burns my insides, that for hours before a homily I wear out a path to the men's room, that during the liturgical readings sweat breaks out and breathing gets heavy. For all this is a prelude to passionate preaching. It costs, takes its toll on mind, on spirit, on flesh. But I know no other way of making contact with the flesh and blood in the pews. Like the prophets of old, like Isaiah and Jesus, I want to feel fiercely."

Insights for Ministry: Father Burghardt

Over the years Father Burghardt shared many of his insights on ministry and the Christian life through his speeches and writings. For example:

-- The crucifixions of daily life: "Crucifixion is not only a tragic fact [of daily life]; crucifixion is our way to Christ, to God. But only if we can transmute sheer suffering into sacrifice, into crosses that are acts of love." (1994, speaking in Washington)

-- Ignatian spirituality: "[Christ] reminds Ignatius of a skilled, enthusiastic worker. Christ is alive, not in outer space but in every single work of his loving hands, at each moment of each creature's existence. The world is charged with the presence of Christ, with the labor of Christ. Here, at its core, is my Ignatian spirituality." (1994, speaking in Washington)

-- Spirituality: "For all too long and for all too many, spirituality has been identified with our interior life, what goes on inside of us. A holistic spirituality includes both the inner experience of God and its outward expression in relationships." (1994, speaking in Washington)

-- God's presence in ministry: "You minister indeed to man, but what you minister is God. Whatever you do for another human person -- in cell block or cancer ward, in turbulent adolescence or confused senility -- will simply be not enough unless you symbolize and mediate a living and loving God. Your ministry is not a God-less humanism, 'the milk of human kindness.'" (1975, speaking in Washington)

-- A needed conversion: "I find it hard to think of any Christian -- short of a permanent vegetative state -- who is not called to be salt or light or leaven. What is needed on a massive scale is a Catholic conversion. Not from unbelief to belief. Rather, from a me-and-Jesus spirituality that still plagues our parishes to a burning yearning to transform a small acre of God's sin-scarred earth into God's garden of peace, of justice, of love." (1991, speaking in Washington)

-- Helping to reconcile one person with another: "Rip apart the iron curtain, the barbed wire, that segregates two human hearts, and you will be a sign and agent of the reconciling Christ" (1975, speaking in Washington)

Father Burghardt: Ministers Are Reconcilers

"It is not so hard to homilize about the Christ whose crucified body bled forgiveness, destroyed disharmony," however "it is hard indeed to be Christ. But unless I am, I shall not become a force for reconciliation," Father Burghardt said in a 1975 speech to the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. He explained:

The ministry of the Christian is to be a sign and agent of the reconciling Christ. But "to be a sign of Christ is not primarily a proud profession; it is an awesome responsibility. It means that to those whose lives you cross or touch you 'signify' Christ, you make him known. Not only, or even especially, by speaking of him; an unbelieving biographer could do that. You signify him by living him. And, in our context, this means you live the reconciling Christ, the forgiving Christ."

Those who minister seek to reconcile people with God, with themselves, with others in their lives and with the physical world they inhabit, Father Burghardt said. "The church's mission, like Christ's mission, is to reconcile -- to restore a ruptured unity, the oneness that should obtain within the human person and within the human family, between human persons and their God, between human persons and their earth."

Their ministerial task, Father Burghardt told the chaplains in Washington, is "not only to build up the Christian community but to serve the human family." And where is such service undertaken? "Where you are," Father Burghardt stated -- "in the corridors and streets you walk each day."

More on Reconciliation

The story of the prodigal son testifies to the complexity of the work of reconciliation "and to the unfinished nature of the task," Bishop George Lucas of Springfield, Ill., wrote in a February pastoral letter on reconciliation. This Gospel story, he indicated, clarifies two dimensions of reconciliation.

First, the "critical moment" for the prodigal son himself is when he admits his own "sinful choices" and "takes responsibility" for them. It is then that he can ask forgiveness and desire to make amends. He "takes the first steps toward home," realizing that "his father has loved him all along, fully aware of what he had done."

Second, however, "another son, who has remained at home and, in his own words, 'slaved' for his father," refuses to be reconciled with his brother. The story "ends with the father's appeal to this older son to welcome back his brother and share with him the richness of their father's love, which has always belonged to both."

With these two dimensions of the story of the prodigal son in mind, Bishop Lucas suggested that our own role in reconciliation is two-pronged.

