Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia: The Eucharist Calls Our Families to Transform the World

Michael Jordan Laskey, Life & Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden, NJ

Michael Jordan Laskey, Life & Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden, NJ

My wife Genevieve used to work at an urban retreat and social justice education center in a poor city, which is in the former convent on the property of a Catholic parish. There were a couple of homeless guys from the neighborhood who would occasionally stop by the center for something to eat. Because youth were often in the building, the center’s security policy didn’t allow the men to come in, but staff members would always prepare a “to go” bag with a sandwich or two and anything else that was in the kitchen.

There was a daily Mass in the chapel across the parking lot from the center, and Genevieve would go before work from time to time. One of the men who came for food most often – I’ll call him Frank – would sometimes be at Mass, too. He would join in the prayer and receive communion with the rest of the assembly.

Genevieve was struck by the fact that while Frank was understandably not allowed to enter the center, he was more than welcome in the church. He was part of the one human family gathered around the altar for the Eucharistic feast; he didn’t have to take this meal to go.

Mass, said the scholar Aidan Kavanagh, is doing the world the way it’s meant to be done. At the end of each liturgical celebration, we are sent forth to make the world more closely resemble the unity that we practice in the sanctuary, where all welcomed to the table and can receive what they need.

Pope Francis makes this connection between the Eucharist and our call to create a more just world in paragraphs 185 and 186 in his brand new apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”).

“The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members,” he writes. “When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily. On the other hand, families who are properly disposed and receive the Eucharist regularly, reinforce their desire for fraternity, their social consciousness and their commitment to those in need.”

Why does Pope Francis talk about the connection between the Eucharist and working for a more just world in a document about the family?

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It is the celebration of Christ’s self-giving love and sacrifice for us, his brothers and sisters. We are meant to emulate this Eucharistic, others-centered love in our family lives – directed toward our own blood relatives, surely, but also reaching outward to all of God’s children, especially those who are hurting.

Formed by this Eucharistic love, our families can become what Pope Francis calls in the document “vital cell[s] for transforming the world.” Our families are meant to be schools of mercy, where compassion and care for the poor are learned and practiced. I think of my friend Sean, who has devoted his life to Catholic social justice ministry. When he was growing up, his family would help serve a meal at a soup kitchen every single Christmas. Sean doesn’t remember this tradition seeming strange or unusual. “It was just something we did,” he says. He learned mercy in his family and it had a profound impact on the person he has become.

How might the self-giving love we celebrate in the Eucharist be calling your family to work for justice together? What a privileged opportunity we have to respond to the Holy Father’s call!

Michael Jordan Laskey is director of Life & Justice Ministries and vice chancellor for the City of Camden for the Diocese of Camden, NJ. 


Go Deeper!

Read the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia online at the Vatican’s website or order copies through USCCB Publishing.

Learn more about how our faith inspires us to respond as disciples in the world today by watching this short video on WeAreSaltandLight.org.

National Migration Week 2016: “A Stranger and You Welcomed Me”

M7-460_NMW PosterIn the Gospel of Matthew (25:35) Jesus tells his disciples, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

The call to welcome the stranger plays an important role in the lives of faithful Christians and holds central place for those of us who work in the migration field. The migrant, who moves from one country to another, is truly a stranger in our midst. Often unfamiliar with the local tongue of the new country, not to mention its customs, the migrant needs the support of local communities so that she can better adjust to her new surroundings. National Migration Week 2016 picks up on the theme of welcome and, in doing so, calls on each of us to welcome the stranger among us.

Sadly, every year seems to bring a new migration crisis to the forefront.

In 2014, the United States witnessed a significant influx of unaccompanied migrant children and families fleeing violence in their homelands. Most of these migrants came from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. The Catholic Church has taken seriously the humanitarian and policy oriented aspects of this situation and advocates in support of increased protections for migrant children and their families who are arriving in the United States.

In 2015, the Syrian refugee crisis took center stage. Since its outbreak, at least four million Syrians have fled their country as a consequence of the civil war and the rise of ISIS. Most have fled to surrounding countries, especially Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Many others have moved on to Europe with the hope of finding a place of peace and safety. Pope Francis and the Catholic bishops have called on the U.S. government and the international community to provide support to both Syrian refugees fleeing violence and to countries that have been at the forefront of this humanitarian effort. In a related statement, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops urged:

 … all Catholics in the United States and others of good will to express openness and welcome to these refugees, who are escaping desperate situations in order to survive. Regardless of their religious affiliation or national origin, these refugees are all human persons—made in the image of God, bearing inherent dignity, and deserving our respect and care and protection by law from persecution.

