The bishops speak. Will people hear them?

Regular readers of Catholic newspapers, such as those published by dioceses and archdioceses across the country, have at least a vague inkling that every now and then, the pope, the Vatican and bishops have published “statements,” “pastoral letters,” “directives” etc.

A casual observer may be able to name a few, particularly those that have risen to prominence because of their controversy.

Beyond that, are the shepherds getting through?

The U.S. bishops have just given us a good test case. At their fall general assembly in Baltimore Nov. 17, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops clarified that patients with chronic conditions who are not imminently dying should receive food and water by “medically assisted” means if they cannot take them normally.

Anyone who wonders whether it is moral to remove a feeding tube from a patient who is not in imminent danger of death, even though the patient may be classified as being in a “vegetative state,” now has a clear answer: It is not.

But how will the message filter down to family members who anguish over decisions in hospital corridors and nursing home consultation rooms?

Granted, it may not be a question many people will face, and a Catholic confronted with such an end-of-life question should feel confident in asking the advice of a parish priest.

But perhaps a better question would be: “How do we work to make it so that Catholics naturally respond, ‘Of course, it’s wrong to deny this person food and water! He may be in a vegetative state, but he’s still a human being. He’s no less a child of God and deserving of care, even if he cannot speak.’”

We’d like to see more creative thinking on the follow-up that is needed to bring Church documents to life, so that they don’t end up becoming one sheaf of paper after another that very few people will read.

So would Archbishop Timothy Dolan. The New York archbishop recently called on the Knights of Malta, a group of distinguished Catholics, to use their influence in society to defend the faith. His call could go out to other Catholic associations that ought to be more active in speading the truths of our faith.

And not only to associations: All Catholics, no matter what their standing in society is, can witness in one way or another.

With the Internet, blogs, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and all the rest, we can spread our message farther and wider than ever before.

Indeed, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, in its recent message for the 2010 World Day of Communications, encourages priests and catechists to use these means.

“Thanks to the new media, those involved in preaching and catechizing can now reach individuals and entire communities on every continent using words, sounds and images,” the message said.

There’s no reason to limit it to priests and catechists. Every Catholic is called to be an apostle of the faith.

The message of our bishops, who are the successors of the apostles and our teachers in the faith, is clear. But it’s not up to them to be the sole messengers. It’s up to us to be what we are by baptism and confirmation: active apostles of the faith.

True Hope

The expectant season of Advent is now upon us.

Christians the world over will light the first of four candles to commemorate a season brimming with true hope.

And, just as with that first Advent 2,000 years ago, when the people of Israel prayed for a deliverer from Roman tyranny who would free them and inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth, the people of today seek the fulfillment of their hopes.

But there’s false hope and true hope.

Barack Obama, who campaigned for president under the banner of “Hope,” promised to answer voters’ prayers for fiscal, physical and domestic tranquility. A year later, that hope has not been rewarded.

Then there’s the kind of hope that permeates the tens of thousands of young people who attended the National Catholic Youth Conference Nov. 19-21 in Kansas.

There’s the hope that fuels the mission of the Faithful House program, which seeks to reduce HIV/AIDS in Africa (see front-page story).

And there’s the hope that inspires the actions of the Knights of Columbus and individual Catholics in their annual battle to keep Nativity scenes and what they represent alive in public consciousness.

Because they, and we, possess the Hope who does not disappoint.