Giving thanks has life-changing impact, priest and psychologist says

November 26, 2010

Denver, CO  (CNA).- Fr. Charles Shelton –a Jesuit priest, psychologist, and the author of a new book on gratitude– says that the choice to live gratefully can help to improve virtually every aspect of a person’s life.

The multi-talented priest, a professor of psychology at Denver’s Regis University, recently published “The Gratitude Factor,” a book that examines the importance of giving thanks for one’s work, leisure, relationships, and other everyday experiences of God’s grace.

Fr. Shelton has made notable contributions to the field of “positive psychology,” a branch of the social science which studies the cultivation of virtue and well-being. “The Gratitude Factor” combines his work in the field with an emphatic focus on Christian spirituality, in the tradition of St. Ignatius Loyola.

Speaking to CNA on Nov. 20, he explained how the choice to live gratefully, even in the midst of difficulty, could profoundly change one’s experience of the world. Gratitude, he said, gives depth to the experience of joy, and profound meaning to less desirable tasks–  by “re-framing” both as important aspects of the life that one receives from God.

He stressed that gratitude, for Christians, comes most of all from understanding that “we are God’s sons and daughters, and Jesus’ brothers and sisters.” That “core experience” is “channeled, through our hearts, into various commitments” that allow believers to share God’s gifts to them with others.

“The more we can carve out some time to reflect on that (identity) in our lives,” he offered, “the more rich they become.” He described the fatherhood of God as a “centering point” for Christian gratitude, allowing the entire range of human experiences to be viewed as God-given responsibilities.

Jesus himself, Fr. Shelton observed, was grateful for every aspect of his human life: not only for his family, community and work, but also –as the priest explains in a profound passage of “The Gratitude Factor”–  for his suffering and death, which he accepted to give new life to humanity.

While some experiences naturally inspire a feeling of gratitude, others take work, patience and prayer to appreciate. Sometimes the benefit of a situation is completely hidden, requiring the attitude of faith. “Regardless of what happens, I would want to be a grateful person,” Fr. Shelton said. “You could weather anything, and draw from it, if you are grateful.”

But even when it comes to obviously good experiences, Fr. Shelton stressed that gratitude is a virtue that requires attention and effort to develop. His book offers a number of strategies for making thankfulness a part of life, including a “daily gratitude inventory” modeled on the Jesuits’ traditional
techniques for recalling God’s presence.

Besides making a person aware of God’s blessings, Fr. Shelton explained that gratitude helps people appreciate one another. The act of giving thanks, he noted, is always outward-directed. “Because it’s always an acknowledgment of someone else, or something else, by definition there has to be an openness (to others) … That’s just inherent in what the experience is.”

Since it is oriented toward others, the experience of gratitude can especially deepen bonds with friends and family. “The whole idea of bonding, and community, comes out of gratitude,” he reflected. “We see the gifts of others, we’re grateful for the gifts of others, and we all need the gifts of others.”

Fr. Shelton also affirmed that the gratitude-centered holiday of Thanksgiving, while not a liturgical feast in its own right, could offer Catholics in the U.S. a unique chance to prepare themselves for the season of Advent. Modern consumer trends have tended to eclipse that liturgical time, in favor of a “shopping season” filled with anxiety.

But Fr. Shelton noted that Thanksgiving was perfectly timed to help American Catholics rediscover Advent. An authentic Thanksgiving experience of gratitude, he said, could help Catholics begin preparing to receive the surpassing gift of Jesus’ arrival, rather than focusing on shopping.

“Studies show (that) people who feel grateful, don’t feel the need for as many material possessions,” he noted. “They don’t have to fill themselves up” to compensate for a perceived “deficit.” By using Thanksgiving to consider “the gifts God has given … through this year, up to now,” Catholics could more easily embrace “the idea of waiting” that should define Advent.

“It makes sense, psychologically,” he said. “Although this is a secular holiday … it does become, for American Catholics, a fitting end to the liturgical calendar – as we really reflect on what Thanksgiving is.”

