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December 15, 2008

New World Day of Peace message --
Children of poverty in this season of a child named Jesus -
Reflections on the life of Cardinal Avery Dulles -
It's OK to be human: The angel's words to Mary -
The financial crisis -- and more!

In this edition:

-- Amazing discovery: You can make people happy at Christmas or anytime.
-- It's OK to be human: The angel's words to Mary.
-- Journeying this Advent into John the Baptist's desert.
-- A focus on children of poverty in the season of the Child Jesus.
-- World Day of Peace: To build peace, fight poverty.
-- On poverty, world peace and the financial crisis.
-- Current quotes to ponder: 1) Toll of the financial crisis on jobs. 2) The poor and the financial crisis. 3) The quest of peace is inherent to faith.
-- The death of Cardinal Dulles: Reflections on the Jesuit theologian's life.
-- Deeds, not rhetoric, needed: Anniversary of universal human rights declaration.

Amazing Discovery: You Can Make People Happy -- at Christmas or Anytime

In this season of good cheer, you'll be happy to know that you really can contribute to other people's happiness. In fact, your own happiness might get passed on to others you don't even know. Furthermore, other people can contribute to your happiness.

Research reported Dec. 4 in the British Medical Journal showed that happiness is contagious. You can catch it from others.

Nicholas Christakis, a Harvard Medical School professor, and James Fowler, associate professor of political science at the University of California in San Diego, sought to evaluate whether happiness can spread from person to person and whether niches of happiness form within groups.

"Happiness is a fundamental object of human existence, so much so that the World Health Organization is increasingly emphasizing happiness as a component of health," said the report. Christakis said, "People are embedded in social networks," and "the health and well-being of one person affects the health and well-being of others."

But isn't it possible that some individuals come by their happiness naturally and simply choose, in turn, to associate with other happy people? It might not be quite that simple, according to this research. "Human happiness is not merely the province of isolated individuals," the report says. Furthermore, "whether an individual is happy also depends on whether others in the individual's social network are happy."

The study suggests "that clusters of happiness result from the spread of happiness and not just a tendency for people to associate with similar individuals."

There are "many determinants of happiness," the study states, adding: "Whether an individual is happy also depends on whether others in the individual's social network are happy. Happy people tend to be located in the center of their local social networks and in large clusters of other happy people. Indeed, changes in individual happiness can ripple through social networks."

So, there you have it! Make someone happy. Make lots of people happy - Dec. 25, or Jan. 18, or March 26, or Aug. 10, or

It's OK to Be Human: The Angel's Words to Mary

Are the angel's words to Mary at the Annunciation appropriate words for the rest of us as well?

"When the angel Gabriel greets Mary, he calls her 'full of grace," notes Sister Barbara Jean Franklin, a member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, who authored the Advent series posted in both podcast and printable forms on the Catholic Health Association's Web site (www.chausa.org). She said:

"It would be easy to dismiss this greeting as an isolated piece of human history. The event of the Annunciation is in essence a particular event. However, the angel Gabriel could greet each of us in a similar manner. To be human is, in the most profound sense, to live by grace, God's presence in our hearts and in our midst."

Two forms of gratitude were singled out by Sister Franklin in her reflection for the fourth week of Advent and the arrival of Christmas -- gratefulness to:

1. "Those persons among us whose very lives speak so clearly that they are 'full of grace.'"

2. "Those who remind us that we are each 'full of grace.'"

But do most of us tend to feel we are full of grace? Sister Franklin wrote: "Living grace-filled lives is a struggle, and many times there may seem to be more evidence to the contrary. At those times it is good to remember that it's OK to be human; Christ became human too."

How does grace operate? Sister Franklin said that "grace enters into the definition of what it means to be human. Grace is God's power in us healing our spirits, enriching our faith and leading us to loving acts for and with each other."

At one particular moment in human history, "the future of the world hung on the answer of a girl" to an angel, Sister Franklin wrote. But today, she concluded, "it rests with those who know what it means to be 'full of grace.'"

Journeying This Advent Into John the Baptist's Desert

John the Baptist's "life and message were one" - making him "a credible preacher of repentance," said Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, chief executive of the Salt and Light Catholic Television Network, headquartered in Toronto, Ontario.

Writing Dec. 5 in the Salt and Light Blog (www.saltandlighttv.org), Father Rosica pointed to the desert that John the Baptist visited, suggesting that a visit to our own "desert" is a worthy Advent undertaking. "John the Baptist was a credible preacher of repentance because he had first come to love God's Word that he heard in the midst of his own desert," said Father Rosica.

