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A Reflection on the Spirituality of Communion - De-Coding/De-Mystifying the Concept

Pastoral Plan objectives approved

Number of local priests to remain stable as population sees growth

‘Listening sessions' offer faithful chance to tell Archdiocese about needs, hopes

Proceso de Planificación Pastoral pide a los fieles acerca de sus necesidades, y aspiraciones a través de "sesiones de escucha"

Pastoral Planning Process asks faithful about their needs, aspirations through ‘listening sessions'

A Reflection on the Spirituality of Communion - De-Coding/De-Mystifying the Concept

By Deacon Ed Kleinguetl - From St. Martha’s May 25th bulletin

Spirituality of Communion (a working definition): “Recognizing the Divine Presence within ourselves and within others, drawing us to love, uniting us as the Body of Christ.”

By learning to recognize the Divine Presence within ourselves, we learn to recognize the Divine Presence within others and recognize our unity within the Body of Christ. As Christ tells us, He is the vine and we are the branches (Jn. 15:5). We are all connected to one another, drawing life from our common Savior Jesus Christ; we are all united as the Body of Christ. As Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) would explain, the entire ocean would be impoverished if a single drop was missing. Thus, we seek the well-being of all members of the Body so that the value of the whole is not diminished (see 1Cor. 12:24-26). Using the analogy of St. John of Kronstadt (1829-1908), if each person was united with the sun, even though each would only be a single ray, the combination of the rays lights the entire earth. So it is with the Body of Christ united with God, the spiritual sun, bringing light to the whole universe.

The foundation for Spirituality of Communion is a personal relationship with Jesus, encountering the Divine and recognizing His Presence within ourselves (cf. Lk. 17:21). We are made in His Image (Gn. 1:26), the Image Absolute. The closer we grow in relationship with Christ, the greater our ability to exhibit the likeness or divine attributes of God: love, mercy, and compassion. This likeness is gained by following the example of Jesus (see Jn. 14:6), who modeled for us extreme humility and self-surrender to Our Heavenly Father. Jesus tells us that the first of all must be the last and servant of all (see Mt. 20:27); blessed are the poor in spirit (Mt. 5:3); and whoever wishes to be a disciple must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow (Mt. 16:24). As St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) writes, “We unite ourselves to God, in so far as this is possible, by participating in the godlike virtues and by entering into communion with Him through prayer and praise. Because the virtues are similitudes of God, to participate in them puts us in a fit state to receive the Divine." This journey of regaining the likeness of God is one of lifelong transformation, which Early Greek Fathers called Theosis (or the divinization of the human person). Ultimately, this is how we fulfill our destiny which is, as St. Peter writes, “to become sharers in the Divine Nature” (2 Pt. 1:4).

The journey of transformation begins by coming to know Jesus in a personal way, which is through prayer and more specifically, contemplative prayer. Prayer becomes the foundation of our lives. The Jesus Prayer is the oldest contemplative prayer tradition in the Church, tracing back to the Desert Fathers and Mothers in Egypt and Palestine during the third to seventh centuries. The Jesus Prayer is also known at the “Prayer of the Heart,” because it was intended to become part of who we are in daily living; that the prayer would ultimately spring forth within us as naturally as our own breathing. Prayer is the foundation of the simple philosophy of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta: Pray and Trust. By coming to know the Living Jesus, we learn to trust Him to guide us no matter where He leads us. Ultimately, the fiery furnace of life is designed to purify our hearts to be more like Jesus, self-surrendering our wills to those of our Father; to live a life of humility. Humility itself is the foundation of all the other virtues and, as such, this is the foundation for the lifelong journey of Theosis.

Jesus is also clear: To love God means to love our neighbor. Jesus tells us the most important commandment is to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and the second commandment is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (see Mt. 22:36-41). Lest anyone try to narrow the definition of neighbor, Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Lk. 10:25-37) to show that our neighbor extended beyond our community and ethnicity to include the stranger and outcast. He redefines the definition of neighbor as not one of legal obligation (i.e., who deserves my love?), but one of self-giving (I freely choose to show myself as neighbor to others in need). Jesus also tells us that we will be recognized as His disciples by the love we have for one another (Jn. 13:35). St. John the Evangelist also reminds us that anyone who says he loves God but hates a brother is a liar, because God is unseen but our brother is seen (see 1 Jn. 4:20).

We are called to love our neighbor for no other reason except for the fact that he or she exists; he or she too is made in the Divine Image, just like we are. Well-known Trappist monk Thomas Merton (1915-1968) describes this when he writes of his own experience of realizing his solidarity with others: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream.” In a word, we are united with one another in Christ. There is no other existence which will bring us into relationship with God, except branches connected by the common vine. “So, we though many, are one Body in Christ and individually members of one another” (Rom 12:5).

