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January 2, 2010

World Day of Peace message factors environment into peace equation - Christmas 2009 revisited - How to recruit volunteers - Pope urges new form of dialogue, one with those who sideline God -- Purpose of youth ministry - Starting point for presenting the Christian moral vision

In this edition:
1. Factoring care for the environment into the peace equation.
2. Recruiting volunteers: What to do and not to do.
3. Starting point for presenting the Christian moral vision.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) personal-level recession remedies;
b) how greatly parish marriage preparation matters;
c) the purpose of youth ministry. 5. Christmastime at the Nogales dump.
6. The pope at Christmas: Time for dialogue with those who marginalize God.
7. Christmas past: A story.
8. A lasting lesson of Christmas.

1. Factoring Care for the Environment Into the Peace Equation

Care for the environment intertwines with the quest for world peace, according to Pope Benedict XVI's message for the Jan. 1, 2010, World Day of Peace. "We cannot remain indifferent to what is happening around us, for the deterioration of any one part of the planet affects us all," he writes.

The pope believes that "the ecological problem must be dealt with not only because of the chilling prospects of environmental degradation on the horizon; the real motivation must be the quest for authentic worldwide solidarity inspired by the values of charity, justice and the common good."

He writes, "Our duties toward the environment flow from our duties toward the person, considered both individually and in relation to others."

Titled "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation," the message calls respect for creation a matter of "immense consequence." The preservation of creation "has become essential for the peaceful coexistence of mankind," says the pope. However, he states, "man's inhumanity to man has given rise to numerous threats to peace and to authentic and integral human development."

Pope Benedict asks: "Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of 'environmental refugees,' people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to forsake it - and often their possessions as well - in order to face the dangers and uncertainties of forced displacement? Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources?"

The global concern about energy sources is addressed by the pope. He writes: "Technologically advanced societies must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing their energy consumption and improving its efficiency. At the same time there is a need to encourage research into, and utilization of, forms of energy with lower impact on the environment and 'a worldwide redistribution of energy resources."

The World Day of Peace message views the environment "as God's gift to all people." The use made of the environment "entails a shared responsibility for all humanity, especially the poor and future generations," Pope Benedict says. Calling for "a greater sense of intergenerational solidarity," which he describes as "urgently needed," the pope insists that "future generations cannot be saddled with the cost of our use of common environmental resources."

Yes, the Creator called upon human beings to "fill the earth" and to "have dominion over" it as "stewards" of God," Pope Benedict notes. Yet, this call to stewardship is a summons "to responsibility." The pope comments that "once man, instead of acting as God's co-worker, sets himself up in place of God, he ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature."

The human responsibility to exercise stewardship over creation ought neither to be abused nor abdicated, Pope Benedict states.

2. Recruiting Volunteers: What to Do and Not to Do

The best way to recruit volunteers is to invite people to volunteer. "If you never have the conversation, how can someone say yes?" That is a key point in an article titled "Volunteer Recruitment, Tips That Work ... At No Cost" that appears in the winter edition of Charities USA, a quarterly publication of Catholic Charities USA. (The publication can be read online at www.catholiccharitiesusa.org.)

The national charities office teamed up with Energize Inc. to offer an online volunteer management training program, the article points out. The eights tips in the Charities USA article on recruiting volunteers come from the president of Energize Inc., Susan Ellis.

Never try to recruit a volunteer "by asking someone to do you a 'favor,'" the article advises. Instead, present your need as a "marvelous opportunity to participate in an important project" - a project in which you want the potential volunteer to feel included.

"Be clear on what you want people to do," the article urges. Those who recruit volunteers ought to "avoid the vague approach of 'volunteers wanted,'" instead focusing on the role the volunteers would fulfill - for example, serving as a crafts instructor once a month for a seniors group.

In addition, the article encourages recruiters to "be honest" with potential volunteers about the "time and effort" a position actually requires. The article explains that while it may take more time to find a needed volunteer when a position's real demands are made known, "once you have that person you'll have the right person."

What training and support will a volunteer need and receive? Recruiters should make that clear, the article advises. When potential volunteers know they will be helped "while they learn the ropes," they are more likely to say yes to a recruiter's request.

It is important not to "confuse recruitment with publicity" when seeking volunteers, the article states. While a newsletter or flyer listing available volunteer positions may provide useful information, it is "not necessarily an invitation to each person to come forward," it explains.

