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Hopes for the New Millennium
by Judy Ball

Most of us marked the arrival of the new millennium in some memorable way. For some of us, such a moment in history called for bells, balloons and hoopla far beyond the usual. For others, a quiet, reflective, prayerful observance seemed appropriate. But more important than how we may have marked the start of the year 2000 is what the Jubilee Year will mean to us over time: the fresh energies we bring to it, the resolve to change the course of our lives and of our society, the renewed sense of spirituality we experience.

Millennium Monthly spoke with several prominent Catholics about their hopes at the dawn of the 21st century and the new millennium. They express their hopes looking through different lenses—parish life, personal transformation, the role of the Church. Clearly, they have enough hopes to carry them through Jubilee Year 2000 and beyond into the next 1,000 years of Christian history.

Focus on parish

For Mitch and Kathy Finley, the Jubilee Year is a natural time to look back and to look ahead. Married 25 years and with three grown sons in various stages of leaving home, they see this as a time "to focus our vision on a broader scale, like the view you get from up in an airplane." Such an aerial view helps them get the bigger picture. For them, that includes a growing awareness of the gap between "the haves and the have nots" as well as the challenge of living simply in a society that keeps saying, "Consume more."

"The larger perspective that the new millennium gives us," says Kathy, "offers us a chance to take stock and realize that we can't continue to consume and squander the earth's resources and that our life-styles and spirituality have to shift." She and her husband see in the Jubilee Year an opportunity to deepen their awareness of the choices they make each day. For them, the year is likely to bring minor rather than major changes.

Mitch is the author of 30 books, including The Catholic Virtues: Seven Pillars for a Good Life (Liguori); Kathy is a freelance speaker and writer who teaches and directs a parish marriage preparation program and is an adjunct instructor in Gonzaga University's Religious Studies program. For both of them, now in their early 50's, their parish of St. Ann's in Spokane, Washington, is the natural starting point of their hopes for the third millennium.

That is because they believe the parish is where Catholics bring their most heartfelt hopes and concerns, whether they be about relationships, marriage and family; work and time pressures; the prevalence of violence; the impact of the media and technology on values; the desire to address pressing social justice issues. Mitch and Kathy believe the parish must be prepared to respond to such fundamental concerns.

The thriving parish of the third millennium, the Finleys believe, needs priests and lay ministers who appreciate the family dimension in every part of parish life. This includes homilies that speak to members of the congregation not as isolated individuals but as members of various kinds of families. The parish council must make a priority of nourishing and supporting marriages and families. The same holds true for religious education programs for adults, because learning about and growing in understanding faith are best linked "to people's most deeply felt life experiences." Likewise, youth ministry programs must nourish teen-parent relationships in an explicit faith context. The parish's vocational efforts must be family-centered, because most healthy vocations are rooted in "faith-filled families."

The Finleys hold out the hope that liturgies, homilies and adult religious education programs in their ideal parish show a respect for the "unique, complementary and equally valuable characteristics" of both masculine and feminine spiritualities and approaches to being Catholic. They also seek some focus on the place that work has in the life of faith and in a healthy Catholic spirituality.

An invitation from God

Ask Sister Marie Chin, R.S.M., about her hopes for the new millennium, and the president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas focuses on the opportunity it offers for change rooted in the heart, for a deep conversion and turning to God. One of the most powerful currents running through the Jubilee tradition, she believes, is the theme of "the transformative power of God at work, reshaping our hearts, restoring our world."

Though the world of the 21st century is filled with changes at every turn, Jesus calls us to a different kind of newness. It is a newness, says Sister Marie, which looks at "the human event as a divine experience." It is only with eyes firmly fixed on God, she believes, that such deep-seated change becomes possible. Sometimes it takes a jolt—times of disillusionment and doubt, of betrayal and misunderstandings—before we hear God's invitation to draw us closer. Other times, we seek out God in times of retreat or choose to live in places of poverty or hardship. It is at such times—when we allow God to take center stage—that something happens to our hearts.

"As difficult as it is, we must gain possession of our heart in order to be able to give it," Sister Marie believes. "For this reason God lures us into the desert, there to reclaim our hearts,...hearts that are willing to be seared and made tender by the fiery touch of God's presence." The Jubilee reminds us that we need not be afraid "to enter the wilderness, for it is the Spirit's own home. It is the Spirit realm where we connect, develop more consciousness, regenerate faith, hope, love."

The new hearts with which we are invited to live the spirituality of Jubilee represent "another chance, another opportunity to reframe our lives, to start again." They represent an invitation to love tenderly and act justly as men and women of mercy and compassion. "With our world rife with hungry, homeless and hopeless people," says Sister Marie, "we cannot help but see the suffering around us. This is the suffering we should embrace: It is wrong to ignore it and to live as if it does not exist...

"When the stream of mercy flows through our lives, our homes, our faith communities, our institutions, they will become a place where connections are made between faith and justice, between loving the world and hating its incredible imbalance, carnage and cruelty....When the spirit of mercy takes hold of us, we will passionately want to create space in which people can grow humanly together, and where human events are changed into experiences of God."

The arrival of the new millennium brings with it the invitation to men and women to "participate in God's enveloping mercy and creative acts" and to see our everyday lives as the staging ground for the "crucially spiritual issues" of love, generosity and compassion. The invitation has been extended to bring God's merciful presence to the world in a new way in the 21st century.

The role of the Church

Chicago's Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I., looks at the Church of the 21st century as unchanged in its fundamental role as the Body of Christ: The Church will continue to offer the salvation that comes through Christ to everybody in the world. But, Cardinal George suggests, more attention needs to be paid to how the Church operates in the world, with less emphasis on its role as "moral teacher" and more on its role as "a network of relationships that makes us holy" and transforms the world.