Although the Church’s solemnity of Christ the King formally closes the liturgical year and signals Advent’s beginning, its moveable date always closely coincides with the civic holiday of Thanksgiving. Fr. Shelton reflected that the combination of the national and liturgical celebrations could enrich American Catholics’ experience of both.

“Having felt God’s gifts,” he said, “we can now prepare ourselves for the greatest gift,” –that of Christ’s birth –“which is coming.”

Over 100 Catholic clergy attend exorcism training in Baltimore

November 17, 2010

Baltimore, Md. (CNA) — Despite the intrigue and attention given to the topic of exorcism, the primary work of the Devil lies in daily “temptation,” Bishop Thomas Paprocki said, following a successful exorcism training weekend hosted by the U.S. bishops in Baltimore.

The Conference on the Liturgical and Pastoral Practice of Exorcism took place Nov. 12-13, just before the bishops’ annual fall assembly. According to Bishop Paprocki, who chairs the Bishop’s Committee on Canonical Affairs, the program came about after an increasing number of inquiries from priests in the U.S.

Because only a “small number” of priests have undergone exorcism training, the conference was held “really to provide some guidance for bishops,” he said.

He explained that exorcism training falls under the jurisdiction of the canonical affairs committee because of the requirement in canon law that says a priest needs permission from his bishop to perform an exorcism.

Over 100 bishops and priests attend the two day conference, which Bishop Paprocki said they described as “very helpful.”

He went on to say that “the reality is that an exorcism is really rare. It’s really something rather extraordinary because possession – a person being possessed by a devil or demon – is also very rare.”

“Given the fact that possession and exorcisms are rare, people tend to think that that’s the only activity of the Devil,” and they mistakenly think that “if I’m not possessed, I don’t need to worry about the Devil,” he said.

However, it’s “quite the opposite,” he explained. “The ordinary work of the Devil is temptation and everybody has to face that everyday.”

“The ordinary response to dealing with temptation” can be found in “the ordinary means of spiritual life that the church offers: the Sacraments, going to Confession, receiving Holy Communion, saying prayers and devotions, the Rosary, blessings, Holy Water, things like that,” he said.

“And in fact, I would go so far as to say that the Sacrament of Penance is more powerful than an exorcism.

“An exorcism is a type of blessing in effect – it’s a sacramental – whereas the Sacrament of Penance is actually a sacrament,” the bishop explained.

“So if we live a good life, a good spiritual life that’s sound, we don’t need to worry about that.”

Bishop Paprocki smiled as he clarified that exorcism is ”sensationalized in the movies,” and that demonic possession “is not contagious.”

Usually it’s needed “because people have willingly and freely opened the door to the Devil, looking for that kind of involvement and enjoying the pleasures that the Devil has to offer,” he said.

“It’s a relationship – a relationship between a human person and a fallen angel – a devil.”

“Exorcism,” he explained, “is breaking that relationship,” and it “starts with the person renouncing Satan.”

Primarily, it “involves getting a person to renounce that relationship,” and “secondly, for a priest to intervene and invoke the power of Christ to break that relationship.”

Speaking on what determines the need for an exorcism, Bishop Paprocki said that “we use the principle that you have to exclude all the natural explanations before you resort to the supernatural.”

“That means getting a medial exam” and a “psychiatric assessment” first, he clarified. If a person is mentally unwell, bringing up the suggestion that he or she is possessed would undoubtedly make the situation worse.

“That’s why a careful screening and permission from the bishop is needed,” he explained.

Without priests, Catholic military personnel seeking out Protestant pastors

November 16, 2010

Baltimore, Md. (CNA).- Military Archbishop Timothy Broglio told bishops at their annual gathering in Baltimore that the U.S. military is facing an alarming shortage of priests that is increasingly leading Catholic servicemen to seek help from Protestant pastors.

Calling it a “pastoral problem” that “affects all of us,” Archbishop Broglio appealed to bishops across the U.S. during the annual Nov. 15-18 meeting in Baltimore to consider sending more priests to help serve in the military.

“As you know, the Archdiocese for the Military Services assures the pastoral care for people from your respective particular churches,” he told the bishops. When these people “hang up their uniforms and return home,” he added, “I would like to be able to return them to you as Catholics.”

