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Posted August 21, 2007

August 22, 2007

Reflections on Compassion and Being A Good Samaritan

By Dave Gibson

In this edition:

-- Prayers for busy people.
-- Love of God, love of neighbor: Their inexplicable link.
-- Current words to ponder on child poverty and Labor Day.
-- Compassion: Qualities of Good Samaritans.
-- Compassion: Should We Take It Seriously?
-- Making clergy-lay collaboration work.
-- Back to school: Qualities of great teachers.
-- Developing leadership in parishes and schools.
-- Strategies for adult faith formation.
-- The power of an invitation: Parish-based small communities.

1. Prayers for Busy People: How About These?!

Several prayers for busy people appeared in a recent bulletin of St. Henry Parish in Dayton, Ohio, and were redistributed by the Cincinnati Archdiocese. These three might make you smile:

-- "Lord, help me slow down and notrushthroughwhatIdo."

-- "Lord, help me to relax about insignificant details beginning tomorrow at 7:41:23 a.m."

-- "God, give me patience right now!"

2. Martha, Mary and the Good Samaritan:

Linking Contemplation and Service

"There is no tension in our life between the love that we have for God and the love that we express for God as we turn toward him in our neighbor. They are inexplicably linked; they are not able ever to be separated," Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, Australia, said in a July 22 homily.

The archbishop finds no tension for Christians "between contemplation, our life of prayer and our life of service" to others. He was commenting on the relationship in Luke 10 between the story of Martha and Mary, and that of the Good Samaritan.

Worth noting, the archbishop believes, is how "our love for God increases as the capacity of our heart to love our brothers and sisters increases as well. We train ourselves to love God by loving our brothers and sisters who stand around us, especially the ones who participate in our experience of daily life."

3. Current Words to Ponder

Child poverty: "Between 1994 and 2000, the child poverty rate [in the U.S.] fell by 30 percent. This was the largest decrease in child poverty since the 1960s. Since 2000, however, the child poverty rate has increased by 2 percentage points, meaning almost 1.2 million more children in poverty in 2005 than in 2000." (From "Kids Count," the 2007 report on the status of children in the U.S. by the Annie E. Casey Foundation)

Poverty among families and their children: "I am here to remind you that in the Catholic tradition and in the hearts of all people of good will there is a desire to make sure everyone who needs food has enough to eat, that everyone who needs a place to stay has shelter, and that those who need health care and jobs that allow them to support their families receive those benefits. Some say that those things should be provided by charitable institutions like churches and other organizations. Well, the church surely can help, but when it comes to things like education, security and the common good, history reminds us and duty compels us to recognize that neighbors come to the aid of neighbors, communities help bind the wounds of other communities and that governments are empowered by their citizens to provide the fundamental services required by those in greatest need." (Bishop Michael Driscoll of Boise, Idaho, in a press conference statement Aug. 1 on the Idaho data in the "Kids Count" report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation)

Poverty, an abuse: "Child poverty is itself a form of abuse, making children more vulnerable to other types of abuse." (From a July 5 statement by Australia's Catholic bishops)

Workers who cannot afford the basics. "The church teaches that work should respect the dignity of the worker, providing enough resources for a decent life. Unfortunately, in today's world we see too many farmworkers who cannot afford to eat the food they grow. To many health-care workers are without access to medical care for themselves and their families. Too many construction workers are without decent housing." (From the 2007 Labor Day statement by Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio J. del Riego of San Bernardino, Calif.)

4. What Makes a Good Samaritan?

Reflections on Compassion

The Good Samaritan of Luke 10 was courageous. And he incurred personal risks by aiding the injured man he encountered along the road, writes Marist Father Gerald Arbuckle in the July-August 2007 edition of Health Progress, published by the Catholic Health Association of the United States.

Not only did the Samaritan aid the injured man, however; the injured man also aided him: The victim reminds the Samaritan of his own "need for compassion. This is the victim's gift to the caregiver." Father Arbuckle directs the Marists' Refounding and Pastoral Development Unit in Sydney, Australia.

The Good Samaritan's compassionate action is prophetic, Father Arbuckle believes, but a prophet's ministry is dangerous. Why? Because prophets dare "to remind people of the need to respect human dignity, to be compassionate, to be particularly concerned for people who are poor."