In both the unaccompanied migrant child and Syrian refugee crises, the Catholic Church’s call to provide protections and support for these vulnerable people has often gone unheeded and has been instead met by demands to implement further restrictions on migration to the United States.

In the case of Syrians, suggestions have been made to ban Muslim migrants from entering the United States altogether. In the case of unaccompanied children, legislative efforts were undertaken to limit their international protections.

The Catholic bishops neither support a policy of open borders nor a process of unregulated migration from one country to another. Rather, they continue to defend the duties of the international community to implement internationally agreed upon protections that are due to vulnerable migrants, and to call upon world leaders to provide a place of welcome, wherever possible, to those who are fleeing an impossible situation.

This position is rooted in the Gospel, and concretely in Matthew 25: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Todd ScribnerTodd Scribner is the Education Outreach Coordinator for Migration & Refugee Services at the USCCB. 


See additional 2016 National Migration Week resources, including a bilingual prayer card.

Feast of the Holy Family – Call to Family, Community and Participation

Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family during this blessed season, we reflect upon the importance of family and our role as members of both local and global communities. This video on the Call to Family, Community, and Participation is the third in our new CST101 video series!

More on the Call to Family, Community and Participation

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: A Catholic Response

woman's face and neck in shadowsAn abused wife with a large family realized for the first time that Catholics cared when she saw a resource card about Domestic Violence in her church’s restroom. It was the first time she had an inkling that she was not the only Catholic woman to experience domestic abuse. The card explained that the Church teaches that no one is expected to stay in an abusive relationship and gave information about how to get help and find safety.

I have heard this story, and many others like it, too many times to count. Abuse can happen to anyone, at any age. Domestic violence is a reality that faces all of our communities—even communities of faith.

Faith leaders are often called upon to be first responders in domestic violence situations. When someone knows you are a praying person, they often turn to you for help. Teaching about compassion, nonviolence, self-control, respect and equality in its seminary education, lay ministry formation, marriage preparation, youth ministry and children’s catechetical programs are essential to preventing domestic violence.

Several Catholic organizations provide excellent resources to help. The National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers offered a workshop on responding to domestic violence at their recent national convention, and the Christian Family Movement produced small group study resources to promote action. Catholics for Family Peace, a clearinghouse for Catholic resources to respond to domestic violence that grew out of a USCCB Task Force, offers training for parish staffs and parishioners, as well as guidance for preachers and faith formation leaders and restroom signs and informational brochures from a Catholic perspective for free download, on their website.

Another resource for a Catholic response is a 100-page booklet, How Can We Help to End Violence in Catholic Families: A Guide for Clergy, Religious and Laity, which was distributed to all participants at this month’s Synod on the Family in Rome.  Written by Catholic psychologist Dr. Christauria Welland, it discusses ways all Catholics can respond to and prevent domestic violence, and how to educate Catholic youth and couples for peace. The booklet is available for free download in six languages from www.paxinfamilia.org.

Catholics for Family Peace President, Dr. Sharon O’Brien, outlines some positive steps that Catholics in ministry can take to make a difference in this serious problem affecting families:

  • In collaboration with community agencies, educate all Catholics and people of good will to prevent marital abuse, intimate partner abuse, and teen dating abuse.
  • Using Catholic teachings and evidence-based research, address the safety and healing of the victim survivor and any children, as well as the healing and recovery of the abuser.
  • Ensure that pastoral leadership of Catholic parishes and organizations, as well as family and friends, know the best steps to respond effectively to situations of domestic abuse.
  • Equip pastors and staffs to recognize and assist abuse victims by directing them to appropriate support agencies and how to connect abuse victims to safe, immediate assistance.
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides crisis intervention and referrals to local service providers. Call 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TTY). E-mail assistance is available at ndvh@ndvh.org.

Abuse can happen to anyone, at any age. All Catholics need to be prepared to recognize abuse, respond appropriately, and refer to professionals equipped to help.

Together, we can promote family peace and end violence in Catholic families.

headshot of LauriDr. Lauri Przybysz, D.Min., is a Co-founder of Catholics for Family Peace. She also serves president-elect of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers and past-president Christian Family Movement-USA. She blogs about family ministry at www.familyministryresources.com.


For more information on the stance of the Catholic Bishops of the United States on domestic violence and resources to support victims of domestic violence, including their statement When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women visit the USCCB Domestic Violence webpage.

