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August 6, 2008

Year of St. Paul: How much do we know about the apostle's life? - The basics of compassion - When church ministries compete with each other -- The Eucharist and the parish - and much more!



In this edition:

-- Competition among life, justice and family ministries.
-- Priesthood in the year 2025.
-- Why have a Year of St. Paul?
-- How much do we know about St. Paul's life?
-- Current quotes to ponder: Catholics in the U.S. South; migrants and their families; the challenge for the church of welcoming the stranger.
-- The basics of compassion.
-- Compassion: Looking into the face of another.
-- The Eucharist and the parish.


Competition Among Life, Justice and Family Ministries

"In today's church there is no room for competition, no room for going it alone," Bishop Joseph Galante of Camden, N.J., said in a speech July 25 in Cherry Hill, N.J. He addressed a conference of Catholic pro-life, family-life and social-justice leaders that explored ways to achieve greater collaboration among the church's respect-life, family-life and social-justice offices.

"So very often we operate in our own cubicles, working diligently but wondering why we haven't made a greater impact on those we are serving," Bishop Galante said. "Let's tear down our cubicles, let go of our turfs" in order to "discover a more ecclesial way of ministering," he urged. The bishop asked, "How can we who lead draw others to understand and live community if we ourselves fail to lead, to minister and to pray as a community?"

The "Life, Justice and Family Convocation" addressed by Bishop Galante was sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, the Knights of Columbus, and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Diocese of Camden.

Bishop Galante accented church teaching on human dignity. Jesus teaches that "each human being is precious, a treasured gift from God," the bishop said. "Each one has a profound God-given dignity and worth from the first stirring of life in the womb, through the intervening years of childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, senior-age status to the last breath breathed."

"It is time to get back to basics, to renew our understanding and commitment to what we have learned, but more important to who we are," said Bishop Galante. "We are one body," he said - the body of Christ. With this in mind, the bishop asked:

"How can we dishonor, dismember, destroy that body? If we truly believe, how can we kill the unborn, how can we bomb the Iraqi, shun the person whose skin color is different than ours? How can we refuse to welcome the immigrant seeking a better life for his family? How can we be so blind as to not recognize Jesus -- black, brown, yellow, white? How can we deny that you, the least of my sisters or brothers, are Jesus and still believe that Jesus lives in us? How can we, individually or collectively, be so self- righteous yet fail to see that we are not at all righteous?"

Bishop Galante cautioned that "the world of sound bites and catchy headlines does not begin to do justice" to the church's great documents - documents that he said deserve to be read and re-read. He said:

"We have been given profound gifts in the Gospel and in the New Testament writings, especially of Paul and Peter. We have a treasure of church teaching throughout the ages. In our own times we have the magnificent documents of the Second Vatican Council, especially 'Lumen Gentium' (the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church), and 'Gaudium et Spes,' (the Church in the Modern World). Our recent popes have given us sound and profound encyclicals and motu proprios."

The challenge is "to read these documents, to re-read them, to live them and to teach them," Bishop Galante said.

Looking Ahead to Priesthood in 2025

People today find themselves living in an era when knowledge is regarded as just the accumulation of more and more data, which is "not the same as true knowledge and wisdom," Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., said in a speech on challenges shaping the priesthood's future. Bishop Cupich addressed the annual meeting of Serra USA, held June 18-22 in South Bend, Ind.

The bishop spoke from notes, but a report on his speech by Michelle Donaghey was published by Today's Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Fort-Wayne-South Bend, Ind.; points she made are reflected in this brief article.

Bishop Cupich is episcopal adviser to Serra USA. The theme of its meeting was "Vision of the Church in 2025." Serra, a national and international organization, promotes vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

"We now have a generation who are bombarded with endless bits of information that are disconnected," said Bishop Cupich. This, he added, is "making us pancake people," by which he meant that "information is poured into our brains but is so spread out that we have young people who don't think holistically." That, the bishop said, is a situation with real pastoral consequences for priests.