Luke's story details the Samaritan's qualities, Father Arbuckle says. First, the Samaritan is courageous, risking his "life by getting off his mount, his only form of protection, thereby making himself vulnerable to attack by bandits." Those who first heard this parable "would have known that the road from Jericho to Jerusalem was ideal for robbers," the writer explains.

Second, the Samaritan is willing to go to society's margins in his ministry, and this "defines the depth of his compassion," Father Arbuckle says. For, "ritual and social costs" were incurred through touching the wounded victim, since the Samaritans themselves had "laws about ritual impurity."

Third, the Samaritan exercised hospitality, giving "of his substance, or capital -- the oil and wine -- that he had intended to sell at the market," says Father Arbuckle. He adds that in biblical cultures hospitality wasn't restricted to friends or family, but "referred primarily to receiving strangers and being willing to share one's capital goods with them without the expectation of return." (Father Arbuckle's article appears under the "Publications" section of CHA's Web site, www.chausa.org.)

5. Should Compassion Be Taken Seriously?

"I am coming to believe that compassion is a decisive Christian attitude," Father Bryan Massingale said July 20. "Compassion gives rise to a passion for justice," the Milwaukee moral theologian explained.

Father Massingale believes that "we act justly not because we are intellectually convinced, but because we are passionately moved. Compassion moves the will to justice." Father Massingale is a theologian at Jesuit-run Marquette University in Milwaukee. He addressed the Roundtable Association of Diocesan Social Action Directors' summer institute at the university.

Few issues are "more pressing than the reconciling of estranged social groups," Father Massingale said. He drove home his belief that the real causes of social division are not mere misunderstandings; rather, these estrangements result from the "miscarriage of justice."

Such concerns long have haunted Father Massingale "professionally as a theologian, personally as a man of African descent living in the United States and spiritually as a Catholic Christian," he said. The priest proposed that compassion motivates Christians to move "beyond the social boundaries decreed by culture and custom" and to become "agents of reconciliation in healing a divided world."

Compassion is the motive for many of Jesus' miracles and parables, according to Father Massingale. For example, he said: "Jesus raises the only son of a widowed mother out of compassion not only for her human grief but also for the severe social vulnerability to which the death of her only male protector exposed her. The Samaritan comes to the aid of a sworn enemy because he was moved to compassion at the sight of injury and violation. An elderly father hastens to welcome his estranged son, being moved to compassion by his humiliation and outcast status." (The full text of Father Massingale's speech appears in Origins, Aug. 16, 2007.)

6. Making Clergy-Lay Collaboration Work

"We can - we must - discover a spirituality and a practice of collaboration." That is what Edward Hahnenberg, a theologian at Xavier University in Cincinnati, told the July 31-Aug. 3 National Symposium on Lay Ecclesial Ministry at Benedictine-run St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn.

"Everybody talks about collaboration, but few of us actually know how to do it well," said Hahnenberg. He asked: "What can we do concretely to foster greater collaboration between lay ecclesial ministers and others, especially ordained ministers? How can we help clergy and laity work together?"

The question appears, deceptively, to be simple, but "masks a mess of complicated issues that touch on institutional structures, psychology, patterns of socialization and socializing, the exercise of authority, theological vision and so on," Hahnenberg told the gathering. However, he commented:

"The fact is that even though our theology rejects it and pastoral experience does not bear it out, there are still many who see raising lay ecclesial ministry as lowering the ordained. That is how it 'feels.' Again, we run into the human condition. Attention to 'anybody' - even my closest confidant or co-worker - takes attention away from me.'"

Here, what is needed isn't a theologian. Rather, Hahnenberg said, "we need psychologists, those schooled in group dynamics and organizational change, pastoral practitioners and others to help us negotiate the historic ministerial shift through which we are passing" with developments related to lay ecclesial ministry and clergy-lay collaboration.

The symposium discussed the U.S. bishops' 2005 resource document on lay ecclesial ministry titled "Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord." The symposium was sponsored by the university, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and 15 co-sponsoring and collaborating organizations.

7. Back to School: Qualities of Great Teachers

"While teaching is a gift that comes quite naturally for some, others will have to work overtime to achieve 'great teacher' status," writes Maria Orlando, now in her 26th year in Catholic education and her eighth as a Catholic school principal. She lists 10 qualities of great teachers in an article the National Catholic Educational Association released for the start of the new school year (www.ncea.org/news/pressrelease/).

