Bishops OK first new preaching document in 30 years
By Mark Pattison
BALTIMORE (CNS) — The U.S. bishops approved their first new document in 30 years on preaching Nov. 13, the second day of their annual fall general assembly in Baltimore.
The document, “Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily,” encourages preachers to connect the Sunday homily with people’s daily lives.
The vote was 227-11, with four abstentions. Approval required two-thirds of the membership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, or 182 votes.
The document was prepared by the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, chaired by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, with subsequent review and comment by eight other USCCB committees.
During discussion on the document Nov. 13, the bishops accepted a plea from Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., to include his amendment urging Catholics to make an extra effort to listen to the homilies of foreign-born priests for whom English or Spanish is not their first language.
Those priests’ speech “may have a heavy accent that the congregation cannot understand,” Bishop Ramirez said. “We have many foreign priests coming to work in our dioceses,” he added.
“Even though it takes an extra effort to understand what they are saying, they have wisdom. They are inspired by the Holy Spirit. … The people have to make an extra effort to understand their wisdom.”
“Preaching the Mystery of Faith” also required a suspension of the rules governing consideration of proposed documents issued in the name of the USCCB, as bishops did not receive it at least 30 days prior to debate.
In formally introducing the document Nov.12, Archbishop Carlson said it aimed for a “pastorally sensitive tone” so that it could build upon a strong theological foundation for the ministry of preaching.” He added, “It also makes a strong case for linking the homily to the Sunday liturgy.”
Preaching needs to be done “more effectively in the context of the new evangelization,” he said. “Our people hunger for better preaching, preaching that would help them rediscover their faith.”
“The homily is intended to establish a ‘dialogue’ between the sacred biblical text and the Christian life of the hearer,” the document says.
“Preachers should be aware, in an appropriate way, of what their people are watching on television, what kind of music they are listening to, which websites they find appealing, and which films they find compelling,” it adds. “References to the most popular cultural expressions — which at times can be surprisingly replete with religious motifs — can be an effective way to engage the interest of those on the edge of faith.”
The intent to write a new document first surfaced six years ago as the silver anniversary neared of the U.S. bishops’ last preaching document, “Fulfilled in Your Hearing.”
The work of drafting “Preaching the Mystery of Faith” took place over the past year and a half after work was approved on such a document at the bishops’ spring 2011 meeting in Bellevue, Wash., near Seattle. New traction on the document came after Pope Benedict XVI issued the apostolic exhortation “Verbum Domini” (“The Word of the Lord”) two years ago, and “Preaching the Mystery of Faith,” according to Archbishop Carlson, is rooted in “Verbum Domini.”
“Many Catholics, for a variety of reasons, seem either indifferent to or disaffected with the church and her teaching. We know that the general social context in the United States has a strong emphasis on the individual and individual choice, which often eclipses the sense of community or of the common good that is essential to Christian life,” the document says. “Sadly, too, we must confess that the sexual abuse crisis has wounded the church, and this scandal has led some Catholics to lose heart and leave the church.”
It adds, “The homilist of today must realize that he is addressing a congregation that is more culturally diverse than previously, one that is profoundly affected by the surrounding secular context and, in many instances, inadequately catechized.”
“Virtually every homily preached during the liturgy should make some connection between the Scriptures just heard and the Eucharist about to be celebrated,” it says.
Before preaching, “the homilist may need to wrestle for a while with the challenging aspects of the biblical Word, searching for ways it could connect to ordinary experience and how it might be proclaimed to the congregation the homilist serves,” it says.
“Then comes the process of drafting the homily in a thoughtful manner, finding the right words, moving examples, and apt metaphors that will bring home to the listener the beauty and truth of the Scripture — and then reviewing and revising the text of the homily until it is ready,” it continues. “Good homilists often practice their homily ahead of time, hearing how it sounds out loud and seeking to preach it with passion and strength.”
