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November 1, 2010

What makes listening difficult? - The church, like Jesus, has "bad taste" in people - Science not defined by extreme views of it: not to be feared, not a panacea either -- Is consultation worthwhile?

In this edition:
1. How the pope actually views science.
2. The church, like Jesus, has "bad" taste in people.
3. Asia's street people and the church.
4. Vatican ambassador notes growing, global poverty.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) What makes listening so difficult?
b) Is consultation worth the effort it demands? 6. Middle East synod: End divided Easter for interchurch families.
7. Mixed marriages of Christians and Jews.

1. How This Pope Actually Views Science

The church esteems ongoing scientific research and is grateful "for scientific endeavor, which she both encourages and benefits from," Pope Benedict XVI said Oct. 28 when he spoke to a plenary meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The meeting looked back to the 20th century's scientific legacy.

The pope joined the participants in looking back, but he also looked ahead, predicting that a "positive outcome" for science in the 21st century" will depend in large measure on the scientist's ability to search for truth and apply discoveries in a way that goes hand in hand with the search for what is just and good.

Two extreme views of 20th century science tend to prevail, Pope Benedict said. He stressed, though, that science "is not defined by either of these extremes."

1. The first extreme view posits science "as a panacea," evidenced "by its notable achievements in the last century," the pope explained. The "innumerable advances" of science appeared "to confirm the point of view that science might answer all the questions of man's existence."

2. The second view is held by "those who fear science and who distance themselves from it because of sobering developments such as the construction and terrifying use of nuclear weapons."

However, the task of science "was and remains a patient yet passionate search for the truth about the cosmos, about nature and about the constitution of the human being," Pope Benedict stated. He said that in this quest "there have been many successes and failures, triumphs and setbacks" - there have been "uplifting" developments, as well as "humbling" ones.

Scientific progress "has led to a greatly improved awareness of the place that man and this planet occupy in the universe," the pope stated.

The church "is convinced that scientific activity ultimately benefits from the recognition of man's spiritual dimension and his quest for ultimate answers," Pope Benedict told the meeting. These answers "allow for the acknowledgement of a world existing independently from us, which we do not fully understand and which we can only comprehend insofar as we grasp its inherent logic."

He invited the pontifical academy to reflect on two additional concerns:

First, the need for an interdisciplinary approach: The pope said that "as increasing accomplishments of the sciences deepen our wonder at the complexity of nature, the need for an interdisciplinary approach tied with philosophical reflection is more and more perceived."

Second, the problems and needs of humanity: The pope said that "scientific achievement in this new century should always be informed by the imperatives of fraternity and peace, helping to solve the great problems of humanity and directing everyone's efforts toward the true good of man and the integral development of the peoples of the world."

2. The Church, Like Jesus, Has "Bad Taste" in People

The church Jesus founded still exercises "the same bad taste in people as its founder did," Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco said Oct. 17. An example of this, he said, is found in Zacchaeus, who in Luke's Gospel climbed a tree so as to see Jesus clearly when he passed by.

Zacchaeus was "wealthy, hated and despised -- a tax-collector for the Romans in an occupied country," and he was "certainly an extortionist and exploiter," Archbishop Niederauer said in a homily at a San Francisco parish.

Zacchaeus "was rich, but he wasn't happy." He "was an outcast, who had heard of this wandering teacher, Jesus, who was rumored to be kind and forgiving toward tax collectors and all kinds of sinners," the archbishop observed.

Evidently, Zacchaeus was "short of stature -- or 'vertically challenged,' as we say in this politically correct age," Archbishop Niederauer said. Thus, Zacchaeus would not have been able to "see over the crowd around Jesus." However, the archbishop continued, Zacchaeus "didn't get rich by giving up easily," so he came up with an "alternate plan," and he climbed the tree.

When Jesus approached he looked up and said: "Zacchaeus, hurry down. I mean to stay at your house today." But, when Jesus called Zacchaeus to come back to "his rightful place in God's family," the crowd murmured that it was Jesus and not Zacchaeus who was in the wrong place. They said that Jesus went "to a sinner's house as a guest."

People in the 21st century still murmur about these kinds of things, Archbishop Niederauer said. They murmur that the church "spends too much of its time and attention and treasure on the poor, on the homeless, on the oppressed, on immigrants, on criminals in prison and even on death row; that it condemns convenient, useful actions like abortion and euthanasia, that the church condemns too easily and too often what people feel like choosing and forgives too easily people whom others feel like despising and condemning."

