Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Justice and Peace vs. Ministry and Social Concern

What follows is a letter from Ray Stroik that appeared in today's Stevens Point Journal:

Council of Churches to gather
CNN's "God's Warriors," reported by Christiane Amanpour, is an historic achievement. Two-hour studies each of Jewish, Muslim and Christian warriors question the existence of civilization.
As coincidence (providence) and fate (faith) has it, as this writer viewed "God's Warriors," he found himself reading a book on the aftermath of the religious wars of 1618-1648 (Christians killing one another), Ian Hunter's "Rival Enlightenments." Its 399 pages repetitious - nuance build nuance - my reading became prayerful.

"Rival Enlightenments" deals with the birth of secularism, the separation of church and state, the state necessarily obliging persons of religious faith to tolerate one another's beliefs. The dominant enlightenment is metaphysical, faith in pure reason resulting in the privatization of religious faith, contemplating God's perfections. The other enlightenment is civil, citizens practicing civility, pursuing the arduous tasks of peacemaking.

Paradoxically, all war is civil, obliterating the possibility of civilization itself, it being much easier to make war than to make peace. If CNN were to do another study, this time of "God's Peacemakers," would they find any good news?

One place to look might be the Country Springs Hotel in Stevens Point on Friday and Saturday, the 12th and 13th of October. There and then the Wisconsin Council of Churches (www.wichurches.org) is sponsoring a conference entitled "Saving Christianity From Empire," the title of a book by its featured speaker, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. Does Christianity support an American Empire? If so, might Christians, as citizens, challenge it?

As a "roamin' catholic," I am very grateful for the witness of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI. While Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have, in principle, continued their legacy of being among God's peacemakers, in practice, they are historic failures. For, during their papacies, infrastructures for doing the ministries of social justice and global peace have been dismantled. Thus in the Diocese of La Crosse, Bishops Raymond Burke and Jerome Listecki have been unable and unwilling to continue the remarkable legacy of Bishops Frederick Freking and John Paul.

Who will be among God's peacemakers at the Country Springs Hotel, the 12th and 13th of October?

Ray Stroik
Stevens Point


Given that Ray's writing style is more than a little "around the bush," I have put the relevant paragraph in bold type. Ray has a long history with the Diocese of La Crosse as a founding member of its former Justice and Peace Commission. Following its "decommissioning," he has unsuccessfully advocated for years to have it"recomissioned." Instead, two years ago, the Diocese went so far as to combine the Office of Justice and Peace with the Office for Ministries, with the new office called the Office for Ministries and Social Concerns.

Nothing could be so frustrating for someone like Ray than combining things he wants to see distinctly separate. For Ray, it seems, social justice issues can be separated from Christian charity. This is a hallmark, after all, of modern social justice, especially liberation theology. Not so, says Pope Benedict's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, which takes the work of his predecessors -- mentioned by Ray -- and ups the ante. And not so says the Diocese of La Crosse, which, at least partially in response to this encyclical, combined the offices and tied social justice to action inspired by faith.

I believe the abandonment of the justice and peace model and the combination of ministry and social outreach is among the best things La Crosse has going for it. The place where this is clearest is in our diocesan Faith Alive project, headed by Chris Ruff, director of the combined office. In this program, people gather to pray, and challenge and support each other in community outreach. Here's what Ruff had to say in a recent column in the Catholic Times, which serves also as a good response to Ray:

Faith Alive to launch diocese-wide in October
By Christopher Ruff
Lead, Kindly Light

