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To:      Colleagues and Friends

From:  Gene  Hemrick

Subject: Unleashing the Catholic Imagination

Date:   April 5th, 2005

At a time when there seems to be more of the negative than the positive not only in our church, but also in the world, it is our wish and mission to look at the brighter side of our church and to reflect Christ the Light of the World.  The question in bold italics was posted on our website www.jknirp.com. We hope that the responses to it fire up your “Catholic Imagination” as you read them. Please feel free to add to the responses. Just go to the discussion section on www.jknirp.com. Also, feel free to duplicate and distribute this.

The Catholic Church thrives on the imagination and creativity of its members. What two issues do you think are most in need of “The Catholic Imagination” -- and what imaginative changes would you envision?

1. When we study the liturgy, it is filled with rich imagination. Perhaps this is the first place to fire up the Catholic imagination. When I speak of the liturgy, I am thinking of the movements one experiences when going to and participating in Mass. For example, the doors of the church.. As we enter them, they remind us that we are closing out the distractions of the world and are now entering God’s world. We bless ourselves with holy water, reminding us of the blessings we seek in God’s temple — His church. We genuflect. The knee in Hebrew means strength. In genuflecting, we break the knee, symbolizing our strength comes from God not us. We stand at Mass, a symbol of the Hebrews who stood girded to go on a journey. Our journey is with God. When we kneel, we put ourselves into a humble position – we are below God, not on equal ground. This further reminds us that if it weren’t for God’s love for us, we would not exist.

Our liturgical worship is filled with rich symbols that grab our imagination with excitement and meaning.

Right after Vatican II, it was a custom in some parishes to explain all the symbols contained in the Mass. Priests would vest in front of the congregation and explain each vestment as they did. They would point to the lighting of the candles and explain their significance. The meaning of the altar was explained. Just about everything that had liturgical meaning was addressed.

By resurrecting and explaining the symbols contained in the liturgy, we cause awareness and enkindle awe. These are two of the qualities needed for imagination. Instead of looking for something novel to enkindle the Catholic imagination, why not first look at what we have in front of us. It may well be the very thing that moves minds and hearts and raises them to a new level of imagining.

2. In your letter on the Web site, you ask about two issues requiring the imagination of church leaders. One that comes to mind: How can the rate of Mass participation among young adults be increased without resorting to legalisms or threats for their lack of more frequent Mass participation? The recent CARA statistics on Mass attendance among younger Catholic adults were alarming, I would say, in the suggestion that as each older generation dies off, the younger generation that succeeds it participates in Mass much less frequently.

3. Martin Marty in his recent book: When Faith Collides writes: "Faiths will continue to collide, but those individuals and groups that risk hospitality and promote engagement with the stranger, the different, the other, will contribute to a world in which measured hopes can survive and those who hope can guide."

At the moment, there are damaging collisions within the church. We have the far right and left collision; continuous collisions between the genders, various cultures, the clergy and laity, clergy and their bishops, to name just a few. All these collisions are calling for a new spirit of hospitality. This spirit will only be created if we put a human face on it. We need to come face to face; to hear each others' stories; to freely air differences. Most of all, someone needs to "risk" taking the first step in creating hospitality -- someone like a Cardinal Bernardin --- who tried to open the doors to those who have been marginalized, or considered outcasts. Hospitality and kindness go together. Kindness is nothing more than being well disposed to others, even though we are not so disposed. It is simply another word for love.

As for Catholic Imagination, how about some imaginative ways of reaching out to the disenchanted and inviting them into our homes? How about overlooking past attempts at this that didn't work, and trying again, and again? How about praying for ways in which we can be more "civil" to each other? How about living the wisdom of Goethe who once said: "kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound", or Mother Teresa who said: "Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person", or Romano Guardini, "Kindness lets life begin anew", or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness."


4. Individual devotions maintain the contact with God, acquired from mass, throughout the week. Thus first, our priests need to teach us about the many devotions, so we can find the "one" that we can individually attach to and thus keep that contact with God the week.



Imagine the wholeness (holiness) of the Catholic Church as it brings women into full partnership. While the Church is most often called Holy Mother Church, an adequate image of women has not been realized. Disconnected from its source – actual everyday mothers — this image exists in the theoretical -- abstracted from the living presence of women. This detachment allows us to say Holy Mother Church on the one hand and yet to deny women’s place as full partners fulfilling our sacramental and ecclesial life on the other. Our women stand in the shadows —and the feminine face of God is felt, but hidden from view.

Symbolically, the masculine image is represented as the head. Cognitive processes such as thought, order and form, the written word belong to the masculine principle. As influenced by this image the Church’s theology, Cannon Law, dogma, and even Scripture are characterized by masculine principles. It is the masculine principle that gives sacramental life its very form, and it is the masculine principle that takes a strong stand in the world protecting those who cannot protect themselves.

