Hundredfold: A guide to Parish Vocation Ministry

In the book Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry, Mrs. Rhonda Gruenwald has filled a significant need in providing a detailed account of how parishes can develop a vocation ministry. This term is only recently becoming more common in pastoral settings, and indeed many parishes do not have a defined vocation ministry.

The need for such practical guidance as Mrs. Gruenewald gives is all the more acute as our society continues its meteoric moral decline and increasingly fails to make appropriate gender distinctions, culminating in the recent scandal and in biblical parlance abomination of legalized homosexual marriages.

As the Church teaches, marriage is between a man  and a woman. The Church offers support to persons with homosexual tendencies, and rejects all forms of hateful discrimination. However, this does not  entail passivity in the face of the moral plague that homosexual marriage constitutes. The Bible is clear and consistent in its condemnation of homosexuality, and although many  biblical commentators soften this by referring to cultural conditions and mores in place at the time, the Tradition overwhelmingly supports the biblical position.

Homosexual couples are increasingly being presented in the culture as acceptable, and even the norm, and those who protest this are often viewed and treated as reactionary pariahs. What message about heterosexual love does this send to children? How are children of homosexual couples going to have a healthy image of heterosexual marriage? These are questions that have not been taken seriously enough, and unless the Church provides additional guidance at the parish level further confusion is going to result.

Mrs. Gruenewald’s book is invaluable for providing a thorough framework in which vocational formation can take place. The book is full of practical tips for almost every aspect of this ministry. At over 200 pages, the book is almost encyclopedic in its thoroughness. The compartmentalized table of contents and book layout prevents it from being overwhelming.

As I went through the book,  I thought to myself that such a work could only have been written by a woman. In general, women are far superior to men in organizing pastoral activities, and their attention and sensitivity to detail and nuance is commendable. Mrs. Gruenewald has done her homework and expressed in clear guidelines how to develop and further a parish’s vocation ministry. The book’s table of contents enables easy access to topics of interest, so that you can address your practical concerns immediately.

Hundredfold is published by Vianney Vocations and retails for $17.00. Mrs. Gruenewald’s website is vocationministry.com, and her email address is Rhonda@vocationministry.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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Alabama Sports Hall of Fame

I recently visited the Alabama Hall of Fame, which is in Birmingham Alabama. It’s abbreviation is ASHOF. it is located in the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex, in downtown Birmingham.

I have visited all the major North American sports halls of fame: Football, basketball, baseball, hockey, swimming, and tennis. ASHOF is slightly different as it features mostly memorabalia and artifacts related to the inductees. It does not have movies and video displays as the major sports halls of fame do.

However, notwithstanding this difference, I found it extremely interesting and well laid out. There are three floors to explore, and one can comfortably tour it in 2-3 hours. Because it chronicles social and cultural changes as well, it holds interest for non-sports fans as well.

Parking and access via the highways is easy, and the staff is very visitor friendly. The gift shops has some very unusual items, including large post cards costing only a quarter.

The sections on its two most famous coaches, Bear Bryant and Shug Jordan, were elaborate and interesting.

I didn’t realize that many famous athletes had ties to Alabama, and I think it would be difficult to find another state with a sports hall of fame to match this one.

Contrary to what the locals say, Alabama did NOT invent football, but you would never  know it if you went to an Alabama home football game. However, after visiting this spacious but manageable museum, you might not be so sure.

I learned about many accomplished athletes and influential and inspirational persons, including Charlie Boswell, the blind golfing champion. At many of these museums I tend to breeze through the written displays, but the ASHOF’s are tasteful and informative. The sponsors and volunteers take great pride in this museum, and rightly so.

 

 

 

 

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Swimming Steps to Success

In 2016, Human Kinetics published a detailed guide to swimming by Coach Scott Bay.

Swimming: Steps to Success is a dynamic, comprehensible manual on the mechanics and experience of swimming. It is technically proficient yet accessible. It teaches you how to swim properly, and anticipates common errors and obstacles. It provides you with guidelines on how to overcome them as well.

