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May 11, 2009

NFPC assembly: "Evangelization" means more than outreach; priests and priestly people in parishes - Pastoral planning makes a difference - Economic downturn leading couples to marriage counselors - and much more



In this edition:
1. How evangelization shapes identity of priests, laity and parishes.
2. Evangelization is more than mere outreach.
3. Cultural competency in the parish.
4. Priests and priestly people: ministry today.
5. The voicemail welcome: Brief reflection on parish hospitality.
6. Current quotes to ponder: a) Here comes the bride - and groom. b) Pastoral planning makes a difference. c) How to welcome those living on the margins of the church.
7. Financial crisis leads couples to marriage counseling.
8. The consequences of cultural inhospitality and hostility.
9. Affordable housing campaign: Catholic Charities USA brief.

1. How Evangelization Shapes Priests, Laity and Parishes

"Every aspect of the church's life must be critically discerned in terms of its mission and identity, which is evangelization," Jesuit Father Allan Figueroa Deck said April 29 in an address to the National Federation of Priests' Councils assembly in San Antonio, Texas. If evangelization assumes its proper place in the church's life, it will help shape our understanding of priestly identity, the identity of the laity and the identity of the parish, he told the priests' assembly.

Father Deck is director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Cultural Diversity.

"Pope John Paul II insisted that the church is evangelizing in its entirety," Father Deck recalled. He said, "The failure to ground the critical questions of ministry, priestly identity and practice, and, yes, the parish from the point of view of evangelization makes it virtually impossible to discover a path forward that is faithful to the church's identity."

Father Deck's goal was to "lay out a vision of the parish as nothing more nor less than an instrument of evangelization, certainly not as an end in itself."

"It is important for priests to develop a robust priestly identity, but one that is consistent with the church's mission and identity," Father Deck said. Parishes today are characterized by a diversity that calls for "a rich diversity of responses that run the gamut from the traditional to the innovative," he commented.

Moreover, said Father Deck, "the Catholic Church is fully able to hold in creative tension a bewildering range of cultural, language and liturgical preferences from the Latin extraordinary rite to the Life Teen Masses, from charismatic renewal devotees and Sister Faustina's Divine Mercy disciples to Pax Christi social activists and the ecumenical Spirituality of Taize practitioners, from Guadalupana associations to the Knights of Columbus."

The speaker described a "catholic instinct" that endeavors "to find outlets for the vast range of peoples, realities and gifts that constitute the church today." He said, "The challenge for an evangelizing parish is to create an environment of real hospitality strong enough to overcome the innate tendency, the default drive, of many ecclesial communities to close in on themselves and huddle together in homogeneous groups."

Father Deck believes that "a Catholic conception of evangelization makes transformative action in the social, economic and political order a constitutive dimension of the church, and that means the parish as well." He said, "A parish becomes 'churchy' when it closes in on itself and fails to see its connection with what is going on around it."

The transformation the church and its ministerial structures now are living through has at its heart "a fuller and more robust theology of ministry that recognizes distinct functions while placing the baptized on a par with the ordained as far as the call to evangelize is concerned," Father Deck said.

In this, he commented, "the biggest obstacle, no doubt, will be fear of the unknown and the inability to let go so that something continuous with the past but also very new can emerge."

2. "Evangelization," More Than Mere Outreach

Father Allan Deck told the National Federation of Priests' Councils assembly that the word "evangelization" often is used in church circles "in such a way as to mean mere outreach rather than the much more robust notion that includes at least these four fundamental components: 1) an encounter with the living God in Jesus Christ -- ongoing conversion; 2) the inculturation of the Gospel message; 3) transformative action on behalf of justice and peace; 4) ecumenism and interreligious dialogue."

The church's "current insistence on evangelization as identity and mission requires that our prized objectives about the parish, our historical experience of it up to now, our practices must in some sense be rethought from the larger, overarching perspective of evangelization," Father Deck said.

For parishes now, as in the past, "the critical question is precisely how to attract, appeal to and build deeper relationships with the faithful," Father Deck commented. He said, "The key to a successful parish is precisely what it always was: creating the conditions whereby many diverse groups experience a sense of real belonging." But, he added, "as we all know, that is easier said than done."

The critical issues parishes now face "have to do with the capacity of pastors, deacons, religious and ecclesial lay leaders to provide a range of differentiated ministries and contexts that respond to the ever-growing reality of cultural diversity," Father Deck said. He pointedly advised, "A highly diversified church requires highly diversified responses, not a deadening, cookie-cutter approach."