On the other hand, the feminine image is symbolically represented as the heart—it beats at the very center of the Catholic Church—giving life to all its activities. The feminine principle is at the core of our origins as a community, and is present each time we gather. Our rich sacramental life with its feminine acts of ritual and ceremony honors the mystery that is intrinsic to Catholicism. Likewise the Church’s ongoing commitment to feeding, nurturing and peace-making flows from the heart to the head giving purpose to our presence and action in the world.

The Church’s female image is particularly present in our receptive nature as a people open to revelation and open each moment of every day to conceiving Christ anew into our midst—and through the Eucharist, receiving him into our very body as Mary did so long ago. Woman is the source of the image of chalice--the vessel waiting to be filled--a space that invites God to be with us.

While the qualities of male and female are symbolically present in the Catholic Church, they are not actually present in equal measure. The human soul is both male and female. Men cannot fully imagine what it is to be female and likewise, women cannot fully imagine what it is like to be male. Male and female He created them. And God said that was "very good."

Re-imagining women would re-vitalize the Church’s sacramental life. The sacraments are a living connection where we experience the presence of God in our midst. It is through the sacraments that we are reminded we aren’t here alone, but are guided and directed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Sacraments, unlike our theology and dogma, directly and immediately feed and nurture our spirit. They bond us together as family sustaining us—strengthening our community. We need the direct engagement of women’s imagination to reach the fullness of our sacramental life and all our Liturgies.


A new image of woman evokes a new image of relationship as well. This new image moves us past the old dichotomy of male and female as opposing forces on a hierarchical construct—an image that places man in a higher position standing between woman and God. The new image is one of mutuality—of man and woman sharing God-given power.

The world is out of balance—the people of the earth are crying—the earth itself is groaning from the unrelenting pressure of materialism and greed. Imagining women and men as mutual and full partners invigorates the Church’s identity as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic—it brings creativity to our commitment to nursing and feeding the world’s needy. Our male nature is one of action. It finds its true strength when it combines with our female nature reaching out in love and care—demanding that our political structures operate with justice.

To find our true spiritual power as humans we must find that lost sense of mutuality—equality—true partnership. To midwife this sense of truly belonging to one community—thus birthing the kingdom of God into the world—we must find this relationship balance in ourselves—and bring it into the Church in a real way. To symbolize is to make the abstract concrete. To concretize the image of Catholic the Church must re-imagine what it means to be man and woman—re-imagine our partnership.

Our re-imagining of woman and partnership finally invites us into a re-imagining of God, as well. As women are fully integrated into the Church at all levels of ecclesial life we would honestly discover what it means to be fully human in the world, finding true spiritual union with self and with other. Our feminine nature has been present in the Church since its beginning—its incarnation. It has existed with us through the ages, but in a concealed way. Yet, we are created in God's image—male and female. It is time to imagine inviting women out of the shadows—time to imagine God’s feminine face. Let us begin as Church in this new millennium to realize our potential in the joy of working together as men and women—no longer with inequality, but as the People of God--in true communion around one table.

6. There are a number of attitudes that members of the church must adopt, and some that they must avoid.

First, the prevailing spirit in the church must be other than what Johann Baptist Metz describes as an ‘aggressive backwardness’. Such an attitude, which implies a belief in the supremacy of the past over the present, would convey the impression that members of the church believe their best days to be behind them. ‘Backwardness’ would also suggest a failure to appreciate the church’s eschatological orientation. Whatever its motivation, any approach that divorces the church from the present is unlikely to have widespread appeal in a society that longs for the triumph of hope and a sense of possibility: if the Church becomes the refuge of those who look for security and peace in some world of yesterday, then it should not be astonished when young people turn their back on it and look for the future to uplifting ideologies and redemptive utopias which promise to fill the vacuum which the church’s pusillanimity has left there.

Secondly, it is unlikely that the communion of faith would be able to express its identity as a communion dedicated to discipleship of Jesus Christ if it pursues an uncritical adoption of the prevailing social moves. The alternative, to draw again on Metz, is a spirit of ‘creative noncontemporaneity’, which prizes eschatological hope above the comfort that derives from merging seamlessly with the values of any particular moment of history. The communion of faith, therefore, can model authentic human existence, which strives towards transcendence, only if it avoids ‘a merciless confinement within the facticity of the existing order of things’. This means that Christians, while affirming the world as the venue for an encounter with God, will also challenge those aspects of their culture that might obscure either the presence of God or humanity’s orientation to God. Authentic ecclesial faith, then, requires that members of the church maintain the tension between the danger of fossilization and the embrace of values and ways of living that might suggest a denial of human transcendence.

The need to maintain that tension suggests that the primary concern of members of the church can never be simply ‘to modernize’ or ‘to up-date’ the church. The challenge, therefore, is less about discerning how to develop a church suited to the ‘modern Catholic,’ a phrase that could imply that we are ‘summing up and going beyond our less advantaged ancestors’, than it is about seeking how to be authentically Catholic in the here and now. In short, the urgent task is the articulation of what is conducive to genuine faith and discipleship in the present, rather than the pursuit of a church that can merge comfortably with what might be currently in vogue, ephemeral though it may be.