3. The Church and Asia's Street People

Street people and homeless people were the focus of an Oct. 19-23 church-sponsored meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. Women and children make up the majority of the world's 1 billion homeless people, Archbishop Antonio Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, told the meeting. Each day, he said, more than 50,000 people die as a result of poor shelter.

The pastoral needs of these people were addressed by the Bangkok meeting, which was sponsored by the pontifical council and the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences. Archbishop Veglio said the reality of homelessness is complex because it is "not just the loss of a roof, but of a home to live in with dignity, security and health."

Today's homeless people represent a wide spectrum of men, women and children he said, suggesting that people are forced out of homes for a variety of reasons and are not all alike.

Women and children living on the street frequently become human-trafficking victims and are exploited for prostitution or labor, Archbishop Veglio noted. Moreover, he said, street children often are forced into crime, drugs and gang violence. These phenomena can be regarded as new forms of slavery and have reached "unprecedented levels," he said.

The church has a mission to evangelize, educate and liberate people struggling with homelessness, said the archbishop.

4. Vatican's Ambassador Notes Growing, Worldwide Poverty

Eradicating poverty around the globe "should not be considered an act of charity, but rather an obligation of the international community," said the Vatican's new ambassador to the United Nations, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt. Addressing the U.N. General Assembly Oct. 21, he said:

"The global economic crisis had dramatic social consequences in terms of job loss and rising unemployment, especially among young people, and has led to a deterioration of living conditions for the poor in all parts of the world. We should not leave them to their fate. On the contrary, in moments of greatest difficulty we should show greater solidarity."

But the virtue of solidarity should not be confused with vague feelings of compassion or shallow emotion about the misfortunes of others, Archbishop Chullikatt said. Quoting a 1987 social encyclical by Pope John Paul II, the archbishop said that solidarity implies "the firm and persevering determination to engage in striving for the common good - for the good of each and every person because we are all mutually responsible for all."

Those most affected by poverty worldwide are children, the disabled, the elderly and women, Archbishop Chullikatt pointed out. "In fact, almost half of those living in absolute poverty today are children," he said.

The October meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund "reminded us of the real impact of [the economic] crisis on the poor," according to the archbishop. It was seen that "64 million more people are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty in 2010, while some 40 million more went hungry last year because of the food, fuel and financial crises."

Archbishop Chullikatt added that, as a result, by 2015 some "1.2 million more children under 5 may die, 350,000 more students may not complete primary school and some 100 million more people may remain without access to safe water."

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

What Makes It So Difficult to Listen? "St. Benedict begins his rule with the word 'listen.' 'Listen with the ear of your heart,' really listen. A day in my life is full of listening: from the early bird at my window feeder and Minnesota Public Radio news, to morning, noon and evening community prayer; from appointments with sisters and other meetings to the late afternoon Eucharist; and finally the night silence of my room where I listen to my mind and heart sort out all I heard this day. An obstacle to listening is internal noise that keeps us from hearing with the ear of our heart. Distraction and preoccupation are the cholesterol of monastic life, clogging our spiritual arteries. I saw a statue of Benedict with one ear disproportionately large and his hand cupped behind it. Not a very attractive statue, but it made a point. Listening is one of the most Benedictine things we do." (Benedictine Prioress Nancy Bauer of St. Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph, Minn., quoted in the fall 2010 edition of the Abbey Banner, published by St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn.)

Is Consultation Worth the Effort? "I can't say often enough how important these [presbyteral, finance and diocesan pastoral] councils are to me in my ministry as bishop. The advice of laity, deacons, religious and priests through councils was encouraged by the Second Vatican Council, which mandated presbyteral councils and finance councils for dioceses. I have insisted that each of our parishes needs to have a pastoral council and finance council to advise the pastor and to provide consultation to the parish board of directors. Over the past five years, since the incorporation of our parishes, I have seen how the participation of the councils adds so much wisdom to the process of decision making. I certainly know that at the diocesan level. While consultation can be cumbersome, I have learned well that decisions are better received when people have input and can offer their counsel." (Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., writing in his Oct. 25 online "Monday Memo" to the diocese)

6. Middle East Synod: Interchurch Families Need Common Easter

One way the divided churches in the Middle East can "renew their ecumenical commitment" is by "working for a common date for the celebrations of Christmas and Easter," the October special assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East said in one of its 44 recommendations to the pope.

