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December 2, 2010

Pastoral ministry and social media -
The virtues and the economic crisis -
The service that is integral to Catholic identity



In this edition:

1. A faith challenge: relating to others who believe differently.
2. Report to U.S. bishops on the church and social media.
3. What sort of service is integral to Catholic identity?
4. Current quote to ponder: The council's vision for a church of communion.
5. Legality and profits are not all that matter.
6. What good are the virtues at a time of economic suffering?



1. A Faith Challenge: Knowing Others Who Believe or Act Differently

It is difficult to "get to know another person who is different from oneself," but it can be very important to do so, Marianist Father James Heft proposed in a Sept. 17 speech at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio.

He was speaking about the importance of interreligious relations, particularly with Muslims, but his comment here seems pertinent to much of life, including much of pastoral ministry. A perpetual challenge in virtually anyone's daily encounters is that other people so often really are different - different from oneself in some or many of their attitudes or beliefs and different in how they express themselves and act.

Father Heft, former chancellor of the University of Dayton, today is president of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at the University of Southern California. His speech appears in the Dec. 2 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. "To understand other persons as they actually are, and not as just a projection of oneself, or only on one's own terms or contained within one's familiar conceptual framework is difficult to do," Father Heft told his audience. He added that "one of the best ways to improve in this regard is to get to know other people who are very different than you are."

In human encounters with others who are different from oneself, it is not only important to come to know them as they are, Father Heft proposed, but also to allow them to know you as you really are. For believers, it is vital not to erect barriers that block anyone from seeing their faith as they truly would want it to be seen.

Father Heft recalled a woman who asked a question after he delivered a speech in California on interreligious relations. She asked, "How can I get over my prejudice against Muslims?" He then asked her, "Do you know any personally?" She answered no and later that evening told him "that she realized until then she had been depending mostly on Western media portrayals of Muslims."

Once one gets beyond the media portrayals and also meets and speaks with people who are Muslim, it will be discovered that most Muslims are not at all as one formerly thought them to be, Father Heft observed.

Of course, we not only hope to know others as they really are, but to allow them to catch a glimpse of who we really are and what our faith really is. Father Heft counseled his listeners to remember in encounters with others who are different that "the gift of faith is a great treasure, but it is not a possession." He said: "God's love always transcends our full comprehension; the only appropriate posture for believers is to witness to their faith with humility and gratitude."

The question in this "is really not why I continue to believe, but rather how I can best express and live those beliefs so that they can be heard and even seen by others as credible and indeed attractive," said Father Heft.

He also suggested to his audience that "one of the great gifts of a Catholic university is to expose students to the ways other people think and believe, while passing on a rich but critical understanding of the Catholic faith and tradition."

2. Report to U.S. Bishops on the Church and the Social Media

The online social media such as Facebook "are so different from mass media and mass communication" that they "are creating a new culture on this digital continent," Auxiliary Bishop Ronald Herzog of Alexandria, La., said in a report Nov. 15 to the U.S. bishops during their national meeting in Baltimore. He spoke on behalf of Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Communications, who was unable to attend the meeting.

Young people use the social media "as their first point of reference," said the report presented by Bishop Herzog. He added: "In other words, they're not even going to their e-mail to get information. The news, entertainment, their friends are all coming to them through their mobile devices and through their social networks."

According to the report, the implications of this "for a church which is struggling to get those same young people to enter our churches on Sunday are staggering. If the church is not on their mobile device, it doesn't exist. The church does not have to change its teachings to reach young people, but we must deliver it to them in a new way."

The new media of social communications "are not only here to stay but should be recognized and used as a 'new form of pastoral ministry,''' said the report. It commented that the social media "don't have the makings of a fad" and that "we're being told that they are causing as fundamental a shift in communication patterns and behavior as the printing press did 500 years ago." However, the report said, "when the church does attempt to evangelize the digital continent, it has some serious challenges to overcome." It said to the bishops, "Most of us don't understand the culture."