Thirdly, members of the church must grapple with the fact that ecclesial faith will demand openness to the God who is always greater, the willingness to pursue authenticity, and to prize communion with others, as well as loving service of them. Those demands mean that we understand the church, and our place in it, only when we recognize it as something other than an association whose primary purpose is to provide for the needs of its members. The church then, is not to be a religious consumer of society, where somebody else is always responsible for meeting my needs. It is a participatory communion that depends on the contribution of all. In a society where there is often an obsession with ‘marketing’ and consumer products, an emphasis on the challenge of ecclesial faith can be one expression of ‘creative non-contemporaneity’.

Fourthly, healthy ecclesial faith requires openness to the questions that confront faith, both from within the church and beyond it. Such questions promote the need for theology. In the toxic climate of division in the contemporary Catholic church, there can be a suspicion that theology promotes doubt, confusion, and truculent opposition to authority. While it would be disingenuous to claim that it is impossible to co-opt theology for a subversive purpose, theology’s primary purpose is not ideological. Theology manifests the capacity of human beings to wrestle with the mystery of God. In fact, the willingness to address questions — to do theology — expresses the conviction that the members of the church are able to ‘endure education, complexity . . . and the irony that brings an end to innocence but the beginning of wisdom’.

There is, then, a need for teachers and pastors within the church ‘to provide an adequate passage towards greater complexity’. Thus, for example, preachers need to encourage engagement between faith and contemporary questions. Conversely, preachers ought not to assume that any member of the church is above, or below, the need for nuance, insight, and deeper understanding of faith. Nor ought they to assume that ‘ordinary people’ do not ask questions: Preachers fail to realize that in their own way, many [‘ordinary people’] are making decisions about theological issues in an unsophisticated and commonsense manner — some staying with the church but with reservations, many others abandoning ship. Often, sad to say, this withdrawal is the result of a naive grasp of the faith — sheer ignorance of what the more sophisticated theological stance of the tradition actually has been and is.


7. How our parishes would thrive if we, Bishops, priests and laity, were formed in the words of Jesus as we are called to be formed.

Imagine if we, Bishops, priests and laity, were formed in the Spirituality of Communion as as the Pope requested.

Imagine if John Paul II's wish for all parishes to become schools of love was taken seriously by Bishops, priests and laity..

Imagine if we, Bishops, priests and laity, began to take seriously Jesus's new Commandment, "As I have love you, so also must you love one another".

Imagine how it will be if the Kingdom of God becomes more and visible in our lives and parishes to the point that when others see us, Bishops, priests and laity, they will say, "See those Christians, how they love one another" [with Christ's love].

Imagine if we, Bishops, priests and laity come to believe that we are called to sanctity, to become saints.

Imagine if we, Bishops, priests and laity, resolved to strive for personal and collective holiness, remembering always, that if our lives don't show God, our words and actions never will.

Imagine if we, Bishops, priests and laity, come to say with St. Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me".

Thank God for the Eucharist and the liturgy.


8. At the core of life, especially the life of the church, are relationships. Too often I hear of priests who are in outposts and have as much as four hours to visit a neighboring priest. I hear of lay ministers who seldom if ever meet with a priest, mentor or superior. Everyone is so busy that they don’t, or can’t, find time to come together. Some priests have as many as four or five funerals in a week on top of two or three daily masses and a ton of other responsibilities. This causes them to become like ships passing in the night with those around them.

Although Christ often went off alone to pray, he was never alone, but always in personal contact with his Father.

We need to find creative ways of staying in "close" contact with each other if this church is to remain healthy. Today, we find our self more often than not in the "too busy" syndrome. We are running from one task to another at such a speed that we don’t take time out to look into the eyes of those around us or to hear what they are truly saying. We are so used to sound bites that we employ them ourselves, and we only listen for them. If someone is a little too long winded they are tuned out.

In the early 1960's, the church was alive and people were taking courses in group dynamics and reading the works of Buber and his thoughts on I-thou relationships. We took down the altar railings to make our liturgy more personalized. We came together for "summit meetings." We studied the workings of dialogue. We were deeply interested in and worked at relationships with each other. This spirit needs to be recaptured. Seminars, forums, writings need to be crafted that look at modern technology and how it can help us be more relational; what is causing us to be ships passing in the night; the "too busy syndrome"; the essence of true leisure; and how to strengthen and maintain I-thou relationships.

There is much truth in the saying, "In unity there is strength." The first thing unity would dictate is to take account of our social skills. Are we connecting with others? Do we fear being too connected because it might mean more work, more of our time being eaten up? Do we really know those with whom we work, live? When last have we really experienced a sense of teamwork, an esprit d’corp, community, true collaboration, the personal?

If we can unify ourselves better by strengthening our relationships, I believe we could see a much more imaginative church. It is surprising how awesome people think when they feel free and comfortable with other they know at a deep level.