The article also challenges recruiters to make their Web sites work for them. "More and more people use the Web to explore volunteer opportunities," the article explains. It challenges recruiters to assess how much can be learned from their Web sites about available volunteer positions and how to apply for them.

3. Starting Point for Presenting the Christian Moral Vision

If the starting point in a discussion of Christian morality accents rules and regulations, some people will suspect that this way of life deprives them of their freedom, according to a speaker in the late-fall "Faith Matters" lecture series sponsored by the British Archdiocese of Westminster (London). To avoid this impression, he recommended (without denying the importance of rules or commandments) that the starting point instead accent the "search for happiness" that the moral life enables.

Father Stephen Wang, who teaches philosophy and theology, and serves as dean of studies at Allen Hall, the seminary of the Westminster Archdiocese, spoke Nov 25 in London on the Christian moral vision. He proposed to his audience that Christian morality's "invitation to discover a richer life, a life with more meaning," must not be lost from view.

Father Wang said:

a) "There is certainly this central aspect of Christian morality which is knowing and following the commandments. And this is never to be forgotten or trivialized."

b) "But as we are doing this, at the same time, we can trust that this is a way of life which is helping us to discover the deepest meaning of our lives, a life that is truly worthwhile, a happy life."

Father Wang agreed that "there is such a thing as right and wrong, and it's very important to talk about this." But he said that "when you are trying to open up the topic of morality, right at the beginning, especially if you are talking with people who do not have a faith background, this can give people the false impression that morality is simply about rules and regulations."

When this happens, people may "go on to think that morality is about rules and regulations that are forced on us by someone else. It's seen as something external" that takes away freedom and amounts to "an imposition on our personality," Father Wang commented. He said, "If you start with the idea of right and wrong, it feeds into people's fears and suspicions."

So he said that "just for a change" he wanted "to start somewhere else" in his presentation. "I'm not saying it's the best place to start. … But it's one approach that may be helpful. I am going to frame this discussion in terms of the human search for happiness."

In a written text based on his speech, Father Wang explained that "Judeo-Christian morality, and above all the teaching of Jesus, is meant to help us discover our deepest happiness, it is meant to help us become the people we want to be."

First, he said, it is a morality that "means simply learning to love, learning to live a worthwhile life, a life worthy of our human nature -- and this is what the commandments teach us."

Second, the Christian moral vision is one of "learning to love as Christ loved, giving his life for others in a spirit of service." Christ's new commandment to love as he loved leads to "a love that does truly fulfill us," Father Wang stated. He said:

"When we see this kind of self-giving, in Jesus and in the saints, we don't think: this is inhuman! We think: This is a mysterious part of being human, but I never would have discovered it on my own."

Christ's new commandment "tells me something about the deepest meaning of my own fulfillment, my vocation, my longing for happiness," Father Wang said.

Third, the Christian moral vision encompasses the sacrificial dimension of love. This means "learning to bear the sufferings of life, the sufferings of love and the sufferings of living one's faith in a spirit of loving sacrifice," Father Wang said.

However, he said that a focus on the sacrificial dimension of love does not imply, "in a naοve and distorted way," that "if you want to be happy, then you must suffer." Father Wang continued:

"We are not saying suffering is the meaning of human life or of Christianity. This, as it stands, is simply not true. … Suffering is not a good thing in itself, but it can be a way of discovering an unexpected meaning. … In faith we dare to say as Christians that part of the meaning of human life is to enter into a life of sacrifice, and if necessary of suffering, and within that context to give our lives in love to others."

Father Wang thinks that "deep down in the human heart there is an intuition of this. … The search for my own happiness and fulfillment is going to involve sacrifice, and the cost of loving others is sometimes going to exceed what I would have thought reasonable or possible. … Human happiness and fulfillment will paradoxically involve looking beyond my own happiness and fulfillment."

Christian morality presents "an opportunity to live the life that we want to live more richly, more authentically," Father Wang told his audience.