Candidates for the priesthood will need to be "able to think deeply and understand the historical concepts and contexts of various problems," Bishop Cupich said. He expressed a conviction that addressing "hot issues with slogans and quotations - stringing together bits of information - just won't do."

Bishop Cupich said "it would be a mistake to say that all the church needs are good, holy priests" with a fundamental grasp of faith and a spirit of obedience. "It will not serve the future if they lack depth and skills of critical thinking and judging," he added.

Bishop Cupich thinks priests need to be able to address a growing number of complex issues, including war, genetics, the definition of marriage and other moral and scientific issues, Donaghey reported. "These are not just scientific issues," but are issues that "people are dealing with in their everyday situations," according to the bishop.

A "seismic shift" is taking place in our culture and its values, Bishop Cupich said. This cultural shift will need to be understood, but panic is not the needed response, he indicated.

The bishop said priests will need not only to be smart, but wise. Moreover, he said, "we need priests who are excited about the spiritual lives of people, who are willing to help them work through the gray areas of their lives."

Priests need to be "approachable" and to "look at people's lives, seeing the good that they do," said Bishop Cupich.

While the priesthood faces real challenges, there also are "wonderful possibilities of young people coming forward and taking up these challenges because they are worth doing," the bishop said. Priests "are intersecting with the real lives of people," and this exciting reality needs "to be put out there as a message for candidates seeking the priesthood." he said.

Why Have a Year of St. Paul?

"We are not gathered to reflect on past history, irrevocably behind us. [St.] Paul wants to speak to us today," Pope Benedict XVI said in a homily the first day of the June 28, 2008-June 29, 2009 Year of St. Paul. Speaking during a service at the Roman Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the pope said the reason he established a special Pauline year was "to listen to [Paul] and learn today from him, as our teacher."

The pope said: "Let us not ask ourselves only, Who 'was' Paul? Let us ask ourselves above all, Who 'is' Paul? What does he say to me."

Paul experienced truth in his encounter with the risen Lord, Pope Benedict observed. Events that were to unfold in his life - "the fight, persecution and suffering" - were all worthwhile in light of this experience of truth, the pope commented. Still, he added, what "most deeply motivated [Paul] was being loved by Jesus Christ and the desire to communicate this love to others."

How Much Do We Know About St. Paul's Life?

The letters of St. Paul provide "only a few snippets of biographical information" about him, Father John Henry, a British pastor who is a visiting lecturer at St John's Seminary in Wonersh, England, writes in an article about the life of the apostle to the gentiles. His article surveys some of what is known about St. Paul's life.

Father Henry's article is found in a section of online materials for the current Year of St. Paul presented by the Diocese of Southwark, England. This section of easy-to-read materials about Paul, his letters, his journeys and his life is found at www.rcsouthwark.co.uk/paul_home.htm.

Here are just three points about Paul and his life from Father Henry's article.

-- As an educated Jew brought up in Cilicia, he would have known Hebrew from the synagogue, but his everyday language would have been Greek." He wrote in Greek, and "presumably usually preached" in Greek.

-- "It was not unusual for Jewish teachers and the later rabbis to have a trade, and if tents were usually made from leather at that time, Paul may have been a skilled leather worker."

--"For the chronology of Paul's life and ministry, we are completely in the realm of guesswork. His conversion is dated by some scholars to as early as AD 31 and by others to 34 or 37. Most date the first mission journey to 46-48, and the so-called 'apostolic council,' or meeting with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem to 48 or 49."

We do not know as much as we would like to know about the death of St. Paul, Father Henry says. He writes: "The Acts of the Apostles ends with Paul in a two-year house arrest in Rome, though able to preach to those who came to visit him. It is annoying for us that neither Acts, nor the rest of the New Testament, tells us the end of Paul's story."

Tradition has it that Paul "was martyred in Rome during the persecution by Nero after the Fire of Rome and the falsely alleged 'crimes against humanity' of the Christians," Father Henry writes. He says the fire of Rome took place in 64, though some "ancient Christian authorities dated Paul's martyrdom to 67." Tertullian is the one who, in the late second century, "first provided the information that [Paul's'] martyrdom was by beheading," Father Henry notes.