9. Taken from: The Mission of the Contemporary Parish

Author: Bishop Howard Hubbard --- Origins, Jan. 2005

I would say that the issue of responding to the alienated, the fallen away and the unchurched continues to be the No. 1 challenge confronting our church and parish,” Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., said in a Jan. 6 speech to the annual Diocesan Leadership Symposium sponsored by the National Pastoral Life Center in New York.. “The critical question, however, is how do we respond effectively and constructively?”

Hubbard’s speech reflected upon “the mission of the parish at the outset of the new millennium.”

“The search for meaning --- what does it mean to be human --- is the religious question of the day, and young people in particular are asking it.”

We can help people connect or reconnect with the parish and the church only insofar as we have befriended and loved them . . . The challenge of evangelization is that it it’s not so much a lack of programs or resources that is at the heart of the problem but a lack of relationships.”

Hubbard stressed the centrality of Jesus for the parish’s mission., but said, “At times, unfortunately, it seems that the person of Jesus gets lost in translation. Parishioners today must learn how to enter the mystery of Jesus, seeing how his life, his words, his temptations, his choices, his facing death and his overcoming death related to the demands of the day, to the needs of God’s people and to the fears of our contemporary world and society.”

Hubbard presented four characteristics of successful parishes:

-- Good liturgy and preaching

-- An ability to help people deal practically with their life concerns

-- A feeling of ownership on the part of the people

-- An alive quality to the parish

“It is not enough to have one or two of the characteristics for a quality parish, but all four must be present and interrelated with one another.”

Hubbard discussed parish councils, collaboration among parishes, the ecumenical dimension of the contemporary parish, polarization and the need for a new civility, the parish’s commitment to social justice and other matters.

Excerpts from Hubbard’s talk:

                      To most people it matters little that Jesus walked on water some 2,000 years ago and that Peter walked with him. What matters to them, however, is to know that when they are sinking, this Jesus in whom they have put their faith and trust will lift them up. What matters to them is whether they can muster courage to step out of the boat and into the storm. What matters to them is whether they can invite others to take bold new steps into unfamiliar territory, with confidence in this Jesus.”

                      Father Gerald Vann, the renowned writer and preacher, once shocked his audience when he said, “I don’t believe in the dogmas, doctrines and teachings of the Catholic Church.” Then pausing, he added, “Rather, I believe through them in the living reality beyond, in the person of Jesus Christ.” These words tells us, I believe, that what we need among our parishioners in this third millennium of the Christian era. For it is possible to be a disciple, to give a loving response to Christ’s invitation to come follow him, only if we have truly met Jesus and responded to his presence in a personal way.”

                      The members of the pastoral council must appreciate that they not only have responsibility to see that the parking lot is paved and the annual bazaar conducted, but that they share responsibility for making the mission and ministry of Jesus tangible and real at this particular moment in history and in this particular space. So, too, must the music, youth, Eucharist and bereavement ministers, those preparing couples for marriage, those exercising the ministry of hospitality, or those working in the parish soup kitchen, food pantry, or thrift shop, or those engaged in outreach to the elderly, AIDs sufferers, gays and lesbian or the unchurched.”

                      What I would add, then, to my 1998 observation about the challenge of evangelization is that it’s not so much a lack of programs or resources that is at the heart of the problem, but a lack of relationships, both in terms of our people being willing to engage others in their search for meaning and of being confident that such an engagement is not so much a matter of having answers to questions they may have or providing programs for their formation and edification, but evangelization is a matter of being willing to listen, to understand and to walk with them in their spiritual quest.”

                      Even those parishes which remain vital and viable will be able to survive only if they are willing to collaborate with neighboring parish communities in joint articulation of mission, in sharing personnel and resources and in programming together, for example, in marriage preparation, youth ministry, the operation of food pantries, social service programs, etc.”

                      Especially we must demonstrate that we can keep our deepest convictions and still maintain our civil courtesy; that we can test others’ arguments but not question their motives and that we can form communities where conflicts are not avoided but resolved peacefully.”

                      Evangelical daring is not power, it is vulnerability; it is not pure calculation, but simplicity of heart and trust in the wisdom and power of God. Evangelical daring is not a clenched fist, but open arms.”


10. The Church, i.e., the People of God and the hierarchy, need to better bridge the gap between hope and the realities they confront. A vibrant church depends on vibrant people who are forward looking, have something to look forward to and are filled with hope. Hope always starts with facing daily realities and trying to figure out how to best respond to them.

To generate hope, the church needs new, poignant questions that dig into the realities it faces. For example, how do we create new models of church that better integrate the role of women, lay administrators, deacons, international priests and multiculturalism? Where is found the new models of teamwork, collaboration, and crossing parish and denominational boundaries to discover new ideas? Where is the new corps of model builders? Where is the research that is needed to create discovery and experimentation? What are we doing to capitalize on the new age of instantaneous communication? Are we still using the linear approach for communication, i.e., writing, or are we moving into the imaging approach in which images, pictures and icons that are "worth a thousand words" are being employed? Who is preparing the new generation of our church to create new modes of communications that capitalize on effectiveness, efficiency and making a greater impact on the minds of people?

