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Young Catholics need Church that listens

Young Catholics are looking for a church that listens to their concerns, accompanies them in discerning their vocations and helps them confront the challenges they face, said a working document for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on young people.

The synod’s “instrumentum laboris” (working document), published by the Vatican June 19, stated that young people “want to see a church that shares their situations of life in the light of Gospel rather than by preaching.”

Quoting a presynod gathering of young people who met at the Vatican March 19-25, the working document said young Catholics “want an authentic church. With this, we would like to express, particularly to the church hierarchy, our request for a transparent, welcoming, honest, attractive, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community.”

The working document is based mainly on comments solicited in a questionnaire last June from national bishops’ conferences around the world as well as the final document of the presynod gathering.

An estimated 305 young adults participated in the weeklong presynod meeting, which allowed practicing Catholics and others to provide input for Pope Francis and the world’s bishops, who will meet at the synod in October to discuss “young people, faith and vocational discernment.” Some 15,000 young people also participated in the presynod process through Facebook groups online.

The meeting, the working document said, “highlighted the potential that younger generations represent” as well as their “hopes and desires.”

“Young people are great seekers of meaning, and everything that is in harmony with their search to give value to their lives arouses their attention and motivates their commitment,” it said.

Presenting the “instrumentum laboris” to journalists at a press briefing June 19, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the synod, said the synod’s goal is that young Catholics may find “the beauty of life, beginning from the happy relationship with the God of the covenant and of love” in a world that often robs them of their “affections, bonds and prospective of life.”

“The synod dedicated to young people gives us the opportunity to rediscover the hope of a good life, the dream of a pastoral renewal, the desire for community and passion for education,” he said.

Divided into three parts, the working document outlines the church’s need to listen to young people, to help guide them in the faith and in discerning their vocational calling, and to identify pastoral and missionary paths to be able to accompany them.

The responses collected by bishops’ conferences around the world cited a need for ways to help young men and women confront the challenges of cultural changes that sometimes disregard traditions and spirituality.

The working document also states that while the church highlights the importance of the body, affection and sexuality, many young Catholic men and women “do not follow the directions of the sexual morality of the church.”

“Although no bishops’ conferences offer solutions or indications, many (conferences) believe the issue of sexuality should be discussed more openly and without judgment,” it said.

Young people attending the presynod meeting said issues such as contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation and marriage are often debated both by young Catholics and non-Catholics.

The working document also highlighted the need to reaffirm church teaching on the body and sexuality at a time when biomedical advancements have pushed a more “technocratic approach to the body,” citing examples such as egg donation and surrogacy.

“Moreover, precocious sexuality, sexual promiscuity, digital pornography, the exhibition of one’s own body online and sexual tourism risk disfiguring the beauty and depth of emotional and sexual life,” the “instrumentum laboris” said.

Church leaders, it said, must “speak in practical terms about controversial subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, which young people are already freely discussing without taboo.”

Also, “LGBT youths, through various contributions received by the secretariat of the synod, want to benefit from a greater closeness and experience greater care from the church,” while some bishops’ conferences are asking what they can recommend to young people who enter into a homosexual relationship, but want to be closer to the church, the document said.

Regarding the use of the initials “LGBT” in a major church document, Cardinal Baldisseri told journalists that it was a term used in one of the documents given by the bishops’ conferences “and we quoted them.”

“We are open. We don’t want the synod to be closed in itself,” Cardinal Baldisseri said. “And in the church, there are many areas, there is freedom for people to express themselves — on the right, left, center, north and south — this is all possible. That is why we are willing to listen to people with different opinions.”

The working document also said young Catholics would like more initiatives that allow further dialogue with nonbelievers and the secular world to help them integrate their faith in their dealings with others.

Young men and women from primarily secularized areas “ask nothing from the church” and “expressly asked to be left in peace, because they feel its presence as annoying and even irritating.” These feelings, the document stated, do not come from contempt but rather due to “serious and respectable reasons.”

Among the reasons are the church’s sexual and economic scandals, priests who do not know how to engage with young people, and the way the church justifies its doctrinal and ethical positions to modern society.

Young men and women are also hoping the church can help them “find a simple and clear understanding of the meaning of vocation,” which is often misinterpreted as referring only to priesthood and consecrated life.

While the church has confirmed that marriage is also a vocation, the document confirms the need for “a youth vocational ministry capable of being meaningful for all young people.”

“Called to holiness and anointed by the spirit, the Christian learns to grasp all the choices in existence in a vocational perspective, especially the central one of the state of life as well as those of a professional nature,” it said.

“For this reason, some bishops’ conferences hope that the synod will find ways to help all Christians rediscover the link between profession and vocation in all its fruitfulness … and in view of the professional orientation of young people with a vocational perspective,” the document said.

