home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page
October 11, 2008

2008 world Synod of Bishops on the Word of God gets under way -- The reason it is important to know "the why" of pastoral ministry -- Preaching in the eucharistic community - Why the current U.S. immigration situation is "bad for the soul" - and much more!

In this edition:
-- What if the church scheduled a "Year of Preaching"?
-- To hear Scripture, people need to know how to listen.
-- Advice to lectors: What can go wrong?
-- The dialogue God initiates through the Word: Synod of Bishops.
-- Scripture still not integrated into daily life.
-- A bit of humor at the synod's start.
-- Current quotes to ponder: 1) Is God's creation good? 2) How much do motives matter? 3) Good health: A choice?
-- Knowing "the why" of pastoral ministry.
-- Current U.S. immigration situation is bad for the soul.
-- The financial crisis may increase number of world's refugees.

What If the Church Scheduled a "Year of Preaching in the Eucharistic Assembly"?

It is unfortunate that preaching "can lose its savor, become formulaic and uninspired, leaving the hearer empty," Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., said in an Oct. 7 presentation to the just-opened, three-week world Synod of Bishops in Rome. The bishop is one of the U.S. delegates to this synod, whose theme is "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church."

How can the preaching of the Word be enhanced? That was the question Bishop Kicanas posed to the synod. He responded: "Well, what if? What if, after this Year of St. Paul, the church universal focused a year on preaching in the eucharistic assembly?" It is in the eucharistic assembly that "the church is built up," he commented.

Bishops and priests working together could study what makes a homily effective in "this distracted world," said Bishop Kicanas. Furthermore, they could ask lay people what matters to them and what they would suggest to improve homilies.

To make these points, Bishop Kicanas added several questions to his first, overall "What if" question. He asked:

-- What if, during a Year of Preaching, priests and deacons together with their bishop were to study what factors lead to better preaching -- "what matters"?

-- "What if, in that year of preaching, priests and deacons, with their bishop, met with the laity to listen to their struggles? They could discuss how preaching might inspire the laity to be a leaven for the world, bringing the Gospel values to the questions of the times."

-- "What if, in that year of preaching, there would be a thorough exploration of the catechetical potential of the Sunday homily?"

Preaching in the eucharistic assembly "comforts, heals, brings hope, inspires, instills joy, delights, confronts, teaches, and challenges," Bishop Kicanas explained. He said, "The preached Word reveals and affirms the very best of human ideals and longings placed by God in the human heart. The preached Word, mediated by the Spirit, inspires us to live, move and have our very being in Christ."

To Hear God's Word, People Must Know How to Listen

"Listening is a serious matter," Bishop Luis Tagle of Imus, the Philippines, told participants in the world Synod of Bishops Oct. 7. "The church must form hearers of the Word," he said. However, he suggested, evidence points to "the tragic effects of the lack of listening" in today's world.

Listening is difficult nowadays, Bishop Tagle said. He pointed to "conflicts in families, gaps between generations and nations, and violence" as signs of a widespread lack of listening. Today, he said, "people are trapped in a milieu of monologues, inattentiveness, noise, intolerance and self-absorption." What the church can offer in place of this is "a milieu of dialogue, respect, mutuality and self-transcendence," he proposed.

"The church must learn to listen in the way God listens and must lend its voice to the voiceless," said Bishop Tagle. He said that God speaks, though "God does not only speak. God also listens."

In fact, the bishop continued, God listens "especially to the just, widows, orphans, the persecuted and the poor who have no voice." Bishop Tagle's remarks drew applause from the synod delegates, according to a Catholic News Service report.

The ability to listen "is not transmitted only by teaching but more by a milieu of listening," said the bishop, who added: "Our concern is listening in faith." He said: "Formation in listening is integral to faith formation. Formation programs should be designed as formation in holistic listening."

Advice for Lectors: What Can Go Wrong?

Lectors have "a vital ministry" in the liturgy, but if this ministry is to fulfill its purpose, attention ought to be given to certain pitfalls, Bishop Peter William Ingham of Wollongong, Australia, said in remarks to the world Synod of Bishops Oct. 8. Lectors "must ensure God's Word is heard, is understood and hopefully appreciated," Bishop Ingham said. He described the lector's ministry as "a courtesy to those who listen."

However, "many lectors read too fast for the Word of God to be able to be grasped by the mind and the heart of the listener," said Bishop Ingham. He continued: "Every word in every sentence should be given its proper grammatical value. By obeying the punctuation, the voice can be modulated to add interest to what is proclaimed."

