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April 1, 2010

Why and how to speak once again of God in society - The rich symbolism of oil in sacraments - Cardinal urges Latinos to participate in Census - Is respect for women growing in the world? - The human vocation to love

In this edition:
1. Why now is the right time to speak in society about God.
2. Recapturing the meaning of Sunday.
3. Getting to know priests better: The value of research.
4. Current thoughts to ponder:
a) The human vocation to love;
b) Understanding the role films play in culture.
5. Reducing the painful stress of returning home after war.
6. The rich symbolism of oil in the church.
7. Is the world's respect for women growing?
8. Cardinal urges Latinos not to fear U.S. Census.

1. Now Is the Right Time to Speak Again of God

"It is time to speak of God, to testify and to think about God," Cardinal Walter Kasper said in a speech March 2 at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. He said that the most basic religious questions related to the meaning of life "have once more become burning new questions for many." In fact, he said, "religious and spiritual questioning and seeking are on the increase." Cardinal Kasper, a theologian, is president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Speaking of a resurgence of interest in religious matters, Cardinal Kasper also urged a certain caution. "There are many people, more than we think, who can be described as seekers and 'pilgrims,'" he said. In fact, "God has, as it were, become socially acceptable once more." But "this new situation is, of course, ambivalent," he continued. The situation "has given theology and the churches some breathing space, but it does not by any means signify that we are out of the woods."

For, explained the cardinal, "the so-called return of religion does not simply lead back to Christian faith in God. Often it leads to an individualistic, invisible religion, to a vague, diffuse, free-floating religiosity, a syncretistic do-it-yourself, what-you-will religiosity that narcissistically seeks the divine not above us but in us."

Even within certain sectors of Christianity, one finds an "individualistic religiosity of people who feel lost and lonely in a society where former solid social and religious institutions and a sense of belonging are breaking down," he said.

Cardinal Kasper said that "God can be and is often politically used as a cement and sanction of a given society, of a culture or a nation and even of wars, which then become ideological crusades against the evil in the world." Moreover, he stated, "we find under the banner of a return to religion the phenomenon which is rightly observed by many with great fear and anxiety: a fundamentalist religion which out of hate commits violence and distorts religion into its demonic opposite, because violence is an offence to God and to human dignity."

A question to ask, then, is whether it is "always and in every case God who is returning" or whether in many instances we are "dealing instead with the return of old and new gods."

Can theology "gain a hearing amid the contemporary pluralist Babel of voices and opinions"? To do so, Cardinal Kasper said, theology must first "know what it is. It can only have relevance if it steadfastly maintains its own identity," that is, if it speaks "of God in a distinctive and, at the same time, in an engaging manner."

Furthermore, he said, if theology does not do this, it "and the church will be relegated to the role of ethical or moral institutions which in the end no one wants to listen to."

Still, Cardinal Kasper said, if theology is able to speak "in a new and fresh way of the living God who is love, then it will render a service to life, freedom, justice, solidarity and love," and then also "it can serve the dignity of humanity and the truth of reality, and open up perspectives of hope" everywhere.

In light of that possibility, Cardinal Kasper said he wanted to "reiterate the timeliness of theology." He said that for humanity's sake "it is time, it is the right time, to speak of God."

2. Recapturing the Meaning of Sunday

"If you want your faith to wither up and die, quit going to Sunday Mass," Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York said in a St. Patrick's Day pastoral letter. In this, his first pastoral letter as archbishop of New York, he focused on the authentic meaning of Sabbath rest and the essential value of Sunday worship.

To recapture "our sense of Sunday," which Archbishop Dolan termed "the Christian Sabbath," he said it is important to grasp both what Sabbath rest is and what it is not. "Sabbath rest is our liberation from the profane and our encounter with the sacred," the archbishop wrote. However, it is a misunderstanding to think that the purpose of resting on the Sabbath is to ready oneself to "work harder" the other days of the week.

The late Rabbi Abraham Heschel's thoughts on Sabbath rest were central to Archbishop Dolan's discussion. He pointed out that "New York was home" to Heschel, "one of the great rabbi scholars" of recent times. Heschel wrote, "There are few ideas in the world of thought which contain so much spiritual power as the idea of the Sabbath."

What is the power of the Sabbath? Archbishop Dolan said that Heschel made the point "in great depth," but the experience he spoke of "is an ordinary one. It's the daily grind; we work in the world of space, moving here and there, doing this and that. And then we do it again. And again."

But, said the archbishop, "the Sabbath breaks through this repetition and inserts something altogether new - the taste of rest, a taste of peace, a taste of eternity." He recalled Heschel's statement that "the Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath. It is not an interlude, but the climax of living."

With the quickening pace of life, Archbishop Dolan thinks "we are in danger of losing weekend rest, let alone true Sabbath rest." He said weekends so often are filled with intense activity that people feel relieved when Monday arrives. But, he added, "In such an environment, we need Sunday all the more" in order "to realize that our salvation comes not from the many good things we do, but from what God has done for us in Jesus Christ."