Approximately one fourth of active duty personnel – 400,000 people – and their immediate families are Catholic, he said.

At present, these Catholics “are served by only 275 priests in a territory that covers the globe,” the archbishop noted. “Those numbers will shrink in the coming years.”

Because many in the armed services often face grave situations, he said, questions about the meaning of life and the existence of God often surface.

“They are at great risk because there are not nearly enough priests to meet their needs,” he said. Speaking of the growing trend for Catholics to seek help from Protestant ministers, Archbishop Broglio said “our separated brothers and sisters are more than eager to fill the gap created by the absence of a priest.”

“If we are not there,” he said, “someone else will be.”

Archbishop Broglio also lamented the increasing amount of suicides that occur in the military. He said that one suicide occurred per day this last June in the U.S. armed forces and asserted that the presence of a priest is essential in helping prevent future “tragedies.”

“We cannot abandon” service men and women “at the moment of their greatest need,” he added.

Archbishop Broglio concluded his remarks by urging the bishops in attendance at the annual meeting to “to consider sending one more priest to the military.” He also appealed for the bishops to designate a day of prayer for peace, an end to suicides, and to express gratitude to U.S. military personnel

US bishops hold exorcism training prior to fall meeting

November 15, 2010

Washington D.C., (CNA).- The U.S. bishops are sponsoring a two-day exorcism training in order to teach more priests how to perform the rite.

The Conference on the Liturgical and Pastoral Practice of Exorcism is taking place Nov. 12 -13, days before the national bishops’ meeting in Baltimore.

Over 50 bishops and 60 priests have been registered for the event.

Speakers include Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Fr. Dennis McManus – an assistant priest to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan – and Chicago priest Fr. Jeffrey Grob.

Pro-life leader and author Fr. Thomas Euteneuer spoke with CNA last June and explained that due to an increased exposure of young people to the occult, priests within the next decade are going to be “inundated” with exorcism requests

Bishop Tobin launches campaign to help Rhode Island’s poor through the winter

November 10, 2010

Providence, R.I., (CNA).- Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island recently launched a $50,000 campaign to help the state’s poor stay warm throughout the approaching winter.

The 2010-11 Keep the Heat On Campaign will provide heating assistance to citizens who are not eligible for private or state funding, the Rhode Island Diocese of Providence has reported.

Bishop Tobin announced the $50,000 grant at the local St. Martin de Porres multi-service center on Nov. 9.

Since 2005, the campaign has provided more than $1million in heating assistance to over 3,600 Rhode Island households. The initiative is backed by Catholic Charities USA.

“In just five years, Keep the Heat On has made a significant difference in the lives of thousands of Rhode Islanders with no place left to turn for heating assistance,” Bishop Tobin said.

“I am pleased that the Catholic Church is able to sponsor this critical program that helps families stay warm at night, regardless of financial struggles,” he added. “Through the generosity of individuals and the Catholic Charity Appeal, Rhode Island families in need are provided the basic human need of heat.”

Speaking on the social justice work of his diocese, Bishop Tobin said that the campaign “is but one of many charitable services offered by the Catholic Church in Rhode Island.”

“The diocese is blessed with many individuals who work tirelessly each day to provide for those in need of life’s most basic services. I am proud to recognize those individuals who have been instrumental in the success of our charitable efforts here in Rhode Island for many decades.”

Assisted suicide ad preys on fearful and abandoned, opponent says

November 10, 2010

Ontario, Canada, (CNA).- The prospect of a television ad promoting assisted suicide is causing a stir in New Zealand. One anti-euthanasia advocate is arguing that the doctor behind the ad is preying on the depressed and the mentally troubled.

Dr. Philip Nitschke, based in Australia, is an advocate for assisted suicide in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. Last month in Canada he held a seminar at the First Unitarian Church of Toronto for about 50 people, giving them information on how to commit suicide.

Alex Schadenberg, international chairman of the Ontario-based Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said Nitschke has been on an international tour to promote his “suicide manual” and to explain how people may circumvent the law if they assist in a suicide.

He characterized the doctor as a “suicide predator” who searches for people and encourages or counsels them to commit suicide.