The priest added, "We must be on our guard about a certain tendency in U.S. culture with its strong Nordic and Calvinist influences to get trapped as church leaders in the one-shoe-fits-all mentality with its compulsion for dialectical, exclusivist and univocal thinking."

Does this call for a conservative or liberal approach? "Neither so-called conservative nor progressive/liberal responses are adequate for a church or parish seeking to evangelize," said Father Deck. That's because "those ideologically driven responses are generally too narrow, impractical and limited to one context rather than the wide gamut of circumstances that characterize a multicultural, multigenerational church."

Father Deck noted that "in the ongoing debate over the proper implementation of Vatican II, it is no secret that there has been an unhealthy polarization of thought." He said:

"One group insists on dialogue with the modern world, openness and innovation, and another insists on a robust proclamation of the Christian message, the content of the faith and continuity with the tradition. May I suggest that the way forward has to do with a both/and rather than an either/or approach?"

In this, it will not be helpful if people excuse themselves "from the critical questions and hard work of finding the proper and effective correspondence between faith and the world as it is, the only world in which faith can be incarnated and become life," said Father Deck.

3. Cultural Competencies in the Parish

Today's parish needs "some bilingual or multilingual capacity," Father Allan Deck said in his address to the 2009 National Federation of Priests' Councils assembly. Closely linked to this "are the corresponding needs for cultural immersion and cultural competencies," he said.

By "cultural immersion," Father Deck said he meant "programs that give would-be ministers the opportunity to experience other cultures at greater depth, whether that be by field work in barrios, urban centers or rural missions in the U.S., or seminary and priestly continuing education and ministerial formation programs that immerse seminarians, priests and lay ministers in other cultures by traveling to the mother countries of today's immigrant Catholics."

By "cultural competency," the speaker said he meant "learning opportunities that provide an adequate level of familiarity with the principles and dynamics of cultural interaction and relations so as to prepare priests, deacons, lay ministers and leaders of all ethnicities, races and cultural backgrounds to succeed in providing pastoral care for today's parishioners."

The U.S. Catholic bishops already "have made recognition of cultural diversity with an emphasis on Hispanic ministry one of their five priorities for the next several years," according to Father Deck. He said, "A major implication of this is the development and dissemination of guidelines on cultural competency for implementation at every level of the church's life, including, of course, parishes."

Father Deck said that at U.S. bishops' conference headquarters "we are currently mounting a major effort in this direction, and we will be hearing more about it in coming months."

The pressing need in "regular" English-speaking parishes "puts pressure on pastors to offer services in more than one language," Father Deck said. "This leads to the so-called multicultural, two- or three-track parish."

Father Deck prefers to refer to such parishes as "shared parishes," communities in which "understanding pastors and lay leaders in good faith reach out and find practical ways to accommodate new groups rather than create the impression that 'everyone is welcome as long as they do things the way the in-group likes them.'"

4. Priests and Priestly People: Ministry Today

"The shortage of priestly and religious vocations has awakened in us an appreciation of a broadly based, shared ministry and a realization that it is in the nature of the church as the body of Christ to be endowed with many gifts, ministries and offices," Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said in a speech April 28 in San Antonio, Texas, to the annual assembly of the National Federation of Priests' Councils.

Cardinal Mahony explored the ordained priest's identity and how this very identity fosters the interaction of priests and others. He acknowledged that the great accent placed today on the collaboration of priests and laity leaves some priests wondering about their own identity. He asked:

"How do we train candidates for the priesthood in a way that provides them with a clear sense of their vocation and identity within the church while assuring that they do not become less collaborative, less flexible, more anxious to find their 'proper place?'"

A better understanding now exists that "priestly ministry is not only for the purpose of celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, anointing the sick and dying, and officiating at marriages," Cardinal Mahony said. A priest, he said, "is ordained to be a leader of, and father within, the Catholic community, all of whose members are given gifts in baptism, strengthened in confirmation and nourished week by week or day by day in the celebration of the Eucharist."

The ordained priest "must be able to hold a community together, to coordinate the many gifts and to negotiate the many tensions that are part of any gathering or group of people, yes, even people in the church," Cardinal Mahony explained.

However, he said, "with such a strong emphasis on participation and collaboration, at times some priests wonder about the distinctiveness or uniqueness of the ordained ministry." This, the cardinal said, "calls for a clear articulation of the identity of the priest. What precisely is the priest ordained to be and to do?"

Responding to this question, Cardinal Mahony said "the priest's identity can only be discerned within priestly relationships -- with Christ, with the priestly people of God, with the bishop and with other priests." The ordained priest "is to call forth and serve the priesthood of the whole church, the entire body of Christ. The ordained priesthood is not only a ministry for the church on behalf of Christ, but it is also a ministry done with a priestly people."