What new models of spirituality are needed to meet the demands of today — demands filled with hectic pressures, anxiety, and complexity? Where is the Gospel being translated to speak to such mundane things as gridlock, misuse of natural resources, ethics in the marketplace, the impact of technology on the human spirit, and the new fears generated by terrorism? How is it being translated to help guide newly weds, families and young adults? How does the impact of the Sunday liturgy on parishioners compare to the liturgies of shopping on Sundays and sporting events? Do we compete better against these secular liturgies, or do we integrate them into ours, as we did with certain pagan practices? Where are the sociologists, anthropologists and philosophers to help us imagine ways of answering these questions?

These forward looking questions are not meant to overlook many of the internal and distasteful problems the church is presently facing. Sex abuse, bankruptcies, and other scandals and difficulties are realities that must be addressed in creative ways. At the moment, the church seems to be in a navel gazing mode, and understandable so. It isn't as exciting to solve problems of sexual abuse as it is to generate new and creative ways of better utilizing new technologies. It is true that we need to face difficult realities, but we need even more so to generate excitement that comes from looking outwardly and that is positive in nature.


11. The most creative things the Church could do would be to live up to the beliefs and values clearly annunciated in the Church's social teaching. The Church should begin on the inside-on itself-by doing justice for those who work inside the Church and thus by example spread it's teaching. The Church should pay just wages and benefits, promote freedom of conscience to priests, religious and lay persons, cease it's silencing, cronyism and patriarchalism ways. The Church itself must live the love and justice it preaches for and to others or it will ever become more empty-in every way. For the Church internally to do the most ordinary acts of charity, justice and humility in the everyday, work-a-day world for those who work in and for the Church would be revolutionary and transformative for the world.


12. As for what needs require Catholic imagination, the first for me is to realize that the church is no longer one organism, but like a body, made up of many organisms.

The church officially pays lip service to the idea of catholicity and the idea of inculturation. However, there is very little catholicity in the Roman Catholic institution, because of an inherent Roman/Euro/Afrocentric point of view. Acculturation is only allowed in a superficial way.

In regard to the policies and disciplines of the church, one size does not fit all.

I stayed in Rome once for several months and I saw that the bureaucrats of the Vatican are very well informed about matters in Africa and Europe, but not the rest of the world which I believe they call “il peripheria.”

We need new ecclesiology. Even that of Vatican II is hopelessly dated. The result is scerotic paralysis. Further, when considering the “body” symbol in regard to the church, the head is Christ, not Rome. Thus the head is everywhere, not in a certain place. This is I believe the gospel preached by St. Paul.


13. From Cardinal Dulles’ Paper

My hope would be for Catholic agencies, especially colleges and universities, to demonstrate once again that religious faith can give inspiration and direction to the arts and sciences. Although we have much to learn from secular institutions, we should not simply envy or mimic them. We need to strike out on our own and produce samples of Catholic philosophy, jurisprudence, poetry, theater, literature, music, and visual arts. Because of the inroads of secularism, these religiously inspired cultural achievements are almost totally lacking in today’s world, but there is no reason why they cannot be revived.

A Reply to the Cardinal

Taking this to the next level; to begin a Catholic revival in the arts it would be useful to identifying how secularism made its inroads and the nature of those inroads. Second, after knowing about the inroads of secularism specific steps can be designed to undo the inroads of secularism and revive Catholic arts. Therefore, what are the inroads of secularism and how did they occur? What specific actions should be taken to reverse the current secular trend and begin a revival in Catholic arts?


14.  Only have time for one discussion item now.  The Holy Spirit needs to be set free. Unfortunately every Pentecost Sunday I hear the same homily, that the feast of Pentecost commemorates the birth of the Church. First, that is not true and second the Body Of Christ is still being told that it is just at the stage of being born. Please see Catechism paragraph 766 concerning the birth of the Church. Please see Catechism Paragraphs 696 and 1287 concerning Pentecost. Pentecost is connected to the sacrament of Confirmation and a going forth not just birth. Please see Catechism beginning with Paragraph 1302 concerning Confirmation. The Church was Confirmed on Pentecost and it went forth proclaiming "the mighty works of God". Is birth safer than sending forth? What are the risks involved with sending forth (living the sacrament of Confirmation)? Who is willing to take the risks? How can the risks be minimized? Will the contemporary Church be more full of life if it understands Pentecost in this way? The earliest Church came to life after Pentecost.


15. Taken from See, I am doing something new!" Prophetic Ministry for a Church in Transition.

A talk giving by Rev. Bryan Massingale  Annual Spring Assembly of Priests Archdiocese of Milwaukee

Brueggemann maintains that among the ways that the prophets pierced the veil of the community’s numbing despair and energized it with new hope was by offering symbols and images that nourished an alternative vision. In that spirit, I want to offer an image that speaks to me of hopeful endings and new beginnings: the image of hospice. I want to suggest that prophetic ministry today requires a "hospice" mind set and approach to priestly ministry. I believe that priests today are called to be hospice ministers for the Church.