Creation's goal "is the covenant," and "the reason anything exists at all is because God wanted to make a covenant with his people," Archbishop Dolan said. He asked, "If the crown of creation is God's covenant, how does this act in history remain a present reality?" The Sabbath is what "keeps it alive, inserting continually in history the saving work of the Lord."

The archbishop also asked whether Catholics still "think that Sunday is the 'climax of living'?" He challenged readers of his pastoral letter:

"Do we look forward to Sunday as a day dedicated to the Lord which gives meaning and purpose to our whole week? Or have we become accustomed to a weekend mentality, wherein we sleep late, catch up on chores around the house, run errands, drive the kids to sports, do a little recreation and then fit Sunday Mass in between everything else, if at all?"

3. Getting to Know Priests Better: The Value of Research

If newly ordained priests are going to thrive in ministry, "dioceses need to attend to the amount of work they put on priests and to find ways to assist them in acquiring the skills necessary to feel competent in what they are called to do in parish work," Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., said in an inaugural lecture March 24 honoring the late sociologist of religion Dean Hoge.

Bishop Kicanas is vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Catholic News Service covered his speech in a report March 25.

In another observation related to newly ordained priests, Bishop Kicanas noted that many priests in his diocese live alone. For priests who recently came from a seminary where they had friends down the hall all the time, as well as peers to pray with and to talk with about important issues, the transition to living alone can be difficult and stressful, he said.

Bishop Kicanas' address in Washington focused particularly on Hoge's research related to the priesthood. But the bishop seized the opportunity to point out the value of research itself. Hoge died in 2008, after a decades-long career as a professor at The Catholic University of America.

In ignoring research about itself, the church sometimes has been hurt, Bishop Kicanas said. For, "such isolation has robbed the church at times of opportunities to understand issues and to address them in creative ways." Leaders in a variety of fields have allowed impressions, instincts, hunches and untested opinions to prevail over decisions based on research, he said, adding that "this can lead to tragic results."

How do priests spend their time? Further research into this question could assist dioceses in their efforts to provide priests with the training needed for management and for tapping into the skills others can provide, Bishop Kicanas suggested.

And do priests feel heard and understood by their bishop and those in responsible diocesan positions? Research might provide guidance here as well, he observed.

Bishop Kicanas told of conversations he has had with pastors finishing a six-year term at a parish. "Some men have been moved to tears, literally, hearing the appreciation people in their parish feel for them," he said. When he reads letters of appreciation to these priests received from parishioners, Bishop Kicanas said that the priests "listen attentively and seem to be hearing this appreciation for the first time. They begin to realize that their ministry does indeed matter."

4. Current Thoughts to Ponder

The Human Vocation to Love: "We recognize the core identity of the person in the human vocation to love." "People are made for love; their lives are fully realized only if they are lived in love." [The vocations of priesthood and of marriage are two ways young people can dedicate their lives to love.] "Called by God to give themselves completely to him with an indivisible heart, people consecrated in celibacy are also an eloquent sign of God's love for the world and of the vocation to love God above everything else." [In the case of marriage, it is vitally important that people understand that] "true love is a faithful and definitive gift of oneself." [Lifelong fidelity not only is possible, but is the way to experience ever-greater love.] (Quoting and paraphrasing Pope Benedict XVI's March 24 message to some 250 participants from some 90 nations in the 10th International Youth Forum in Rocca di Papa, south of Rome)

Understanding the Role Films Play in Culture: "Question: Why is it important that the Catholic Church even be engaged with the film industry, the role of filmmakers and the place films have in society and the nation's popular culture?" "Answer: Because cinema - indeed, all media, tell us who we are and who we ought to be. Media-makers tell the stories, and therefore they own the culture. The culture is this overarching bundle of ideas and ideals that guide our lives. Without mindful people of faith engaging in media culture critically (not negatively), then we remain unaware of the very water we are swimming in, the air we are breathing. The media-makers of tomorrow are in our living rooms, classrooms and pews today. How are we forming and educating them to be people of character first of all?" (Excerpt from a verbatim interview with Sister Rose Pacatte, a Daughter of St. Paul, published March 18 by Catholic News Service. Sister Pacatte is a long-time film reviewer and analyst of the educational value of films.)

5. Reducing the Stress of Returning Home After War: Archbishop Broglio

"If we are effectively persons for others, we cannot remain indifferent" to the high suicide rate among returning war veterans, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services said March 16 in an address at Jesuit-run Boston College. Delivering the annual Canisius Lecture, he said that a national outreach effort is needed to meet the emotional, as well as physical, needs of military veterans returning from the world's war zones.

"Our returning troops are afflicted with the effects of post-traumatic syndrome, and their families are often in disarray," Archbishop Broglio said. He commented that "regardless of our position on the current wars, we have an obligation to participate in the healing process." This obligation arises "from our baptism, but also from our humanity," he said.

The time of their return from war to their home nation is a critical time for members of the military, the archbishop explained. "What is very important in this situation is the 'welcome' by the community," which "can concretely take many different forms," he said. But he thinks that a spirit of welcome on the community's part can serve to reduce some of the stress that is at the heart of the returning veteran's reintegration into life back home.

