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February 20, 2009

The catechist's three-dimensional role -
Three virtues religion fosters that benefit society -
An explosion of cultural diversity in U.S. church -
Why traditionalist bishop's Holocaust views matter to people in the pew -
and much more

In this edition:
-- The Holocaust, Bishop Williamson and the pope.
-- Why the Bishop Williamson controversy matters to Catholics in the pew.
-- New secretariat reflects on explosion of cultural diversity in the church.
-- The happiness quotient: Gratitude's basic place in life of faith.
-- Current quotes to ponder: 1) The catechist's three-dimensional role. 2) What Christianity is about. 3) To speak or not to speak of poverty.
-- Of leadership, virtue and the common good: Lincoln's legacy.
-- Three virtues fostered by religion that benefit society at large.
-- The recession: time to focus on values.

The Holocaust, Bishop Williamson and the Pope

"The hatred and contempt for men, women and children that was manifested in the Shoah [Holocaust] was a crime against God and against humanity. This should be clear to everyone," Pope Benedict XVI said Feb. 12 when he met at the Vatican with members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The pope said that denying or minimizing the "terrible crime" of the Holocaust is "intolerable and altogether unacceptable." His meeting with representatives of Jewish organizations took place not fully three weeks after the Vatican announced the pope had lifted the excommunications of several traditionalist bishops who are members of the Society of St. Pius X, including Bishop Richard Williamson.

A blizzard of news reports followed the lifting of the excommunications, particularly after Bishop Williamson's opinion that no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers became known. He also has held that the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis has been greatly exaggerated.

After Bishop Williamson's views on the Holocaust were reported, the Vatican said he will not be restored to full communion with the Catholic Church unless he recants those views. The Vatican said the pope was not aware of Bishop Williamson's views on the Holocaust prior to lifting the excommunications.

It seems safe to predict that the outcry over Bishop Williamson's views will prove to be one of the biggest religious news stories of 2009. The most recent edition of this newsletter (Feb. 5) included a number of quotations from religious leaders about this matter. But because Pope Benedict's Feb. 12 address to a group of Jewish representatives was particularly emphatic on the issues involved - the reality of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and the church's commitment to the type of relationship with Judaism envisioned by Vatican Council II -- it seems important to report it in some detail here.

The relationship between Catholics and Jews, after all, is not just a matter for experts; it is a reality of daily life for a huge number of church members.

Pope Benedict said the "terrible chapter in our history" represented by the Shoah "must never be forgotten." He continued: "Remembrance -- it is rightly said -- is 'memoria futuri,' a warning to us for the future and a summons to strive for reconciliation. To remember is to do everything in our power to prevent any recurrence of such a catastrophe within the human family by building bridges of lasting friendship."

His "fervent prayer," the pope said, is "that the memory of this appalling crime will strengthen our determination to heal the wounds that for too long have sullied relations between Christians and Jews." His "heartfelt desire," he added, is "that the friendship we now enjoy will grow ever stronger."

In May 2006, Pope Benedict visited "the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau," he recalled in his Feb. 12 address. He said that as he "walked through the entrance to that place of horror, the scene of such untold suffering," he "meditated on the countless number of prisoners, so many of them Jews, who had trodden that same path into captivity at Auschwitz and in all the other prison camps."

The pope told the Jewish leaders, "Those children of Abraham, grief-stricken and degraded, had little to sustain them beyond their faith in the God of their fathers, a faith that we Christians share with you, our brothers and sisters. The entire human race feels deep shame at the savage brutality shown to your people at that time."

The declaration of Vatican II in which relations with the Jews are discussed, "Nostra Aetate," constituted "a milestone in the journey toward reconciliation, and clearly outlined the principles that have governed the church's approach to Christian-Jewish relations ever since," Pope Benedict said.

"The church," he added, "is profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti-Semitism and to continue to build good and lasting relations between our two communities."

Why the Bishop Williamson Controversy Matters to Catholics in the Pews

Why are the views on the Holocaust expressed by traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson attracting so much attention within the church? In part because his views, according to a number of commentators, appeared to have anti-Semitic underpinnings. In addition, his stance appeared to challenge what Vatican Council II taught.

Bishop Brian Farrell, vice president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, spoke Feb. 5 about this matter with Catholic News Service's Cindy Wooden. "Denial of the Holocaust by a person who should know better is indistinguishable from an anti-Semitic prejudice," Bishop Farrell told Wooden. He added, "Anti-Semitism has been condemned by the Second Vatican Council in the clearest terms."