“Preaching the Mystery of Faith” says: “The ultimate goal of proclaiming the Gospel is to lead people into a loving and intimate relationship with the Lord, a relationship that forms the character of their persons and guides them in living out their faith. … An effective homily would show the faithful just how much the Son of God loved them in taking our human flesh upon himself.”
At a Nov. 12 news conference, Archbishop Carlson said that, in addition to review by other USCCB committees, there were times he went to “the back of the church” to hear what congregants said about the preaching they had just heard at Mass. Further, when a Catholic News Service story was published about the writing of “Preaching the Mystery of Faith,” “we got a lot of comments in the mail” from readers of the article, he said.
Committees to prepare document on bishops’ use of new technologies
By Dennis Sadowski
BALTIMORE (CNS) — The chairmen of four U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees will begin work soon on drafting a document that reiterates the teaching authority of local bishops while urging them to use new technologies to share Catholic theology.
The end result is expected to complement a 20-year-old document on the teaching authority of diocesan bishops, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Doctrine.
The bishops Nov. 12 agreed in a voice vote to the appointment of a working group that includes the chairmen of the committees on doctrine, evangelization and catechesis, and canonical affairs and church governance to draft the document.
No timeline for development of the document was announced.
Originally, the bishops were to consider a document titled “Contemporary Challenges and Opportunities for the Exercise of the Teaching Ministry of the Diocesan Bishop,” which was developed by the Committee on Doctrine. It called upon bishops to take advantage of new technologies — including social media, blogging and cellphone technology — to respond and explain church teaching when an aspect of church teaching is portrayed inaccurately, particularly by theologians.
A draft of the document was circulated to the bishops prior to the meeting and appeared in media packets as the assembly convened. However, Cardinal Wuerl decided to withdraw it in favor of a more comprehensive statement that would be in line with the bishops’ proposed new communications plan, up for discussion and vote Nov. 13, and the ongoing work throughout the USCCB that is related to the new evangelization.
“During that time a lot has happened, including the whole world of communication, the development particularly of digital electronic communications,” he told the assembly in a brief report.
Cardinal Wuerl said he conferred with the chairmen of the several committees working on the new evangelization and learned that some of their efforts overlapped with the Committee on Doctrine’s work.
When it is adopted, the new statement would complement “The Teaching Ministry of the Diocesan Bishop: A Pastoral Reflection,” which the bishops approved in November 1991. It was published in March 1992.
That document on the doctrinal responsibilities of local bishops sets forth guidelines for a bishop to follow when responding to comments, statements, books or other communication from a theologian that incorrectly portrays Catholic teaching.
Archbishop says US church must ‘redouble’ efforts on marriage issue
By Patricia Zapor
BALTIMORE (CNS) — Just shy of a week after laws permitting same-sex marriage passed in three states and voters in a fourth rejected an amendment to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone said, “Tuesday was a disappointing day for marriage.”
The chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage told the U.S. bishops Nov. 12 at their annual fall general assembly in Baltimore that traditional marriage also faces probable challenges on the judicial front.
Voters in Maine, Washington state and Maryland approved ballot measures legalizing same-sex marriage Nov. 6, while Minnesota voters rejected a state constitutional amendment to uphold the traditional definition of marriage, opening the door for the Legislature and the courts to consider legalizing same-sex marriage there. Maine’s referendum to authorize same-sex marriage reversed a 2009 referendum that banned such marriages.
The election results are “a symptom of a much larger problem,” basically that “people don’t understand what marriage is,” Archbishop Cordileone said at a news conference following the session where he presented his report.
In delivering his report, he praised the work of the bishops in those four states to defend the traditional definition of marriage, drawing applause from the bishops in the assembly meeting room.
“In all these states where we did not succeed, we were outspent,” he said. In Washington, for example, supporters of the legalization measure outspent opponents by 12 to 1, said the archbishop.