“The predator is not concerned about the frame of mind of the person, they are only concerned with the fact that this person has expressed some interest in death,” Schadenberg told CNA.

He compared Nitschke to William Melchert-Dinkel, a man being prosecuted in Minnesota after he allegedly used fake identities to establish relationships with the depressed and suicidal and then encouraged them to commit suicide.

Nitschke’s advocacy has also drawn criticism in New Zealand, whose Commercial Approvals Bureau recently approved the screening of an advertisement by Nitschke which promotes assisted suicide.

Right to Life New Zealand expressed disappointment in the decision, asking that Television New Zealand uphold “the common good” and promote “a culture of life” by assuring the public that the 45-second suicide video will not be screened.

The group said it would be inconsistent for the state-owned broadcaster to show a video promoting suicide while also spending millions of dollars on suicide prevention programs.

“There are on average about 500 suicides reported each year in New Zealand. Suicides have a profound effect on families and whole communities. The screening of Dr. Nitschke’s suicide video would be socially irresponsible and could result in an increase of suicides,” Right to Life New Zealand said.

“The prevailing community attitude towards suicide is that it is unacceptable behavior, promotes a culture of death, is contrary to the common good and is destructive of the social fabric,” the group added.

It argued that the broadcast violates rules against ads which support violent behavior and which lack due social responsibility to society.

“Suicide or self murder is in itself the ultimate in violence against oneself, it is unacceptable to the community,” Right to Life New Zealand said.

Noting that Nitschke cites the principle of freedom of speech to protect himself from criticism and legal action, Schadenberg said that freedom of speech has limits.

“These kind of actions are not only irresponsible, but they are dangerous to vulnerable people,” the anti-euthanasia advocate told CNA.

Schadenberg also characterized legalized assisted suicide as “the ultimate form of elder abuse.” He questioned whether the elderly will ask for assisted suicide under pressure from relatives.

He also warned that legally required psychological assessments for those who request suicide in Oregon – where assisted suicide is legal - are not taking place.

“People who are planning to kill themselves or be involved with killing another are often going through depression, mental breakdown or experiencing a life-changing challenge, like few others. These are people who, without the necessary support, are not freely choosing to die, but rather dying out of a sense of fear, last resort or abandonment.”

Pro-life advocates help prevent forced abortion in Austin

November 2, 2010

Austin, Texas(CNA).- After a temporary restraining order, the parents of a 16-year-old girl in Texas have agreed not to force their daughter to have an abortion against her will. Sidewalk counselors saw the violent coercion in progress and called police.

The teenager’s mother brought her by force to local abortion facilities on two occasions, demanding she get an abortion. Her parents insisted that she have one even though she refused and the father of her baby also did not want the abortion.

Attorneys allied with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) secured a temporary restraining order blocking the parents from forcing their daughter to go to an abortion facility. On Thursday they signed a long-term court order prohibiting them from forcing their daughter to have an abortion for the duration of her pregnancy.

“No one should be allowed to decide that an innocent life-especially one that belongs to someone else-is worthless,” commented ADF attorney Stephen Casey of Round Rock, Texas.

ADF attorney Gregory R. Terra of Georgetown agreed.

“The parents made the right decision, one which they, their daughter, the baby’s father, and especially their grandchild, will appreciate,” he said.

The 16-year-old, a high school student, is 14 weeks pregnant. She became more resolute against having an abortion after she received information from a pro-lifer outside one of the abortion facilities.
“The right not to have an abortion is protected by law, and this right isn’t relinquished just because someone else considers the child to be an unwanted burden,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “This situation illustrates what a difference it can make when a woman is more fully informed about the true nature of abortion.”

Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, told CNA that this was a “fairly extreme” case of coercion, with reports the girl was dragged by her hair.

Elizabeth McClung of the Austin Coalition for Life was not present for the Oct. 9 incident at the International Health Care Solutions independent clinic in northwest Austin. However, she reported that sidewalk counselors involved in the 40 Days for Life campaign had spoken with the girl before her mother started “getting physical.”