Crack the Whip – How a Child’s Playground Activity Speaks to Our Times

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Msgr. Charles Pope

Many years ago I heard an analogy for what has happened in this country and how the unhealthy patterns of the elite, the powerful, and the wealthy trickled down to the poor, but with far more disastrous effects.

The analogy was the game of “crack the whip,” which some of us who are older remember from the school playground. The “game” involved fifteen or twenty kids making a straight line. Each kid then reached back with one arm and took the hand of the one behind so that a long chain of kids now existed. The kid in the lead then took off running and everyone behind followed, holding arms. Then suddenly the lead kid would take a sharp turn. The kids immediately behind him could make the turn, but for the kids further back it got harder to hold on and make the turn. The kids at the back of the line didn’t stand a chance and went flying off the line, falling to ground with the centripetal force.

This is an analogy for the social and economic ills of the last sixty or more years. For there are some who are at the front of the line who are well positioned to take their thrill rides, engage in social experimentation and indulge greed and excess.

“Crack the Whip” is much in evidence in social/moral ills, such as indulging drugs, alcohol, sex, going in and out of marriages, and glamorizing all sorts of dangerous and deleterious behaviors, as well as in economic ills.

Those at the front of the line can afford the lifestyles that greed demands and can generally afford to pay the higher prices of an overheated economy and a lifestyle that increasingly demands and expects more and more.

“Gentrification” has accelerated, along with all the difficulties of social dislocation. Here in Washington DC the poor are moved to the margins of what many call “Ward 9.” There are only 8 Wards in DC, and so “Ward 9” is a euphemism for being moved to the margins, outside the city that increasingly loses its economic diversity. Once poor and working class neighborhoods now sport housing prices approaching $1 million.

Catholic parishes have used community organizing to save Public Housing and 30% affordable housing in the city, but every new project requires vigilance in a city that is committed in law but poor in enforcing the law.

It’s a classic case of “crack the whip.” Those at the front of the line adjust to sudden shifts in the economy and play the market, but at the back of the line the less privileged go flying off, staggering as they fall and off to the “Ward 9s” of our cities.

As a priest, I am not an economist, and I realize that economic realities are very complex. I am not calling for all sorts of government intervention, etc. But I do know what I see as a priest working among all social classes. I cannot and should not devise all sorts of policy solutions, I leave that to the experts among the laity. But what I can and should do is to remind the folks in the front of the line to remember the folks at the back. “Crack the whip” is fun and exciting at the front of the line, but devastating at the back of the line.

Somewhere we should rediscover the common good and look to our own behavior, wherever we are in the line. I am my brother’s keeper. His welfare ought to be important to me. It’s about more than money; it’s about taking care to build a culture that thinks more of those behind me, and those yet to be born. What of them? How does my life and lifestyle affect them?

 

Rev. Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian parish in Washington, DC.

CCHD: Helping Immigrant Families Participate Fully in American Life

The following excerpt is from a speech given by Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Bishop Soto

Bishop Jaime Soto, Chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on CCHD

[The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) seeks] to have immigrant families participate more fully in American life. Becoming a good citizen is not just a matter of a naturalization process. It is a matter of learning the personal responsibility – as well as the skills that go along with this – to be involved in your community. In time, faceless institutions become real people: the mayor of your town, the principal at your school, the police chief in your city and the local Congress member for your district.

More than just advocating for a just comprehensive immigration reform, CCHD has supported efforts on a variety of related issues both on local and state levels… helping immigrant communities better relate to local law enforcement, responding to local anti-immigrant ordinances, organizing community-based humanitarian responses to immigration raids with special attention for children separated from their parents.

All of these efforts are as much about the empowering of relationships, practicing subsidiarity, and enabling the virtue of solidarity as they are about the practical outcomes of promoting better laws.

One very important aspect of these efforts is enunciated very beautifully in Pope Francis’s recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel.” He spoke about time being greater than space [EG, 221-237]. . . . The Holy Father expressed a concern that all too often there is a priority of space over time, a desire to control the exercise of power for intended outcomes, refusing to let the processes of dialogue and participation produce a more authentic human development. The inclination is to believe time is running out or to fear what time could harbor. So, using the Holy Father’s language, there is the temptation to take possession of the “spaces of power” in order to hold back any process. Does this not sound like the language with which sovereignty is being used today in order to build higher walls instead of better bridges?