An ordained priest teaches, leads prayer, celebrates the sacraments and serves as a guide. "By teaching, the priest enlightens, encourages and at times corrects the baptized faithful as they strive to witness to the Gospel amid a culture quite indifferent and often hostile to its values," the cardinal said.

In addition, the priest sanctifies the baptized by preaching the word, by leading prayer and by celebrating the sacraments, Cardinal Mahony said. Moreover, he continued, "the priest guides by establishing, cultivating and sustaining relationships that are collaborative for the purpose of mutual service, calling forth and coordinating the gifts of all the baptized faithful, including those consecrated by religious vows."

In order to understand an ordained priest's ministry in today's church, "what is so important is the gift of presiding over the life of a community and its prayer," Cardinal Mahony said. A priest, he added, "must know how to evangelize, to catechize, to preach, to pray, to celebrate, to discern, but above all he must know how to draw all the members of the Catholic community together into communion and mutual service."

The cardinal said that "faced with such a view of the priesthood, it is easy to understand why some priests get overwhelmed, disheartened or discouraged. So much is expected of the priest."

Furthermore, Cardinal Mahony cautioned, in the context of a fast-paced contemporary culture, the priest may feel driven to be "constantly on the move, doing more and more tasks, moving at such a fast-paced speed that he risks burnout." What perhaps is "even more troublesome" is that the priest can easily begin to "measure his own worth, his goodness, by the standard of what he does, what he has accomplished, rather than by the measure of God's love for him, the God who has called him to a unique vocation in the church," said the cardinal.

5. An Observation on Parish Hospitality: The Voicemail Welcome

Addressing the National Federation of Priests' Councils 2009 assembly, Cardinal Roger Mahony at one point offered an observation on parish hospitality. He wondered how parishes sound - how welcoming they are - to telephone callers.

"I would like to see more emphasis on the parish ministry of welcome and hospitality," Cardinal Mahony said. He recalled several occasions when he called parish offices and got "entangled in the web of voicemail menu choices, trying to extract myself from the nonstop options without ever being able to speak to a real live person."

What was the cardinal's advice? He said, "Our parish staffs, beginning with us priests, need constant instruction and updating on how we come across to people trying to contact us."

6. Current Quotes to Ponder

Here Comes the Bride - and the Groom: "The bride and the groom enter freely and equally into marriage, and the entrance procession should reflect that. The Rite of Marriage suggests that the liturgical ministers (priest, deacon, reader, servers) lead the procession, followed by the bride and bridegroom, each escorted by 'at least their parents and the witnesses.' Perhaps the groom goes first, led by his attendants and escorted by his parents, followed by the bride, led by her attendants and escorted by her parents." (From "Ten Things to Consider for Planning the Celebration of Your Marriage in the Catholic Church," by Father Rick Hilgartner, associate director of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Divine Worship, posted at wwwforyourmarriage.org and issued May 4 as a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' press release)

Pastoral Planning Makes a Difference. "We held our annual pastoral center planning meeting [May 1]. We met in two groups, the first involving directors and associates in the administrative departments of the diocese and the other for those in pastoral services. We had an opportunity to reflect together on what energizes us, what we are most proud of having accomplished and what we find satisfying. We shared a lot, and in the sharing we got to know one another better. Each director of our offices and departments set up to three goals for this next fiscal year and the objectives to help realize those goals. It is important to set your sights on some goals that are measurable and achievable. I know some of our parish staffs do planning for the year ahead. I would encourage all of our staffs to take time to do this important work. It means breaking away from the pressing business of our lives to take a bigger look at what is important and where we need to focus our energies. Even in smaller parishes, this planning could happen between the pastor and his pastoral and finance councils and board of directors. Planning makes a difference and gives us targets for the year." (Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., in his May 4 online Monday Memo)

How to Welcome People on the Margins of the Church. "Everyone knows people who are on the margins of the church, open yet unsure, sympathetic to the things of faith yet a bit fearful too. We all have a part to play in offering an invitation to them to come, step by step, to a fresh knowledge of the Lord. We must prepare the way by the example of our lives, by choosing our words carefully, by offering a warm welcome and by going gradually. Don't expect people to jump in the deep end straight away!" (Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who May 21 is to be installed as archbishop of Westminster, England, speaking in Rome where he participated in an early-May European symposium on sharing the Gospel)

7. Financial Crisis Leads Couples to Marriage Counselors

"The recession is quickly and deeply affecting marriage and family," said John Farrelly, director of counseling for ACCORD, a Catholic marriage care service that is an agency of the Irish bishops' conference. "In the first quarter of 2007 only 4 percent of males attending our service were unemployed, but this has nearly tripled to 11.5 percent for the first quarter of 2009," said Farrelly. ACCORD has 57 centers throughout Ireland.

