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August 15, 2009

Liturgical "tune-ups" for those on both sides of the altar - What is "abortion-neutral" health care reform? - Making the church visible after natural disasters - Why parents bring children for catechesis, but don't participate in Mass

In this edition:
1. When parents drop children off for catechesis, but don't participate in Mass.
2. Number of Catholic schools declines; admission waiting lists continue.
3. U.S. bishops support health care reform, urge "abortion-neutral" bill.
4. Needs will continue after health care reform for immigrants and others.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Tough love yes, brutality no.
b) Locating sacrament of reconciliation inside shopping mall.
c) Co-conspirators in God's salvation plan.
6. Liturgical "tune-up": Evaluating things from both sides of the altar.
7. Economics and "brotherhood": Secretary of state sizes up new encyclical.
8. Making the church visible after natural disasters: Charities federal contract.

1. When Parents Drop Children Off for Catechesis But Do Not Participate in Mass

What she calls the "drop-off" dilemma is examined by catechist Kathy Hendricks in the summer 2009 edition of Church magazine, published by the National Pastoral Life Center. Hendricks asks, "What parish has not struggled with the frustration of parents who enroll their child in religious education class and then fail to attend Mass or participate in any other aspect of parish life?"

Hendricks challenges those perplexed by the drop-off dilemma to ask why parents "choose to stay uninvolved" in the parish, even though they take the time to enroll their children in catechetical programs and to assure that the children attend.

Hendricks was lead writer for a program of whole-community catechesis titled "Gather in My Name," published in English and Spanish by Sadlier Inc. and available free of charge at www.webelieveweb.com.

There are a number of reasons parents who bring their children to catechetical classes "may be lax in their participation" in parish life, Hendricks says. She writes: "It could be a lack of interest or commitment to their faith. It could also be attributed to an experience of alienation, boredom or feeling out of place. The problem then is not one of catechesis but of evangelization."

Furthermore, Hendricks suggests, it could be that these parents feel unwelcome. She cites an article by Sister Susan Wolf, a Sister of Notre Dame, in the January-February edition of Catechetical Leader magazine. Sister Wolf, executive director of the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association, said, "We cannot expect catechists or any other ministers to be effectively evangelizing in a culture that does not overtly communicate 'welcome.'"

One way to make these parents feel more welcome in the parish is to make intergenerational gatherings part of the parish's overall approach to religious education, Hendricks proposes. Her article in Church, titled "Catechesis for the Whole Parish: A Both/And Approach," encourages parishes to include both intergenerational gatherings and age-appropriate catechesis in their educational programs.

Hendricks describes whole-community catechetical events in parishes at times such as Advent or Easter - events that adults and their children participate in together. She tells of an Advent gathering in a parish that, among other things, had families create Advent calendars to take home afterward. The event was "all part of a plan by the pastoral staff to catechize around the seasons of the liturgical year and to involve parents in their own faith formation as well as that of their children."

Care was taken by the planners in this parish "to reach out to newcomers and welcome them to the event," Hendricks points out. She adds: "Elements such as a meal, icebreakers and small-group conversation all contribute to an environment of hospitality in a low-key setting. Such events are ideal not only for including newcomers but also households who might not otherwise participate in a parish program."

If an intergenerational experience like this one proves to be positive, those who attended it are "more likely to be drawn into deeper participation in the life of the parish, especially if care is given to expand that perspective into all catechetical, liturgical and pastoral ministries," Hendricks writes.

2. Number of Catholic Schools Declines, Admission Waiting Lists Continue

It may seem a contradiction in terms, but while Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. recorded a 3.5 percent decrease in enrollment for the 2008-2009 school year, more than 2,000 Catholic schools had admission waiting lists when the National Catholic Educational Association released its annual statistical report on Catholic schools June 30.

"There are now 6,028 [Catholic] elementary or middle schools and 1,220 secondary schools enrolling 2,192,531 students in the United States," the NCEA said. The past academic year "saw a decrease of 78,382 students" from the 2007-2008 academic year; the same reporting period also witnessed the opening of 31 new schools and the closing or consolidation of 162 schools, said the educational association.

"In the last decade it has become increasingly more difficult for dioceses to continue to provide the substantial financial assistance required to keep schools open with modest tuition and reasonable compensation for teachers," the NCEA report commented. It said enrollment declined in all regions of the U.S., though the largest decreases were centered in large urban areas -- principally in central eastern and Great Lakes regions -- that were populated by high concentrations of Catholic immigrants in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Karen Ristau, president of the NCEA, said that "parents definitely want a faith-based education for their children during these turbulent times" but that "it has become impossible for some parents, parishes or dioceses to shoulder the burden alone." Ristau urged "the millions of adults who have benefited from Catholic education in the past" to "step forward financially" to "help the next generation" and thus "prevent the closing of more schools in the future."