Time has to do with hope, living with the expectation of a brighter horizon. Hope is more than an expectant feeling. Christian hope incarnates itself in time, using time to bring about the kingdom, carefully, deliberately – quoting Pope Francis: “without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity” (EG, 223). He used an apt metaphor from the Gospel, the parable of the weeds and the wheat. The workers wanted to take control of the situation, pulling out the weeds. The owner of the filed, fearing the wheat could be lost with the weeds, counseled time, patience. His wisdom allowed the field to develop and grow so that at the proper time a good discernment could be made.

The work of solidarity takes time, patience, and process or development. The work of CCHD understands this. Our efforts to begin with the poor and the marginalized, giving them the time to create the space of hope where they can share in protecting and providing for one another, creating a cohesive narrative and using power for the common good. We put resources and power where we believe it can do the most good.

Perhaps this is where time helps solidarity create a new sense of sovereignty that is not enslaved in a sense of space. The political probabilities for a comprehensive immigration reform are still uncertain, murky.   The work of CCHD will continue to engage immigrant communities in the political discourse not because a favorable outcome is assured. It is not. Even in the face of little optimism there is the hope in things still not seen (Rom 8, 24-25).

Along with this hope is the freedom to act. We insert that hope into time, creating citizens of the New Jerusalem. This is a hope not held captive by partisan timetables, strategies for the 2016 campaign or talk-radio slogans. Rather, “soon and very soon, we are going to see the king.” Pope Francis spoke about the constant tension between fullness and limitation (EG, 222). CCHD will continue to fund that tension, desiring always that his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

 


Bishop Soto’s speech on “Sovereignty, Solidarity and Time: Reflections on CCHD’s Work With Immigrants,” was given on January 25, 2015 at the 32nd Annual Aquinas Lecture sponsored by the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, MO. The full text of the speech appeared in Origins, CNS Documentary Service, Vol. 44, No. 37, February 1, 2015.

For stories of how CCHD works to help immigrant families participate fully in American life, visit the Poverty Map and select “Target Population.”

 

 

 

This Labor Day, Focus on Work and Family

Catherine OrrOn April 7, 2015, my husband and I were blessed with our first child, a healthy baby boy named James. As a four month old, he brings so much joy into our lives that it is hard to imagine life before him.

Becoming a mother has been a life-changing experience. Other working moms told me going back to work would be difficult, but I never imagined how hard it truly would be. I had my first reality check of what it means to be a working mom when I returned to the Diocese of Green Bay after two months of maternity leave.

I sobbed as I pulled into the parking lot at work, which surprised me for two reasons: I sincerely love my job, and I knew that James was in good hands. He was at home, safe and sound, with his doting grandparents watching over him. Despite all of these reasons that should have put my mind at ease, I longed for days of snuggling on the couch, watching my son peacefully sleep in my arms. I longed for the sheer joy that could only come from that time together.

The transition back to work, however, gave me the opportunity to reflect on what it means to work, and more importantly, what it means to have dignity-filled work. As Archbishop Wenski mentions in his Labor Day address, “Dignity-filled work and the fruits of that labor nourish families, communities, and the common good.”

Regardless of whether or not a mother stays at home or works outside of home, these mothers are laboring to raise and provide for their families. These efforts are the foundation of society because it is within our homes–the domestic church–that each person learns what faith, love, and sacrifice mean. And, it is also within the home, that each individual learns about what is best for the entire family, the common good, and society as a whole.

Sadly, we know that there are many cultural, economic, and structural challenges facing families today. Imagine that…

  • I dropped out of school to find work, so I could provide for my baby;
  • I have no support from family or friends;
  • I do not work a job that supports a living wage;
  • I have a child with a degenerative illness;
  • My hours are cut and so is my health insurance;
  • I cannot afford my child’s health care and day care;
  • I lose my job.

Now, imagine how lonely and terrified I would be.

As a church, are we not called to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ because we are part of one human family? The ability to work a dignity-filled job is crucial for individuals and families to fully develop and participate in God’s creation. Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay invited every person to journey with him into the new evangelization so that each person can deepen his or her prayer life. Through prayer, each person will strengthen his or her personal relationship with Christ and become a better disciple in order to make disciples of others.

Because of our personal relationship with Christ, we must “…recommit ourselves around the world in the human family, and build systems and structures that nurture family formation and stability in our own homes and neighborhoods” (Archbishop Wenski, Labor Day Statement).

Knowing that work should allow an individual to develop and flourish as a person, it should also serve as a means for families to prosper. Therefore, as Labor Day draws near, let us pray that all families have dignified-work so that their family can prosper.

 

Catherine Orr is the Director of Living Justice in the Diocese of Green Bay and the co-chair of the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors.