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May 8, 2003 Edition

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Easter and spring: A time for new growth

photo of Msgr. Paul J. Swain
Notes from the 
Vicar General 

Msgr. Paul J. Swain 

The liturgical season of Easter together with the natural season of spring is an upbeat time.

We celebrate new life in the Church and new life in God's creation. It is a time of new growth. The grass is green again; the tulips and daffodils add color and lift spirits.

Spirits are also lifted by the new growth in the Church. How moving it is to see adults come forward at the Easter Vigil to be baptized. Despite the secular forces that minimize the quest for spiritual nourishment, they have chosen for themselves to be washed in the waters of baptism.

How encouraging it is to welcome into the Church those who have been baptized in other Christian communities and have chosen to be received into the Catholic Church by profession of faith. Through instruction in the RCIA program, supported by sponsors, they are comfortable in publicly declaring their acceptance of what the Church believes.

How satisfying it is to see those who were baptized in the Church respond to the call of the Spirit to be confirmed, and therefore commit to a more active faith expression. Their public witness should encourage us to more fully witness to our faith.

Ambassadors of Christ

This also is the time for First Communions. How delightful it is to see so many young people, dressed up and excited, receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time. Their parents and families are excited as well, and proud as they observe this significant moment.

These children would not receive their First Communion unless it is the desire of their parent or parents. The gift of the Holy Eucharist has been passed on from generation to generation for over 2,000 years.

It is a beautiful and lasting gift parents offer their son or daughter.

This passing on of what they have received is a beautiful way in which parents show their children how much they care for them.

Having protected, encouraged, and comforted their children when young, parents pass on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist to their children in anticipation of when they will face the inevitable wounds of life as they grow and experience. Christ through the Holy Eucharist will be ever present to encourage and comfort them in the years to come.

Share what we receive

Through baptism and confirmation we are commissioned to pass on what we have received.

In the Nicene Creed professed at Sunday Masses, we declare: We believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the whole Church is apostolic, in that she remains, through the successors of Peter and the other apostles, in communion of faith and life with her origin, and in that she is sent out into the whole world. All members of the Church share in this mission, though in various ways.

We do so by witnessing and sharing our faith wherever we are and whatever we do. We must do so with sensitivity and understanding, yet also with conviction and without compromise. We proclaim Christ crucified and risen because it is true, and we wish that truth to touch the lives of others as it has our own.

Many of those who entered the Church this Easter did so because of the invitation and witness of believers willing to stand by them. May we be good ambassadors of Christ, sharing the Good News we have received.

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Peace movement: Consciences must be informed

photo of George Weigel
The Catholic 

George Weigel 

Shortly after the war in Iraq had begun in earnest, Pope John Paul II, addressing a group of Italian military chaplains, referred to the "vast contemporary movement in favor of peace."

A week later, the Holy See's Permanent Observer at the U.N., Archbishop Celestino Migliore, suggested that "the extraordinary mobilization of men and women that we see almost everywhere, in these very days, indicates that the cause of peace is making great progress in the conscience of humanity."

Here, Migliore was perhaps borrowing a theme from the Vatican's "foreign minister," Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, who had recently spoken to an Italian Catholic magazine of a "great anxiety about peace" that he felt on the streets of Rome.

Historical perspective

The Pope, as usual, took a long-range historical perspective and argued that the rejection of war as a normal or ordinary means of settling international conflicts pre-dated the U.N. Charter. That is certainly true.

After the industrial-strength slaughters of World War I, no national leader (in a democracy, at any rate) could brag, with Napoleon, that he could easily afford to lose 30,000 men a month. Unfortunately, however, not everyone learned the same lessons from 1914-18.

Indeed, the democracies' determination not to return to the bloodletting of World War I was a major factor in the world's failure to check Hitler and German National Socialism, when that could have been done without risking a second global conflagration.

Thus another lesson was, or should have been, learned: the determination not to use military force can, under certain circumstances, make the use of armed force more likely and more lethal in the near-term future.

Rule of law

Pope Pius XII developed the Church's thought on armed force, law, and world politics in the post-World War II period.