Swimming has so many technical nuances that a book on it could easily be boring and dry. Coach Bay’s book is neither of those, nor is it light and banal. If you are looking for a serious, readable, technically proficient guide to swimming for swimmers of all levels of ability, you have found it in this book. It is like having hours of swimming lessons with one of the most respected instructors in the country. The book contains: detailed lessons on almost every aspect of swimming. It is like having Coach Bay in the water alongside you, urging you on. The pictures and design of the book complement the instructions, making it tolerable to work through: like practicing swimming, it is work, but rewarding and highly beneficial.

You can tell from reading this book that the author has put in the hours not only studying swimming from a theoretical perspective, but in working with swimmers at all levels. The book is down-to-earth, conversational, and thought-provoking. The book is well organized; you can navigate it easily and skip what is not of interest without losing your place.. Very highly recommended. An outstanding investment no matter your level of proficiency. This makes a great gift for both young and old who are trying to enjoy and optimize the experience of swimming rather than be frustrated or overwhelmed by it.

Swimming along with walking is the best exercise going. It is appropriate for persons of all ages. Coach Bay’s book will help you enjoy it more, without making it a burden. This book is an investment in your health and well-being, and for less than you would pay for a private swimming lesson at the YMCA! This is a trustworthy manual from a coach who has worked with Olympic athletes and world record holders as well as upstarts and stiffs (those well-meaning individuals like me who make it through the water but only by divine providence). Well done, and very much worth checking out.

 

 

 

 

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On the Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture

In 2014, the Pontifical Biblical Commission issued a document entitled “The Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture.” This grew out of the 2008 Synod on the Bible and Benedict XVI’s 2010 apostolic exhortation”Verbum Domini.” It seeks to clarify the import of difficult biblical passages and to present a theologically and anthropologically prudent way of looking at the different parts of the Bible.

Currently, no complete English version of this document exists online. Most likely, the Vatican’s website, vatican.va, will eventually fill this void. For now we have this book by the Liturgical Press which contains the statement in full, without commentary.

The Liturgical Press has done us a great service by making this document available. It is a very dense document due to the subject, but it is also remarkably accessible. It is neither excessively academic or technical, though some background in biblical studies is necessary in order to assimilate its finer points. Nonetheless, any sincere layperson with a basic understanding of the historical context of the Bible and the Church’s teaching on its proper interpretation will be able to make their way through it.

However, this book/document is not an easy read. The concepts are challenging and require reflection and prudent application. If the reader views the book as an orthodox course in the Bible, and commits to a sustained reading of it, it will likely bear abundant fruits.

Two sections stood out for me in terms of pastoral application. The first was on violence in the Bible and the second is on the social status of women. What do we do with parts of the Old Testament that pray for vengeance, and rejoice in the destruction of enemies? How do we interpret St. Paul’s teaching on the role of women in the family and the Christian assembly? These are subjects of great interest to many, and thus make for intriguing reading.

This book reveals one of the outstanding attributes of the Catholic Church, which is its dynamic and prudent approach to the Biblical texts. First, it only rarely defines authoritatively the meaning of a passage. Second, and this flows in part from the first point, it allows for departure from non-infallible teaching on the subject, provided that it be done in a charitable spirit and in a non-scandalous, non-divisive manner.

For example, the section on the social status of women comes down strongly on the side of those who would emphasize the cultural conditioning of these texts. Thus women troubled by these texts can find consolation and guidance from them. Conversely, those who disagree with this perspective can do so in good conscience, because it is not an infallible text, although it was approved by Pope Francis.

The danger exists that the texts might be rendered culturally obsolete, and thus the deeper religious meaning be lost. Also, the document fails to recognize that contemporary perspectives on gender roles are not infallible. Our culture can hardly stand in harsh judgment of the biblical peoples, considering the immoral practices rampant in our society: legalized abortion, violence against BOTH men and women, and the objectification of BOTH sexes.

