NCR Today

At Religious Formation Conference, theme is transformation

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The key theme of religious life in the 21st century is not diminishment but transformation, says Marist Br. Sean Sammon.

In face of reduced numbers of vowed members, and with many religious growing older, orders have a unique opportunity to reexamine their identities -- breathing new life into the charisms of their founders and challenging the church to stay true to the central precepts of the Gospel, Sammon, the former Superior General of the Marist Brothers, told a crowd assembled here this afternoon for the Religious Formation Conference's congress.

"The future of religious life is in our hands," Sammon told the crowd, which was composed mainly of leaders and formation directors of religious orders, gathered from across the country for the weekend conference. "Let us choose to renew ourselves, to reexamine the charisms of our orders, and to be nothing more and nothing less that the presence of the Holy Spirit."

Toxic charity vs. redemptive charity

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This is the season for giving. There are parish food drives, adopt-a-family programs and toys for needy children. Many of us jump on board as enthusiastic givers.

But one of my guests this week on Interfaith Voices, Bob Lupton, says many charitable efforts hurt people more than they help people. He discusses this idea in a new book with the provocative title Toxic Charity. And I have to say, he made me think and recall some of the better efforts I've seen.

His basic thesis is this: Givers almost always feel good. But receivers have, at best, mixed feelings. Too many are like the parents he has seen in homes when a "gift-giving family" delivers toys to children at Christmastime. The children are excited, the mother is gracious even if she feels a bit distant, but the father is often absent because he feels that this action exposes his inability to provide for the family.

Lupton speaks from long personal experience. He has lived in the inner city of Atlanta for more than 30 years.

The political nerve of Catholicism in Africa

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Cotonou, Benin

A core motive for Benedict XVI’s trip to Benin this weekend is to honor the late Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, yet it's actually another former Archbishop of Cotonou whose memory may be most helpful in grasping one key feature of African Catholicism: Its brazen disregard of Western notions of church/state separation.

If American Catholics already think their bishops, or the Vatican, sometimes get too involved in politics, the rise of Africa in the global church suggests they probably haven’t seen anything yet.

Catholic Worker artist Rita Corbin dies

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Rita Corbin, whose line drawings graced the pages of Catholic Worker journals across the country for many decades died last night due to injuries from a car accident. She was 81 years old.

An accomplished artist, Corbin had the ability to see the holy and the beautiful among the disregarded and disdained. I first saw her artwork when I began reading the Catholic Worker as a college student. I have long forgotten the articles, but Corbin’s tender depictions of the poor and outcast continue to influence my understanding of Christian solidarity.

Devoid of ego, Corbin generously provided her artwork free of charge to Catholic Worker communities, including our own. In her quiet, unassuming way, she exemplified the bold and audacious claim of Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, who often said we are called to "be co-creators with God."

Married to the late Marty Corbin, one-time editor of the Catholic Worker, Rita leaves behind five children, five grandchildren and countless individuals who take inspiration from her art and life.

Look for a full obituary in coming days.

Lech Walesa's wife unveils price of Poland's Solidarity glory

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According to The Associated Press:

Lech Walesa's wife says she paid a huge price for her husband's struggle against communism.

In an autobiography coming out next week, Danuta Walesa talks publicly for the first time about her loneliness and fear for the family's unity as her husband gained worldwide recognition with his political work.

In the candid 550-page book, "Dreams and Secrets," the 62-year-old reveals that she felt neglected as she raised their eight children. She express hurt that she was excluded from her husband's strategic decisions that gave rise to Solidarity and the trade union's ultimate toppling of Poland's authoritarian communist system in 1989.

Some revelations from the book, which is to hit bookshops in Poland on Wednesday, have appeared in the Polish media in recent days, shattering a view of a former president and first lady long seen as happy and deeply united, not least because of their shared Roman Catholic faith.

Don't surrender to laws of market, pope says

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Cotonou, Benin

On the heels of a controversial Vatican document blasting free-market ideologies and calling for a global authority to regulate the economy, Benedict XVI today warned the continent of Africa against an “unconditional surrender to the law of the market or that of finance,” in a speech opening his second African journey as pope.

Benedict XVI is visiting Benin, a West African nation of eight million, Nov. 18-20.

Catholics shouldn't oppose Occupy movement

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I marched yesterday with 700 St. Louis occupiers and friends. Four of the men carried a tent with a sign that read "Occupy Everywhere." We went from downtown St. Louis past the Federal Reserve building, which drew jeers, to the Martin Luther King Bridge that is in need of repair. Twenty people sat in front of the traffic in an attempt to close the bridge. The police arrested them and they went off gracefully.

Back when I was risking arrest to protest weapons contracting, we talked a lot about graceful direct action -- by which we meant actions motivated by and full of grace. These protesters were prepared and committed. And yesterday somebody was carrying the sign: "What would Jesus do? Occupy!"

It surprised me that a couple of comments to my last blog about the occupation said Catholics shouldn't be there. It reminded me at first blush of the criticism of Jesus dining with tax collectors.

Morning Briefing

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Crystal Cathedral to be sold to Catholic diocese

Austria's dissident Catholics urged to "maintain church unity"

Amy Sullivan of Time asks: Is the Obama Administration ‘At War’ with Catholics?

Le Roy, N.Y. -- Catholic schools merger elicits mixed feelings

2 RI men charged in $25 million investment fraud, stole identities of terminally ill and elderly people they met by advertising offers for a $2,000 charitable gift in a Catholic newspaper.

When is dissent not just dissent?

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The recent, very thorough survey of American Catholics, whose results were featured in the Oct. 28-Nov. 10 NCR, revealed no overwhelming shifts in belief and practice since the first such survey in 1987. The latest figures reinforce the fact that a substantial number of Catholics are convinced they can be in good standing with the church without adhering to church teachings on various issues, including weekly Mass attendance and remarriage after divorce. More than half the respondents in the survey consider "not very important" Catholic positions opposing abortion, same-sex marriage and requiring a celibate male clergy.

Bishops, priests and other church leaders have been viewing similar results for years now without throwing up their arms and declaring panic. Their easy and obvious response is that the surveys are polluted by the number of lax Catholics, half-Catholics, and pseudo-Catholics affected by the winds of secularism, relativism and individualism howling through American culture. Obviously, they say, this is dissent, this is disobedience.

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July 14-27, 2017

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