-- First, "reconciliation cannot happen unless each one takes responsibility for his or her behaviors that have given offense and harmed both others and oneself," and asks forgiveness.

-- Second, "reconciliation cannot happen unless each one is willing to accept his sister or brother who has offended." Acceptance, in this case, is "more than forgiveness. It is restoring each other to the community of life we share in Christ as brother and sister."

It can be seen from this that the work of reconciliation always is "unfinished." Bishop Lucas explained, "We are never without the grace to find healing for our wounds," but neither are we without the grace "to extend forgiveness to those who have hurt us."

Seven Qualities of a Vital, Growing Parish

Seven qualities that he believes mark the life of a parish that is "vital and growing" were outlined by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn in his recent (October 2007) pastoral letter on evangelization. He said:

1. "Every parish is called to be a vibrant center for worship and prayer."

Celebrations of the sacraments "should be prayerful and dignified," and "our liturgical celebrations must be vibrant, joyful and faith-filled." There ought to be a strong effort "to offer homilies that are relevant to the daily lives of our people." Also, "a parish's worship space should be aesthetically pleasing and liturgically appropriate," and "an adequate number of lay leaders to serve in the various ministries associated with the celebration of the sacraments" ought to be properly trained.

2. A "willingness to be a place of active welcome" marks the "vibrant parish."

The bishop cautioned that "many newcomers can very easily be overlooked or even ignored" in a parish. A "warm welcome" should be extended to all "who worship in and join our parishes."

3. "A parish is called to be a vibrant center for the ongoing faith formation of its entire people."

Among other things, this calls for "recognition and respect for the holistic development of every person, from birth to senior years," and "respect for the complexity and diversity of our people and their experiences." There also is a need, the bishop said, "for new and creative ways in which the partnership between our Catholic schools and the religious education programs of our parishes can be fostered into a single vision for ongoing faith formation."

4. "Christian service and outreach" mark a "vital parish."

The bishop said: "The parish does not work simply to sustain itself. It should be a visible expression of Christian community service, incorporating charitable works and social justice activities while fostering respect for the human dignity of everyone within the community."

5. Good stewardship is necessary.

Identifying "the gifts and talents of every parishioner" and identifying the opportunities to share those gifts and talents in Christian service "is always a challenge to a parish, especially large parishes." The bishop expressed the hope "that each parish can become financially stable."

6. "The fullest possible collaboration among clergy, religious, and lay men and women in their respective missions" is encouraged.

Many parishioners should be actively and responsibly involved in consultative roles in the parish, and "lay leaders should receive appropriate education and formation." In addition, "the leaders of both the parish pastoral council and finance council should be encouraged in their work and prized as active contributors in the work of every parish."

7. A "willingness to be constantly renewed by the spirit of evangelization" marks the vital, growing parish.

"Our parishes cannot merely be service stations where people come for the sacraments," said Bishop DiMarzio. Parishes should "reach out to those who do not participate at Mass, especially nonpracticing Catholics, as well as others who can be invited to share our faith." The parish "should have active programs of evangelization to share the Catholic faith and mission." The parish "should offer opportunities to grow in the Christian life to all of its members." And it "should educate its members in an ecumenical spirit and be supportive of the missionary activities of the church."

Current Quotes to Ponder

Counteracting Crime and Violence: "Some months ago I appealed for a community summit to address the question of violence in our society. I renew that appeal this evening. I have no explicit plan. Perhaps such a summit would best be organized from the ground up. Networks of local communities, for example, parents, young people, teachers, priests, [the police] and others could work together on matters of common concern, sharing information, raising issues at the earliest opportunity. The challenges of violence and substance abuse go beyond the realm of crime prevention and require a wider outreach to the entire community. We cannot just leave that community involvement to moments of tragedy alone, when it is too late." (Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, during a service of remembrance for Marius Szwajkos, 27, and Pavel Kalite, 29, two Polish men who were attacked with screwdrivers -- and later died -- after refusing to purchase alcohol for some teenagers loitering outside a shop in Dublin Feb. 23)