Furthermore, the bishop said, "some lectors do not project their voices or use the microphone effectively." And he cautioned that "the key idea in a Scripture reading can be missed or lost through lack of emphasis by a lector who does not really understand the context of the passage."

Again, said Bishop Ingham, a reading may be poorly proclaimed due to "the lector's lack of confidence in front of a congregation." That is the reason it is essential in a lector's training "to practice reading aloud," he said.

"I believe that proclaiming the Word of God in the liturgy, by both clergy and laity alike, needs to be greatly improved," Bishop Ingham told the synod. "Otherwise," he said, "the impact of 'God speaking to us' will not be what the church desires or what the faithful deserve."

The Dialogue God Initiates Through the Word: Synod of Bishops

Rather than providing simply a set of instructions, Scripture is a way for God to tell people about himself, according to Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City, Quebec, who presented a major speech Oct. 6 opening the first working session of this year's world Synod of Bishops. The cardinal, in the role of the synod's recording secretary, is one of its chief officials. The synod's theme is "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church."

What is important, Cardinal Ouellet indicated, is that the synod help Catholics grasp that the Bible is less a textbook than a communication from God to be contemplated. And the Bible is much more than "a library for the erudite," he said. The cardinal said the synod's goal is to formulate suggestions to help Catholics learn to read the Bible, to draw upon it in prayer and to share its message with the world at large.

Cardinal Ouellet recalled that Vatican Council II's dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation "marked a real turning point" in the manner of dealing with revelation because it "emphasized the dynamic and dialogic accent of revelation as a personal self-communication of God." Thus, the council fathers "put down the bases for a more vivid encounter and dialogue between God, who calls, and his people, who respond."

Later the same day during a press conference, the cardinal said that without diminishing the importance of the intellectual dimension in approaching the Bible, "perhaps the intellectual side has been developed enough or too much," while not enough emphasis has been given to Scripture's contemplative power.

Vatican Council II called upon preachers to base their homilies on the Scripture readings in the liturgy, Cardinal Ouellet emphasized in his address in the synod hall. Nonetheless, he added, "we still feel great lack of satisfaction on the part of many faithful with regard to the ministry of preaching." He added, "In part, this lack of satisfaction explains why many Catholics turned toward other groups and religions."

He said homilists should resist "the tendency toward moralism" and instead should encourage Catholics to pursue a deeper relationship with Christ by acting upon God's call to them - a call to a "decision of faith."

Mary is for Christians a model responder to God's Word, Cardinal Ouellet said. In the Gospels, one sees not only that the angel revealed God's plan to Mary, but also sees her reaction. "Mary's dialogue with the angel shows us the vital reaction of the person called upon, her fear, her perplexity and her asking for an explanation. God respects the freedom of his creature."

What Mary does is to enter into a dialogue with God; and she gives herself to God in response to the Word of God she has heard, Cardinal Ouellet said.

Scripture Still Not Integrated Into Daily Life

"For all the rekindling of the love for Scripture that [Vatican Council II] proposed, I would say that perhaps we have not integrated" the study and appreciation of the Bible into the daily lives of average Catholics as much as the church would hope, Cardinal William Levada said in a Sept. 22 interview with Dan Morris-Young during a visit to San Francisco. Cardinal Levada, former archbishop of San Francisco, heads the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and is serving as one of three co-presidents of the current world Synod of Bishops in Rome.

The cardinal told Morris-Young he was "speaking in generalities" about the integration of Scripture into the daily lives of Catholics, but he added that "there are sources that indicate that a lot of people perhaps do not have their own Bible, that they have not learned how to use it every day and make it part of their spiritual nourishment."

Cardinal Levada said that among hopeful outcomes for this Synod of Bishops are a renewed appreciation for the "spiritual nourishment" available in sacred Scripture, a shot in the arm for ecumenical dialogue and enhanced preaching on "the Word of God in Scripture."

When the synod got under way in Rome, Cardinal Levada, in remarks made in his role as synod co-president, told the participants that "the life and mission of the church are founded on the Word of God, they are nourished by it and express it, since it is the soul of theology and, at the same time, the inspiration for the whole of Christian existence."

A Bit of Humor at the Start of the Synod

A few humorous moments punctuated the start-up of the 2008 world Synod of Bishops in Rome when the participants "tried out the newly installed electronic voting machines," according to Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who is this synod's English-language briefing officer. Father Rosica heads the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network, based in Toronto, Ontario.