John the Baptist's consistency and lack of duplicity serve to make him "a good model," Father Rosica suggested. Having "heard, experienced and lived God's liberating Word in the desert," the Baptist was able to preach it effectively to others because his words and way of living were one, the priest said.

Israel's true prophets "help us in our struggle against all forms of duplicity," said Father Rosica. "Often our words, thoughts and actions are not coherent or one," he commented. He called duplicity "one of the most discouraging things we must deal with in our lives."

In the Hebrew way of thinking, a "desert" or "wilderness" is "that holy place where God's word is unbound and completely free to be heard, experienced and lived," Father Rosica explained. He said, "We go to the desert to hear God's Word."

People "may not have the luxury of traveling to the wilderness of Judah or the privilege of a week's retreat in the Sinai desert" during Advent, but they might well "carve out a little desert wilderness in the midst" of the activities and noise of their lives, the priest proposed. He recommended a visit to "that sacred place" where one allows the Word of God to speak, "to heal us, to reorient us and to lead us."

Focusing on Children of Poverty in the Season of the Child Jesus

"Almost half of those living in absolute poverty today are children," Pope Benedict XVI writes in his message for the Jan. 1, 2009, World Day of Peace.

The ways globalization impacts world poverty for better or worse constitute the real focus of the pope's message. Nonetheless, in this season of the Child Jesus, I'd like to begin my discussion of the peace day message with the pope's brief discussion of the children of poverty.

Poverty's "intrinsic moral dimension" is highlighted by child poverty, Pope Benedict states. He adds immediately that "when poverty strikes a family, the children prove to be the most vulnerable victims."

Doing something about poverty means taking "the side of children," Pope Benedict suggests. But what does it mean "to take the side of children"? The pope responds that it means "giving priority to those objectives which concern them most directly such as caring for mothers, commitment to education, access to vaccines, medical care and drinking water, safeguarding the environment and, above all, commitment to defense of the family and the stability of relations within it."

Children inevitably suffer when the family is weakened, and "it is the children who are affected most" when the "dignity of women and mothers is not protected," the pope says.

Child poverty is included in the World Day of Peace message as one of the signs that the "cruel forces of poverty" have been unleashed due to a lack of respect for human dignity. "Every form of externally imposed poverty has at its root a lack of respect for the transcendent dignity of the human person," the pope writes.

He says that the cruel forces of poverty are unleashed "when man is not considered within the total context of his vocation and when the demands of a true 'human ecology' are not respected."

To Build Peace, Fight Poverty

If the world wants peace, it must advance the fight against poverty. That, in brief form, is the theme of Pope Benedict XVI's message for the upcoming World Day of Peace, Jan. 1. The message was released by the Vatican Dec. 11.

"Poverty is often a contributory factor or a compounding element in conflicts, including armed ones. In turn, these conflicts fuel further tragic situations of poverty," Pope Benedict says. He writes, "The truth of the axiom cannot be refuted: 'To fight poverty is to build peace.'"

The pope insists that "resources to solve the problem of poverty do exist." He says that "what the fight against poverty really needs are men and women who live in a profoundly fraternal way and are able to accompany individuals, families and communities on journeys of authentic human development."

The impact of globalization on poverty and on the quest for peace occupies a good bit of the pope's attention in this year's World Day of Peace message.

"One of the most important ways of building peace is through a form of globalization directed toward the interests of the whole human family," he writes. However, the pope cautions, "globalization on its own is incapable of building peace and in many cases it actually creates divisions and conflicts." He recommends that globalization be viewed as "an opportunity." He says:

"Globalization should be seen as a good opportunity to achieve something important in the fight against poverty and to place at the disposal of justice and peace resources which were scarcely conceivable previously."

Effective means of redressing "the marginalization of the world's poor" will accompany globalization only when "people everywhere feel personally outraged by the injustices in the world and by the concomitant violations of human rights," Pope Benedict advises readers of his message. For, while "globalization eliminates certain barriers," it still is "able to build new ones; it brings peoples together, but spatial and temporal proximity does not of itself create the conditions for true communion and authentic peace."

Responding effectively to poverty is not merely a matter of establishing structures that serve the poor, the pope explains. "Responding to poverty is not simply a technical matter," he states.

It often is the case that "only the superficial and instrumental causes of poverty" are considered, while the causes of poverty "harbored within the human heart, like greed and narrow vision," are overlooked, says Pope Benedict. Sometimes, he adds, "the problems of development, aid and international cooperation" are addressed "without any real attention to the human element, but as merely technical questions - limited, that is, to establishing structures, setting up trade agreements and allocating funding impersonally."

