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August 19, 2010

Spirituality insights: God and the human condition -What a catechism is, and is not, for - A model for discipleship - Getting into the seminary today - Fostering unity in divided presbyterates

In this edition:
1. Fostering unity in divided presbyterates.
2. Is "tribalism" hurting contemporary presbyterates?
3. New Missal's implementation: Opportunity to counter divisiveness?
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) What a catechism is - and is not - for;
b) Getting into the seminary today;
c) The church and the oil spill crisis.
5. Spirituality insights: The disciple's nonfearful journey.
6. Spirituality insights: Of God, picnics and the human condition.
7. Rising in the South.

1. Fostering Unity in Divided Presbyterates

"In recent decades models or visions of church have been pitted against each other and have fed ideological and generational tensions."

Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco said that in a June 18 speech to the U.S. bishops' national meeting in St. Petersburg, Fla. During their spring meeting, the bishops studied the relationship of priests and bishops today.

Archbishop Niederauer discussed divisions within the presbyterate and asked: "Can a theology of communion help overcome bifurcation between conservative and progressive elements within the church, recognizing that each has something to contribute to the theological enterprise?"

Differing views on the theology of the church often are central to divisions within presbyterates, Archbishop Niederauer observed. At one point he commented:

"In this matter of dueling ecclesiologies, I am once again reminded of the poet T.S. Eliot's warning against 'dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will have to be good.'"

In St. Petersburg the bishops discussed some "factors that weaken or challenge unity within a presbyterate," the archbishop noted. He said that "great diversity in ethnic background, language and culture is one such factor." Other factors include "theological diversity (especially in ecclesiology), generational diversity and diversity of perceived power (perceiving oneself as 'in' or 'out' in terms of the local church)."

If priests and bishops "are to be ministers, instruments and sacraments of 'communio,' then a type of mortification is required," Archbishop Niederauer said. It is necessary to "'die' to certain assumptions and ways of being; to ideological divisions; to generational conflicts; to clerical jealousy; to our own precious particular preferences and agenda." He added:

"We will have to die to a spirit of partisanship because such a spirit is death to authentic presbyteral unity."

Is there any hope of this happening? He said, "We can be hopeful because we know that Jesus Christ the high priest unites us bishops and priests in himself for the life and the service of the church."

The archbishop cautioned that "individualism and isolation in ministry weaken unity." At the same time, he said, "fraternal cooperation and collaboration strengthen" unity. (Archbishop Niederauer's speech appeared in the Aug. 5 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

2. Is Tribalism Damaging Contemporary Presbyterates?

"The church cannot afford infighting and demoralization among its priests. We need all hands on deck," Father J. Ronald Knott said in remarks to the U.S. bishops' June meeting in St. Petersburg, Fla. He challenged the bishops, "Imagine what we could become if we were to become more intentional about strengthening presbyteral unity?"

If all hands are needed on deck, "we need to start seeing our diversity as a blessing," Father Knott said. That, he added, calls for a firm and consistent rejection of "the Rush Limbaugh approach to presbyterates, where we feel free to demonize and attribute the worst possible motives to those with whom we disagree."

Father Knott spoke on "Taking the 'Radical Communitarian Dimension of Ordained Ministry' Seriously." A priest of the Louisville Archdiocese, he is founding director of the St. Meinrad School of Theology Institute for Priests and Presbyterates in Indiana.

In general, U.S. priests "have had no formal education in the theology of presbyterates," Father Knott said. Thus, "many priests have fallen into the habit of a priesthood of 'private practice,' which flies in the face of the 'radical communitarian dimension of ordained ministry' that Pope John Paul II was so adamant about," he said.

Many young priests today "are forming 'tribes' within their presbyterates, struggling against other priests over who has the right vision," Father Knott told the bishops. He said that "some of these 'tribes' are actively cultivating members from among seminarians. They groom them in secret, advise them how to 'get through' seminary formation programs and which bishops deserve respect and obedience."