Apparently, when the delegates tried out the new voting technology, "a number of glitches" were revealed "that needed to be ironed out," Father Rosica said. Writing Oct. 7 in the Salt and Light Blog, he said: "The malfunctions gave way to much humor in the assembly as the audience was told several times by some unseen voice booming through the sound system: 'Those on the left ('sinistra') are not voting properly.' Or, 'the patriarchs are not registering.'"

According to Father Rosica, "even the pope seemed to enjoy the humorous moments as he watched his brother bishops from throughout the entire world attempt to use the 'new technology' that wasn't delivering!"

Father Rosica also talked about the fascination he long has had for stories told by the fathers of Vatican Council II about how much of the council really "took place in smaller, informal venues, rather than at the general sessions in St. Peter's." He said that something similar appeared to be occurring at the synod. Father Rosica wrote:

"Cardinal George Flahiff , [the] archbishop of Winnipeg from 1960-1982, told me that while the [Vatican II] sessions in the Vatican were the venues of the major speeches and voting sessions, it was during the small-group meetings and coffee breaks that some of the more interesting things happened!"

And this appears to be occurring at the 2008 synod, the Canadian priest indicated. Here are his comments:

"Just as during the famous coffee breaks of the Second Vatican Council, there is a time of fraternity, discovery and exchange of ideas and business cards during the synod's pauses. If there was ever a time of ecclesial networking, it is synodal coffee breaks on the first floor of the Paul VI Hall in Vatican City.

"You find yourself in line for coffee and Italian pastry surrounded by the superior general of the Society of Jesus, the prior of the Taize community in France, the cardinal secretary of state, the supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, African sisters who have been teaching Scripture in seminaries for years, women experts who have been invited to the synod by the pope, and the heads of virtually every Vatican congregation and dicastery.

"There certainly is equality in this part of the Vatican. And while we are carrying on downstairs at the half-hour coffee break, the pope is taking his break upstairs in a room just off the synod chambers, where each day he receives a different group of people present at the synod, thus being able to spend a bit more quality time with the world gathered at this major happening in the life and mission of the church."

Current Quotes to Ponder

Is God's Creation Good? "Though human beings are the pinnacle of the created world, they are equally capable of great love and terrible violence. In fact, in the face of so much violence as that which we see in the flood story, it would be easy to have a view of creation that is dark, violent and miserable. The Genesis story of creation affirms the opposite. It affirms the goodness of creation, even with its instability and violence. This is perhaps its enduring value and appeal. The Genesis story holds up before our imagination our deepest desire for a good habitat in relation to a loving God even as we face our fears of mortality and violence. In this story God is telling us that even with its instability, and even with our propensity for violence within it, creation is good indeed!" (Jesuit Father Michael Kolarcik of Regis College in Toronto, Ontario, in an article titled "Is Creation Good?" appearing in the new CNS Bible Blog, established by Catholic News Service as the October 2008 world Synod of Bishops on the Word of God got under way: www.cnsblog.wordpress.com.)

Do Motives Really Matter? "A good thing can be easily spoiled by the way that it is done. A noble deed begrudgingly performed is suddenly less noble. St. Therese [of Lisieux] rightly shows in her spirituality of the little way that the value of an action depends in great part on the love and humility of the one performing the action. The most insignificant gesture takes on great value when it is done with love and with humility. Great deeds can be vitiated by vainglory and selfish motivations. Who was it who said of the nuns of Port Royal, 'They are as pure as angels but as proud as devils?'" (From a homily Sept. 27 by Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston given at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., to a conference on religious orders and apostolic life since Vatican Council II)

Good Health: A Choice? "The burden of chronic disease in the U.S. has become overwhelming in the last decade, as seven of 10 deaths occur because of these often preventable conditions. The most prevalent and costly chronic illnesses include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke. Through decades of research, health care professionals have concluded that the major risk factors of any chronic disease are unhealthy diet, inactivity and tobacco use, all of which are behavioral choices. The Texas Department of State Health Services found that in 2001 the two most frequent actual causes of death in the state were related to tobacco (24,899 deaths) and overweight/obesity (18,649 deaths). Despite these glum statistics, the solution is in our hands, and there is much that we can do as individuals and as communities to become a nation free of preventable disability, premature death and high health care costs." (From "Mind, Body and Spirit: Healthy Lifestyle Can Prevent Many Chronic Diseases," by Bonnie Doty of the Catholic Health Association of Texas, in the September edition of the Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Austin, Texas)

Knowing the "Why" of Pastoral Ministry

It is important that pastoral ministers understand "the why" of what they do, their purpose, because knowing "why we do what we do is what gives us our energy, and our fire, and our desire to do well," theologian David Thomas said in a Sept. 10 speech in Leeds, England. The well-known U.S. writer on marriage and family ministry spoke at the inauguration of Familias, the British bishops' newly established Association for Catholic Diocesan Marriage and Family Life Ministry. Thomas is on the faculty of Dominican University in River Forest, Ill.

