Cardinal O’Malley discusses Sen. Kennedy’s funeral

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley (CNS/Bob Roller)

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley (CNS/Bob Roller)

“I wish to address our Catholic faithful who have voiced both support and disappointment at my having presided” at the Aug. 29 funeral Mass for Sen. Edward Kennedy at a Boston basilica, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston writes in an entry posted last night on his blog.

He acknowledges that wake and Catholic funeral for Kennedy were “controversial because he did not publicly support Catholic teaching and advocacy on behalf of the unborn.”

“Given the profound effect of Catholic social teaching on so many of the programs and policies espoused by Senator Kennedy and the millions who benefited from them, there is a tragic sense of lost opportunity in his lack of support for the unborn,” he says. “To me and many Catholics it was a great disappointment because, had he placed the issue of life at the centerpiece of the social Gospel where it belongs, he could have multiplied the immensely valuable work he accomplished.”

However, he says: “As archbishop of Boston I considered it appropriate to represent the church at this liturgy out of respect for the senator, his family, those who attended the Mass and all those who were praying for the senator and his family at this difficult time.”

“We are a people of faith,” he continues, “and we believe in a loving and forgiving God from who we seek mercy.”

UPDATE: Read our story on what guides decisions on a Catholic funeral.

Marquette sophomores embark on the road of social change

A group of 44 sophomores at Marquette University are setting out a new path, one that incorporates a broader consideration of social justice into a life of learning.

The students have taken up residence in the Dorothy Day Social Justice Living/Learning Community on two floors of the David A. Straz Jr. Tower residence hall. Two years in the making, the living/learning community will focus on justice issues in their course work, volunteer opportunities during the school year,  Scripture study and prayer, explained Jim McMahon, the university’s assistant vice president and dean of residence life.

The planning group settled on naming the community for Day because of her commitment to justice and serving poor and homeless people for nearly five decades. Marquette also is the archival home of Day’s letters, diaries and notes from her experiences at the Catholic Worker house in New York.

Under the program, the students will share course work in philosophy and theology. In addition, they will spend two to three hours a week at service projects covering issues such as the environment, education, poverty, literacy and fair trade.

Living near each other also presents an advantage, allowing students to explore justice issues in small groups or one-on-one conversations at just about any time of day or night, McMahon said. Resident advisers will be able to faciliate discussions as needs warrant.

 “Students who are involved in living and learning together do better academically and are more engaged. Critical thinking skills tend to be greater,” McMahon said about the university’s hopes for the program.

Year for Priests: How do priests set priorities for ministry?

By Father Kenneth J. Doyle
One in a series

Thirty years ago, in the parish in which I am now stationed, there were three priests assigned. In those days, the parish served about 1,000 Catholic households. Today there are twice as many families, and I am assigned here alone.

One result has been a necessary reordering of a priest’s activities and priorities, a challenging and sometimes painful exercise which I would entitle “The Trials of Triage.” I have had to decide, in prayer, which of my duties were simply helpful and productive and which were essential. I suspect that nearly every parish priest across America has been forced into the same kind of difficult choices.

Some examples will clarify. Ten years ago, I used to go around each month to some 30 parishioners who were homebound through age or infirmity. I would converse with them for 10 or 15 minutes, update them on parish activities, listen to their concerns and then give them holy Communion. It was one of the most satisfying parts of my ministry and, I believe, one of the most appreciated.

Similarly, every few days I would visit our local Catholic hospital, look at the patient list and visit with the four or five of our parishioners who would be there in any given week.

When a parishioner died, I would meet with the family for 30-45 minutes, offering my sympathy, learning more about the deceased person, helping the family to select Scripture readings, hymns and participants for the funeral Mass.

Over the last eight to 10 years, because of other daily demands, I have had to forgo doing each of these three activities on a regular basis. I still, of course, visit the homes of the sick for emergencies, stop in hospitals when asked to by patients or their relatives and meet with bereaved families in particular circumstances. But for the most part, those activities are now carried out by a wonderful and pastorally sensitive nun we have been fortunate to add to our parish staff. She has also enlisted a host of lay volunteers to visit homes and hospitals. They identify for me cases of special concern, and I follow up. Once every six months, I visit each of our homebound parishioners and offer them, in addition to holy Communion, the opportunity for confession and the sacrament of the sick.

This sharing of responsibilities is, I believe, a modern necessity in order to leave the priest free to focus on his core responsibilities: celebrating the sacraments, preparing homilies, daily reading and prayer, and answering the ever-present requests to respond to parishioners’ family crises and personal problems.

There are three other duties, though, which I believe it is important for the priest to retain, and so I do.

One is to celebrate a brief prayer service at a wake. I know that this is sometimes done by a bereavement committee of parishioners but I think that a family looks particularly for a priest in such circumstances, and it gives me the opportunity to speak with the family in order to make the funeral homily more personal.

Next is baptismal preparation, especially for couples with their first child. I spend 30 to 40 minutes with each such couple a week or two before the baptism, finding out a bit about their own religious journeys and highlighting their role in sharing faith with a child. Even though I know that many parishes do this preparation in groups, and often under lay leadership, I believe that this contact keeps me in close touch with the young families who are so essential to the church’s future.

Based on the same rationale, I meet twice with each of the 30 or so couples I marry each year, in preparation for their ceremony and their marriage. (They also attend one of our diocesan programs of marriage preparation.) Both the baptismal prep and the pre-nuptial appointments normally take place in the evenings in order to accommodate work schedules; this guarantees for the priest some rather long days, but I view both opportunities as key to our parish’s life.

I fully understand that such priority-setting is personal and subjective, and I would be interested to hear how other priests make such choices and how parishioners view them. My only point is that circumstances have forced such discernment upon us and that it needs to be guided by prayer.

Father Doyle, a priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., has served as pastor of a large suburban parish for the last 17 years; he is also chancellor of the diocese for public information. Ordained in 1966, he has also been a high school religion teacher, editor of a diocesan newspaper, bureau chief in Rome for Catholic News Service, lawyer/lobbyist for the New York State Catholic Conference and director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Click here for more in this series.

Most-viewed in August — sin and confession?

This CNS graphic illustrated the most-viewed story of August. (CNS/Emily Thompson)

This CNS graphic illustrated the most-viewed story of August. (CNS/Emily Thompson)

Sin and confession (see below) were two big topics in August, at least according to our monthly list of most-viewed stories. Vatican denials of rumored changes in the church — Nos. 5 and 8 below — were also big (it was, after all, ferragosto, when not much else happens in Rome).

Skim this list to see if there were any other stories you missed seeing last month. September will be busier, we promise.

1. Sin in America: Researchers attempt to find who’s good and who’s not (Aug. 14)

2. Low confession numbers prompt creative outreach by dioceses, churches (Aug. 5)

3. Nobody’s perfect: Remembering Ted Kennedy (Aug. 26 — not a story but a sample from our columns package for Catholic newspapers, this one written by the former president of The Catholic University of America.)

4. From rugs to riches: Vatican storage, repair department has it all (July 31)

5. Top Vatican official dismisses talk of rollback on Vatican II (Aug. 28)

6. Pope confirms visit to Shroud of Turin; new evidence on shroud emerges (July 27)

7. Media watchdog: Pope takes wary approach to communications explosion (Aug. 21)

8. Vatican official downplays report of planned liturgical reforms (Aug. 25)

9. Working paper outlines information being sought from religious orders (Aug. 4)

10. What message should Catholics send Congress on health care reform? (Aug. 4)

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