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Personal-level Recession Remedies: "Our time of hardship leads us to think about our own values and lifestyle. … Where can we put our trust and confidence in this period of uncertainty, stress and questioning? What can we believe in, if anything? … [And,] can happiness be possible if we are indifferent to the well-being of others? A monk who is a psychiatrist has suggested the following remedies during a recession: 'Take 15 minutes of silence a day and ask, in prayer, what it means to be a human being, what it means to love and if it is possible for the world to be different.'" (From the Christmas message of Bishop Pierre Morissette of Saint-Jerome, Quebec, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Does Marriage Preparation in the Parish Matter Very Much? "[The] Feast of the Holy Family [Dec. 27, 2009] issues an urgent invitation, especially to lay people, to uphold the dignity of the important institution and sacrament of marriage. Support the marriage preparation programs in your parish communities. Insist that in your parishes and dioceses there are solid vocational programs for young adults and young people. Parishes, dioceses and lay movements that do not have creative pastoral strategies and vocational programs about marriage for young people leave the door open to tremendous moral confusion and misunderstanding, misinformation, emptiness." (Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, president of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Toronto, Ontario, writing in the Salt and Light blog)

Youth Ministry: Inviting the Young to Be Active Church Members: "The youth of our diocese are our future priests, sisters, deacons, lay leaders, parish council members, Society of St. Vincent de Paul members, Catholic school and parish school of religion teachers. My question is: Do we see them and appreciate what they are for our church? I want to encourage the whole diocese to ask how much energy, time and love we are giving to this treasure of our church. Concretely, the first way we do this is by identifying and supporting youth directors in our parishes. This is important, but the youth ministry I am hoping for is not just the work of an isolated person who 'takes care of the kids.' All organizations of a parish should ask how they can appropriately involve the youth of a parish, allow them to work beside and with you. Is there a place where your parish youth can work with (to name only a few) the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, serve as ushers, be involved with a Knights of Columbus service project, help at the parish food pantry? In this way they are connected with the living life of the parish. A parish youth ministry should not be just about parties, but rather the way our youth are invited to be active members of the church." (From a column by Bishop Michael Duca of Shreveport, La., in the January 2010 edition of the Catholic Connection, a publication of the diocese)

5. Christmastime at the Nogales Dump

"I met Christ … in the countless children who live alone or with their families at the dump in Nogales, Sonora," Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., wrote in his Dec. 21 "Monday Memo" to the diocese.

The bishop visited a Mexico dump in Nogales Dec. 19. Deacon Joe Bogushefsky, president of Poverty 24/6, an organization serving the poor that operates under the auspices of the Tucson Diocese, told me that about 24 families and 54 children are living at the dump. "Some have lived there as long as 26 years, he said. Poverty 24/6 says it aims to "give poverty a day off."

The children at the dump "have nothing, but their smiles and delight in eating the simple fare of tortillas provided by Poverty 24/6" filled him with emotion, Bishop Kicanas said. Though the children have nothing, he said they nonetheless "shared the small bundles of candies each received."

Bishop Kicanas said that "the Mass at the dump was attended by many mothers who were holding their infants, some as young as 20 days old. Groups of youngsters from 3 to 12 years old stood at the altar with their eyes wide open, taking it all in." He added:

"At the homily we constructed a nacimiento, and the little ones volunteered to be Joseph and Mary and the Babe, the donkey, the cows, the sheep, the shepherds, the angels and the kings bearing gifts. They knew the story. They were part of it."

Poverty 24/6, founded in 2005, has served meals to tens of thousands of people in Nogales, and it has provided clothing and numerous other necessities of life, according to an article last May in Tucson's diocesan newspaper, The New Vision. The article reported that "there are eight active Catholic parishes, the Jewish and Buddhist communities and an Episcopal Church in Tucson who lend their efforts to 'give poverty a day off.'"

6. Pope at Christmas Urges New Kind of Dialogue

With Those Who "Set Aside the Question of God" A new type of dialogue with people for whom the question of God is more or less dormant was proposed at Christmastime by Pope Benedict XVI.

"Today, in addition to interreligious dialogue, there should be a dialogue with those to whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is unknown and who nevertheless do not want to be left merely Godless, but rather to draw near to him, albeit as the Unknown," the pope said in his Dec. 21 annual speech to cardinals and other members of the Roman Curia.

A necessary "first step" in evangelization involves keeping the quest for God alive, Pope Benedict said. He added, "We must be concerned that human beings do not set aside the question of God, but rather see it as an essential question for their lives."

Pope Benedict often voices his observation that many citizens of the 21st century either do not think of God at all or have pushed God to the margins of their lives. This Christmas he again turned attention to this concern in his homily for the midnight Mass.

"There are people who describe themselves as 'religiously tone deaf,'" Pope Benedict said in the homily, adding that "the gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And, indeed, our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today's world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us 'tone deaf' toward him."