Hospices prepare people to face endings that are unthinkable yet inevitable . . . and thus also prepare people for new beginnings that are unwanted yet full of life. Hospices do not deny diminishment, death or loss. But they facilitate the choice to live while dying, and focus on preparing for the new by letting go of the old. So when one enters into a hospice, you become committed to the task of living fully while dying. Such a decision is an act of faith in the resurrection, which believes that one’s end is but the gateway to a more glorious beginning.

At the least, a hospice approach to priesthood means that we must help facilitate honest conversations of sadness, hurt, anger and even rage, for these are some of the inevitable and essential reactions to any transition or loss. A hospice consciousness requires that we recognize that not everyone in the Church will be on the same page in dealing with the stress of transition. All of the stages of dying and grieving — denial, anger, bargaining, depression (and the spiral back and forth among these states) – are to be expected both in ourselves and our people. A hospice understanding of prophetic priesthood requires the virtues of patience and compassion; an ability to provide boundaries and guidance for grieving communities; and a sense of laughter and humor in the face of the unknown (i.e., what St. Thomas Aquinas might call gnome, that is, the ability to reason well in the unfamiliar situation). Hospice priestly minister demands a new appreciation for the traditional virtue of epikeia )which loosely means, "Don’t let laws and rules get in the way of life.") Ministering to a Church in hospice also requires deep prayer, that is, a contemplative stance of surrender to what we do not fully understand and yet intuitively sense is worthy of trust. . . .

"Hospice" as a mindset or consciousness frees us from the pressure of frantically trying to preserve the status quo at all costs. For hospice accepts the reality of death. And yet a hospice stance is full of hope. The denial of death is the denial of hope. Those who cannot accept the mortality of a particular understanding of Church also cannot embrace the promise of a new beginning.


16. I think issue #1 would be for a healthy renewal of the Priesthood. Priests who were open, compassionate, and joyful in their vocation, as well as professional. Priests should ideally return to the Cassock & Biretta - but avoiding the stern rigidity originally associated with same. Neither garb has been abrogated for Priests, A suit & tie does not cut it, we are not Protestant Ministers , but Catholic Priests belonging to an ancient Tradition. People need to SEE that God still has easily identifiable servants in the world; the same goes for Religious. "Nuns" in pant suits, permed hair & jewelry is hardly conducive to the Consecrated life. Not that yards of black burlap should be worn, not even a Chadoor-although you notice people hold those Muslim women in respect- But a modest dress & veil (Orders can choose distinctive colors) for Nuns & basic habit for men is more professional than the current fashion. In all honesty, most youth were attracted to the Consecrated Life firstly by the Religious habit. As many Religious now live & dress like everyone else, why bother? (Isn't that why Blessed Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity have great numbers of vocations?).

Issue #2. For the Church to focus more on teaching/practicing "Mary" issues- devotion to Christ in the Eucharist, Our Lady & the Saints, and less on 'Martha' issues-Social/political etc. Not ignoring same, but in proper perspective. Remember that Our Lord made it clear that 'Mary' issues were a better choice than "Martha" issues.

Why are Religious Orders established to teach either no longer teaching, or not teaching the full Catholic Faith & Tradition? Why do Young Catholics not know what Benediction or the Rosary is? Why are Nursing Orders no longer nursing? "Martha" stuff often becomes a trap of distraction; many Religious have been distracted out of the Consecrated Life altogether.

We need a more Joyful devotional Church (not pre-Vat II Jansenism) This can only come about swiftly from the Clergy & Religious setting the example.

I'm sure these ideas won't be popular, a bit too 'reforming' at this present fad of political correctness & frenetic activity of 'Social Justice' by the Hierarchy et al. But I am NOT calling for a return to 1950's attitudes or back to Latin etc. Just giving an opinion.


17. Taken from a talk by a USCCB Official

Identify the types of reading/media resources that meet the needs of Hispanics.

Produce materials that are usable and affordable for Hispanics.

Learn better how to reach the Hispanic market.

Identify people who can produce creative materials that take into consideration Hispanic cultures and traditions, and who know the differences in language and customs in Latin American.

Identify Spanish translators who know the idioms of various Latin American cultures.

Identify publishers and production centers that are already successful in the Hispanic market.

18. I think one issue that we the church are going to have to face seriously before too long is the whole idea of ordaining married men along with celibate men to the priesthood. The celibate priesthood has been and is good for the church in many ways, but to demand that it be the only way is getting to be somewhat counter-productive to the good of souls and the good of the church it seeks to promote. Then, too, some serious reflection on the Cross as "the power of God and the Wisdom of God" and its place in the life of the Church is always in order.


19. Issue # 1 The Holy Spirit has not been providing us with single, celibate, male priests for over forty years.

Response: Heed the message of the Spirit and discuss/dialogue immediately and nationally where the Spirit could be leading to provide us with priests

Issue # 2 Discussions re the shortage of priests are done in whispers with shaking of heads as if the situation is too hopeless and secretive to talk about.