"A great teacher respects students," and "a great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring." Also, "a great teacher creates a sense of community and belonging in the classroom. In this small community there are rules to follow and jobs to be done, and each student is aware that he or she is an important, integral part of the group," Orlando says.

According to the writer, a great teacher has high expectations of students, realizing "that the expectations she has for her students greatly affect their achievement." And "a great teacher has his own love of learning and inspires students with his passion for education and for the subjects he teaches."

-- The great teacher goes "the extra mile for the benefit of those in the classroom."

-- Great teachers are skilled leaders who convey "this sense of leadership to students by providing opportunities for each of them to assume leadership roles."

-- The great teacher "can 'shift gears' and is flexible when a lesson isn't working out."

Finally, a great teacher "collaborates with colleagues on an ongoing basis" and does not think she is "weak because she asks for suggestions or help." And the great teacher "maintains professionalism in all areas."

8. Developing Leadership for Parishes and Schools:

Clergy, Religious and the Laity

"Very rarely is anyone born a leader; leadership usually emerges according to needs and as people develop their talents and skills," Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit said in a pastoral letter devoted to the archdiocese's pastoral planning and action process, which entails implementing a current, five-year strategic plan developed after widespread consultation.

"Well-trained, competent leadership - clergy, religious and lay - is a critical building block for the church of the future," the cardinal wrote in the 2006 pastoral letter. Thus, one current priority of the archdiocese "underscores the vital importance of developing leaders for the current and future needs of the church."

The Catholic community needs "to identify, train and encourage men and women for roles of active leadership in all aspects of church life," Cardinal Maida said. He added: "Obviously, leadership formation includes fostering vocations to the priesthood, permanent diaconate and religious life; it also means strengthening the vocations of lay men and women as lay ecclesial ministers in their parishes."

Two other pastoral priorities in the archdiocese include the need to become "mission minded" (reaching out to others in the urban, suburban and rural areas of the church; bringing Christian values to society, including the realms of politics and business) and to highlight what it means to live as disciples "through Christian stewardship" - "sharing our gifts of time, talent and treasure for the good of all," according to the cardinal.

9. Furthering Adult Faith Formation

"Personally inviting parishioners to become actively involved in the mission of the parish as council members, catechists and social outreach volunteers" is among parish strategies for fostering adult faith formation and actively involving adults in the parish's life and mission - one of five pastoral priorities named in the current pastoral plan of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., promulgated by Bishop William Lori. Bridgeport is another diocese currently implementing a five-year plan for evangelization.

The plan recommends that parishes:

-- Encourage "laity to become involved in small communities of faith where they can deepen and share the faith, and prepare themselves to evangelize."

-- Foster "faith formation activities that especially respond to the interests of young adults and the needs of single lay people."

Parish seminars and discussion groups, as well as diocesan programs are other means of furthering adult faith formation, the Bridgeport plan says. One of its other recommendations urges that, "where applicable," a parish stewardship committee be created to "educate about the principles of sharing time, talent and treasure for the evangelizing mission of the church."

10. The Power of an Invitation:

Parish-based Small Communities

"By and large the most important way of getting people to try a small community is by personal invitation," said Father Art Baranowski, founder of the National Alliance of Parishes Restructuring Into Communities. He addressed the Aug. 9-12 convocation on parish-based small Christian communities held at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minn. The invitation he spoke of, Father Baranowski said, can come from the pastor, staff members, the core team and, eventually, people already involved in small groups. A report on the convocation appeared in the Catholic Spirit newspaper of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese.

When a parish decides to start a program of small Christian communities, Father Baranowski urges that it appoint a core team, including the pastor or his representative, to lead the effort. The core team should devote as much as a year to exploring the options for parish-based small communities, that is, the available programs and resources. Before actually forming the small groups, it is vital that a course of action be planned, he said.

The Catholic Spirit's report also cited comments by Barb Howard, founding national coordinator of Small Christian Community Connection and coordinator of small Christian communities at Spirit of Christ Catholic Community in Arvada, Colo. She said, "Small communities are the most effective vehicle of adult formation that we have in the church."

The history of these small communities dates back to the apostles, according to Howard. In fact, she said, St. Paul's letters in the New Testament were addressed to the small Christian communities of his time.