Yet, the pope commented, "In every soul the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly." But people need to be awake if they are to recognize God in their world, the pope said. In fact, wakefulness became a key point in his midnight Mass homily.

"The first thing we are told about the shepherds" who visited Jesus after his birth "is that they were on watch; they could hear the message precisely because they were awake," Pope Benedict pointed out. He said that "the principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His 'self' is locked into this dream world that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one's own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people."

To awake, Pope Benedict said, "means to develop a receptivity for God -- for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us; for the many indications of his presence." And "to arrive at this vigilance, this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others," including "those who appear 'tone deaf' and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself."

In his Dec. 19 proposal of a dialogue with those for whom the question of God has been sidelined, Pope Benedict referred to words that "Jesus quoted from the Prophet Isaiah, namely that the temple must be a house of prayer for all the nations (cf. Is 56:7; Mk 11:17)." The pope explained that "Jesus was thinking of the so-called 'Court of the Gentiles' which he cleared of extraneous affairs so that it could be a free space for the gentiles who wished to pray there to the one God, even if they could not take part in the mystery for whose service the inner part of the temple was reserved."

Those Jesus had in mind were "people who know God, so to speak, only from afar; who are dissatisfied with their own gods, rites and myths; who desire the Pure and the Great, even if God remains for them the 'unknown God' (cf. Acts 17:23)," Pope Benedict said. He added that these people "had to pray to the unknown God, yet in this way they were somehow in touch with the true God, albeit amid all kinds of obscurity."

Pope Benedict said he thinks "that today too the church should open a sort of 'Court of the Gentiles' in which people might in some way latch on to God, without knowing him and before gaining access to his mystery, at whose service the inner life of the church stands."

7. Christmas Past: A Story

Before Christmas 2009 recedes into a distant past, you might enjoy this story about the meaning of Christmas, told in the Christmas homily of Bishop Paul Swain of Sioux Falls, S.D.

As Bishop Swain approached the moment of telling this story, he first asked the congregation to "pray for all the men and women around the world, but especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, who experience [a] lonely Christmas in order to be peacemakers in our name." He said, "May we in their name be peacemakers here at home in our families, our community and our church."

Then the bishop proceeded to tell of a soldier during World War II who was stationed near London. The soldier "recalled that at home he went to church every Christmas with his family, but this year, of course, he could not. A little blue, he walked down the road with his buddies.

"They came to an old, gray stone building. Over its door were the carved words: Queen Ann's Orphanage. They decided to see what kind of Christmas was taking place inside. The manager explained that the children were orphans of parents killed in the bombing of London. The soldiers were surprised to see no real sign of Christmas, no tree, no presents. Feeling sorry for the young ones, they moved around the room wishing the children 'Merry Christmas' and giving them whatever they had - a stick of gum, a life saver, a nickel, a pencil.

"The lonely soldier noticed a little fellow alone in the corner. He looked a lot like his nephew back home. He went to him and said, 'You, little guy, what do you want for Christmas?' The little boy looked at him with big, sad eyes and replied, 'Will you hold me?' The lonely soldier picked up the lonely little boy and held him very close.

"It was not an accident that God chose to introduce his son into the world as a child. In a child we all see hope. When we see a child smile our spirits are lifted. It is as if God sends a sign that despite all the problems, his creation continues; despite our troubles and mistakes, his love remains and a new generation is gifted with life.

"That is what Christmas can be for each of us each year, a time of hope, a reaffirmation that God still loves us so much that he sent and sends and will send again his son to be with us."

8. And Finally, a Lasting Lesson of Christmas

"Sometimes the hardest way to recognize Jesus and respond to him [is] in other people's needs. But Jesus put so much emphasis on it in his teaching that we need to keep trying," Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco said in a message for Christmas. He identified two challenges to consider when it comes to responding to the needs of others.

-- "Sometimes people's needs are so great they frighten us off: so many hungry, homeless people, and so little each of us can do; what to say to someone we know who is dying of cancer; someone so angry and bitter and alienated we don't know where or how to begin.

-- "Other times the needs are so simple we might miss them: the need for a friendly gesture; for a time of patient listening; for an encouraging or forgiving word."

But, the archbishop said, "whether the needs are great or small, we need to give of ourselves whatever we can, knowing that Jesus measures not volume but the caring of the heart."