Year of the Family Conference

Reflecting Pope Francis’ call to share the Gospel of the good news of the family, the premier event of this year’s celebration of the Year of the Family in the Diocese of Burlington will take place on Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Capital Plaza Conference Center in Montpelier.

It will equip parish leaders with tools and resources to support more effectively and reach out to families and individuals in their parishes and in their communities, as inspired by Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of Love.”

The conference is geared toward inspiring and equipping parishioners with concrete tools and resources to take back to their parishes. “In that way they can help their parishes and communities to more actively support and encourage families through, as Pope Francis has said, ‘the vicissitudes of life,’” explained Deacon Phil Lawson, executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life for the Diocese of Burlington. “There is a strong need to equip people for ministry at the local parish and community level to be those agents of outreach, healing and support.”

It is hoped that every parish in the Diocese will send at least or two people to the conference.

There have been a number of events held during this Year of the Family, all designed to focus on various areas of the Church’s teachings on the family and Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia.” Some of these events are designed to celebrate families, some are designed to educate, some are designed to inspire and equip leaders with resources, some are focused on healing.

Lisa Lickona, editor for Saints for Magnificat, will give the keynote address at the August conference; her topic will be “Mercy, the Good News and the Family.” She earned a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. She is an experienced speaker on the family and a nationally known spiritual writer. She and her husband have eight children and run a small organic farm.

Breakout sessions will include such topics as marriage enrichment, foster care, creating a family-friendly parish, family-based catechesis, the domestic Church and supporting families during life’s difficult times.

Breakout session topics include:

+ Simcha Fischer, author of “The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning,” speaking about NFP;

+ Lisa Lickona on the family of saints;

+ Cathy Frost of the Vermont Department for Children and Families on foster care and adoption in Vermont;

+ Father Jon Schnobrich, vocations director for the Diocese of Burlington on fostering a culture of vocations in the family and on the challenges of raising a family amidst the current changing cultural landscape;

+ Josh Perry, director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington, on family-friendly parishes and liturgies;

+ Father Luke Austin, judicial vicar for the Diocese of Burlington on annulments; and

+ Deacon Lawson on supporting and strengthening marriages.

Breakout sessions are geared toward ministers who encounter these issues not toward people who experience them.

“The breakouts are designed to be very concrete and practical, providing tangible tools to take back to your parish,” Deacon Lawson said.

Hosted by the Diocese of Burlington, this daylong conference will explore, reflect upon and respond to the message of Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”). In it he confronts the challenges facing families today while offering a hopeful message to help people be courageous believers who strive to live as holy families and encourage the healthy lives of families in today’s culture.

The cost of the conference is $30.

For more information and to register, go to vermontcatholic.org/YearoftheFamilyConference.

Originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

 

 

 

Year of the Family: The Joy of Love

Following a successful Year of Creation in the Diocese of Burlington, 2018 will be celebrated throughout the Catholic Church in Vermont as the Year of the Family with a particular focus on Pope Francis’ 256-page apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia,” (“The Joy of Love”).

“Like last year’s Year of Creation, this Year of the Family offers us a year to ponder the Church’s teaching on the family and embrace it ourselves,” Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne said in announcing the special celebration.

Among the components of this special year will be a new diocesan Pre-Cana program, a World Marriage Day anniversary Mass, a Catholic men’s conference and diocesan women’s retreat, the annual Family Mass at St. Anne’s Shrine and other diocesan-wide and parish activities that are still developing.

“The purpose of the Year of the Family is to explore, reflect upon and implement the message of Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia,’” explained Stephanie Clary, manager of mission outreach and communication for the Diocese.

The 2017 year-long focus on “Laudato Si’” and 2018’s year-long focus on “Amoris Laetitia” aim to assist the faithful in understanding these global documents at the local level and supporting Vermont parishes with resources and ideas for furthering these Vatican messages in Vermont communities.

“While certain events during the Year on the Family will focus on specific family situations (for example, Pre-Cana prepares a man and woman to start a new family together as husband and wife, and the annual Family Mass at St. Anne’s Shrine brings together multi-generational families of many forms for a celebratory day of joy), the overall focus of the Year of the Family is the joy and love that are experienced by being attentive to the important relationships in our lives and serving as an example of that love — God’s love — for those we encounter,” she said.

“No matter into what model our families fit — or don’t fit — they can serve as examples of joy and love in the world if they strive to be domestic churches committed to God’s will.”

Pope Francis writes of how “the Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes” and “every family … can become a light in the darkness of the world.”

Emulating what Pope John Paul II did in writing “Familiaris Consortio” in 1994, Pope Francis seeks to highlight the challenges that families face today and proposes ways for the Church to proactively respond in a new way: “Nowadays, pastoral care for families has to be fundamentally missionary, going out to where people are,” commented Deacon Phil Lawson, executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life.