The bishops were urged in acknowledging "that social media are not the latest fad but a paradigm shift," to "accept the fact that your staffs -- and perhaps you as well -- will need training and direction." The report observed that "in the past the church would often build new parish structures, knowing that people would recognize the church architecture and start showing up." However, it added, "on the digital continent, 'If you build it, they will come' does not hold true."

The report explained that "it takes careful strategizing and planning to make social media an effective and efficient communication tool not only for your communications department but for all of the church's ministries." It continued: "We digital immigrants need lessons on the digital culture, just as we expect missionaries to learn the cultures of the people they are evangelizing. We have to be enculturated. It's more than just learning how to create a Facebook account. It's learning how to think, live and embrace life on the digital continent."

At the same time, the report urged recognition of the continued value of some of the traditional means of communication. "The church cannot abandon legacy communication outlets while it invests in the new media," the report said.

For, while "the baby boomers may be going to Facebook to stay in contact with their grandchildren, they still use newspapers, radio, television and books." The report noted that "those media have attributes and strengths that social media do not -- not to mention the fact that most financial donors to the church still rely on these legacy media."

Thus, "the church needs to continue investing in those efforts while also investing in social media," said the report.

3. What Sort of Service Is Integral to Church Identity?

The term "service" appears and reappears so often in discussions of church identity that I assume it ranks among the essentials of Catholic faith. But what is "service"? How is "service" defined? It is hard not to notice that many discussions of service take for granted that the meaning of the term is clear to everyone. But is it?

Pope Benedict XV I described service in a homily Nov. 20 to the College of Cardinals and its newly installed members. It is hardly the first time he has done so, contrasting dominance and self-importance with genuine service on the part of church leaders and all others in the church.

"No one is master in the church, but all are called, all are sent out, all are reached and guided by divine grace," the pope told the cardinals. He recalled that in the Gospel, James and John hoped to receive places of honor in the kingdom of God. But Pope Benedict said that Jesus pointed out to the disciples that his community "follows another rule, another logic, another model" and that "whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.'"

The pope commented that "the criterion of greatness and primacy according to God is not domination but service; 'diaconia' is the fundamental law of the disciple and of the Christian community, and lets us glimpse something about 'the lordship of God.'" The model of service communicated by Jesus does not follow "the logic of domination, of power according to human criteria, but rather the logic of bending down to wash feet, the logic of service, the logic of the cross that is the root of all exercise of authority," Pope Benedict said.

The model of service given by Jesus was relevant not only for the apostles, but is relevant now "for the whole church, and especially for those who have leadership roles in the people of God," said the pope. He commented that "the church in every period is committed to conforming to this logic and to testifying to it to make the true 'lordship of God' shine out, that of love."

Pope Benedict said to the cardinals: "The mission to which God calls you today and which qualifies you for an even more responsible ecclesial service requires an ever greater willingness to adopt the style of the Son of God who came among us as one who serves."

4. Current Quote to Ponder

Vatican II's Vision for a Church of Communion: "How common is it to find communities in which priest and people relate to each other as adult to adult? There are different ministries within the church; the ordained are ontologically different from the laity. This difference, however, should not lead to a two-tiered system of membership and responsibility. In the church of communion there are not some who are professionals and others amateurs; some adults and most children. The reception of the council's vision of a church of communion has been, quite understandably, uneven. This is particularly true in respect to the empowerment of the laity, the encouragement of the laity to take their God-given place within the body of Christ. The Catholic Church is a very big tent with ample room for different ways of living out the faith. Not everyone will march to the same drummer! The preaching and teaching of the church must, however, always be inspired and guided by the teachings of the council, rooted as it is in the theology of communion. We cannot substitute a different vision. The church at all levels must continue to work tirelessly to enable the laity to see that they are not the objects of the life and ministry of the church but its subjects. We cannot try to construct church life in a manner different from the vision developed by the fathers of the council." (Archbishop James Weisgerber of Winnipeg, Manitoba, speaking Oct. 13 to the Canadian and U.S. canon law societies, which met in Buffalo, N.Y.)