Current Quotes to Ponder

Catholics in the U.S. South: "In the South, the church is growing -- quickly and very fortunately. Most of the bishops of the South are grappling with growing congregations and burgeoning populations. On the contrary, many of the dioceses in the North, New England and the Midwest are downsizing or reconfiguring parishes and institutions. Why is this necessary? People have moved, shifted in their religious practices, and there are fewer priests to serve in parishes. These reorganization processes are never easy. In the South our challenges are more focused on planning for our growth and development. We need to make sure that new parishes, new schools and new institutions are located in the best possible locations so that they will serve and be available to the greatest numbers of parishioners. Growth is a happier problem with which to cope than loss or shifting of population that requires downsizing." (From the column by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta in the June 19 edition of the Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the archdiocese)

Aiding Migrants and Their Families: "We must continue to provide pastoral care and social services, including legal assistance, to migrants and their families. The church is the first, and sometimes last, refuge for newcomers, many of whom are Catholic. Migrants and their families must be aware that the church will meet their spiritual and material needs, no matter where they are on their migration journey. We must not let attacks on the mission of the church toward migrants - in the form of legislative proposals or rhetoric - deter us." (From the July 28 address by Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony to the National Migration Conference, co-sponsored in Washington by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services)

Welcoming the Stranger Who Is an Immigrant: "I see our challenge as one of shouting out the message of the Gospel, the words of the holy fathers, the unchanging teaching of the church, and in the profound conviction of our nation's history that the real heart of America has not changed, that its willingness to right a wrong has not faltered, that it needs only continuous courage, unwavering confidence in the goodness of people and a trust in God's love for the poor and the stranger." (From the July 28 homily of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, during the 2008 National Migration Conference co-sponsored in Washington by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services)

The Basics of Compassion

Anyone picking up the Gospel stories for the first time would be struck immediately by "the constant references to healing," for "the healing miracles of Jesus are absolutely central to his ministry," Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster, England, said in a July 4 speech to a health-care conference in a London suburb. For the cardinal, Jesus in the Gospel healings is a model of compassion.

Two things are "particularly significant" about these Gospel stories, said the cardinal. First, "Jesus never healed a crowd." Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said that the healing miracles of Jesus "were always the result of personal encounters."

Second, the Gospel stories of healing "relate not only to the physical or mental illness itself but to the faith of the person who is ill -- or sometimes the faith of those who bring the ill person to Jesus," the cardinal said. He explained that the acts of healing by Jesus "are restorative spiritually as well as physically and mentally," and thus we hear the words, "Your faith has made you whole."

As a result, "God's kingdom is revealed" through Jesus' healing actions, and the person who is healed is "renewed in God's image."

The cardinal stressed that human beings are constituted of "body and soul together," and cannot truly be healed unless their full humanity is recognized and their inner need of healing addressed.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor asked, How is a culture of compassion nurtured? Compassion, he said, "is a human response. It is a gift, not a skill or something that one can be trained for, although we can practice it, and the more we practice it the better we become at it."

Compassion is a form of active, not passive, presence to another person, the cardinal said. One's compassionate presence to a suffering person, to a person in distress, "may produce material responses which alleviate the stress, or it may just be the gift of a caring and understanding presence," the cardinal added. He said that compassion stems from "the capacity to recognize fear, anxiety or suffering in another and to imagine what it is like to be this person."

Compassion: Looking Into the Face of Another

"Ripped from its biblical roots, compassion is all too often reduced to a feeling of sympathy, an empathetic connection with one who is weak, vulnerable or in pain." However, compassion is much more, said theologian Michael Downey. An article he wrote titled "Compassion Has a Face" appears in the July-August 2008 edition of Health Progress magazine, published by the Catholic Health Association. Downey serves as theologian to the archbishop of Los Angeles and is a theology professor at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, Calif.

Downey discusses compassion in a health-care setting, but much of what he says can be applied more broadly. "Compassion remains a feeling unless and until it has a face," he said. He added: "Jesus Christ is the 'fleshliness' of the compassion of God. The face of the Christ is the face of compassion gazing upon those who are wounded and weak; the last, lost, littlest and least."