In 19 years working in the Church, I’ve not seen anything as exciting and encouraging as what I see happening in the Diocese of La Crosse right now. I’m talking about the response to the Faith Alive faith-sharing program, which started with a successful pilot program last Lent and will be launched diocese-wide in October.
What is Faith Alive? It is a parish-based program with four main components:
Small groups (6-12 people, typically) gather in each other’s homes or at the parish once a month to go over four or five pages of material in a resource booklet and to pray together.
The reading for each session includes a passage from Scripture (usually the Gospels), a brief reflection, a real-life story that illustrates the theme of that Gospel in an inspiring way, a quote or two from the Catechism, and a set of discussion questions that connect the theme with our everyday lives. A typical meeting lasts about 90 minutes.
Anybody who has been part of a Bible study or similar small group will recognize this kind of format with its components of prayer, reflection and fellowship. But what makes Faith Alive striking and unique is the service component. As part of the program, each member of a group makes a commitment to some modest service. It has to be manageable; something the person can realistically make time for in the busyness of life.
A classic example could be making a visit to a nursing home once a month or to someone from the parish who is homebound. But it could be almost anything under the sun that involves giving of oneself.
The beauty of it is that the members of the small group take the joy and deepening of faith that they experience together and carry it to others as true disciples of Christ. The service can be done individually or as a group.
When we launched Faith Alive last Lent as a six-week pilot program, we thought we might have four or five parishes involved, with 50-60 people participating. But when word got out, the response grew to more than 30 parishes and we kept reprinting resource booklets (titled “Deepening Our Life in Christ”) until over 1,000 were distributed.
When it was over, we surveyed the participants to see how they liked it. They found it very enriching and, remarkably, a full 95 percent wrote that they wanted to continue in Faith Alive when it was launched diocese-wide this fall.
We were inspired by the many testimonials we received – unsolicited – about what Faith Alive meant to people’s lives. Here are a few of them:
“The faith-sharing groups at St. Joachim's have been such a blessing. Many have grown in the Lord and the conversations have opened many doors.”
“I have been facilitating a group of seven parishioners, and speaking for myself it has been wonderful. We are planning to provide a meal at a local meal location. This will be a new experience for nearly all members of the group, and we plan on having our children assist in the experience.”
“I am getting lots of good feedback on the faith-sharing material. A few of us made a visit to the Place of Grace (Catholic Worker House) ... and found it to be a very worthwhile project and I am sure that we will repeat the service in the future. Just getting us out of our comfort zone – (being one of the older crowd) has been very interesting.”
“I just want you to know that we have had the best sessions we've ever had. This week I had the flu and I still couldn't stay home. I went and sat off by myself in the corner so that I could be part of the session.”
Bishop Listecki has promoted Faith Alive enthusiastically, speaking about it to the priests at Priest Unity Days, writing letters endorsing it to pastors and to the group facilitators from the Lenten pilot program, and devoting his August 9 Catholic Times column to it.
He has even spoken about Faith Alive to his brother bishops of the state of Wisconsin, who responded with interest and a request for more information. In fact, interest has been expressed from as far away as the Archdiocese of Denver, where I will be conducting several workshops on the concept in mid-September.
Faith Alive got its start through a discussion I had with Bishop Listecki a little over a year ago when the Office of Justice and Peace was merged with the Office of Ministries. I had been wondering how the work of charitable outreach so central to an Office of Justice and Peace could become part of the life of all the faithful, and not be limited to parish social concerns committees.
Reflecting on 13 years’ experience writing resources and organizing faith-sharing groups at a Twin Cities parish before coming to the Diocese of La Crosse, it occurred to me that such prayerful, faith-filled groups would provide the ideal foundation for acts of loving service. Bishop Listecki was immediately receptive to the concept and shared his vision in the September 2006 Chancery Bulletin, where he wrote:
“The goal is to foster praying, catechized, loving communities that put their faith in action in an intentional and consistent way. This coincides with an aspiration that saw a large degree of fulfillment in the early Church, as witnessed by the words of the surrounding pagans: ‘See how they love one another.’”
I composed the first booklet, “Deepening Our Life in Christ,” as an adaptation of a resource I had written for another Twin Cities parish, and I will have completed the second resource by the first week of September so it will be ready for the October launch. A diocesan Faith Alive committee, consisting of several other curia directors and the executive director of our diocesan Catholic Charities, has been instrumental in developing ideas and reviewing the texts, as well as moving the program forward with all of its promotional and practical demands.
Our committee has in fact “prayed through” the material as our own faith-sharing exercise and taken seriously the commitment to service, so that we are sure to do ourselves what we are proposing to others. Not surprisingly, it has drawn us closer as a group.
Watch for more information on Faith Alive in the next few weeks through bulletin and pulpit announcements and on Relevant Radio. Consider speaking to your pastor about becoming involved and inviting others to join you. You may also contact the Office of Ministries and Social Concerns at 608-791-2667 or cruff@dioceseoflacrosse.com. Together let us grow in faith, prayer, fellowship and service. May the ancient cry be echoed throughout the diocese: “See how they love one another!”

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