Twenty percent of ACCORD's clients in 2007 "identified finances as a problem for their marriage, and in 2008 this rose to 25 percent. For the first quarter of 2009, this figure has risen to 28 percent," ACCORD reported.

It said that in 2007, 3.96 percent of its clients were unemployed, with the rate among men slightly higher at 4.4 percent and women lower at 3.4 percent. In 2008 the rate rose to 7.5 percent for men and 4 percent for women. In the first quarter of 2009, the rate of unemployed men rose to 11.5 percent; it rose to 4.8 percent in women, said ACCORD.

"Financial problems have always increased stress on marriage and relationships. However, an analysis of current data shows an increase of 40 percent in this problem between 2007 and 2009," said Farrelly. In the past, he added, "issues such as who was in charge of finances in a two-income family were to the fore. However in 2008, and particularly in the first quarter of 2009, among the challenges now facing couples is how the family's child-care and mortgage costs are to be met."

8. The Consequences of Cultural Inhospitality and Hostility

"A tsunami of moral and physical violence" is created by a culture's inhospitality and hostility toward others, Bishop Salvatore Cordileone said May 5 in a homily during his installation as bishop of Oakland, Calif.

The bishop spoke of the arrival in America of his immigrant grandparents close to 100 years ago. "They labored under the hardship of immigrants, Yet somehow they found a welcome and were able to make a better life for themselves," he said.

But it seems the U.S. "has become a much less welcoming place, even sometimes downright inhospitable," Bishop Cordileone observed. The nation is, he said -

-- "Unwelcoming to the countless new strangers seeking to come to this land to make a better life for themselves and enrich the lives of us all.

-- "Unwelcoming toward those who may place a burden on us because they are terminally ill or otherwise 'unproductive.'

-- "Unwelcoming toward those who could be given a chance to prove themselves capable of repentance and rehabilitation for their crimes and instead eliminating them from society.

-- "Worst of all, a land that shows itself all too often unwelcoming toward the most defenseless of our brothers and sisters who are not even given a chance to be born and so are eliminated from society even before they see the light of day."

The bishop said, "This inhospitality, this hostility creates a tsunami of moral and physical violence that leaves countless damaged and destroyed lives in its wake."

9. Affordable Housing Campaign: Catholic Charities Brief

"America's affordable housing crisis is solvable," says Catholic Charities USA. At the present time, however, owning a home is unaffordable for millions of families and all too often "an affordable rental option is out of reach" as well, according to a major paper - called an "issue brief" - released May 4 by Catholic Charities.

Titled "The Home is the Foundation," the issue brief explains that the commitment of Catholic Charities "to affordable housing rests upon the teaching of the Catholic Church on the dignity of the human person and the value of the family." The brief states that for Catholic Charities, "helping people secure a decent home is more than an ideal - it is an obligation."

The Charities brief adds, "It is not simply our civic responsibility that prompts us to serve in this area; it is also our moral responsibility."

The Catholic Charities affordable housing campaign urges local communities and governments to work together for affordable housing, taking steps to eliminate the "not in my back yard" kind of thinking that tends to keep those in need of affordable housing at arms length. "Band-aid fixes" to housing needs must be replaced with "long-term solutions," says the brief.

The brief examines the ways race, poverty or immigrant status factor into the housing situation in America and makes numerous public-policy recommendations to address these realities. It encourages recognition of the toll taken in other areas of family life by the high cost of housing.

High housing costs make it difficult for families "to dedicate resources to health care, education and job training, transportation, economic stability and other important social needs that help keep families strong," the brief advises.

The Charities brief suggests that if the affordable housing problem is to be solved, "the federal government must adopt a comprehensive national housing plan." However, the brief comments, "any plan requires the development of partnerships at all levels of government, along with alliances among government agencies, nonprofit and for-profit housing developers, small and large businesses and philanthropic institutions."

The reality of the housing situation faced by minimum-wage earners is accented by the brief. "Full-time minimum-wage work still does not pay enough to allow many working families to live in affordable housing," it says. These people find neither the price of a home nor monthly rental costs within reach.

The brief notes that "nearly a third of American households are renters." It states, "In most metro areas, individuals earning minimum wage simply do not earn enough to pay fair market rent."