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June 30, 2008

Upcoming synod on the Bible: Liturgy of the Word; biblical fundamentalism; "lectio divina" - Annual meeting of National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management: Insights on leadership and management, and how they relate to each other

In this edition:
-- Qualities of good leaders.
-- Current quotes to ponder: leadership without management, and management without leadership; what "leadership" and "management" mean; the management and leadership required in effective organizations.
-- Fall 2008 world Synod of Bishops on the Bible takes shape.
-- Liturgy and the Word: God enters into dialogue with people.
-- The problem with biblical fundamentalism.
-- Scripture and prayer: "lectio divina."

Qualities of Good Leaders

Good leaders are people who keep growing, according to Lawrence Bossidy, who spoke June 27 in Philadelphia to the annual meeting of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management. Leaders who continue to grow are people who listen to the views of others, he said. Bossidy is former chairman and CEO of Honeywell International.

In his address to the gathering of Catholic leaders at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, Bossidy drew upon his long experience as a leader in business. The 90 participants in this year's Leadership Roundtable meeting included 10 U.S. bishops, business and financial leaders, pastors and lay pastoral ministers, philanthropists, educators and others. They discussed ways to promote excellence in the leadership and management of Catholic dioceses and parishes.

The 3-year-old Leadership Roundtable was established in July 2005 to promote "best practices" by all serving in the church workplace.

If leaders need to be people who continue to grow, Bossidy said he believes they also need to be people who are able to "change their minds" in the face of new facts. If they don't, he warned, they stop growing. Thus, Bossidy believes good leaders need to "embrace humility." He cautioned that "people with big egos don't listen," and "people who don't listen don't learn."

Another quality of good leaders is that they "embrace realism in everything they do," according to Bossidy. He said, "The sooner you recognize reality, the more options you have."

Bossidy believes the "core of a good organization is to assess and develop people." For this, it is necessary to identify strengths and areas in which development is needed - a process that does not have to be conducted in a negative manner. But "this is a way organizations get better," he said.

The speaker encouraged leaders to provide affirmation for staff members. Otherwise, he said, the good people leave and the mediocre people stay.

One interesting proposal by Bossidy was that the church take steps to learn why people leave the church. Having people leave, then just "shaking our heads and thinking we can't do anything about it isn't good," he said.

Bossidy suggested conducting "exit interviews" - in other words, finding a way to ask people why they left the church. Maybe then the church can "come up with programs to prevent the next person from leaving," he said.

Bossidy advised his audience of leaders that it is "not only important to have good ideas," it is also important to know "when to implement them." And energy comes into play in a helpful way for leaders, he said: their own energy, along with the "ability to energize others."

Current Quotes to Ponder From the Leadership Roundtable on Church Management Meeting

When a Parish Has Leadership Without Management or Management Without Leadership: "The challenge facing managerial excellence at the parish level is getting both the leadership and management working together. When you have leadership without management, oftentimes things just don't get done or there are no measurables to determine whether you are succeeding or not; and when you have management without leadership you get bureaucracy and immobility." (Francis J. Butler, president of the Washington-based Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities and a member of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management board; he participated in the June 26-27 annual meeting in Philadelphia of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management.)

What "Leadership" and "Management" Mean: "Leadership is the ability to motivate and sustain a vision -- to recognize the talents of others that will bring life to a vision. Management is the focus that is needed on all of the components that will put the vision in place -- the details, everything that is needed. Management implies a level of accountability. Managers are leaders for the people they lead. Every level has leadership. It's always about who is going to motivate people at that level to do their jobs and hold them accountable." (Mary McDonald, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Memphis, Tenn.; she participated in the June 26-27 annual meeting in Philadelphia of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management.)

The Management and Leadership Effective Organizations Need: "Effective organizations require both good leadership and good management. Good leadership is the dominant skill needed to deal with changing conditions -- both to understand their implications and what will be required to adapt. Good management is the dominant skill necessary to provide efficient and effective operations, and implement required changes in them. Individuals frequently are much better at one than the other. Successful organizations pick their leadership teams to ensure that both skills are appropriately present in their executive ranks." (Frederick Gluck, a former managing partner of McKinsey & Company and a member of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management board; he participated in the June 26-27 annual meeting in Philadelphia of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management.)

Focus on the Bible: Plans for Fall World Synod of Bishops Take Shape

There is a need within the church for greater understanding of what the Bible really is. At the same time, there is a need to understand that the Bible isn't just a book to know something "about"; it is means for the word of God to enter into a dialogue with those who turn to it, according to the working paper for the upcoming world Synod of Bishops in Rome.

The working paper for the Oct. 5-26 synod was released by the Vatican June 12. This synod's theme is, "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church."

A working paper for a world synod is based in significant part on comments and suggestions received from bishops and others throughout the world. A working paper generally can be approached as a predictor of a number of topics likely to come up for discussion during a synod.

Based on this working paper, it appears likely that the fall 2008 synod will discuss Scripture in the Liturgy of the Word, with a focus on the important roles of homilists and lectors; the Bible and science; biblical fundamentalism; the need for an improved teaching of the Bible in catechesis and other activities of the church; the biblical formation of leaders and educators in the church; the form of prayer known as "lectio divina"; and the place of the Bible in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, spoke at the press conference held in Rome to present the working paper. He said the Bible is the world's most widely translated and distributed book, though "unfortunately" it is "not read much." Pointing to a recent poll in Italy showing that just 38 percent of Italians read a biblical passage during the past year, the archbishop commented that even in traditionally Catholic countries, the end result of this reality could be scriptural "illiteracy."

The working paper calls it paradoxical that at a time when the church's people increasingly "hunger for the Word of God," their desire doesn't always receive "an adequate response in the preaching of the church's pastors because of a deficiency in seminary preparation or pastoral practice."

The working paper says that "generally speaking, the faithful set the Bible apart from other religious texts and give it great importance in living the faith. However, in practice, many prefer to read easily understood spiritual books, edifying talks or writings and various other works associated with popular piety." Ways need to be devised in pastoral activity "to help the faithful come to know what the Bible is, why it exists, its value in the life of faith and how to use it," the working paper states.

Too many people in the church "are reluctant to open the Bible for various reasons," the working paper says. In particular, that is because "they feel it might be too difficult to understand."

The working paper urges that greater value be placed on "teaching the Bible in schools." It says this can be done in courses that teach "the most significant Bible texts and the methods of interpretation adopted by the church."

Liturgy of the Word: A Dialogue With God's People

There is an accent in the working paper for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Bible as a book whose elements add up to more than words and chapters - a book that even extends well beyond the kind of reading that people may find interesting and compelling. God's word "seeks a dialogue within the church -- with Christian communities, with other religions and even with culture," the paper says.

In catechesis, "it is important to remember" that the Word of God "should not be seen as a mere object of academic study," the paper explains. Rather, it continues, "encountering sacred Scripture in catechesis is to be understood as an act with which God himself speaks to people, as he does in liturgical celebrations."

The texts of the Bible "communicate an experience of the abiding and gracious presence of God," according to the working paper. Thus, there is a close bond between the form of prayer known as "lectio divina" and listening to and praying God's Word. The Bible, you might say, is meant to be heard and experienced, not simply read.

With all this in mind, it isn't surprising that the role of the Bible in the liturgy receives special attention in the working paper. "During liturgical celebrations, the proclamation of the Word in the Scriptures is a deeply dynamic dialogue," the paper says. It points out that throughout "the history of the people of God" the Bible has served as "the book of worship and prayer."

The role of the biblical readings in the Liturgy of the Word is closely examined by the working paper. The Liturgy of the Word "is not so much a time for meditation and catechesis as a dialogue between God and his people, a dialogue in which the wonders of salvation are proclaimed and the demands of the covenant are continually restated," it says.

Calling attention to the roles of homilists and lectors, the working paper says that "maximum attention" should be given in the Liturgy of the Word "to a clear, understandable proclamation of the texts and a homily based on the Word." Accomplishing this will require formation and preparation, the paper indicates. It says this "requires competent, well-prepared readers [lectors] who, for this purpose, need to be formed in schools, even ones which might be established by the diocese."

Homilists, the working paper says, "need to make a greater effort to be faithful to the biblical text and mindful of the condition of the faithful, providing them assistance in interpreting the events of their personal lives and historical happenings in the light of faith."

The Problem With Biblical Fundamentalism

A negative view of biblical fundamentalism is found in the working paper for the fall 2008 world Synod of Bishops on the Bible. For the working paper, "the sects and fundamentalism hinder a proper interpretation of the Bible."

There does indeed need to be a focus on what a scriptural text "is saying" -- a focus on understanding "its literal sense before applying it to life," the working paper makes clear. But it adds that "this is not always easy because of the risk of fundamentalism."

When it comes to reading the Bible, "fundamentalism takes refuge in literalism and refuses to take into consideration the historical dimension of biblical revelation," the working paper says. "This kind of interpretation is winning more and more adherents -- even among Catholics," the paper asserts.

Fundamentalism demands "an unshakable adherence to rigid doctrinal points of view" and imposes, "as the only source of teaching for Christian life and salvation, a reading of the Bible which rejects all questioning and any kind of critical research."

The working paper cautions against fundamentalism; it cautions against arbitrary interpretations of Scripture; it cautions against well-intended approaches to the Bible that may be influenced by ideologies. And the paper seems to caution people against more or less slipping into fundamentalism.

What sometimes happens is that in their approach to the Bible, people demonstrate "a desire to remain faithful to the text," but on the other hand display "a lack of knowledge of the texts," the working paper says.

Scripture and Prayer: "Lectio Divina"

"The whole church seems again to be giving specific attention to "lectio divina," the synod working paper says. Today, "lectio divina" is not a practice "confined to a few, well-committed" individuals or "specialists in prayer," it observes.

The paper calls "lectio divina" a highly beneficial aspect of "an authentic Christian life in a secularized world that needs contemplative, attentive, critical and courageous people who, at times, must make totally new, untried choices."

The working paper describes "lectio divina" as "a reading, on an individual or communal level, of a more or less lengthy passage of Scripture, received as the Word of God and leading, at the prompting of the Spirit, to meditation, prayer and contemplation."

This way of drawing upon the Bible is a practice that "goes back to the beginnings of Christianity and has been a part of the church throughout her history. Monasteries kept the practice alive," the working paper explains. But today, it says, "lectio divina" is regarded as "an effective pastoral instrument and a valuable tool in the church in the education and spiritual formation of priests, in the everyday lives of consecrated women and men, in parish communities, in families, associations and movements, and for the ordinary believer -- both young and old -- who can find in this form of reading a practical, accessible means -- for individuals or entire communities -- to come in contact with the Word of God."

"Lectio divina" often is viewed as a practice that is helpful in the ecumenical movement, the working paper points out. And it notes that there are those who think that (taking into consideration "the real possibilities" of the practice in the lives of people) the practice now should be adapted "to different situations in such a way as to conserve the essence of this reading in prayer, while highlighting its nutritive value for a person's faith."