Thomas focused in his speech on family ministry, but extended his comments at various points to pastoral ministries in general, whose purpose, he said, can be understood better by attempting to understand the life of the Trinity. There is so much that we do not know about God, said Thomas. However, what is known about God casts a great deal of light on "the why" of pastoral ministry, he proposed.

What do we know about God? We know it is love that makes the Father, Son and Holy Spirit one, the theologian explained. This, he said, tells us a lot about ourselves and what we should be.

"We're to help people to love," said Thomas. And this is important because it is "central to the life of God and the church." Thomas said that this is "what we're about." It is a purpose that can come into play in education, in guidance, in listening and other ways.

To be like God "is to be related" and oriented to love, according to Thomas. He said pastoral ministers have the role of helping people to understand what love is and to value love. Family ministers do this in the setting of the domestic church, which involves marriage, parenting and grandparenting, for example.

Thomas characterized the interpersonal encounter of love - "which involves welcoming, acceptance, connection, mutuality between equals" - as "the most important event that happens in creation." God's love "generated our life," the theologian said. "So the pattern is there." Thomas said, "Our love for each other causes us to live more fully."

Thomas told the family ministers in his audience that they do not so much prepare engaged couples for marriage as "prepare them for love." He said: "We are to be the prophets and ministers of the value and importance of love. That's the heart of family ministry."

But Thomas proposed that this also is the real purpose of other pastoral ministries such as preparing people for baptism or conducting classes and programs that assist divorced and remarried people.

The Current U.S. Immigration Situation: Bad for the Soul

The current immigration situation in the U.S. "is a national crisis, and it calls for national leadership," said Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio, Texas. Speaking in Missouri Oct. 4, he said that as soon as the 2008 presidential election is over and a new government is sworn in, "we need to insist that our leaders roll up their sleeves and get to work on comprehensive immigration reform."

Archbishop Gomez addressed the annual assembly of the Missouri Catholic Conference at the state Capitol in Jefferson City. According to an Oct. 7 Catholic News Service report on his remarks, he said he considers the current immigration situation "bad for the soul of America." Archbishop Gomez is chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church.

But not only is the immigration situation bad for America's soul, it is "bad for the souls of Americans," Archbishop Gomez added. He explained: "There is too much anger. Too much resentment. Too much fear. Too much hate. It's eating people up." It just is not good "for people to be consumed by fear and hate."

Archbishop Gomez would like to see a moratorium on new local-level and state-level immigration legislation, and he urged an end to federal enforcement raids, which his committee has said often have the effect of separating family members in detrimental ways, among other problems. He said, "We need to find a way to stop lashing out at the problem [of immigration] and to start making sensible policy."

The Financial Crisis and the Rising Number of Refugees Worldwide

The world's uprooted and displaced people will suffer the consequences of the current, "enormously complicated crisis" in the world's financial markets, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said in Geneva Oct. 7 when he spoke to a U.N. meeting on refugees. The archbishop serves as Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva. The displacement of people "is not a phenomenon isolated from other social realities," he said.

Archbishop Tomasi said the financial crisis could result in even greater displacement of people, along with greater uncertainty about the ability of the world's wealthier nations to protect and assist them. However, there is another side of the coin, he suggested: A moment such as this could "reawaken the awareness that it is really a common responsibility to determine whether the 'global village' thrives or suffers."

Public opinion is focused at the moment on the financial crisis and economic approaches to it, as well as on "the irresponsibility and greed of some managers that led to it," Archbishop Tomasi said. He said this crisis will "exert a grave impact on vulnerable groups in society and give concrete evidence of the interconnectedness and lack of equity in today's world."

The financial crisis, coupled with other major world problems such as the "increase of natural disasters" and climate change, which leads to a scarcity of food and water in some regions, as well as to "degradation of the environment," is an indication that the future for uprooted people is "more bleak and ambiguous than ever," said Archbishop Tomasi.

"In our interconnected world, we are linked with all displaced people by our common humanity and by the realization that the globalization of justice and solidarity is the best guarantee for peace and a common future," he told the U.N. meeting.