When the "face of the other" is truly seen, "especially the face of one who is vulnerable and in pain, the face makes a moral claim on me," Downey explained.

Citing the work of Emmanuel Levinas, Downey analyzed three aspects of compassion. "The first movement in compassion is to look long enough into the face of another person and to 'read' the face of pain and suffering." However, the second movement is to "allow the other to look upon me in all the 'nakedness' of his face. I must be willing to go face to face with the other."

The third movement in compassion is born of this face-to-face encounter, Downey said. At this point, "the horizon of what is beyond" is looked at together, "even if it is not recovery to the health the other once enjoyed." This involves facing up "to whatever lies ahead" - looking "at how one will be in the face of an unknown future, even and especially diminishment and death."

In the context of Catholic health care, "the place of compassion in the redemptive mission of Christ entails so much more than relaying information related to diagnosis and treatment options. There is so much more to this redemptive mission than the effective delivery of medical care," said Downey. "Above all," he added, "this mission calls for the recognition that the sick person is dealing with a life, not just a body."

This is something that is known only by looking into the face of another person, by being with the person face to face and fortifying that person "to face whatever might lie ahead," said Downey.

The Eucharist and the Parish

"To speak of the church as 'Catholic,' what is foundational, what is absolutely necessary for us, is the Eucharist," Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said in his first pastoral letter to the diocese, issued June 29. He discussed "five essential qualities of parish life": the Eucharist, evangelization, catechesis, formation and stewardship.

The Eucharist and its celebration should never be taken for granted, and its priority always needs to be considered, he told his readers. "Greater care" should be taken to make "the celebration of the Mass the best possible experience it can be in every one of our parishes and all of our faith communities," he said. This, he added, "demands that we set aside sufficient resources to make it the best possible celebration."

Bishop Zubik said that "it falls to the priest as presider of the Eucharist" to guarantee:

-- "That music be most appropriate to the celebrations and that proper resources be set aside to make it such."

-- "That great care be given to enhancing the environment that focuses on the various liturgical seasons."

-- "That readers who proclaim God's word do so convincingly and following much preparation."

-- "That extraordinary ministers of holy Communion who share the body and blood of Christ not do so routinely, but in a Christ-like manner."

-- "That those who serve at the altar understand the great witness they give to the rest of the congregation."

-- "That the ushers more clearly see their role as being inviters of stewardship."

-- "That greeters, who have the special talent of hospitality, truly make oldcomers and newcomers welcome to our parish."

-- "That all of us, at the conclusion of each Mass, genuinely look for ways in which we are to live the reality we have just celebrated."

Bishop Zubik accented the value in ministry of "everyone's gifts," but said that "in ministry, sometimes I sense a competition among the ordained and the nonordained." He said: "I wonder if the reason tension exists in some circles results from the misconception that the ordained have more power or are seen as more holy. This simply is not the case, nor should it be."

The concept of "collaboration," when correctly understood, "brings the nonordained and the ordained into such an integral relationship that both see how ministry in the life of the church requires the use of everyone's gifts," the bishop wrote.

At the same time, the bishop said that "the distinction between the two modes of participation in the one priesthood of Christ is essential." He commented:

-- "The priesthood of the baptized thrives when the lay faithful discern their gifts and talents, using them generously within society and the church as witnesses of the Gospel."

-- "The ministerial priesthood thrives when the ordained generously serve the body of Christ in sacramental ministry and pastoral leadership."

The ministerial priesthood remains necessary today, and "there can be no Eucharist" without it, said Bishop Zubik. It is important, he said, to "remember and live the distinctions between the priesthood of the baptized and the priesthood of the ordained."

However, he also accented the value of lay vocations in the church. "The first vocation of any believer is to be a disciple of the Lord," said Bishop Zubik. "We, all the baptized of the church, have an important role," the bishop explained, adding: "Let no one ever question their importance. Let no one ever feel disregarded in the church."