The husband and father of six hopes his family exhibits love and joy. “The world needs more of both of these. As Pope Francis states in ‘Amoris Laetitia:’ The strength of the family ‘lies in its capacity to love and to teach how to love’ and later on he refers to a ‘joy-filled witness.’ If my family and all our families can be agents of love and joy, we will have served our Lord’s mission well in the world,” he said. Michael Hagan, coordinator of religious education and catechesis for the Diocese, emphasized that that the Church truly is a community. “It is easy to make the faith strictly personal and forget that we are deeply connected with the other members of the Church as members of the Body of Christ,” he said.

“If we want to help and support families within our Church that are going through hard times, we will first have to take seriously the truth that we are deeply, spiritually connected to them.” He noted that Pope John Paul II many times made the point that the future of humanity is closely linked to that of the family.

“The claim, then, is that the world depends on the success of the family,” Hagan said. But how could the family hold so much significance? “The family reflects the Trinitarian community of persons, the family is the community in which God chose to become man, the family is where we first experience love, share ideas, form relationships, and the family is where we hone our skills to enter into society at large,” he continued. As persons seek to do God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven,” it is clear that the family is a gift from God to be both celebrated and protected, he said.

“The Church needs families!” enthused Josh Perry, director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington. “In so much as families hold the presence of Christ, the Church — which we know to be the Body of Christ — is strengthened by the presence of families. Throughout the document, the Church is referred to as a ‘family of families.’ The Church needs you!”

At the same time, the Church recognizes the many difficulties families face today. For some, Christ’s presence in the family can seem completely absent. “The Church tirelessly works to strengthen and support families through its accompaniment in pastoral ministry and its celebration of the sacraments,” Perry emphasized.

In keeping with the themes of joy and mercy, Pope Francis wrote, “It is my hope that, in reading this text, all will feel called to love and cherish family life.”

Ways parishes and families can celebrate the Year of the Family:
• Offer special blessings at Mass to families, anniversary couples, children, engaged couples, pregnant women and those celebrating birthdays.
• Get “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers” published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for special occasions at home.
• Gather the family and invite the parish priest to bless the home.
• Attend Mass as a family.
• Pray together as a family.
• Sponsor a parish family fun day that begins with Mass or adoration.
• Pray the rosary on a family car trip.
• Share the faith on social media.
• Begin an intergenerational faith formation program.
• Invite persons who might otherwise be  alone to share a holiday meal or a Sunday  dinner with your family.
• Reach out to an estranged family member.
• Read “Amoris Laetitia” and discuss it  as a parish family.

Topics to explore during the Year of the Family:
• Reconciliation with a family member who has been hurtful
• How the loss of a family member affects family dynamics
• How to support a family member struggling with doubt about faith • Living in a model of family you never anticipated (single parent, widow, step family)
• The role of faith in your family
• How to help a broken family heal
• Nurturing good physical, emotional and spiritual health within your family

“The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church… the Christian proclamation on the family is good news indeed.”
— “Amoris Laetitia”

Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

World Day of Prayer for Creation

(CNS photo/Mohammad Ponir Hossain, Reuters)Women carry children as they make their way through a flooded area last month in Bogra, Bangladesh.

Environmental destruction is a sign of a “morally decaying scenario” in which too many people ignore or deny that, from the beginning, “God intended humanity to cooperate in the preservation and protection of the natural environment,” said the leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Marking the Sept. 1 World Day of Prayer for Creation, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople issued a joint message.

They urged government and business leaders “to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation.”
Looking at the description of the Garden of Eden from the Book of Genesis, the pope and patriarch said, “The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy.”

But, they said, “our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets — all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation.”

“We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession,” the two leaders said. “We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.”

Ignoring God’s plan for creation has “tragic and lasting” consequences on both “the human environment and the natural environment,” they wrote. “Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.”

The pope and the patriarch said prayer is not incidental to ecology, because “an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world.”

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople established the World Day of Prayer for Creation in 1989. In 2015, shortly after publishing his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis established the day of prayer for Catholics as well.

The object of Christian prayer and action for the safeguarding of creation, the two leaders wrote, is to encourage all Christians “to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.”

Echoing remarks Pope Francis made Aug. 30 when the pontiff announced he and the patriarch were issuing a joint message, the text included a plea to world leaders.

“We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized,” they wrote. No enduring solution can be found “to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew also highlighted how “this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people,” especially the poor, in a more pronounced way.

“Our obligation to use the Earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures,” they said. “The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work toward sustainable and integral development.”

World Day of the Poor is Nov. 19

Pope Francis will celebrate the Catholic Church’s first World Day of the Poor Nov. 19 by celebrating a morning Mass with people in need and those who assist them. After Mass, he will offer lunch to 500 people in the Vatican audience hall.