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis tells us: “Loving others is a spiritual force drawing us to union with God.” Thus, our destiny to become sharers in the Divine Nature is bound together with love for neighbor (Spirituality of Communion). It is important to note that this includes the poorest and most vulnerable of society, the definition of neighbor having no boundaries or exclusion. In fact Pope Francis says, we must say ‘no’ to an Economy of Exclusion, where others are written off or lose their sense of dignity. All have dignity because all have the Divine Presence within; all are made in the image of God, Jesus being the Image Absolute and we being copies.

Our US Catholic Bishops remind us that a basic moral test of our society is how the most vulnerable members are faring. In a world where divisions between rich and poor grow ever greater, we are reminded of the Final Judgment (Mt. 25: 31-46) where Jesus Himself tells us that we will be judged on what we have done on behalf of our least brothers and sisters. There is absolute clarity that we are bound together; love is the bond.

The more we recognize the Divine Presence in ourselves based on our own personal relationship with Jesus, the greater our ability to recognize the Divine Presence in others. As St. John Chrysostom (347-407) writes: “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.” This is the reason St. Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833) would greet everyone he met by bowing before them and making the sign of the cross as if reverencing anicon, saying, “Christ is risen! O my joy!” It is an acknowledgment of the Divine Image imprinted in each human person.

Just as an icon is an image of the Divine, so is each person. Dorothy Day of New York (1897-1980) reminds us, “Ours is happiness, ours is joy, for Christ comes to us each day, not only at Christmas, but each time we look into the face of our brother who is poor.”

Finally, seeking our destiny of becoming sharers in the Divine Nature in solidarity with the Body of Christ is that which fills the deepest yearning of our hearts. Nothing else can satisfy. Only love of God which overflows to love of neighbor can fill the void, which God created within each of us as a sacred place for himself, a void large enough that only He can fill it. God created us for one purpose and one purpose alone; to share His overwhelming love. Until we surrender ourselves and allow Him to fill our hearts completely, we will never experience true human fulfillment – there will always be something missing. There also seems to be a correlation, too; the farther we are away from God, the deeper the longing within. Thus, in essence, we can only find completeness and a sense of purpose within a Spirituality of Communion.

Pastoral Plan objectives approved

By Sally Jozwiak

HOUSTON — In February, members of the Integration Task Group, the chair of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (APC), and the chair of the Implementation Oversight Group (IOG) presented nine objectives to Daniel Cardinal DiNardo for approval. These objectives were developed through a bottom up process that started with hearing from the faithful about their hopes and aspirations through surveys and regional meetings. In addition, the objectives were also reviewed by the Presbyteral Council, the Finance Council and the APC. With Cardinal DiNardo's approval and blessing, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan is now entering its final phase of implementation, the development of parish action plans to achieve one or more of the objectives.

The objectives support the vision of the Archdiocese living a "spirituality of communion" and the pathways that lead to that vision. The objectives offer a framework for parishes to do those things they have said they wanted to do. Each objective relates to one or more pathways and there can be more than one objective to help achieve a pathway.

How the parishes respond to the "spirituality of communion" and the signs of the times requires faith-based creativity of its clergy and lay people. These objectives are designed to initiate a conversation among parish leaders and parishioners about how to evaluate and enrich their current ministries and activities. They are not a directive to create many new programs or a signal that something is missing or wrong in parish plans. "The hope is that the wider Catholic community becomes more informed and excited about the direction of their parish, participates more fully in parish life and supports the mission of the Archdiocese," John Castillo, Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan task group member, said.

Parishes throughout the Archdiocese have now received notification of the approval of the objectives as well as packets that include a workbook and handouts to assist in the creation of their parish action plans. The APC is offering Action Planning Workshops for pastors and parishioners chosen by the pastor, who will be developing the action plans.

These workshops will take place during late April and early May. Additional support and facilitators are also available to parishes as they develop their plans.

Pastors or parish leaders can register to attend a Parish Action Plan Workshop at 713-652-4446 or pastoralplan@archgh.org.

"With the Grace of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit and with some excellent pastoral matters that are already going on in this Archdiocese, my hope is that we will grow in our intensity of respect and love for one another — we'll grow in holiness for the Lord — and that will almost naturally spill over into a credible witness to the world around us," Cardinal Dinardo said.


Number of local priests to remain stable as population sees growth

By Jenny Faber / Texas Catholic Herald

HOUSTON — According to some estimates, the Catholic population in the Archdiocese will grow by half a million by 2020.