"Great efforts are made in preparing the men and women before they go off to war, before they deploy, but not so much afterward," Archbishop Broglio told his audience. He said, "Awareness and the willingness to reach out would go a long way to alleviate some of the tension and perhaps reduce the tremendous incidence of suicide."

6. The Rich Symbolism of Oil in the Church: Archbishop Broglio

The rich symbolism of the oils used in sacramental celebrations was accented by Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services in a March 23 homily in Washington.

The oils the church uses are "pressed out from the olives, a fruit which continues to come from very old trees." This is a reminder "of the perpetual newness of divine life, even when it flows forth from ancient rites and in accord with centuries of tradition," Archbishop Broglio said during a Chrism Mass.

A reason oil is so rich as a symbol is that "it flows, penetrates and is difficult to clean," as is "divine grace," Archbishop Broglio said. Here he focused on the persistence of grace.

Divine grace "flows from the sacraments," and it "molds and changes the hearts of those who meet Christ in them," the archbishop said. Like oil, divine life "seeks to engage those who are searching" and "resists those who try to eliminate the sacred or deny the faith of their initial calling," he added.

The Military Services Archdiocese "exists to serve those who serve their country wherever they may be found," Archbishop Broglio said. Their ministry to transmit salvation anywhere and everywhere means that they "minister even when the conditions are adverse, the demands overwhelming and endless, and the circumstances unexpected."

In this context, the archbishop recalled that the Book of Revelation carries a reminder "that the people of God, created by Christ through baptism, does not constitute a nation like the others, but a priestly people led by the One they have pierced. It is a people consecrated not to exercise power, but to transmit salvation."

7. Is the World Growing in Respect for Women?

Is the world advancing in its respect for the status of women? The answer is "yes," but also "no," Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican's ambassador to the United Nations, said in a March 8 statement on the Vatican's behalf to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

Advancements have been achieved over the last 15 years through "improvements in the education of girls," the realization that the promotion of women is essential "to eradicating poverty and fostering development," Archbishop Migliore said. In addition, women's participation in the life of society has expanded, and political reform has addressed "forms of discrimination against women," including "specific laws against domestic violence."

Civil society's "indispensable role" in "highlighting the dignity of women, their rights and responsibilities" has gained recognition during this time period, the archbishop said.

Nonetheless, "women continue to suffer in many parts of the world," he told the commission. He pointed to "violence in the form of female feticide, infanticide and abandonment" as "realities that cannot be brushed aside."

In addition, "discrimination in health and nutrition occurs throughout the lives of girls, and malnutrition affects girls much more than boys, stunting future physical and mental growth," the archbishop said. And "girls continue to account for the majority of children out of school." In fact, he said, "girls and women 15 years of age and over account for two-thirds of the world's illiterate population."

AIDS and human trafficking also strike women disproportionately, Archbishop Migliore pointed out. "It is a sad fact that three-quarters of those infected by HIV/AIDS are girls and women between the ages of 15 and 24," and "the proportion of women infected with HIV is increasing in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America," he said. Also, "in sub-Saharan Africa, 60 percent of all adults and three out of four young people living with the virus are female."

Finally, Archbishop Migliore said, "of those who are trafficked across international borders each year, minors account for up to 50 percent, and approximately 70 percent are women and girls, with the majority of transnational victims being trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation."

Women and girls around the world "are victims of physical, sexual and psychological violence, including rape as a weapon of war in various parts of the world, not to mention economic abuse," he stated.

Too often the final documents of international commissions that discuss women are "ideologically driven" or focus on a notion of sexual and reproductive health that is "violent to unborn human life and is detrimental to the integral needs of women and men within society," Archbishop Migliore said. However, he added, too seldom are "women's political, economic and social rights" mentioned as an essential commitment.

He called this "particularly distressing" in light of "the widespread maternal mortality occurring in regions where health systems are inadequate." Finding a solution that is "respectful of the dignity of women does not allow us to bypass the right to motherhood, but commits us to promoting motherhood by investing in and improving local health systems and providing essential obstetrical services," said the archbishop.

8. Cardinal Urges Latinos Not to Fear U.S. Census

Latinos were encouraged by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles to allow themselves to "be counted" in the 2010 U.S. Census. "Your participation ensures that your community will receive funding for schools, hospitals and other services," said the cardinal.

Cardinal Mahony sought to assure Latinos in the U.S. that the census is confidential and that it is illegal to share the responses received from them "with anyone, including social service agencies and immigration" authorities.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese said that traditionally the Latino community has been undercounted in the census due to apprehensions among immigrants and fears about providing information to the federal government. The archdiocese said it was working with the Census Department and other community groups to alleviate concerns and educate the Latino community on the importance of the census.

"We are faced with the reality that many in our immigrant communities are scared and may not understand that participating in the census will benefit them, not harm them," Cardinal Mahony said.

Parishes throughout the archdiocese volunteered to serve as Questionnaire Assistance Centers for the Census Bureau. The archdiocese's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was to serve as one such center from March 21 to April 18.