3. U.S. Bishops Support Health Care Reform, Seek "Abortion-Neutral" Legislation

"The Catholic bishops of the United States have been and continue to be consistent advocates for comprehensive health care reform that leads to health care for all, including the weakest and most vulnerable," Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., said in a July 17 letter to the U.S. Congress. He chairs the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

Bishop Murphy presented the bishops' position that health care reform "must begin with the principle that decent health care is not a privilege but a right and a requirement to protect the life and dignity of every person." At the same time, health reform legislation needs to be "abortion-neutral," he insisted.

The bishops "strongly oppose inclusion of abortion as part of a national health care benefit. We would also oppose inclusion of technologies that similarly fail to uphold the sanctity and dignity of life," said the bishop.

Bishop Murphy presented four "criteria for fair and just health care reform" - four "basic ethical principles" to be reflected in a reform bill. The legislation should:

-- Offer "a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity."

-- Provide "access for all, with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants."

-- Pursue "the common good" and allow for "preserving pluralism, including freedom of conscience and variety of options."

--Restrain costs and apply "them equitably across the spectrum of payers."

But what did Bishop Murphy mean in employing the term "abortion-neutral" to describe health care legislation the bishops would support? To explain this term, which encompasses such concerns as abortion funding and the protection of conscience rights on the part of health care providers, let's take a look at the following three paragraphs of his letter where the term arose. The bishop wrote:

"For decades, Congress has respected the right of health care providers to decline involvement in abortion or abortion referrals, without exception, and has respected moral and religious objections in other contexts as well. The Weldon amendment to the Labor/Health and Human Services appropriations act, approved by Congress each year since 2004, forbids any federal agency or program (or state or local government receiving federal funds under the act) to discriminate against individual or institutional health care providers or insurers because they decline to provide, pay for, provide coverage of or refer for abortion.

"Programs such as Medicaid that provide funding for the rare 'Hyde exception' abortions also provide for participation in the program by health care providers who decline to provide any abortions at all. (For a compilation of such federal laws, see www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/abortion/crmay08.pdf.) Health care reform cannot be a vehicle for abandoning this consensus, which respects freedom of conscience and honors our best American traditions.

"Any legislation should reflect longstanding and widely supported current policies on abortion funding, mandates and conscience protections because they represent sound morality, wise policy and political reality. Making the legislation 'abortion-neutral' in this sense will be essential for widely accepted reform."

The term "abortion-neutral" also appeared in a letter sent July 29 by Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Pro-Life Activities Committee, to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In one paragraph, he said:

"Much-needed [health care] reform must not become a vehicle for promoting an 'abortion rights' agenda or reversing longstanding current policies against federal abortion mandates and funding. In this sense we urge you to make this legislation 'abortion neutral' by preserving longstanding federal policies that prevent government promotion of abortion and respect conscience rights."

Bishop Murphy told Congress that the U.S. bishops "want to support health care reform." He added, "We have in the past and we always must insist that health care reform excludes abortion coverage or any other provisions that threaten the sanctity of life." (Bishop Murphy's letter appears in the Aug. 13, 2009, edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

4. Needs Will Remain After Health Care Reform for Immigrants and Others

The U.S. Catholic bishops believe that "all people need and should have access to comprehensive, quality health care that they can afford, and it should not depend on their stage of life, where or whether they or their parents work, how much they earn, where they live or where they were born," Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., said in his July 17 letter to the U.S. Congress on behalf of the bishops.

The bishops hold that "health care reform should be truly universal, and it should be genuinely affordable," he wrote. For the church, he explained "health care is not just another issue." Rather, health care represents "a fundamental issue of human life and dignity."

Bishop Murphy called attention to certain needs that will remain after health care reform legislation is implemented. "Some individuals and families, including immigrants, will still lack health insurance coverage," he observed. Nonetheless, "we have a responsibility to ensure that no one is left without the ability to see a doctor when he or she is sick or get emergency care when his or her health is at risk."

In light of this, Bishop Murphy said the U.S. bishops want Congress "to ensure sufficient funding for safety-net clinics, hospitals and other providers serving those who will continue to fall through the cracks of a reformed system."

Bishop Murphy's letter renewed the U.S. bishops' "appeal to provide equity for legal immigrants in access to health care." This, he wrote, "can be accomplished in part by repealing the five-year ban for legal immigrants to access Medicaid; repealing the applicability of 'sponsor-deeming' for Medicaid and CHIP [Children's Health Insurance Program]; and ensuring that pregnant women in the United States, who will be giving birth to children who are U.S. citizens, are eligible along with their unborn children for health care regardless of their immigration status."

Immigrants, Bishop Murphy said, "pay the same taxes as citizens, and their health needs cannot be ignored. Leaving them outside a reformed system is both unfair and unwise."