Father Knott believes that the best program for promoting vocations today "would be one that is directed at building intentional presbyterates." Today's young men "will not be attracted to a loose association of 'lone rangers,' but to the religiously saturated environment of a happy and effective presbyterate with a clear identity and mission."

If "more unified presbyterates" are to be built, "seminaries need to teach seminarians to respect and negotiate the various cultures of ecclesial life in today's church rather than conspiring with them in protecting them from those cultures," Father Knott said. Seminarians ought to learn "to identify and distinguish their own preferred learning culture from the learning cultures of other priests and be prepared to respectfully engage the needs and assumptions of other priests," he advised.

Ultimately, what is needed to build presbyteral unity "is not a new program but a new mind-set," said Father Knott. He stated, "At the root of things is a need for a radical conversion of mind and heart by priests and bishops toward the good of one another."

This means "intentionally looking for goodness to affirm in each other," and it calls for practicing "the spiritual discipline of blessing each other," he said.

3. Might the New Missal's Implementation Counter Divisiveness?

The implementation of the new Roman Missal could offer opportunities to counteract divisions and polarization, Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco suggested. In his June speech to the U.S. bishops discussed earlier in this newsletter, he said:

"Because Eucharist is the very source of our presbyteral unity in Christ, this year and next year will present us with a number of opportunities for strengthening that unity. We all will be introducing the new Roman Missal to our priests, deacons, religious, lay ministers and lay faithful.

"If we can plan and carry out those introductory moments so that we move beyond providing merely information and training, and beyond wrestling with this particular response or that particular phrasing, we can engage in a catechesis that shows how Eucharist unites everyone at Mass in the church, all the parishes in the diocese, all the dioceses in the country and all the local churches in the universal church."

The dividing lines within the church are often all too apparent when it comes to liturgy and the Eucharist, the archbishop indicated. He said, "Because of differing experiences and expectations regarding the particulars of the liturgy there is sometimes a strain on the communion of diocesan presbyterates and the communion of a bishop with his priests."

Meeting in St. Petersburg, the U.S. bishops focused on ways "to be father, brother and friend" to their priests and sought the renewal of their own spiritual lives and that of priests," in the words of Archbishop Niederauer. He added, "Together with our priests we are committed to fostering unity among and with our priests." In an important way, such unity flows from the "shared ministry of word and sacrament," especially the eucharistic liturgy.

Yet, he said, "we bishops will be working with our priests toward these goals of communio in a particular place and at a particular time, so we need to read the signs of our times in order to correctly size up the task before us as well as the resources at hand and the obstacles along the way."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

What a Catechism Is For and Not For: "Christianity has become too notional, too much in our heads. It is something that we learn about but not really something that we live. A catechism is not a bad thing, but it's a bit unbiblical to limit our entry into the church and the faith to catechetical knowledge. Traditionally and biblically, people enter into the church and begin their faith journey with a life of conversion, not because they learned something that they could repeat by heart. A catechism should deepen the faith we have. If it becomes the only indicator that we have faith, then it's taking the place of something -- really Someone -- we need to love and give our lives to. Pope John Paul II often said that the church has only one program, the person of Jesus Christ, and when you become a Christian you come to meet a person, not a set of ideas. Our faith is a personal relationship, and that should also be reflected in its expression." (Excerpted from a U.S. Catholic magazine interview with Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, posted online July 16; the cardinal is now president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace)

Getting Into the Seminary Today: "Our seminarians are about to return to their respective seminaries for the coming academic year. Getting into the seminary at this moment in church history is not that easy. A rather long application process includes three interviews with members of the Vocations Admissions Board, one with myself and a number with the director of vocations, a physical examination by a doctor and a whole battery of psychological tests by a psychologist. Of course, letters of recommendation are required as is promotion by one's pastor of one's parish church. A man beginning the path to priesthood entering as a freshman in college can expect a total of nine years of seminary formation. A man beginning his journey after completing college and earning a bachelor's or master's degree can expect seven years. At a time when we desperately need priests, the universal church has lengthened the time required prior to ordination. Each year of formation, the candidate receives an annual evaluation by the seminary formation faculty in which he is analyzed inside and out. Most of our men do very well academically, so that is seldom an issue in advancing toward the altar. So off they go to the seminary again. For those beginning first college, nine years seems like such a long time, and it is, except it passes ever so quickly if they feel they are in the right place doing the right thing." (From the Aug. 6 "For His Friends" blog entry by Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla.)