False religiosity: "Every believer is in danger of practicing a false religiosity, of not seeking in God the answer to the most intimate expectations of the heart, but on the contrary treating God as though he were at the service of our desires and projects. In how many circumstances do we want God to implement our own plans and grant our every desire? On how many occasions does our faith prove frail, our trust weak, our religious sense contaminated by magical and merely earthly elements? Let us accept with humble docility the recommendation of the Responsorial Psalm: 'Oh, that today you would hear his voice." (From the Feb. 24 homily of Pope Benedict XVI at the Rome parish of Santa Maria Liberatrice)

The Gospel, a Way of Life: "We must communicate the faith but also mentor people in the faith. It is not enough to simply pass on information; we must help people to recognize in Jesus' Gospel a way of life." (From the Feb. 29 blog of Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley)

Why the Resurrection Matters: An Easter Perspective

"The most radical and most fundamental of Christian beliefs is that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified under the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, rose from the dead, body and spirit," Passionist Father Donald Senior, a Scripture scholar, said in an address Feb. 11 at Loyola Chicago University. Father Senior, a faculty member at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, spoke in the Chapel Series, an ongoing lecture series at the university.

Father Senior examined what St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15 about Christ's resurrection and our own resurrection to come. A belief in bodily resurrection shapes our views of Jesus, of ourselves and others in this world. It even shapes the way we view scientific and technological endeavors to explore "the potency and beauty of the human body and of matter itself." Father Senior said, "The notion of resurrection makes us think about our bodiliness."

"Resurrection affirms in a powerful and unimpeachable way the sacredness of creation and of the human body." This has "serious ethical consequences, underscoring Christian responsibility for care of the environment." It underscores the responsibility to foster and protect "life in all its expressions" from "conception to death," and belief in the resurrection of the body counteracts any temptation to devalue creation or to discount the quest and need for justice in this world, the biblical scholar suggested.

In addition, he stressed that "sacraments are resurrection realities." Father Senior said, "Belief in the efficacy of the sacraments is incompatible with a negative view of the body or creation." The church's belief is that "the divine presence is in fact mediated in and through created realities - the water of baptism, the oil of anointing in the sacrament of the sick, the laying on of hands in ordination, the union of bodies in matrimony, the bread and wine of the Eucharist."

What Resurrection Faith Means

What does resurrection faith mean? It doesn't mean simply "that the cause of Jesus rose from the tomb of defeat; not just that the words and deeds of Jesus were kept alive in the faith and living memories of the Christian community; not just that through the disciples the Jesus movement gathered momentum," said Father Senior.

Instead, "Christian resurrection faith affirms the belief that Jesus who truly died, who lost his life, was transformed by the power of God and given renewed life, new corporeal, bodily life." Furthermore, "Christian faith concludes, because of who Jesus truly was," that his "singular defeat of death changes everything for humanity and for our created world." Father Senior added, "The tomb - the home of the dead - was made empty."

In the time of St. Paul, it was asked in Corinth's Christian community how the dead are raised and what kind of body the dead will have. The answer Paul gave was "sharp and pointed," Father Senior said.

In his discussion with the Corinthians, Paul made clear that resurrection "is not to be confused with resuscitation," and resurrection "is not some kind of rescue from a near-death experience." In discussing this, the contrast Paul draws between the "fleshy body" and the "spiritual body" of the resurrection isn't "a contrast between the corporeal and the spiritual or between the body and the soul," said Father Senior.

"There is no doubt that we are speaking of bodily resurrection, but it is never a matter of someone 'coming back' with a body that is similar or the same as they had when they experienced death," he explained. "Like the grain of wheat buried in the ground that emerges as a life-giving plant, so the body that is buried is transformed into something wonderful."

Life More Powerful Than Death

The resurrection of Jesus shows life "to be more powerful than death," Father Senior commented. To grasp this, he suggested, it is necessary to contemplate "the reality and the extended impact of Jesus' death."

For Jesus, the experience of death meant - as it does for all of us - "the end to all of the relationships and vital activities that defined the lives of corporeal human beings. Jesus' mission of healing and teaching was no longer possible; his relationship with his disciples and his friends and his family was to be severed," Father Senior said. However, in being raised from death's power, "his body-spirit is transformed and has new power; the tomb is no longer his fated home; his relationships with his disciples and his family are renewed; and the mission of Jesus is given even stronger impulse under the power of God's Spirit." Thus, "life is shown to be more powerful than death."

Father Senior said that "in Jesus' encounter with the force of death, it is as if all of humanity stands with him and also encounters the withering and destructive power of death."