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

Tough Love Yes, Brutality No: "Sometimes tough love is needed in the lives of individuals, and sometimes we need to exercise it on ourselves, but toughness without love is merely brutality and bullying. It was a shallow spirituality and a poor knowledge of Jesus that believed that harshness was part of the Gospel. Jesus knew that nothing works unless it is suffused by love and experienced as loving. We have to accept that some days we're the pigeon, and some days we're the statue! But Jesus has the knack of suggesting that when everything's coming your way, you're in the wrong lane! Jesus takes us seriously and takes other people seriously. He doesn't want people to expect little from themselves and from life. He knows that we are capable of great things and that the broken heart of the world can be healed." (Reflections by Auxiliary Bishop Donal McKeown of Down in a homily during the July 23-26 Knock Summer Youth Festival in Ireland)

Locating the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Mall: "A 2008 study conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington revealed that three-quarters of Catholics reported they never participate in the sacrament of reconciliation or they do so less than once a year. The Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colo., has taken an innovative approach to remedy this: Go to where the people are -- the shopping mall. Located on the upper level of the Citadel Mall in Colorado Springs, between the Burlington Coat Factory and Dillard's department stores, the Catholic Center, which offers Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation, is a place shoppers can find solace away from crowds. 'Visitors to the center are anonymous and can either stop in regularly or just once,' [said Msgr. Robert Jaeger, vicar general of the diocese]. 'People can say: 'Well, I've finished my shopping. I think I'll stop inside for a moment for myself.' Staffed by five Capuchin Franciscans, the Catholic Center at the mall is financially supported and promoted by the Diocese of Colorado Springs, the Capuchin Province of Mid-America and the Knights of Columbus." (From an Aug. 5, 2009, Catholic News Service report by Carmen Blanco)

Co-conspirators in God's Salvation Plan: "We see in the mystery of the incarnation the most remarkable example of the power of God's word: The Word himself becomes flesh, the Son of God is born in time. There are two important lessons I would like to point out in connection with this mystery. First, the work of creation and salvation is first, last and always God's initiative. Life is God's gift, not our accomplishment. But second, we too have a role to play. Mary was not simply a vehicle or instrument by which the Word became flesh, a lifeless patch of land made fruitful by the downpour of God's Word. She is a human being with a free will, and as such she cooperated in God's saving plan. Mary freely and joyfully embraced God's will, and for this reason she is intimately connected with her Son's mission. This is suggested by the words of Simeon in today's Gospel. After stating that 'this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted,' he then says to Mary, 'And you yourself a sword will pierce' (Lk 2:34-35). The mother of Jesus is involved in the whole mystery of the life of Christ; she is, we might say, a 'co-conspirator' in God's plan of salvation." (From the Aug. 5 homily by Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, during a Knights of Columbus convention Mass in Phoenix, Ariz. The Knights' convention was followed immediately by a Marian congress devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe.)

6. Liturgical "Tune-up": Evaluating Things From Both Sides of the Altar

"On both sides of the altar this year we intend to focus on what makes for really good eucharistic celebrations," Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., said in an article in a spring 2009 edition of Gathered, Nourished, Sent, a publication of the diocese. He said, "If we ourselves are attuned to and searching for good liturgy, we know it when we experience it."

The St. Petersburg Diocese is in the midst of a three-year reflection on the liturgy, focusing this year on what it means to be nourished by the Eucharist. Addressing all those involved in the liturgy, whatever their roles, the bishop urged that they "check" themselves "on several important questions: Why do I go to Mass? What do I do when I am at Mass? What do I take with me from Mass? What do I give to the community at Mass?"

Speaking for himself, Bishop Lynch said he knows that from time to time he needs a "liturgical tune-up" - he needs a "liturgical mechanic" to evaluate him liturgically. "It is so easy for things of which we are not aware to creep in," he wrote.

He also commented that while he knows of "no priest who holds contempt for good liturgy, all of us at one time or another have experienced a liturgy celebrated by a priest who seems to be moving just mechanically through it. One has a hard time being nourished by this experience."

The bishop discussed the reasons for assembling to celebrate liturgy - reasons related directly to Christ and to the others in the assembly:

1. "We assemble to celebrate the passion and death of Jesus Christ, and to welcome him into our own bodies for however long we can be in communion with him."

2. "We are also in communion with others when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, and we offer ourselves to be transformed, changed if you will, from living a life of lonely spiritual isolation to becoming enlivened members of a community of believers who can never get enough of the presence of Christ -- in the sacrament and also in one another."

7. Economy and "Brotherhood": Secretary of State on New Encyclical's Key Points

An important message of Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical, "Charity in Truth," is found in its discussion of the economy and the financial crisis, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said in a speech to the Italian Senate July 28.

Observers expected the encyclical to weigh-in on the financial crisis. But Cardinal Bertone's presentation described the encyclical as particularly forceful in this area.