The Church and the Oil Spill Crisis: "In order to serve the fishing communities affected by the [Gulf] oil spill, Catholic Charities [of New Orleans] and our affiliated ministry Second Harvest Food Bank have partnered with Catholic Church parishes, local governments, state agencies (DSS and DHH) and other area nonprofits. At our five oil spill relief centers, families can receive food vouchers to local grocery stores, case management services, crisis counseling and other emergency supplies. Catholic Charities has been on the ground providing help and hope in our response to the oil spill since May 1, 2010. We have provided emergency assistance to 18,541 people (6,983 families). We have distributed $587,247 in food vouchers to affected families and $78,540 in emergency food boxes from our affiliated ministry Second Harvest Food Bank. Second Harvest Food Bank has distributed about 391,086 pounds of food (about 305,000 meals) to its member agencies in 11 Louisiana parishes affected by the oil spill. We have distributed 393 cans of baby formula and 1,051 packages of diapers. Our mental health crisis counselors have provided crisis counseling to 5,843 people. We have distributed $182,688 in other direct assistance and baby supplies to families." ((From a July 30 Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans press release)

5. Spirituality Insights: The Disciples' Nonfearful Journey

The followers of Jesus are stretched out tightly between "the two poles of leaving and returning home"; their journey moves them at once to serve the needs of the present world and to keep alive the vision of a heavenly life to come. And Mary is the model of such discipleship, Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., said in an Aug. 15 farewell homily as he prepared to depart from that diocese for his Sept. 3 installation as bishop of Spokane, Wash.

He spoke on the feast of Mary's Assumption. Bishop Cupich commented that the feast has "much to say about the common discipleship of Jesus we share with her. Mary is presented on this feast as the paradigm, the model for how all who belong to Christ are to live in this passing world."

On this feast Mary is portrayed "as a woman on a journey, on the way," Bishop Cupich observed. He said, "Centuries before the word 'Christianity' was coined, the disciples of Jesus spoke of belonging to The Way to describe their new life." Such considerations "should move us to take a closer look at how Mary takes up the journey of the discipleship we share with her."

Mary's discipleship was described by Bishop Cupich as "a journey of service, not a flight in fear." She serves as a reminder to take "the high road of care and concern for others, to draw the best out of each other, and to reject selfish and divisive approaches that neglect others out of the fear that helping and caring for them impoverishes us" - to follow this high road, even though the world "is filled with anxiety and apprehension," and "there is a good deal of worry, unease and fretfulness due to the economic situation, the threat of terrorism and so many other factors that can have a paralyzing impact on moving ahead."

The direction of Mary's life was "not determined by fear, anxiety, the drive to prove or protect herself, but by love and concern" and "calling the best out of another," as the story of her visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth suggests, according to Bishop Cupich. He said, "We are to see our discipleship in a similar way," despite the challenging times we live in.

He stressed that the life of a disciple is --

-- Important in God's eyes, and

-- Has purpose in God's eyes.

The bishop indicated that when disciples bear their importance and purpose in mind, they are not distracted from serving others, but enabled to do so. This requires that they recall where they came from and where they are headed.

"Whenever we forget from where we came, we tend to have less respect for ourselves and others, and we lose our way," Bishop Cupich said. He added, "Whenever we lose sight of our real home, we tend to make this passing world our home and easily convince ourselves that sharing and caring for others is at best secondary, elective and purely discretionary, especially if such sharing costs us some of our comfort."

He urged his listeners to notice that Mary's journey as a disciple "begins not by her own impulse. Instead, she is sent into the world for God's purpose. Her life is not an accident, a whim of nature, due to human urges and desires, or even worse a mistake or an aimless wandering." Instead, "she is important for God to achieve all he ever planned and promised."