5. The Economy: More Than Legality and Profitability Matter

Is there a contribution that "religious belief and practice" can make "to the wider issues facing society" in light of the recent financial crisis and the ethical issues it brought to society's surface? Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, recommended in an Oct. 28 speech that the cardinal virtues of prudence, courage, justice and temperance be recognized as a treasure capable of serving the common good at this time.

I think you will find his descriptions of these virtues unique and insightful, and I'll get to them below. But first let me present some of his underlying concerns.

With the financial crisis, a loss of trust developed within society, the archbishop believes. He thinks it is acknowledged widely "that the lack of solid ethical foundations contributed significantly to the crisis."

He challenged his audience at the University of Leicester to ask whether legality and profitability are all that matter for financial institutions. And he seemed to share the sentiments of a speaker who expressed concerns during a recent conference organized by London's mayor that a philosophy of legality and profitability may legitimize the exploitation of people, and may leave little room for personal integrity in the conduct of business, all the while subverting trust.

Another speaker at the mayor's conference said, "There must be clearer recognition of the need for institutions [in the financial sector] to contribute to the common good."

Archbishop Nichols proposed in his speech "that an important part of our recovery as a society will be achieved through the practice of" the cardinal virtues. However, he said, "for so long, both enterprise and politics have been content to assume and exploit the belief that only self-interest truly motivates every person."

People instinctively "want to belong to a world in which people care for one another. They are alienated by a selfish society," the archbishop said. "Yet, the structures and values built into the way society works often frustrate that deeper and better instinct."

The archbishop asked, "Can we build up a true and lasting sense of service between us all, not because it serves our own individual advancement but because it is a genuine value, a vital search for the good of all, from which alone can all truly benefit?"

6. What Good Are the Virtues at a Time Like This?

"The very notion of 'virtue' may sound a bit old-fashioned or elitist. But it sounds less so when used in a phrase to describe an outstanding musical performance or that of a dynamic midfielder for your favorite" sports team, Westminster's Archbishop Nichols commented in his speech at the University of Leicester. After all, he said, a "virtuoso" performance is "the fruit of the constant repetition of skill and good judgment."

What are the virtues not? "The virtues are not about what one is allowed to do, but who one is formed to be," said Archbishop Nichols. In pursuing virtue, he explained, "we act well not because of external constraint but because it has become natural for us to do so."

Acting virtuously means acting "irrespective of reward and regardless of what we are legally obliged to do," according to the archbishop. He said that virtuous action is "doing good even when no one is looking."

Society's institutions themselves are going to need to travel along the pathway of the virtues if trust is to be restored for people at this time of economic challenge, he said.

Let's take a look at just some of what Archbishop Nichols said about the virtues of prudence, courage, justice and temperance. Prudence: This virtue "does not mean excessive or fearful caution. It can mean acting boldly where necessary," the archbishop said. "This virtue engages us in considering consequences, advantages and disadvantages"; it "enables us to discern the good in any circumstance and the right way to achieve it."

Courage: This virtue "is the opposite of opportunism and evasiveness." It "frees us from being enslaved by fear," said the archbishop. Moreover, courage "resists the pressure to conform to the destructive expectations of others and helps us to challenge the assumptions of a culture."

Justice: "Through justice we discover in practice that those who suffer are bound to us, they are our brothers and sisters," the archbishop remarked. He recalled St. Augustine saying that a society that lacks true justice is just a gang of thieves. Justice is a virtue directed not only to other people but to God, Archbishop Nichols added. He cited G.K. Chesterton saying that "when people stop believing in God they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything." That represents a lack of the virtue of justice, the archbishop concluded.

Temperance: The opposite of temperance is consumerism or the "uninhibited pursuit of pleasure," according to the archbishop. He said temperance "is about learning to desire well." Temperance, he added, can govern our use of the created world's fragile goods, "which increasingly need the exercise of this virtue if they are not to be ruinously exploited."

These four virtues "and the exploration of them belong to all humanity," Archbishop Nichols said. Practicing them, he hopes, will help to unleash people's "instinctive generosity" and lead society beyond an overemphasis on "the acquisition of profit or of power."