There is more than one reason why the Shoah - the World War II Holocaust -- is a religious concern," Bishop Farrell said. First, "every destruction of human dignity, every murder of a human being, is an evil that goes against God's plan. In that sense it is an issue for religion." But "there is a second reason that is much more specific to the Shoah, and it is that the Shoah took place in the heart of what was supposedly the Christian continent, Europe," the bishop added.

Testimony by survivors of the Nazi death camps, along with the remains of the camps themselves and the meticulous documentation kept by the Nazis prove that the Holocaust and the death of 6 million Jews is a historical fact that can be denied "only through ignorance or prejudice," said Bishop Farrell.

And "that is why it becomes an issue when a bishop, who should be a teacher of truth and of goodness, denies the Holocaust," the Vatican official explained.

New Secretariat Reflects on Church's Explosion of Cultural Diversity

The Catholic Church in the U.S. is experiencing an "explosion" of cultural diversity, a diversity that now is central to considerations of "the church's identity and mission to evangelize," said Jesuit Father Allan Figueroa Deck, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Cultural Diversity. The umbrella secretariat, formed under a recent bishops' conference reorganization, celebrated its first anniversary in January.

Father Deck said he has come to think that in creating the secretariat, the U.S. bishops "were signaling a way forward as a historic cultural shift goes into high gear."

In a reflection written for the secretariat's first anniversary, Father Deck said that every kind of pastoral ministry in the church must now "reflect more and more the reality" of the church's present diversity "by forming ministers -- bishops, priests, deacons, religious men and women, and lay ecclesial ministers -- who possess the necessary cultural competencies to effectively reach out to communities of non-European origin who today constitute the majority of Catholics in the United States."

This, said Father Deck, represents "a shift of historic consequences for the church" in the U.S.

He noted that the bishops realize there already is "a track record of pastoral planning and response particularly in the case of Hispanic and African-American ministries that needs to be affirmed, but now put in the broader context of newer groups" such as those with Asian and Pacific-island roots. Moreover, the demands of cultural diversity mean recognizing the "long, often painful history of the aboriginal peoples" in America and finding ways to collaborate with other organizations serving Native-American Catholics, Father Deck wrote.

There is a new challenge in all of this, he suggested. "One of the implications of the explosion of diverse groups in the church in the U.S. is the challenge of creating a serious dialogue not only between them and the European-American 'mainstream,' but also among the diverse groups themselves," Father Deck wrote.

He said, moreover, that the secretariat's staff is "aware of the shift going on in parishes and dioceses throughout the country whereby the so-called 'minority groups' are achieving critical mass, and in more than a few situations assuming more and more ecclesial leadership." This is an "important change" and "requires a refocusing, transfer and development of resources for better forming and affirming this emerging leadership," he said, adding:

"The effective unity of the church is now making it imperative that leaders from these emerging, diverse communities talk together about strategies, policies and to support one another's ecclesial agenda as well as develop a shared agenda."

The Happiness Quotient: Gratitude Is Basic for Faith

Gratitude and happiness are linked for Christians, says Jesuit Father William Byron. In fact, he believes "there is a multiplier effect associated with gratitude, and the wonder of it all is that gratitude can, if you let it stretch your mind, magnify your happiness."

An article by Father Byron titled "Gratitude, a One-Word Summary of the Catholic Faith," appears in the January 2009 edition of The Pastoral Review, a Catholic journal published in Britain. Father Byron, an economist, is a former president of The Catholic University of America and has served in the leadership of several other Catholic colleges.

"A contemporary Jesuit told me recently that he is convinced that a grateful person cannot also be sad. His point is that gratitude and unhappiness cannot co-exist in the same person at the same time," Father Byron says. What, then, is his advice for someone experiencing unhappiness? He writes:

"If you are unhappy, take a moment to check on your gratitude quotient. You may be suffering from a serious gratitude deficit that will, upon examination, explain your unhappiness."

If he were "pressed to reduce the entire meaning of religion to one word, that word would be 'gratitude,'" Father Byron says. Anticipating that his readers may think that love, not gratitude, would constitute the correct one-word summary of Catholic faith, he writes:

"The case for making that one word 'love' instead of 'gratitude' is worth attempting, but I recall learning from the First Letter of John that it was God who first loved us, thus enabling us to love by his good gift of love, and therefore all we can be is grateful. Why? Because he first loved us. 'In this is our love, not that we have loved God, but that he [first] loved us'" (1 Jn 4:10).