What is heard about Mary on the feast of the Assumption "offers a helpful corrective to the approach so prominent in the world today -- that human life is meaningless, an aimless and fearful wandering, with no hope of happiness beyond what we make for ourselves through accumulating fame, fortune and fun," said Bishop Cupich.

During his years in Rapid City, he said he found in so many people "what we find in Mary." He found this in the "countless ways [they showed] respect for and defended the dignity of human life, whether that be speaking on behalf of the child in the womb, the immigrant struggling to feed his family, the neglected in society, the prisoner on death row."

In ways such as these, he said, people gave witness to their belief "that we all come from God and are children of God, sent into the world to achieve his purpose." The bishop noted also that this "same respect for the dignity of others" gave people "the patience to avoid harsh language and divisive tactics in responding to those who do not agree with us on such issues."

6. Spirituality Insights: Of God, Picnics and the Human Condition

"The news of my appointment as the new bishop of La Crosse came -- as such calls always do -- quite unexpectedly, in the late afternoon of a lazy Memorial Day. I must say it added new dimensions to my enjoyment of bratwurst and beer," Bishop William Callahan said during his Aug. 11 installation as new bishop of La Crosse, Wis.

In preparing for his installation, Bishop Callahan said he "found great comfort in the knowledge that the Lord's call to greater service in his church came in the midst of something so ordinary as a first summer picnic." But he observed:

"That's the way it is, isn't it, folks? God speaks to us in our humanity, in the performance of our ordinary daily tasks. We have come to know by our faith and our direct experience that God is not an 'intruder' from outside the human condition imposing himself upon humanity.

"Rather, God has revealed himself as one with the human condition, radically and profoundly present in the mystery of human life and experience."

Bishop Callahan is a former auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee. He said in his homily, "An invitation from Jesus always involves some risk and self-surrender, and only becomes possible when one has confidence and trust in the One who is making the offer."

The bishop acknowledged that "we have faced pain and heartache as a church" over the sexual abuse crisis. "There is justifiable anger, disappointment and frustration concerning the issue," he said. He apologized for the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse, stating that while their pain cannot be replaced, "we can work together with those who have been hurt to bring about some healing."

It is "only by recognizing the primacy of Christ in our lives" that we will "see a change in the world in which we live," said Bishop Callahan. Expressing hope for the future, he suggested calling upon "the great witnesses to Christ even in our own time, such as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Blessed Miguel Pro, Blessed Jerzy Popielusko and on and on."

These were "heroic people" who "stood up to the contradictions and the challenges" placed before them by the world, he said. These people "chose Jesus Christ and his church. They are part of our world -- our lifetimes." Bishop Callahan said that such people "lead us to believe that the church is a living organism," of which we all are parts.

Commenting that "there is work -- serious work" to be done, the bishop pointed out that he does "not like to work alone." He encouraged others not to be fearful but to join him "in this work" and "to remain filled with courage and hope for the future."

7. Rising in the South

"When Archbishop Paul Hallinan received Atlanta's first auxiliary bishop in 1966, the archbishop at that time was suffering from the acute hepatitis that two years later would claim his life," Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta recalled in an Aug. 5 column for The Georgia Bulletin, the archdiocese's newspaper. He noted that "the Catholic population of the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 1966 was approximately 50,000."

However, the number has risen - greatly. A year ago the Atlanta Archdiocese received its second auxiliary bishop, but "very different circumstances" from those of 1966 prompted this appointment, Archbishop Gregory said. He wrote, "We are currently approaching 1 million Catholics who now call the Archdiocese of Atlanta their home."

He said that the presence of an auxiliary bishop is "a sign that this local church's growth demands more episcopal attention and pastoral care than any one bishop could possibly provide all alone." The usual reason an auxiliary bishop is appointed to a diocese is to provide "that additional episcopal ministry that a diocese needs because of its growth, the vastness of its territory or any special language or cultural needs of the people of God," Archbishop Gregory explained.