As the Year of Mercy was ending in November 2016, Pope Francis told people he wanted to set one day aside each year to underline everyone’s responsibility “to care for the true riches, which are the poor.”

The result was the World Day of the Poor, which is to be marked annually on the 33rd Sunday of ordinary time on the Church’s liturgical calendar.

An admonition from St. John Chrysostom “remains ever timely,” Pope Francis said in a message for the 2017 celebration. He quoted the fifth-century theologian: “If you want to honor the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honor the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness.”

The pope chose “Love not in word, but in deed” as the theme for 2017.

The Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization is coordinating the celebration and issued a resource book — available online at pcpne.va — that includes Scripture meditations, sample prayer services and suggestions for parishes and Dioceses.

An obvious starting place, the council said, is to reach out “to places such as soup kitchens, shelters, prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, treatment centers, etc. so that the words of the pope could arrive to everyone at the same time on this day.”
Every parish and Catholic group, it said, should organize at least one practical initiative, such as “taking groceries to a needy family, offering a meal for the poor, purchasing equipment for elderly persons who are not self-sufficient, donating a vehicle to a family or making a contribution to the Caritas fund for families.”

One of the primary goals of the day, the council said, is to help Catholics answer the question, “Who are ‘the poor’ today, and where are they around me, in the area in which I live?” and then to find ways to share and create relationships with them.

The resource book also offered 18 “saints and blesseds of charity of the 20th and 21st centuries” as examples. The list is led by St. Teresa of Kolkata, but also includes Blessed Oscar Romero of San Salvador and U.S. St. Katharine Drexel and Blessed Stanley Rother.

With God, self-knowledge enables service in the world

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor 13:5).

My husband loves TV Westerns. After a long day working he winds down with series of old favorites: “Wagon Train,” “The Rifleman,” “Gunsmoke” or his favorite, “The Virginian.”

If you ask him why he enjoys this genre he will tell you it’s because there is an actual story line told with no special effects, the characters are ordinary people with obvious weaknesses and foibles but, at least the good guys, with strong personal values. He sees in them the values of hard work, determination, integrity and justice.

After watching hours of Westerns with him, I have learned there are inevitably gems of wisdom in every show that are worth writing down. Often they are uttered by the least likely person.

One of my favorites is from Festus, the scruffy deputy on “Gunsmoke,” who offered in his twangy, rural drawl, “He’s so nearsighted he can’t see past the brim of his own hat!”

Haven’t we all been there at one time or another? Nearsighted, shortsighted, our vision limited by our inability — or our refusal — to dive deeply into our own hearts and uncover who we really are. Sometimes we are unaware of our need for self-reflection. Other times, we have a sense that unless we look inside and empty all that is not of God, we will fall short of who God meant us to be.

Often, it’s the doing that’s the most challenging. Our contemporary lifestyle doesn’t leave much time for self-reflection or solitude. Even when we are able to carve out moments of time for reflection, our attempts at introspection often bear little fruit. But, how are we to continue to grow and move forward, spiritually or emotionally, if we don’t discover and acknowledge the obstacles in our path?

I have found that my efforts to know myself are more productive when I invite God into the process.

This moment of realization came when singing a beautiful hymn with the parish choir: “O God, you search me and you know me. All my thoughts lie open to your gaze. When I walk or lie down you are before me: Ever the maker and keeper of my days.”

How many times had I sung this hymn before? I thought it was lovely, but it never struck me the way it did during a time when I was struggling with understanding what was going on in my life.

The hymn is based on Psalm 139, a psalm of David who loved God entirely and for whom nothing was more important than a relationship with God. In spite of David’s transgressions, his desire was always to be connected to God.

In the psalms we hear David proclaim his accomplishments as God’s accomplishments, and his sins as the times when he forgot God’s ways, responding always with humility and repentance. In the psalms, said one writer, we can see “the beauty of [David’s] soul.”

When David invited God into the process of introspection, he was asking his creator, the one who already knew everything about him, to reveal the truths that David needed to know about himself. David acknowledges, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach.”

Self-knowledge, achieved, like David, through a reliance on God’s revelation, is a special kind of wisdom. It is a wisdom based in truth. As the Kotzker Rebbe taught, “A person often believes something about himself that is not true. Undeceive yourself. Know who you really are.”

For us, as Christians, our self-knowledge begins with opening ourselves to God, but it must result in action.

We are called to move forward in hope and joy, with trust in God’s grace and with courage in spite of the dark places in our lives, to be servants in the world.

“The most important thing that can happen to a person is to encounter Jesus,” Pope Francis has said, stressing that, in addition to the Gospel and the sacraments, “we meet Jesus in our loving service to those in need, those who live on the periphery of society.”