A discussion about establishing a common date for Easter - particularly between Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches - arose not only in a few speeches to the synod by the participants, but during the more informal evening discussions in the synod hall. It is noteworthy that a highly pastoral concern motivated some of these discussions, namely the problem for mixed-marriage couples and their families when Easter and Christmas are celebrated by a husband and wife on different days.

Sometimes Catholic and Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter the same day. It happened in 2010 and will happen again in 2011. But in 2013 their celebrations will be separated by more than a month; often a week's time separates their celebrations.

Some synod participants made clear their conviction that setting a common date particularly for Easter is an urgent pastoral concern. One reason is that in an interchurch marriage of a Catholic with a member of an Orthodox church, the husband and wife are divided at the time of Christianity's central celebration of faith.

Moreover, some synod participants stressed that when the churches themselves celebrate Easter or Christmas at separate times, their witness to the world is divided and weakened.

Delivering a major report to the synod Oct. 18, Coptic Patriarch Antonios Naguib of Alexandria, Egypt - who was among those named cardinals by the pope Oct. 20 - said that "the wish to unify the dates for Christmas and Easter between Catholics and the Orthodox has been expressed several times." He said this is "a pastoral necessity, given the pluralistic context of the [Middle East] and the many interchurch marriages between Christians of different ecclesial denominations."

The patriarch said that by establishing common dates for these holidays, the churches would be able to present a unified witness to their greatly troubled region at these special times.

Orthodox church observers at the synod agreed. One, Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo, Syria, recommended in a speech to the synod that Christians move quickly to establish a common date for Easter. He indicated that most Christians in the Middle East desire this.

Concern about holidays in interchurch families also was expressed Oct. 1 during a meeting of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation. The dialogue group said, "There are significant pastoral needs at stake: Can the members of our interchurch families celebrate Easter together?" In a statement, the dialogue groups said interchurch families currently "find themselves in conflict observing two Lenten cycles and two [Easter] dates."

The Orthodox-Catholic dialogue group noted in a second statement that "marriages involving members of both our traditions are increasingly common, especially in ethnically pluralistic countries, creating serious problems in Christian education and practice for the families involved." The group said this is among the factors that "urgently call our churches to overcome their division."

7. Mixed Marriages: Catholic and Jewish

"Whereas 30 years ago a Christian-Jewish couple might have approached a rabbi with embarrassment about their intentions to marry, today they're asking about spirituality programs in which both of them can feel comfortable," Rabbi Charles Kroloff, past president of the Central Conference of Reform Rabbis, told participants in the semiannual consultation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Council of Synagogues Oct. 19 in New York.

Reform rabbis and Catholic clergy alike tend to view mixed marriages as a serious challenge to religious identity and practice, but also as an opportunity to expose others to one's faith traditions, members of the dialogue group said.

Mixed marriages are becoming more common in Reform Judaism, but have declined over the past 20 years among American Catholics, according to a USCCB news release. It said that 46 percent of married Reform Jews have a spouse who identifies as having another faith, but 26 percent of Catholic marriages involve partners who are non-Catholic. These percentages also progressively are lower as one moves across the spectrum from Conservative to Orthodox Judaism.

Rabbi Kroloff presented a range of pastoral approaches to mixed marriage within the Jewish community, but noted that only Reform rabbis can officiate at them without incurring sanctions. However, he added, even in the case of Reform rabbis only between 40 percent and 50 percent "are willing to conduct a ceremony under the chuppah" (the canopy used in a Jewish ceremony to symbolize the home the bride and groom will establish together).

Sheila Garcia, associate director of the USCCB's Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, was a Catholic presenter during the consultation. She spoke of mixed marriages against the backdrop of weakening sacramental practice among Catholics.

Garcia acknowledged that the pledge "made by the Catholic in a mixed marriage to do all in his or her power" to baptize and raise the children as Catholics comes into conflict with the "Jewish desire to pass on Jewish faith and identity." But she also suggested that both the Catholic and Jewish communities today share another very real situation, the "an alarming trend of many in their 20s not to affiliate themselves or their kids with any organized religion."