In the days after its delivery, the Vatican posted Cardinal Bertone's speech on its Web site in five languages, well above the norm for his speeches. Was this an indication that here is a speech to be studied by those assessing the encyclical's strengths - and its possible points of breakthrough?

If the encyclical is taken seriously, efficiency cannot be regarded as the economy's guiding principle, Cardinal Bertone said. Moreover, the importance of the principle of human "brotherhood," which reaches beyond human solidarity, also must be recognized if the human family is to be approached as a real "family." (It might be pointed out that the term "solidarity" assumed a key place in church discussions of social teaching and justice over the past three decades.)

"It is necessary to supersede the current concept which expects the church's social teaching and values to be confined to social activities, while experts in efficiency would be charged with guiding the economy," Cardinal Bertone said. The new encyclical holds an "invitation to supersede the now-obsolete dichotomy between the financial sphere and the social sphere," the cardinal commented.

Furthermore, he said, the future will hold financial crises similar to the current one unless "the evil is attacked at the root or, in other words, unless we intervene by dealing with the cultural matrix that supports the economic system."

A noteworthy feature of the new encyclical is its emphasis on "the fact that economic action is not separate from or alien to the cornerstones of the church's social teaching such as the centrality of the human person, solidarity, subsidiarity, the common good," Cardinal Bertone pointed out.

In a piercing observation, he said modernity has bequeathed to us the notion that to succeed in "the field of the economy, it is essential to achieve a profit and to be motivated chiefly by self-interest -- as if to say that if we do not seek the highest profit we are not proper entrepreneurs."

Such a notion, he said, "has led to identifying the economy with the place where wealth or income is generated, and society with the place of solidarity for its fair distribution." But the new encyclical "tells us instead that it is also possible to do business by pursuing aims that serve society and are inspired by pro-social motives," the cardinal stated.

The new encyclical "helps us to realize that society can have no future if the principle of brotherhood is lost," Cardinal Bertone said. Church social teaching, he added, "reminds us that a sound society is certainly the product of the market and of freedom, but there are needs that stem from the principle of brotherhood that can neither be avoided nor referred solely to the private sphere nor to philanthropy."

In fact, a society oriented toward the common good needs to expand its vision beyond the parameters of human solidarity "because it needs a solidarity that reflects brotherhood," the cardinal commented. After all, he added, "while a fraternal society also shows solidarity, the opposite is not necessarily true."

And in a thought-provoking remark on solidarity and brotherhood, the cardinal said:

"Whereas solidarity is the principle of social organization that permits those who are unequal to become equal through their equal dignity and their fundamental rights, the principle of brotherhood is that principle of social organization which permits equals to be different, in the sense that they are able to express their plan of life or their charism in different ways."

8. Making the Church Visible After Natural Disasters: Charities Federal Contract

The message Catholics Charities USA got from working with victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Ike was that after a natural disaster, "the faithful expect the church to be engaged and visible," Father Larry Snyder, CCUSA president, said after the national organization announced Aug. 3 that it had received its first federal contract, potentially worth more than $100 million over a five-year period.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its Administration for Children and Families section awarded Catholic Charities a multiyear, multimillion dollar contract to prepare for and provide disaster case-management operations throughout the U.S. and its territories, the national charities organization announced.

Post-disaster case management refers, in federal parlance, not to direct services to families, but to a relationship between a case manager and a client in which a plan for recovery is established. Case managers help to assure that the most vulnerable people and groups are aided, identifying needed services in the community, providing referrals and encouraging clients to seek services they need. A case manager helps people identify the assistance they need and ways to access that aid.

Catholic Charities' work in securing long-term shelter and meeting other needs of victims in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Gustav and Ike in 2008 helped land the contract, Father Snyder said in a Catholic News Service report on the new contract. In particular, he said, the agency's work with victims of Gustav in Louisiana and Ike in Texas under a federally funded pilot program demonstrated the value of case-management services.

The unmet needs of Katrina victims led Catholic Charities to reconsider how it responds with disaster aid, according to the CNS report. Father Snyder said the agency spoke with victims and emergency responders to determine how its effort worked and where it fell short. He said the agency now offers disaster preparedness training and guidelines on maintaining contact with people receiving assistance.

What Catholic Charities learned in Katrina's aftermath led to the success the organization experienced after Gustav and Ike, said Father Snyder. "It's a model that's dependent on local agencies being involved as well," he said. It calls for Catholic Charities to partner with local Catholic and community agencies.

CCUSA said its federal contract applies to services in all types of emergencies that are declared natural disasters. But the charities agency explained that its federal funding is specifically for disaster case-management operations, which handle individual and family needs long after the initial impact. The funding does not cover disaster-response direct assistance. Thus, Father Snyder said, "we must continue to maintain and grow our donations to support that critical front."