Response: There should be a national symposium of Catholic clergy and laity to discuss married deacons, married ex-priests, maybe US missionaries staying in US to serve here but everyone should be openly dialoguing about this


20. Taken from Book: Voices of the New Springtime

The Church can clearly define the high principles upon which the free market rests. The Church should emphasize the bedrock need for a growing economy to provide the jobs and opportunities for individuals to take proper care of their families and achieve satisfaction from gainful employment.

The Church could certainly improve upon her portrayal of business as a calling. The art of producing goods and services is sometimes portrayed as a vulgar activity. But business persons are called to be God's co-creators in the economic realm. The Church should recognize this role and affirm it.

The Church must also speak out on topics relevant to business an business people. Why not have a periodic global summit of Church and business leaders to focus on particular topics? By including highly visible business leaders, several good things would happen:

First, the event would garner a lot of attention (take note of other such gatherings that have included people like George Soros and Bill Gates: the media loves these types of events!)

Secondly, these business leaders would be professing their Catholicism, which is a good message to send to the world.

Third, there would be communiques from Church and business leaders together, which would have more of an impact than either group doing it on their own.

The bottom line is this: business people desperately need the Church's help in putting their faith to work in their lives.

21. Taken from Voices of the New Springtime

The future of the Church depends upon recapturing the element of the feminine, particularly as exemplified by Mary, who is also the paradigm of philosophers. But we must always keep in mind that the feminine and masculine are never known independently of one another. It also depends upon our notions of masculinity if we are to restore the sense of the feminine, and if we are to take the Church forward into the new millennium.


22. I was thinking about your request...and of course I see the church through very different eyes than you and the rest of the born and raised Catholics. There are a few issues I think could make things better with the church the first is having the church become more ecumenical. Though they are getting better at this with joint services at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, I think they could do a better job with it. Joint choirs and ministers from other churches speaking formally at Sunday Mass or in special sessions "getting to know your neighbor" would be really helpful. And of course this needs to start at the grass roots with the kids in CCD as well as with RCIA. We need more of "what makes us similar" rather than "what makes us different. "The second concern I have is the same people are always involved in  groups or aspects of church projects or even the mass. Is is so hard to ask someone to bring up the gifts as they are walking into the church, is it so hard to ask someone to light the advent candle as they walk into church...signing up to do things like this is just so rigid and makes one feel well if I have to sign up there must be come "requirements" that come along with doing the task (ie I have to belong, I have to be a member, I have to tithe) I think that makes people feel left out. Not everyone is the type of person who will speak up and say I want to help with this project but if someone approached them they might be so happy someone asked they would not only gladly do it but they would help organize it and maybe even take the project over.

Finally in had with the previous comment is there are always sign up sheets to do this to do that, I know it is important to get a quota but really making an effort to know your parishners and what they do well would be better than saying there is a sign up sheet next to the bakers rack. We need to make the handshake of peace go beyond the mass. Ok that gives you a few things to think about!


23. "The Catholic Church thrives on the imagination and creativity of its members."

I can understand this statement only if it refers to the laity who are 'The Church' and not the priests and bishops who represent the 'Institution' who time and again exemplify by the 'Campaigns' on which they launch themselves out of the NCCB with so much disregard for the Religion they claim to represent or is lead?

"What two issues do you think are most in need of The Catholic Imagination"?

There is no area within the faith not in dire need of 'Imagination' as that is exactly what the Institution has so mercilessly stifled for the last fifteen hundred years."-- and what imaginative changes would you envision?" I would envision the Bishops no longer believing that they can lead but begin to understand how their imprimatur has stood in God's way for far too long."


24.Let us, the People of God, take back our beloved church in unity with the hierarchy.


25. The first thing the Catholic Church needs to do is to call for and support imagination and creativity in its members. I think the message we get is more of obedience and sticking to the status quo. The most important question after that is the almost complete lack of focus on justice in the world we experience in the American Church. We don't even publicize what the pope says in matters of poverty and exploitation, much less focus on what we need to do other than giving a few dollars to charity.


26. I think the Church's main two challenges in the months/years to come will focus on recruitment and retention issues. We need to attract good quality people to the religious life and, once they have taken their vows and offered their lives to God, we need to ensure they are provided the support and encouragement they need so we can keep them in the Lord's Army serving God's family.

The Catholic imagination is desperately needed in this effort to develop and put into play a good plan to encourage more people to follow a meaningful life of prayer and service in the Church. That can be with either a formal vocation – or just an addition to a well lived and focused life. Either way the Church receives a benefit.

At present, when it comes to encouraging vocations, it seems we are following a path that leaves vocations up to a spirit of inspiration and good example. In other words – we’re leaving it up to God to move the soul and the local pastor to move the spirit. That used to be enough -- but, unfortunately, recruitment is down and there are a lot of places that need more priests. Clearly, we need to do more to encourage vocations. That will be our first imaginative step.