Father Byron says that "to be a Catholic means to live in gratitude for all of God's gifts, a gratitude that provides a firm foundation for moral obligation. We present ourselves as 'much obliged' (grateful) before God on Sundays. And on all seven days of the week we consider ourselves obliged as well to love one another as Christ has loved us."

Current Quotes in the News

The Catechist's Three-Dimensional Role: "St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) gives valuable insights to those who are servants of the word of God. To communicate effectively, he says, one must teach, delight and persuade. Catechesis has to do with handing on the truths of Jesus Christ. The catechist must know the truth. This requires a thorough study of the truths that we are being asked to hand on. One who hands on the faith cannot simply announce the truth, for he or she wants to move hearers to love. St. Augustine goes on to say that the teacher of faith, in order to hold the hearer's attention, has to delight the hearer. It is not enough for the catechist to simply say the truth, the catechist must lead hearers to want to listen to the truth. What this means for me is that the truth we teach has to be presented as attractively and as interestingly as possible, using appropriate examples and stories. [And] what we teach has to be put across in such a way that action follows. St. Augustine says, 'It is the duty of eloquent catechists, when they are trying to persuade the people to act in a certain way, not only to teach them in order to instruct them; not only to delight, in order to hold them; but also to sway, in order to conquer and win them.' The teacher of faith must know the truth that he or she seeks to communicate, present it in a way that will attract and hold the hearer's attention, and energize and inspire the hearer to act on what he or she has heard." (Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., speaking Jan. 17 in New Orleans to the Johannes Hofinger Conference; his text appears in the Feb. 19 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

What Christianity Is About: "Christianity is not about fanaticism; it is not about being unreasonable or being masochistic or wanting to suffer. Christianity is about life and love and [giving], and only then does it make sense." (Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolas, superior general of the Society of Jesus, in a homily Feb. 4 at the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco on the example given by martyrs.)

To Speak or Not to Speak of Poverty: "For us [as Christians] not to speak of poverty is impossible. This is for us a matter of faith. You hear lots of people saying that poverty is important, then you run into disagreements on how to move forward, and there the discussion ends. We're saying since we haven't succeeded in overcoming poverty, let's take some of the best ideas from liberal and conservative elements, and transcend the argument and come up with innovative ideas." (The Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, an evangelical organization devoted to justice issues, speaking in Washington Feb. 17 as co-chairman of the Poverty Forum. The forum is an association of 18 individuals with expertise in anti-poverty initiatives that made a multifaceted proposal to the federal government on addressing poverty.)

Of Leadership, Virtue and the Common Good: Lincoln's Legacy

"We can see through the lens of Abraham Lincoln so many of the lessons that were taught in the life of St. Thomas More - that virtue in the life of the politician extends to both their public and their private lives, that magnanimity and charity lead to solid decisions in moments of crisis and confusion, and that governance is above all an exercise in virtue," Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Del., said in a pastoral letter for the Feb. 12 observance of Lincoln's 200th birthday.

"St. Thomas More and Abraham Lincoln were two very different men, living in different countries and separated by centuries. Nevertheless, they shared the view that public service required them to pursue the public good rather than their own personal ends, even to the point that they put their lives as risk," said Bishop Malooly.

The bishop reflected upon Lincoln's leadership in light of the Beatitudes and the theological virtues. The Beatitudes "give us a window on Lincoln because they were expressed in so many ways in his life," he wrote.

Lincoln's "simplicity, generous intentions and focus on the common good often helped him to discern effectively what was needed in a given crisis or historical crossroads," Bishop Malooly said.

America today "has not completed its journey of providing justice to African Americans, but it was Abraham Lincoln who ensured that the journey would at least begin," said Bishop Malooly. He challenged his readers to "imagine Lincoln's gaze on our first African-American president, who not only can enter the White House in 2009, but live in and govern from it."

Lincoln "did not start out seeking to eliminate slavery. His view changed over time as he continued to reflect on how it could be abolished," Bishop Malooly explained.

He said Lincoln "slowly grew into the stand he ultimately took in his Emancipation Proclamation."

Bishop Malooly added that "in our own day we too need statesmen who see widely and clearly." America's needs are many, but "more than anything else we need statesmen who recognize and respect all human beings without exception," he wrote.

His prayer, Bishop Malooly said, is that all in the federal government and all citizens will "have the breadth of vision to come to see that all human beings from conception until natural death are precious in the eyes of God and deserve the protection of our laws."