Against the claim that state sovereignty implied the absolute right to decide for war without reference to moral categories, the pope insisted that "wars of aggression" were immoral - because they could lead to disproportionate violence, and because they impeded the creation of a well-functioning international legal and political system.

"Peace," in the Catholic vocabulary, meant the rule of law in international public life. Later popes, including John XXIII and John Paul II, have fleshed out this idea, teaching that the "peace" of order - the peace of a law-governed international community - must be informed by justice, freedom, and truth.

Evolving theology

So, yes, there has certainly been a shift in many, many consciences in recent decades. That change in hearts has made a difference theologically, and this evolving theology has clearly strengthened the role of the "last resort" criterion in the just war tradition.

But it is not at all clear what this welcome determination to pursue peace - the rule of law in international affairs - has to do with many of the demonstrations of recent months.

In London this past February, a group of Iraqi exiles asked Jesse Jackson, master of ceremonies at the largest political demonstration in British history, to be allowed to speak to the crowd about Saddam Hussein's brutalization of Iraq.

Jackson told them, no, that wasn't appropriate, because this was about Bush and Blair, not Saddam Hussein. Which means, I submit, that Jesse Jackson wasn't presiding over a peace demonstration, or an anti-war demonstration, but an anti-Anglo-American-policy demonstration.

Other agendas

Indeed, throughout Europe, what is described as a "peace movement" has been more of a free-for-all in which de facto support for maintaining Saddam Hussein in power has been married to a host of other agendas: anti-globalization, anti-"racism," anti-global-warming, anti-homophobia, anti-Israel, anti-McDonald's, anti-whatever.

In Italy, those rainbow-striped "Pace" flags (ubiquitous in Roman windows in March) marked the re-emergence of the hard left after years in the political wilderness.

Real peace

What, however, did any of this have to do with "peace" as the Catholic Church understands the term?

That "Pace" and similar movements in Europe and America could not bring themselves to bring pressure to bear on the Saddam Hussein regime - that these movements could only imagine "peace" as "no coalition military action" - meant, in reality, that these movements ended up undercutting the effort to disarm Iraq through diplomatic and political means.

So, yes, things have changed. Yes, consciences have been aroused to work for peace. Now those consciences must become informed.

George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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Experience: Stewardship's best teacher

photo of Jay Conzemius

Jay Conzemius 

My two-year-old is just learning how to talk. Typically, when I say something to him, he repeats back to me what I say. He has a very limited vocabulary.

One word Gennarino has learned is "danger." Recently, when we were leaving grandma and grandpa's house, he tried to open a heavy door but only partially succeeded and the door pinched his fingers a little when it slammed shut. (No permanent damage this time).

To let me know what happened, Gennarino let out a blood-curdling scream and I knew immediately what happened. To help him feel better, I kissed his sore finger.

Give to God

When the crying subsided, I told him he needed to be "careful" because opening that heavy door was "danger." He winced when I said the word "danger" because we have had other accidents where I have similarly explained what "danger" meant.

I use these accidents as times to explain "danger" because it's a way he can at least gain a new word from his bad experience. In my opinion, lived experience is the best teacher.

I know from my life experience that living my life with the knowledge and conviction that 1) all of my life is a gift and 2) I need to give generously back to God to help build His kingdom.

When I do this, it makes my life happy and helps give my life purpose. However, understanding how stewardship truly works never fully makes sense until it is lived.

Meaning to life

I recently met with a woman who showed me how her life experience with stewardship worked. She was going through a divorce and death of a parent and was feeling very battered down from life. Interestingly she said, "I don't know what I would do if I wasn't tithing."

I was a little taken back to hear she felt comfort from her tithing, but it makes sense. When I think about it, her tithing was and is done as a "faith commitment," not just a percentage of her income. It's how she expresses her faith and how she gives her life meaning.

This woman helped teach me stewardship from her lived experience.

Jay Conzemius is director of stewardship and development for the Diocese of Madison. For further information on wills and charitable gift annuities, contact him at 608-821-3040.

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