Reporting on the work of his subcommittee, Archbishop Cordileone also talked about the progress of the catechetical efforts on the theological and natural law basis of Catholic teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman for the purpose of developing a family.
The website “Marriage: Unique for a Reason” — www.marriageuniqueforareason.org — is regularly updated with blog posts and new information, he reported. The newest in a series of videos intended to explain church teaching will soon be ready. The first in the series to be produced in Spanish with themes directed at Latinos, “El matrimonio, hecho para el amor y la vida,” (“Marriage, made for love and life”) is in the final stages of production, he said.
Some clips of that video shown during the meeting tell a family story, of an unmarried couple spending the weekend with the young man’s grandparents as they celebrate 50 years of marriage.
Archbishop Cordileone noted that the U.S. Supreme Court is thought likely to take up one of several cases challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. It defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
The Obama administration has stopped defending the law in court and several federal courts have found its definition unconstitutional.
Those cases or any of several other pending cases related to marriage could redefine marriage throughout the country, he said, warning they could have implications for religious liberty “in serious and unforeseen ways.”
A ruling that redefines marriage nationwide would be “the Roe decision for marriage,” he said, in a reference to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion virtually on demand in every state.
But Archbishop Cordileone offered words of encouragement, saying, “This work is not in vain.” He noted that the same-sex marriages measures approved by voters in those states where the issue was on the ballot passed by a small margin.
“This is not a time to give up, but rather a time to redouble our efforts,” he said.
Efforts to promote religious liberty will not end, archbishop says
By Dennis Sadowski
BALTIMORE (CNS) — The work of defending religious liberty will continue more robustly and without end in the face of growing challenges, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, told his fellow bishops during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that “whatever setbacks or challenges in the efforts to defend religious liberty we may be experiencing, we’re going to stay the course.”
He made the comments in a report on the ad hoc committee’s recent activities Nov. 12.
“Defense of religious freedom requires not just dealing with short-term and mid-term goals, but indeed is a project that requires long-term foundational and formational work,” he said.
The committee has introduced educational materials aimed at all Catholics, but particularly to young people, Archbishop Lori explained.
Among the activities is a new website — www.firstamericanfreedom.com — to explain long-standing church teaching on religious practice and traditional marriage. Other activities will focus on providing materials to parishes, organizations and interested groups to discuss and learn about church teaching on religious freedom, he added.
“Our work is to provide education and formation as part of the new evangelization,” Archbishop Lori said in his 18-minute report. “I think that our initial efforts have demonstrated the need for greater formation, especially to reach young people, to open their hearts to their heritage as Americans and to what faith teaches about religious liberty.”
Acknowledging the church sustained setbacks as voters in three states approved measures that legalized same-sex marriage, Archbishop Lori said the effort will include wider distribution of a religious freedom curriculum developed for use in schools and parishes. Materials have been prepared in both Spanish and English, according to the archbishop.
At a news conference following the assembly’s morning session, Archbishop Lori said young people in particular are vital to the future of the church and the church must make an extra effort to explain its teaching as part of the new evangelization program initiated by Pope Benedict XVI.
“As is often the case as young people grow up, we’re all struggling (to) give them tools they need to be faithful Catholics,” he said.
He expressed hope that the curriculum might include an essay contest “and other things we hope will be fun. We need to find creative ways to engage and really interest young people.”
Beyond reaching young people, Archbishop Lori said in his report, the church’s efforts will continue to focus on expanding the definition of religious and faith-based organizations as the rule-making continues under the Affordable Care Act. He reiterated the USCCB’s stance that the government’s definition of a religious group is inappropriate.
“This is drawing lines in our mission were we do not draw them,” he said.
Under the health care law, the Department of Health and Human Services mandates that most employers, including religious employers, provide insurance coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services.
A narrow exemption applies only to those religious institutions that seek to inculcate their religious values and primarily employ and serve people of their own faith. The mandate does not include a conscience clause for employers who object to such coverage on moral grounds.
