By Msgr. Owen F. Campion
This edition of The Priest is special because it will go to thousands of priests who are not subscribers to the magazine at present. It is being sent with our invitation to subscribe. We hope to have you as subscribers and regular readers, and we hope that you will find other products offered by Our Sunday Visitor to be useful, from offertory envelopes to books, magazines to pamphlets.
In any event, we would like to hear what you think of our products. We take input from priests and from readers and customers seriously.
And, everyone involved in ministry in this country is in our prayers and remembered at our staff Mass here each day. Please pray for us.
The theme of this edition is Religious Education, an activity that consumes much of the interest, time and attention of almost every priest.
''Grace builds on nature'' is an axiom attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas. It makes sense, capturing in four words in English the entire reality of the human condition and the miracle of Redemption.
Religious education ultimately is the formal process through which people, certainly youth but not always the young, are brought to God. It is an effort designed to help students to know God. And if they respond and begin to rely upon God's healing and strengthening grace, it will also help them turn to Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Good Religious Education. God's grace. Grace builds on nature.
Adrian Dominican Sister Janet Schaeffler has written an article giving very practical advice for effective catechetical programs. I suspect that priests will appreciate her emphasis on the centrality of the weekend liturgy, and I found the suggestion of using RCIA as a model for all Religious Education both intriguing and practical.
Heidi Busse, Director of Faith Formation at St. Edward's Parish in Bloomington, Minn., and an author and editor for Our Sunday Visitor publications, writes about adding some spark to Religious Education. Every priest knows that getting young people -- especially teenagers -- to classes on a regular basis is, well, a challenge.
Browbeating by parents and guilt trips do not work. This article by Heidi Busse has some very good, useful thoughts about attracting students to programs.
Religious Education is much more than just instruction for young people or young adults. Experience shows that any sound program must embrace people of all ages. Every priest has heard stories of people who left the Church because they misunderstood at least some aspect of Catholic teaching.
Since the days of Father Isaac Hecker, a convert and their inspired founder, our confreres, the Paulist Fathers, have had as a priority outreach to Christians of communities other than Catholics, as well as to ''inactive'' Catholics.
Recent studies have shown that this latter group, Catholics who no longer practice the religion, or who have left the Church for whatever reason, comprise a group in America much more numerous than the total memberships of many Protestant denominations.
Paulist Father Frank P. DeSiano now heads the Paulist National Evangelization Association. He has provided this issue of The Priest with an article about calling inactive Catholics back to the Church.
Finally, excuse my self-serving immodesty, but this editor has written an article on poverty, chastity and obedience as integral parts for any process of Religious Education.
As the article says, these Evangelical Counsels are not just for vowed Religious. They are evangelical, flowing from the Gospels, and they proceed from the words and the model of the Lord Jesus. As such, they are ideals to be achieved by anyone wishing to be a good disciple.
Living by the Evangelical Counsels requires common sense, as much as it demands commitment and attention.
The now deceased Bishop Carroll T. Dozier of Memphis was the keynoter years ago at a meeting of Religious Educators. He was a superb preacher, without question one of the best that I have ever heard. His golden, mellow voice, rich in its Tidewater, Virginia, accent, only enhanced his ability in public speaking.
''Do not just teach them (students),'' I remember the bishop saying, ''Convert them!''
So, God willing, our Religious Education efforts will succeed in drawing our students, young or old, to conversion of heart and to commitment to Christ.
Also in this issue, we have an article on an aspect of the current economic crisis -- unemployment. Unemployment is a stark reality for more and more people. Father Terence Curley's article considers ways that pastors can be of help. See page 54.
Last month, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan was installed as Archbishop of New York in a glorious rite in St. Patrick's Cathedral. It was a special day for Our Sunday Visitor and in particular for The Priest.
For some years, Msgr. Dolan, then Bishop Dolan, and then Archbishop Dolan wrote a monthly column for this magazine.
His column was filled with good judgment, a realistic understanding of priestly joys and challenges, and sound Catholic teaching, and for us, the columns always arrived on time.
New York's new pastor has the ''map of Ireland on his face,'' and his sunny, unassuming, and eagerly outreaching personality usually create the first impression that people have of him.
However, beyond his wonderfully kind and gentle approach to any and to all is a mind filled with wisdom and a soul absolutely alive with Christian faith and with joy in his vocation as bishop and priest.
May is the month of Mary. Catholics of the ripe age of 50 or more certainly remember that in their school days, May meant May Processions. These processions were formal occasions in which young Catholics paid homage to the Mother of God.
Marian devotion is not just for the young. By reason of her fiat, Mary was the first Christian, and her devotion to Jesus, her son, prompted her faith at Cana and at the foot of the cross on Calvary.
Her uncompromising faith, so beautifully revealed in Luke and in John, and her obvious closeness to Jesus, cause us to venerate her but also to turn to her confidently in the appeal that she pray for us at the throne of God.
As this edition goes to bed, the staff's thoughts turn to the future. In October we plan to make much of the fact that Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to canonize Blessed Father Damien de Veuster of Hawaii.
Not only Catholics look upon Father Damien, the leper priest of Molokai, as a hero. Indeed, his statue stands at the entrance to the Hawaiian State Capitol in Honolulu, and another statue of him stands in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C., as one of Hawaii's representatives.
Hero he was. But, for other purposes, he was a holy and absolutely dedicated priest. We priests need to celebrate the holy and the heroic among us. Our people need to see priests as models.
We have other plans.
Every parish has as a major item on its agenda the preparation of fiancées for marriage and the sustaining of marriages.
Priests all know that they must face these facts. The Church has its teachings about contraception. A huge number of Catholics do not feel that they can live by these teachings.
In August, therefore, The Priest will feature Natural Family Planning. We hope that the articles will be of great assistance to pastors.
Finally, another big concern these days is the transformation of many cities in the East and Midwest, where declining numbers of Catholics and of priests are resulting in the merger or outright closures of parishes.
Rarely, does a merger or a closure happen without causing some grief. Here at The Priest, we plan to look at this phenomenon in September, hopefully in the process providing good advice for the pastoral care of persons involved in these situations.
On the other side of the coin, in many areas in the South and West the Church is booming. Here is just one recollection. When Blessed Pope John XXIII created the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 1963, the Catholic population stood at about 35,000, and many wondered what the future would be.
Today, it is estimated that as many as 800,000 Catholics live in the archdiocese. This enormous growth is not unlike the patterns of growth in other Southern, and also in Western, dioceses. Coping with this growth also presents its pastoral problems.
We plan articles to help pastors in these areas as well.
Finally, we are studiously looking at ways to allow The Priest much more quickly to put before readers analyses of developing Church events or question with moral implications as they occur. We have some good possibilities in mind.
Again, tell us what you want, what you do not want, what you like, and what you need.
Pray for us. We pray for you. TP