Three Virtues Fostered by Religion That Benefit Society as a Whole

Religion serves America as a "school for the civic virtues our nation requires" in order to reach its destiny, Archbishop Allen Vigneron said in an address Feb. 2 to an interfaith, civic prayer breakfast in Detroit. He was installed Jan. 28 as Detroit's new archbishop.

Religion's contribution to the civil order encompasses its "prayers to God for our public officials," but reaches beyond that, Archbishop Vigneron said. "There is also the indispensable role that religion plays in shaping the moral virtue of our nation's citizens."

He commented, "For over two centuries America's churches and temples, synagogues and mosques, and other houses of worship have been the schools for that right conduct and high principle without which our Constitution, no matter how brilliantly drafted or insightfully interpreted, would become a dead letter."

Thus, he said, it is vital that religious congregations be maintained as "places for teaching the virtues that are the only real guarantee of our freedom." He continued, "Among these virtues I would like, simply because of the limits of our time, to name three that I view as particularly important for us to cultivate."

The first virtue the archbishop mentioned was commitment to the common good. He explained that in Catholic social teaching "this virtue goes by the name of 'solidarity'" and refers to the good of each individual and of all people. He said, "We might also think of it as the virtue of "making myself my brother's keeper."

Second, Archbishop Vigneron spoke of "the virtue of civil peace, that disposition which roots out all forms of racism, ethnic bias and discrimination." He said, "In a community like ours, which is the home to people of so many diverse backgrounds and with some very tragic moments of ethnically or racially motivated violence, this virtue must be part of the ethical instruction which we pastors and religious guides impart to those who share our faith."

The third virtue he mentioned was hope. "As we face the daunting challenges which everyone agrees lie before us in the months ahead, we religious leaders must, again and again, call our people to that vision, rooted in confidence in God and his unfailing assistance, which will sustain us through this hour of testing."

By fostering these three virtues, religious leaders make a most important contribution "to our fellow-citizens and to our civic officials, who have the responsibility for charting the path toward the economic recovery of our region," Archbishop Vigneron said.

However, he added, "while shaping a new economy may be the most pressing agenda item for our community, it is not the only one." The opportunity of an excellent education must be provided "to every child and young person in our community," and "if we are faithful to the impulses that spring from the virtues of solidarity, civil peace-making and hope, we will not delay in tackling this problem," he said.

In fact, Archbishop Vigneron said, "it is hard to imagine how there can be any long-term economic recovery that is not built upon the strengthening of our schools -- those that the government runs and those others to which parents, in the just exercise of their fundamental rights, choose to send their children."

The archbishop spoke in this context of his "firm and unwavering conviction that the struggle to vindicate the right to life from conception to natural death is a struggle to ensure the equal protection of our laws for every human being." He hopes "that those who disagree with me on this matter will, through their practice of solidarity and civil peace-making, eventually be led by the inherent logic of these virtues to see what appears so clear to me."

Finally, the three virtues he named "will lead our community to strengthen family life, which is the ultimate ground for the health of our community," Archbishop Vigneron said. It is the Catholic Church's conviction, he stated, "that whatever weakens families will weaken America; whatever strengthens families will make our nation stronger."

The Recession: Time to Focus on Values

The current global recession may mark "the end of a certain kind of selfish capitalism," Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor or Westminster, England, said in an interview published Feb. 14 by The Times, a London newspaper. The cardinal also focused on the relationship between the economic crisis and consumerism.

This is a moment to reflect "on what are the things that nourish the values, the virtues, we want to have. Capitalism needs to be underpinned with regulation and a moral purpose," said Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor. "Let's face it," he exhorted readers, "we now have a 'me, me' society, a more consumerist society, a utilitarian society, and our values and virtues have become diminished."

He strongly criticized the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and he questioned practices in the world of finance, including the payments of huge bonuses to executives. "I don't know why they got such big bonuses. I would cut them out altogether," he said.

Bankers, the cardinal said, "were just wanting to make profits, but in ways that were rash, and they thought they could continue on this bonanza without querying their excesses. The industry is so focused on money." But "unless that is underpinned with a moral sense and regulation that make it clear money is only a tool for living, then it is wrong," he said. "I think sometimes there weren't enough controls" on the financial sector, the cardinal added.

However, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor did not lay the financial crisis solely at the feet of government or the financial sector. Excessive spending and borrowing on everyone's part played a role in this, he suggested. The recession "is not a punishment of God, but the consequences of living a certain way of life. If you live a life that is consumed by overindulgence and greed, you eventually pay a price," the cardinal told the newspaper.

He cautioned: "If your worth just depends on your wealth, that is not healthy. Your worth should depend on who you are."