I rarely hear the subject of recruitment and the number of priests we need addressed and when I do, the only suggestions I hear from those who discuss these issues about how to increase the number of those serving the community have to do with allowing priests to marry, allowing for women priests, or some other similar approach. We need something that goes deeper than that.

The key is to encourage the consideration of the religious life by young adults and adolescents. Maybe even programs that encourage late vocations from the widowed or still single older population (50/60 or so). There are programs to ensure we make the best use of our aging population in every organization but the Church. Perhaps we should focus more resources on encouraging those who are retired to take a more active role in the day to day life of their Church. Whether as a priest or deacon – again the Church would gain from increased participation and increased exposure of the importance of dedicating part of one’s life to God’s work.

The Catholic imagination could focus on the first issue (Recruitment) by encouraging pastors to select one Sunday per season to talk about vocations -- maybe special programs in our Catholic schools or Catholic Sunday School sessions would help. Most kids don't know there are lots of choices and opportunities to serve in God's Army. It'd be like a recruiter who only tries to get people to join the Marines and knows nothing about the Navy. In like fashion, we have diocesan priests, missionaries, Franciscan brothers -- and nuns and religious women in all sorts of orders and communities. We need to emphasize the diversity and different opportunities to serve the Church.

What I’m trying to say is the job of the priest is a good one and well defined – it’s just having an image problem. That’s where we want to focus our Catholic imagination – to change the image of a priest’s life.

Retention issues are also important and that means taking a closer look at issues like working conditions, assignments and financial issues (current and long range). This is our second issue for the Catholic imagination.

We could start by increasing priest participation in the decisions that most affect them – wages, duties, assignments and future financial planning. There’s a lot to be considered and the Catholic imagination of those involved is a precious resources we must employ to the fullest.

I have paired the two issues (recruitment and retention) together because I believe one flows from the other. It is my hope and prayer that the Church continues to consider the issue of vocations and focus on encouraging our young people to get involved because there is no more important job than saving souls and spreading the good news. Once they join, I hope the Church then focuses on keeping our good talented priests and religious to both tend God’s flock and encourage others to do the same.

I know I'm preaching to the Choir on this one -- but I think if we're looking for issues that need Catholic imagination -- we should start at the basics -- recruitment and retention.


27. The most creative things the Church could do would be to live up to the beliefs and values clearly annunciated in the Church's social teaching. The Church should begin on the inside-on itself-by doing justice for those who work inside the Church and thus by example spread it's teaching. The Church should pay just wages and benefits, promote freedom of conscience to priests, religious and lay persons, cease it's silencing, cronyism and patriarchalism ways. The Church itself must live the love and justice it preaches for and to others or it will ever become more empty-in every way. For the Church internally to do the most ordinary acts of charity, justice and humility in the everyday, work-a-day world for those who work in and for the Church would be revolutionary and transformative for the world.


Imaging that Raises the Level of Catholic Imagination

Over the years, I have played some excellent rounds of golf. One of the reasons for them is good coaching. Good coaching not only consist in pointing out errors in a golf swing and how to correct them, but also in giving a golfer sound images to think about when swinging a club.

When the golf professional, Sam Sneed was asked about how he thought about his beautiful smooth swing, he replied, "It is oily."

To imagine a swing as oily, is to imagine it as flowing with no jerking, no quick movements. Like a slippery surface over which one glides, a good golf swing is nothing other than gliding smoothly through the ball.

Every time I addressed the ball on the tee, I would tell myself, "Just swing slowly and smoothly, be oily, relax and let it flow." This image not only worked in helping me hit long, straight drives off the tee, but it carried over into my fairway shots and putts.

In the responses to the question on improving the Catholic Imagination on this website, I noticed that Fr. Massingale encouraged priests to embrace the image of hospice care, i.e., that their world of church as they knew it is coming to an end that is distasteful. But as hospice care teaches, bitter endings lead to new life. This is a beautiful image to keep in mind when all seems to be falling apart and disillusion is setting in. Like the image of "oily", it has a way of sustaining one when old traditions are crumbling.

In the book, Grace Under Pressure: What Gives Life to American Priests? [on your website], I noticed that many priests explain their ministry in terms of images. One priest saw himself as the Chosen People heading toward the Promised Land. It reminded him to keep looking forward and not to try and go back to Egypt, as the Hebrews wanted to. It was a thumbnail principle he clung to when pinning for the "good old days."

We need as many new images as we can create for the church, its ministers and participants in order to sustain them during confusing times. Many of the old images are still effective, but we could use many more new ones to help us through a confusing transition period of history. What images would most help us stay strong in facing the new threat of terrorism? What images should a working man or woman reflect on when caught in grid lock? What image would best help a person cope with bad news that we experience daily through the media? How should we see ourselves in this new age of technology and globalization?

There is a need for creative persons who can poetically translate our anxieties, fears, joys and concerns into images that sustain the spirit, strengthen it and give it zest. We especially need images that connect us much better with God the Creator who is allowing creation to move in the directions it is going.