Here, the so-called sensus fidelium comes into play. Many women who have been married for a number of decades, and who were brought up in the pre-Vatican II Church believe in biblical teaching on women’s attitudes and behavior, and of course they interpret it with common sense, balance, and reciprocality. Submission does not mean slavery. So much more needs to be explored on this subject, but at least this document provides another authoritative attempt towards clarification.

This document builds on the last PBC document, which dealt with moral teaching in the Bible. If one chooses to read this book cover to cover, it will take time. But it will be well worth it, for it represents the perspective of expert biblical commentators seeking to offer clarity for the faithful on a subject that will always retain some ambiguity. It really is like an advanced course in the Bible that has been accommodated to the needs of the faithful. The Liturgical Press has done us a service in making it available. Here is the link to the book on their website: litpress.org:

https://www.litpress.org/Products/4903/The-Inspiration-and-Truth-of-Sacred-Scripture.  The book retails for $19.95. Not a bad price for a reliable course on the Bible adapted to today’s pastoral needs.

 

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The Catholic Voter

This article was written by a friend and fellow author in the fall of 2008. Many of its points are just as relevant today. It recalls the turbulent and historic presidential campaign, and gives us an opportunity to consider how things have evolved.

THE CATHOLIC VOTER

In a reflection published last Fall entitled Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship, the American Catholic bishops repeated their previously stated view that direct abortion is intrinsically evil, and, as such, has a special claim on the consciences of Catholics who participate in the electoral process. Catholics have generally understood that they are prohibited from voting for any candidate who favors an intrinsic evil, and the new letter reaffirms that understanding. But the Bishops were careful to say that the prohibition applies only when the intent of the voter is to support such an objectionable position. That is an important qualification. But what is of primary importance in Faithful Citizenship is its recognition that one may vote for a nominee who is pro –choice, provided, again, that the vote is not in support of that position, and if there are other grave moral reasons for casting such a vote. The opening of that opportunity has led some Catholics to organize, and promote, the candidacy of Barack Obama for President .

Catholics For Obama have effectively highlighted the various ways in which the domestic policy positions of their candidate can be reconciled with important social teachings of the Church. Obama’s concerns for working families, the poor, and health care reform are just some of the ways in which his Catholic supporters see the prospect of reconciling political campaigning with religious and moral principle. With respect to foreign affairs, Obama’s objections to the war in Iraq and his determination to bring the conflict to an end, as well as to continue to pursue terrorists, are all emphasized by these church members who have joined to support him. However, neither this organization, nor the Catholic electorate at large, have given serious attention to how well either candidate measures up against the deeper principles of the Church concerning the avoidance of war and the pursuit of peace.

For centuries, the Catholic Church has opposed the use of violence to resolve conflicts between nations as well as between individuals. Following the devastation and horror of the Second World War the determination of Church leaders to build a peaceful world intensified. In 1963 Pope John XXIII published his encyclical letter entitled Pacem et Terris ( Peace On Earth) which became broadly popular especially because of emphasis upon the resolution of international disputes through negotiation rather than the use of force. In an address to the United Nations, his successor, Paul VI, made a dramatic appeal that there be “ War Never Again”. At the Second Vatican Council the Council Fathers, while recognizing the right of legitimate defense, called upon all to devise better means of protecting the common security. In articulating the elements of a peaceful world, the Council affirmed multilateral diplomacy and encouraged the strengthening of international organizations. Later, Pope John Paul II called for greater solidarity among the various nations. It was his strong conviction that the choice of togetherness over mutual isolation would be a sure path to unity and peace.

In writing Faithful Citizenship the American Bishops took full account of this accumulated wisdom .At the very outset of the reflections they call the faithful “ to be peacemakers in a nation at war “. They condemn specific violent actions such as unjust war and the torture of prisoners. And they exhort political leaders to strive to resolve all international disputes by peaceful means. In the Bishop’s conception, the moral obligation to avoid war and work for peace is a particular application of the broader respect that is owed to the dignity of the human person as well as the right to life.