At the same time, data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a national nonprofit agency that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church, suggest the number of priests available for active service in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston will remain stable for the next 30 years.

That means unlike many other dioceses in the U.S., the Archdiocese is not anticipating a decline in its number of active priests in the near future. But the explosive population growth of the region means the ratio of people in the pews to parish priests will increase by 32 percent within the next decade. How will the Archdiocese and its clergy meet the faith needs of an escalating Catholic population in the coming years?

The Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Process aims to offer information that could guide the answer to that question. The process – a year-long initiative to develop a vision of how the Archdiocese will grow with the next generation – has surfaced demographic data detailing the expanding size and increased diversity of the local Catholic population, which currently numbers 1.2 million.

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo confirmed that it is an Archdiocesan priority to have a pastor at every parish in the 10 counties of the local Church, and that the developing Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan will support this priority.

This past year's trends in Archdiocesan growth seem to confirm the projected population surge. This Easter, the Archdiocese welcomed 2,490 new Catholics into the Church – the second largest RCIA class in the nation – and another 1,300 adult Catholics were confirmed into the Church this spring. This August, the Archdiocese welcomed its largest class of seminarians since Vatican II.

Recognizing additional clergy are needed to meet the faith needs of local parishes, Cardinal DiNardo encourages all faithful to pray for vocations to the Archdiocese, particularly as the universal Church prepares to mark Priesthood Sunday, Oct. 30.

For more ideas on praying for vocations, visit www.houstonvocations.com. To read the prayer for the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Process, visit www.archgh.org/pastoralplan. †

‘Listening sessions' offer faithful chance to tell Archdiocese about needs, hopes

By TCH Staff

HOUSTON — The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is beginning a year-long Pastoral Planning Process starting this month. Daniel Cardinal DiNardo is inviting all Catholics to participate in listening sessions to hear what the faithful appreciate, hope for and need from the Catholic Church in the coming years. To help prepare for the upcoming listening sessions, the Texas Catholic Herald has compiled a list of frequently asked questions about the Pastoral Planning Process:

Q: Why is the Archdiocese doing this?
A: The Archdiocese has an opportune moment to consider how to meet the escalating needs and hopes of its people and parishes. To do this, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo wants to hear directly from local Catholics about their faith and needs.

Q: How will this process work?
A: The process will begin with a series of "listening sessions" across the Archdiocese. Several sessions will be held in various parishes throughout the 10 counties of the Archdiocese. Participants can choose any session that matches their schedule and travel needs. Participants only need to attend one session. During the Listening Sessions, participants will address:
• What they appreciate;
• What they need;
• What they hope for from their parish and from the local Church.

A trained facilitator will moderate each Listening Session. All sessions will be conducted in English and Spanish. In addition, the Archdiocese will distribute a survey to solicit feedback from those who cannot attend a Listening Session.

Q: When and where will the Listening Sessions be held?
A: Sessions will be held from March to May at parishes throughout the Archdiocese.

Q. Who participates in the conversation?
A: Their will be 14 general listening sessions for Catholics who are actively involved in their parish. There will also be special listening sessions for priests, deacons, religious, inactive Catholics or those who do not attend Mass regularly, non-Catholics, young people and Eastern Rite Catholics.

Q: What happens after these Listening Sessions?
A: Participants' responses will be prioritized and a core team of Archdiocesan leaders will discern and propose potential directions to the cardinal.

Q: Who do I contact for more information?
A: E-mail listening-sessions@archgh.org or call 713.652.4446. †

Proceso de Planificación Pastoral pide a los fieles acerca de sus necesidades, y aspiraciones a través de "sesiones de escucha"

By Melanie Spencer

HOUSTON — En los próximos meses, a los católicos de esta zona se les invitará a participar en sesiones de escucha diseñadas para responder a la pregunta: "¿Cuál es el futuro de la Arquidiócesis de Galveston-Houston?"

El Cardenal Daniel DiNardo ha puesto en marcha estas sesiones para evaluar la fe y las necesidades de los católicos de la zona. Las respuestas de estas sesiones guiarán el desarrollo de un nuevo plan pastoral de la Arquidiócesis.

"La planificación pastoral es un proceso de oración, de escuchar y pensar juntos sobre nuestras acciones como un grupo ahora y para el futuro en esta Arquidiócesis", dijo James Barrette, Director de Ministerios Pastorales y para la Educación de la Arquidiócesis. "... Se trata de la planificación pastoral, porque somos un pueblo de fe. La planificación en un contexto pastoral es religiosa. Permite al Espíritu Santo obrar a través de y con nosotros. "

Más que nada, el Proceso de Planificación Pastoral será una conversación. El grupo de Supervisión Pastoral, que facilitar&aa