The girl’s mother “was shoving her, hitting her, pushing her. She actually fell on the ground and scraped her leg.”

“At one point she actually was holding onto the bed of a pickup truck in the parking lot but her mom was yanking on her to go inside.”

Pro-life advocates who witnessed the coercion called the Texas Alliance for Life and asked what they should do.

“Dial 911, that is a crime occurring,” they were told, according to Pojman. “No one can be coerced, it may be an assault.”

“We stayed on public property, we didn’t trespass,” McClung told CNA. “We called police and were peacefully praying.”

When police arrived, the counselors told the police they were available to help. When the girl and her mother came out, the sidewalk counselor emphasized to the young woman that it was her decision not to have an abortion. She gave the girl her name and phone number.

While the teen’s mother did take her to Planned Parenthood a few days after the incident, she again decided not to abort, McClung reported. A local maternity home has offered to help the young woman.

“That girl is extremely courageous, because she had to go against her parents’ wishes, which should not be taken lightly,” Pojman continued. “But in extreme situations where parents (are) forcing abortion on a minor who clearly does not want it, it is time to step in to intervene, to work with the parents if possible but also to involve police and courts.”

Pojman said the incident sparked the realization that many in the Austin pro-life community lacked a process for how to help coerced women.

“Be familiar with the law,” he suggested. “Have attorneys available to take these cases.”

“No person, whether adult or a minor, should be in anyway coerced into having a procedure she doesn’t want, especially an abortion.”

McClung recommended materials from the Center Against Forced Abortion (CAFA), a project of the San Antonio-based Justice Foundation.

“We had spoken about it before and we had a protocol in place but this was the first time in practice.”

Allan Parker, president of the Justice Foundation, said the Austin case shows the need for attorneys willing to help women being coerced to have abortions.

Coerced abortion is “extremely frequent” in America, Parker claimed.

“I have spoken with hundreds of pregnancy resource centers. They say it is a very frequent problem.

CAFA has produced a “Dear Parent” letter which often suffices to stop parents from coercing their daughter to have an abortion by noting the illegal nature of their intended action.

“Most parents think they can make the decision because they’re the parent. They don’t realize that it’s illegal.”

“The best thing for pro-life clinic demonstrators to remember is to tell the young woman: ‘No one can legally force you to have an abortion. Period.’

“If the girl herself will continue to tell that to the abortionists, most abortionists will not perform an abortion, though some have.”

The sidewalk counselors should also have the “Dear Parent” letter with them for the girl, for the police and for social service agencies, Parker recommended.

He also noted the “second largest problem” is men forcing adult women to have an abortion because the man does not want to take care of a child.

“It’s illegal for the father of the child to force the mother to have an abortion,” he repeated.

“Education is the best answer at this time. Abstinence ed courses should include this training,” as should pregnancy resource centers, Parker advised.

Pojman of the Texas Alliance for Life said the teen in the Austin incident is ending a rough period of her life.

“Hopefully she and her parents can reconcile,” he said. “She is brave and her boyfriend is also very brave and supportive.

“She was many times close to being despondent. But she’s a brave and tough kid. It’s a shame she had to go through this, but it looks like it’s going to be a good ending, for this chapter of her life at least.”

McClung also drew lessons from the coercion attempt.

“We’re there not just for the baby but for the mothers as well. We’re talking to the mothers not their babies. Let’s reinforce the fact that there are so many people who want to help them, not break them down,” she said.

She praised the young woman for refusing the abortion despite the “very difficult” situation of her parents’ opposition. “There’s a real community of support standing behind her and helping her through this.”

The CAFA website is at the URL http://www.txjf.org/

No one excluded from Jesus’ mercy, teaches Benedict XVI

November 1, 2010

Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News).- God “sees a soul to save” in everyone, the Pope said before praying the Angelus on Sunday. The Lord’s mercy, he taught, takes nothing away from the gravity of sins, but always seeks to save the sinner.

Pilgrims enjoyed a break from a morning of rain in Rome as they joined the Pope for the Angelus.

Referring to the Gospel reading from Luke that recounts the story of the chief tax collector Zacchaeus, he reflected on his conversion after contact with Jesus.

Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus is one of several episodes where St. Luke talks about the merciful love of God and of Christ, said the Pope. In this case, Jesus directs his attention to Zacchaeus, considered a “public sinner” for his position.

The Lord “knew very well what he was doing” when he asked the publicly disliked man to host him in his home, and his “gamble” was rewarded with the man’s conversion, Benedict XVI pointed out.

Citing Jesus’ words from the Gospel, the Pope said, “today, salvation has come to this house” and “the Son of man has come to seek and to save what had been lost.”

“God,” the Holy Father said, “does not exclude anyone, rich or poor.” Neither is He “conditioned by our human prejudices, but He sees in everyone as a soul to save and is attracted especially by those who are judged lost and who consider themselves to be such.”

Jesus, he explained, demonstrates this immense mercy, “not taking anything away from the gravity of the sin, but looking always to save sinners, to offer them the possibility of rescue, starting over from the beginning, repenting.”

Focusing on Zaccheus, Pope Benedict noted that he “accepted Jesus and was converted because Jesus accepted him first! He did not condemn him, but met his desire for salvation.”

The Holy Father concluded his catechesis before the Angelus by praying for the intercession of Mary so that all people “might experience the joy of being visited by the Son of God, of being renewed by his love, and transmitting his mercy to others.”

Following the noon-time prayer, he greeted the variety of pilgrims in their different languages. He made a special mention of Blessed Szilard Bogdanffy, a Romanian bishop who was martyred under communist rule in the country in 1953.

Jailed less than two months after his consecration as a bishop, he is remembered for his ability to continue loving despite torture and trial.

Thanking God for this “heroic Pastor of the Church,” the Pope prayed that his testimony would be a comfort to all of those persecuted for the faith today

Mexican archdiocese encourages Catholic traditions on Halloween

October 29, 2010

Mexico City, Mexico (CNA) — The Archdiocese of Xalapa, Mexico has called on the faithful to preserve Catholic traditions associated with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day amid the increasing celebration of Halloween in the country.

The archdiocese noted that the two feast days are traditionally celebrated in Mexico with symbolic decorations and colorful flowers “to remind us that the feast of All Saints is upon us.”

“Our homes are decorated with colors that are very typical of Mexico, especially the decorations we place upon our altars to renew the tradition of drawing near to our dear faithful departed,” the statement said.

The archdiocese urged Mexican Catholics to reinforce their traditions “that bring families together and foster peace with each other. In this case we need to preserve these traditions from the invasion and commercialization of Halloween.”

“These feast days are not supposed to be an occasion to dress up as monsters or to frighten others with the most violent costumes we can find.  This is not in harmony with the spirit of these traditions” and does not “foster peace.”

Instead, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day “provide us an opportunity to reflect on the theme of death,” which remains a “mystery” and “reflection of our condition as humans and our limitations,” the archdiocese stated.

The archdiocese also rejected the veneration of “St. Death,” a practice in some parts of Mexico. “Personal death is the only death that exists, and our Lord Jesus Christ has rescued us from it with his glorious resurrection.”

“Let us revive our traditions by decorating our altars for the faithfully departed, visiting the places of final rest, sharing in the traditional dishes of these celebrations and adorning our homes and churches with Mexican colors,” the statement concluded.

US bishops sending delegation to opening of Cuban seminary

October 26, 2010

Washington D.C. (CNA) — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that it is sending a delegation to attend the opening of a new seminary in Havana, Cuba – the country’s first facility of its kind in more than 50 years.

The USCCB Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America will travel to Cuba November 3-6, for the opening of the new seminary located 30 miles outside of Havana. The building will be able to house 100 candidates for the priesthood.

John Paul II blessed the cornerstone of the seminary during his visit to Cuba in 1998. The construction has been financed by numerous international institutions, including the Knights of Columbus.

The USCCB delegation will be led by subcommittee member Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, as well as Fr. Andrew Small, National Collections Office director for the Church Latin America, and local clergy from the Archdiocese of Miami.

In addition to the inauguration of the seminary, the group will visit parishes and missions in Havana supported by the Collection for the Church in Latin America.

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