To the degree that Faithful Citizenship addresses international relations the Bishops attention is directed towards matters that go beyond basic questions of war and peace. They embrace a wide range of issues from the protection of human rights and religious liberty to concern for the poor and the proper care of the enviroment. All of these problems impact the formation of a morally oriented political conscience; yet in approaching this important presidential election we must make fundamental order and peace our main concern. Without such stability nothing of lasting value can be accomplished either by ourselves or by the international community as a whole.
In evaluating how well the two candidates understand our relationship to the larger world community we must try to examine them with as much impartiality as is possible, in spite of the political pressures to which are constantly subject as our votes are solicited. While both Senators have taken foreign policy positions that, in the light of Church teaching, may be viewed favorably, those who prefer Barack Obama may find additional justifications for their general support. In spite of some waffling, Obama has demonstrated a much greater desire to negotiate the resolutions of international disputes – with enemies as well as friends – than has his opponent. Because of both his personal experience and his ancestry John McCain is more the warrior than the diplomat. He is particularly uncomfortable dealing with the complexities of international organizations and has called for the creation of a ‘League of Democracies’ which, if established, would further weaken an already fragile United Nations system. By contrast, Obama’s multicultural origins provide a breadth and inclusiveness that would serve him well in dealing with the great ethnic and cultural differences that divide the world community.

By repudiating single-issue politics, the Catholic Bishops have enhanced the capacity of Church members to be involved in the political process to a much greater degree than had previously been possible. The obligation to resist whatever is intrinsically evil persists; however, the expanded scope of relevant issues will make the Catholic vote of much greater importance to the final outcome. May that vote be cast in a manner that not only promotes the common good of the nation but also welfare and well-being of the entire human community.

Cornelius F Murphy Jr. October, 2008

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New titles by Cardinal Martini – Highly recommended!

In 2015, Paulist Press posthumously published two titles by the eminent biblical scholar and church leader, Cardinal Carlo Martini, SJ. “Toward the Light” are Cardinal Martini’s meditations on Advent and Christmas, “Disciples of the Risen Christ” are his reflections on Lent and Easter.

Put simply, Cardinal Martini is the most prolific and prominent Catholic author on biblical spirituality since Vatican II. He held doctorates in both Scripture and Theology, was trained as a Jesuit, and was archbishop of the largest Catholic archdiocese in the world. He was also a world-renowned text critic, having served on the committee that produced the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament. During his tenure he was the only Catholic in his position.

For years he taught textual criticism and other subjects as a professor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. A number of the most prominent American biblical scholars in the post-Vatican era took courses from him. During his tenure he interacted with other leading biblical scholars and frequently refers to them in his books.

He was eventually appointed Rector of the Biblicum (PBI) and then chancellor of the Jesuit Gregorian University. In December, 1979 Pope John Paul II appointed him archbishop of Milan. He was consecrated archbishop in 1980 and then raised to the Cardinalate in 1983. Put simply, he was the most influential Catholic biblical scholar for several decades after Vatican II, and one of its most influential and beloved leaders.

These books by Paulist continue his almost unparalleled literary legacy. In my judgment, they differ slightly in that they are more homiletic in nature. Many of Martini’s other books are transcripts of retreats or presentations to youths in the Cathedral.

What stands out about these two books, along with Martini’s other works, is that he brings the highest biblical scholarship down to earth. He presented lofty concepts in accessible language without over-simplifying, or in everyday parlance, dumbing things down.

This is no easy task. Most Catholic publishers, due to intense financial pressures, have sold out to marketability. Books are published primarily due to profit potential rather than quality. Platform and author visibility are paramount nowadays, as are sales figures from previous books by the author. This is even more true for secular publishers. Hence our society’s declining literacy levels, practically speaking. Of course there are many other reasons for this, including technological ones.

Many of Cardinal Martini’s earlier books have gone out of print, and thus his books are not usually on the best seller list. But because of his reputation and visibility, and the quality of his writings, he continues to be published over three years after his death.