"We have to emphasize the vision that is ours" rather than stressing the Church as the teacher of morality, Cardinal George believes. "Faith offers us a way of seeing things, but we have to be more creative in how we lead people to see. We need more artists, more playwrights—people of imagination who can engage the culture." The old ways of evangelization are no longer sufficient. New ways must be found to make sure that the Church's voice is heard, says the cardinal, a member of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Propelling the need for this change is the new reality of globalization. While it may come as a shock to many white, English-speaking Catholics, they are the minority within the global Church, notes Cardinal George. American Catholics often need to be reminded "who is the majority and who is the minority" because they still tend to see the Church in the context of their country alone. But "the Church doesn't stop at the borders," he warns. Ours is not a national Church, but not everyone has "caught the sense of universal communion, the visible relationship to one another."

Cardinal George predicts that Americans will likely be the last to appreciate the need for change in our increasingly global society. Americans' idea of globalization is "everybody being like us." But it is Americans who are going to become more like everybody else as the new "world culture" emerges. That is why Pope John Paul II, in preparation for the new millennium, convened continental synods of bishops: to move Church thinking beyond individual cultures toward a world culture.

In addition, the conversation between Christianity and Islam is crucial. Though only in the beginning stages, the dialogue will ultimately determine "what the globe will look like a century from now." Cardinal George sees that dialogue as "the most significant for the future of the human race." Such are the challenges facing the Church in the on-line, high-tech world of the 21st century. Leading people to Jesus Christ, helping them come to know who he is, always requires serious dialogue between faith and culture.

Cardinal George is hopeful that Jubilee 2000 offers the prospect of "a new beginning, a springtime for the gospel"—for himself as the archbishop of Chicago, for his flock and for all believers and would-be believers. "I see this as a moment of cleansing and restoration, with an emphasis on forgiveness as we ourselves are forgiven. I see this as a moment when new relationships are being born—all to put us in deeper contact with Christ."

At the dawn of the new millennium, Cardinal George believes, the Church is being challenged to be true to the vision of Church that emerged at Vatican II: engaged in the world, transforming the world rather than "fitting in" to it, extending the universal call to holiness. The Jubilee Year, he believes, invites us to embrace a vision "that is truly global."

Faith, hope, charity

In his apostolic letter On the Coming Third Millennium Pope John Paul II proclaimed that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and always. Now, as we begin the next 1,000 years of Christian history, the words of the Holy Father take on a new and deeper meaning: The 2,000 years which have passed since the birth of Christ represent an extraordinarily great Jubilee, not only for Christians but also indirectly for the whole of humanity. What lies before us now is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity "to reconfirm our faith, sustain our hope and rekindle our charity" (#31).

Judy Ball is managing editor of Millennium Monthly and of AmericanCatholic.org, Web site of St. Anthony Messenger Press.


Vicki Thorn  

After more than 20 years in the pro-life movement, Vicki Thorn sees a crack in the wall, evidence that "something has shifted here."

Yes, she knows there have been an estimated 35 million abortions since the 1972 Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. But she believes the tide is turning in terms of attitudes among mental health professionals, employees at abortion clinics and women who have had abortions. For Mrs. Thorn, one of the newest pieces of evidence is the book Experiencing Abortion, co-written by a woman and her therapist, who interviewed 150 women who have had abortions and who share their "brokenness."

"I'm one of the few in the pro-life movement who thinks we're in a strong position," Mrs. Thorn told Millennium Monthly. She certainly is in a position to know as the founder of Project Rachel, the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing based in Milwaukee. Her office, along with the 140 Project Rachel offices in the U.S., Canada and New Zealand, serves women who so often experience "chaos and despair" after they turn to abortion.

Project Rachel was formed in 1984, almost a full decade after the U.S. bishops had called for post-abortion ministry as part of their pastoral plan for pro-life activities. Mrs. Thorn is the national director of the outreach ministry which offers women an opportunity to work with specially trained clergy as well as spiritual directors and therapists who offer compassionate one-on-one care. The goal, says Mrs. Thorn, is for women who have had abortions to have "a profound experience of God's mercy. So often they believe they have committed the unforgivable sin." Contact with Project Rachel often "sets them free from that guilt," whether through the Sacrament of Reconciliation or confidential counseling.

More and more, she and her counterparts at other Project Rachel offices are hearing from women who have had abortions recently rather than the typical caller who waits 5-10 years before reaching out for help. The women who call Project Rachel offices "are saying yes to the healing journey," says Mrs. Thorn, the mother of six. "I believe that God is building a community of healed people who are an underground people. We don't know how many they are in number," says Mrs. Thorn, but these women—and men, too—"are talking about their wounds. They are facing the truth that abortion isn't good for them.*

— by Judy Ball



First 2,000 Years

A national panel of Church historians and scholars from Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. has developed its own "Who's Who" and "What's What" list from the first 2,000 years of Christian history. The panel was polled over the past year by The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y. Following are some poll results:

  • Most outstanding popes: Gregory the Great (590-604), known for his great sense of pastoral care and his missionary zeal, and Pope John XXIII (1958-1963), who convened the Second Vatican Council;
  • Most influential non-Catholic Christian: Martin Luther, the German monk who sparked the Protestant Reformation;
  • Most outstanding non-Christian religious leaders (tie): Mohhammed, the founder of Islam, and Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of nonviolence;
  • Work of art best capturing Jesus' message (aside from the Bible): the "Pieta" by Michelangelo;
  • Top scientific advance affecting Christianity: the printing press;
  • Most important journey in Christian history: missionary journeys of St. Paul.*



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