Archbishop Lori said the ad hoc committee will continue to monitor the status of numerous lawsuits challenging the HHS contraceptive mandate and also will become involved in the legislative process when appropriate to change the law so that religious organizations are not required to adhering to the mandate in violation of religious principles, Archbishop Lori explained.
“We seek to defend religious freedom so we have the space, the liberty to fulfill our mission,” he said.
“We have an enormous amount to learn and a lot more work to do, especially growing in our capacity to communicate a good message in new and effective ways.”
Cardinal challenges bishops to undergo their own conversion, renewal
By Mark Pattison
BALTIMORE (CNS) — Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, challenged his brother bishops to undergo their own conversion and renewal.
One characteristic of this renewal is the sacrament of penance, Cardinal Dolan said.
“This is the sacrament of the new evangelization, for as Pope Benedict reminds us, ‘We cannot speak about the new evangelization without the sincere desire to conversion,'” Cardinal Dolan said during his presidential address on the opening day of the bishops’ Nov. 12-15 fall general assembly in Baltimore.
“I know I risk the criticism — I can hear it now: ‘With all the controversies and urgent matters for the church right now, Dolan spoke of conversion of heart through the sacrament of penance. Can you believe it?’ To which I reply, ‘You better believe it!’ First things first!”
Cardinal Dolan said, “We cannot engage culture unless we let him (Jesus) first engage us, we cannot dialogue with others unless we first dialogue with him, and we cannot challenge unless we first allow him to challenge us.”
He noted that during the recent series of “ad limina” visits with Pope Benedict, the pope told the bishops, “As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, we know that the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ’s truth.”
The recently concluded world Synod of Bishops echoed the papal message, Cardinal Dolan said. In the synod’s closing message, the bishops declared, “We firmly believe that we must convert ourselves above all to the power of Jesus Christ who alone can make all things new, above all our poor existence. With humility we recognize that the poverty and weaknesses of Jesus’ disciples, especially of his ministers, weigh on the very credibility of the mission.”
Reconciliation “brings us sacramentally into contact with Jesus, who calls us to conversion of heart, and allows us to answer his invitation to repentance — a repentance from within that can then transform the world without,” Cardinal Dolan said.
“What an irony that despite the call of the Second Vatican Council for a renewal of the sacrament of penance, what we got instead was its near disappearance.”
Cardinal Dolan said, “The answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world? What’s wrong with the church? is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization or global warming … none of these, as significant as they are.” He quoted author G.K. Chesterton, who wrote, “The answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is just two words: ‘I am.'”
“Most of all,” Cardinal Dolan added, “we work at giving our people good examples of humble, repentant pastors, aware of our personal and corporate sins, constantly responding to the call of Jesus to interior conversion.”
He said, “We need the sacrament of penance because we are profoundly sorry for our faults, failures and our sins, serious obstacles to the new evangelization. But then we stand forgiven, resolute to return to the work entrusted to us — as evangelizers of the Gospel of mercy.”
The next day the bishops were to vote on a statement encouraging Catholics to consider Lent 2013 as an opportunity to return to regular celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation. The statement highlights the connection the pope has made between confession and the new evangelization during the Year of Faith.
Cardinal Dolan said the work of the USCCB in the coming year would include “reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible reinstitution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent.”
“Our pastoral plan offers numerous resources for catechesis on the sacrament of penance, and the manifold graces that come to us from the frequent use of confession,” he said. Next June, he added, the U.S. bishops will have a special assembly to pray and reflect on their mission, including “our witness to personal conversion in Jesus Christ” and to the new evangelization.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican nuncio to the United States, echoed Cardinal Dolan’s call in his own remarks to the U.S. bishops immediately following those of the cardinal.
Noting that there have been some clergy who “out of weaknesses have brought great pain to others,” Archbishop Vigano reminded the bishops, “We must continually undergo conversion ourselves … so people have faith and confidence in us.”
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