A slight caution is in order. These Paulist Press titles are not an easy read. As homilies, you have to give them time to percolate within you. They are intense, substantive reflections. If you are unwilling to go beyond the surface, you will miss something. You can’t blow thrown a Martini book and maximize the benefit. These books require time. But if you invest the time, you will be richly rewarded. They are not solely for academics and scholars, and thus any reasonably informed and sincere layperson can reap tremendous benefit from them. Let Cardinal Martini teach you, you can hardly go wrong.

Martini’s writings, including these books, can justly be labeled as profound. They not only make you think, but deepen your understanding, and encourage you to dialogue with God, yourself, and others. Reading his books is like entering into a conversation with the author. And one who is very learned, but down to earth, and very much grounded in the real world.

I heartily recommend both of these books as night stand staples. Take your time with them, highlight them if you wish, and ponder the way they enlighten and challenge you. The cover design of these books is also very attractive. At $15.95 and $16.95 each, they are well worth the investment.

Four popes have praised Cardinal Martini. On the eve of the first anniversary of his death, Pope Francis labeled him “a prophetic figure”, “a man of discernment and peace”, and “a father for the whole church.” Need I say more? Buy the books and read them. They will make a difference.

They are available from Paulist Press (paulistpress.com), or by calling 1-800-218-1903.

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Book Review: Reflections on Old Age: A Study in Christian Humanism

Cornelius F. Murphy, Jr. is  a former professor of international law and legal philosophy at Duquesne University. He is the author of over a half dozen books, including Beyond Feminism: Towards a Dialogue on Differences (Catholic University Press).

In his golden years, Dr. Murphy has extensively researched and taught on the spirituality, psychology, and sociology of aging.  More important, he has lived it, not only personally, but within the family, community, and culture. Thus he writes from research, reflection, and experience. His comments are therefore neither academic nor banal, but what I would term philosophically practical and existential.

In the spirit of realism that accompanies both old age and the mentality of this book, let me begin by acknowledging the limitations of the book, or more positively, its scope and focus. It is not meant to be a comprehensive treatment. It is primarily a literary, philosophical, and sociological work. It does not reflect an acute theological sensitivity, nor does it claim to. However, it competently incorporates contemporary currents of Catholic spirituality, judiciously and accessibly citing magisterial teachings.

The real strength of this book is its assimilation and synthesis of ancient and post-seventeenth century literary sources. Dr. Murphy’s previous books have focused on New England literature from that period, and thus these are featured prominently in this book.

This book is practical and down-to-earth, rather than abstract and academic. Accordingly, it is accessible to any reader seriously wishing to contemplate and wrestle with the essential issues of aging. It is a good resource for lectio divina, that is, prayerful spiritual reading, as it draws significantly from Scripture and both traditional and post-conciliar Catholic spirituality.

The book is not an easy read, but an essential one. Aging is not an issue amenable to superficiality and trivialization, and thus Dr. Murphy does the reader a service by not capitulating to contemporary desires for over-simplification and politicization. The book is readable, stimulating, interesting, affordable, and dialogical. The author brings his own experiences in prudently, without becoming autobiographical or testimonial. The book makes for an excellent companion to old age.

Perhaps the highest praise that could be accorded the book is that it fills a void. I cannot think of another recent work that provides as stimulating a literary,  sociological, spiritual, and experiential exploration of the confusing, hopeful, and often disconcerting phenomena of old age.

At $17, the book is a great value, because it is like sitting in on a course on the subject. The book never becomes tedious, boring, monotonous, or repetitive, and thus one can work through it over a period of weeks, patiently assimilating its observations, assertions, and challenges.  It is good for both neophytes and experienced readers on the subject, and thus makes for a wonderful gift and companion to its aforementioned predecessor, Beyond Feminism, .which similarly tackles a socially relevant phenomena from an informed, thoughtful, and uncommon perspective.

The book can be ordered from the publisher, Resource Publications, at the following website: http://www.wipfandstock.com. Their phone number is 541-344-1528. Orders can be placed at orders@wipfandstock.com.

 

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