Poverty is an ethical question, Pope Benedict says. He writes:

"If the poor are to be given priority, then there has to be enough room for an ethical approach to economics on the part of those active in the international market, an ethical approach to politics on the part of those in public office and an ethical approach to participation capable of harnessing the contributions of civil society at local and international levels."

On Poverty, World Peace and the Financial Crisis

The global financial order and its current crisis were among concerns addressed by Pope Benedict XVI's World Day of Peace message. Finance "is a key aspect of the phenomenon of globalization," he notes. However, the current financial crisis "demonstrates how financial activity can at times be completely turned in on itself, lacking any long-term consideration of the common good," the pope says.

According to Pope Benedict, "the most important function of finance" objectively speaking "is to sustain the possibility of long-term investment and hence of development." But he says, "Today this appears extremely fragile: It is experiencing the negative repercussions of a system of financial dealings -- both national and global -- based upon very short-term thinking" that aims to increase "the value of financial operations" and that concentrates "on the technical management of various forms of risk."

In lowering "the objectives of global finance to the very short term," its "capacity to function as a bridge between the present and the future" is reduced, as is its capacity to function "as a stimulus to the creation of new opportunities for production and for work in the long term," the pope comments. He says:

"Finance limited in this way to the short and very-short term becomes dangerous for everyone, even for those who benefit when the markets perform well."

The pope turns attention to the financial order in the context of discussing the contrasting effects of globalization upon trade practices within the international community. While in the world of finance and commerce "there are processes at work today" that benefit poor nations, "there are also processes tending in the opposite direction, dividing and marginalizing peoples, and creating dangerous situations that can erupt into wars and conflicts," he writes.

Current Quotes to Ponder

The Toll of the Financial Crisis: "People are losing their jobs. I have encountered people with five, seven, 10 years at a company laid off because there is a lack of business, or the company is going out of business, or their work hours have been drastically reduced. In the past we saw people on welfare or already in some sort of assistance program. Now we are seeing more working, middle-class families. People call and say, 'I've never asked for help before, but I have children and I need help.'" (Rocio Rocha, case manager in Sacramento, Calif., at Centro Guadalupe, a program of Catholic Charities, quoted in a Dec. 11 Catholic News Service report by Mark Pattison)

The Poor and the Financial Crisis: "The financial crisis in world markets will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on the poor. A world built on the globalization of greed and fear rather than the globalization of solidarity was never sustainable or desirable. Our fears are that the poorest people who have benefited least from decades of unequal economic growth will pay the greater price for this folly." (From the Dec. 2 Christmas message of Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in his capacity as president of Caritas Internationalis)

The Quest of Peace, Inherent to Faith: "Hatred can find no justification among those who call God 'our Father.' This is another reason why God can never be excluded from the horizon of the human person or of history. God's name is a name of justice; it represents an urgent appeal for peace." (Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Vatican secretary for relations with states, speaking about human rights and religious freedom Dec. 4 in Helsinki, Finland, to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe)

The Death of Cardinal Avery Dulles: Reflections on His Life

When Cardinal Avery Dulles entered college in the 1930s he was "in a quagmire of confusion about whether life and the universe could make sense at all." But, he said, he became "conscious of the emptiness of a selfish life based on the pursuit of pleasure. Happiness, I gradually came to see, is the reward given for holding fast to what is truly good and important."

In his April 2008 annual McGinley lecture at Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York, the cardinal, who died Dec. 12 in New York, glanced back over the course his life had taken since those early days when he was not a person of belief or prayer. "As I approach the termination of my active life, I gratefully acknowledge that a benign Providence has governed my days," the cardinal said. He explained:

"The persons I have met, the places I have been, the things I have been asked to do have all coalesced into a pattern, so that each stage of my life has prepared me for the next."

Cardinal Dulles was named by Pope John Paul II to the College of Cardinals in 2001. Over the course of his pontificate, Pope John Paul named a number of priest-theologians to the college who were already past age 80 and therefore ineligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.

The cardinal -- son of a former U.S. secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, and grandson of a Presbyterian minister - entered the Catholic Church in 1941 when he was a student at Harvard Law School. He joined the Jesuits in 1946 and would go on to become an esteemed U.S. theologian.

Possibly the cardinal was best known as a theologian for his highly influential 1974 book "Models of the Church." In it he discussed five models of the church and the ways each model influences the attitudes and actions of people of faith. In a 1990 speech at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., he said that the five models of church described in the book were "still, to the best of my knowledge, a good indication of the spread of opinion in ecclesiology today."

In his Seton Hall speech, the cardinal reviewed the models of the church as "institution, mystical communion, sacrament, herald and servant." He commented that "it scarcely needs to be said that the principal ministries of the church will be differently conceived according to one's model of church."

For health reasons, Cardinal Dulles was unable to deliver his 2008 McGinley lecture himself. Though he was present for the lecture, it was read on his behalf by a former Fordham University president, Jesuit Father Joseph O'Hare. Cardinal Dulles explained that he had begun "to be stricken with a succession of health problems, all resulting from a bout of polio dating from 1945."

The cardinal said that "until at least the year 2000 it seemed" he had "pretty well overcome the disabilities" related to that illness. But he said "the aftereffects began to manifest themselves in recent years." Over the past year they had become much more acute.

Well into his 90th year, the cardinal said, he had "been able to work productively." He said he was becoming "increasingly paralyzed and unable to speak," but that as that occurred he could "identify with the many paralytics and mute persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ. If the Lord now calls me to a period of weakness, I know well that his power can be made perfect in infirmity."

Over the course of his long career as a theologian, Cardinal Dulles wrote and spoke on a great many of the key issues that occupied the church's attention. Many regarded him as moderately conservative, but he was complex and not predictable or easy to label.

In Cardinal Dulles' 2006 McGinley lecture, for example, he explored the intricacies of the laity's role in the church today - at a time when some leaders in the church were questioning whether the term "ministry" could properly be applied to lay activities. The cardinal insisted that neither official Catholic teaching nor Scripture and tradition justify refusing to apply the term "ministry" to laity.

The cardinal was active over a long period of time in the work of ecumenism. He wrote on the Eucharist, the priesthood, the role of the magisterium and many other matters. He was well recognized for his work in ecclesiology, and he had been a member of the International Theological Commission.

Readers of this newsletter might enjoy some comments Cardinal Dulles made on the priesthood in his 1990 speech at Seton Hall in which he pointed to strengths and ambiguities in Vatican II's approach to priesthood. He said, "For all its merits, the doctrine of Vatican II on the priesthood suffers from certain ambiguities."

The council, he said, "made people wonder, as I myself wondered, whether it was still appropriate to describe the Catholic priesthood in terms of the conferral of sacred powers to offer sacrifice and to administer the sacraments of holy communion and absolution from sins." Yet, in the same speech, Cardinal Dulles spoke of several strengths in the Vatican II approach to priesthood. For example he said:

"Vatican II must be praised for overcoming the excessive individualism of the early modern theology of orders. The priest is no longer, as in some 17th-century French spirituality, an isolated individual who has renounced the world for the sake of cultivating an otherworldly holiness. Rather, he is a pastor closely collaborating with laypersons, a member of the order of presbyters and a co-worker with the bishops in building up the collective life of the church."

The example given by priests also was discussed in the cardinal's Seton Hall speech. He said, "Since a person inevitably communicates by what he does as well as by what he says, the manner in which the priest is seen to live can either reinforce or undermine the message he is committed to preach."

In general, the priest's lifestyle should embody "the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity," Cardinal Dulles said. The priest, he added, "should try to live in moderation and simplicity, and in solidarity with the people whom he serves."

Deeds, Not Rhetoric, Needed: Anniversary of Human Rights Declaration

Rhetoric is not sufficient in the defense of human rights, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican's ambassador to the U.N., said Dec. 10. He addressed the U.N. General Assembly on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration provides a way to rediscover the true significance of the human person and the true value of human dignity, he said.

"To celebrate this day means to place the person" at the heart of the world's consideration, said the archbishop. Not rhetoric, but deeds are necessary in a world that has the means, as well as the structures, "to end the scandal of hunger and poverty, to guarantee security that is not violated or derided, to safeguard the life of everyone in every moment," he added.

With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "the whole human family has affirmed that" the practice of justice not only leads to respect for human rights, but is "the guarantee of peace," said Archbishop Migliore.

Human rights are violated when "an inequitable distribution of wealth, conditions of poverty, of hunger [and] lack of medical care" prevail in societies - a situation "that involves a substantial part of the world population," Archbishop Migliore said. He added that "the first violation of rights" is witnessed in a "lack of essential living conditions."

Archbishop Migliore recalled that when Pope Benedict XVI visited U.N. headquarters in New York last April, he "linked human rights and their protection to two fundamental objectives: the promotion of the common good and the safeguarding of human freedom."

Protecting human freedom is not only a means of building the common good and overcoming threats to the dignity of all, but also of recognizing that all people "are born free and equal in dignity and rights," the archbishop told the General Assembly. This recognition, he suggested, affirms the bonds among the members of the human family.

The call to promote the common good "is well expressed in the call 'to act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood' that the Universal Declaration addresses to all the members of the human family," said the archbishop.