Thursday, 13 November 2014

Pope Francis’ Universe

Caravaggio

As I outlined in the first installment of this series, I am in the process of looking at how the universe is being thought of from different perspectives and by thinkers of different backgrounds. After a brief look at Chiara Lubich’s intellectual visions concerning creation, I would now like to share a high-level view of how Pope Francis has been speaking about this topic.

The first thing to note is that he uses the terms “universe,” “creation,” and “nature” (with the odd mention of “cosmos”) interchangeably, while referring to social, economic and cultural spheres when speaking about the “world.” With this categorization, we can look at what Francis thinks the universe is, how he speaks about approaching and understanding it, what value he gives it and what relationship he proposes for us to have with it.

The most important point in terms of which to read all that follows is the intimate relationship Francis sees between God and “the universe, the precious gift of the Creator”:
“[T]he Holy Trinity […] leads us to contemplate and worship the divine life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: a life of communion and perfect love, origin and aim of all the universe and of every creature: God.” (Angelus, 15th June 2014)
Not only is the universe God’s gift to us and a gift that has both source and destination in the inner life of the Trinity, but it is also permeated by God’s presence:
“God and Christ walk with us and are present also in nature, as the Apostle Paul affirmed in his address at the Areopagus: “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). When we read in Genesis the account of Creation, we risk imagining that God was a magician, with such a magic wand as to be able to do everything. However, it was not like that. He created beings and left them to develop according to the internal laws that He gave each one, so that they would develop, and reach their fullness. He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time that He assured them of his continual presence, giving being to every reality.” (Address to Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 27th October 2014)
God is paradoxically, simultaneously present throughout the universe, giving it being, and at the same time investing it with laws and autonomy. He desires its development, but remains close to his creation. Francis then, in the same speech, elaborates on the significance of these God-given laws of nature:
“The beginning of the world was not the work of chaos, which owes its origin to another, but it derives directly from a Supreme Principle who creates out of love. The Big-Bang, that is placed today at the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine intervention but exacts it. The evolution in nature is not opposed to the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”
The world is not arbitrary, but has order, which it turn leads to repeatability and therefore rationality, making the universe knowable - an aspect of God’s gift that Francis values highly, and about which he speaks in the context of its relationship with faith and truth in the encyclical Lumen Fidei (§34):
“A common truth intimidates us, for we identify it with the intransigent demands of totalitarian systems. But if truth is a truth of love, if it is a truth disclosed in personal encounter with the Other and with others, then it can be set free from its enclosure in individuals and become part of the common good. [... F]aith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others. One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all. Nor is the light of faith, joined to the truth of love, extraneous to the material world, for love is always lived out in body and spirit; the light of faith is an incarnate light radiating from the luminous life of Jesus. It also illumines the material world, trusts its inherent order and knows that it calls us to an ever widening path of harmony and understanding. The gaze of science thus benefits from faith: faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness. Faith awakens the critical sense by preventing research from being satisfied with its own formulae and helps it to realize that nature is always greater. By stimulating wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation.”
Believing in God being the creator of the universe is not an alternative to a scientific world view, but its enabler for the Christian scientist, who trusts in the inherent order of their object of inquiry and who responds to God’s invitation to know Him also through His creation. Francis elaborates on this point in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (§242-243), also calling for a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the universe:
“Whereas positivism and scientism “refuse to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences”,[190] the Church proposes another path, which calls for a synthesis between the responsible use of methods proper to the empirical sciences and other areas of knowledge such as philosophy, theology, as well as faith itself [...]. Faith is not fearful of reason; on the contrary, it seeks and trusts reason, since “the light of reason and the light of faith both come from God”[191] and cannot contradict each other. [...]

The Church has no wish to hold back the marvellous progress of science. On the contrary, she rejoices and even delights in acknowledging the enormous potential that God has given to the human mind. Whenever the sciences – rigorously focused on their specific field of inquiry – arrive at a conclusion which reason cannot refute, faith does not contradict it. […]”
In fact, on a separate occasion, Francis puts the Church’s appreciation of science in maternal terms: “as a mother rejoices and is rightly proud as her children grow “in wisdom, and age and grace” (Lk 2:52)” and adds art to the modes of engagement with the universe, saying:
“In every age the Church has called upon the arts to give expression to the beauty of her faith and to proclaim the Gospel message of the grandeur of God’s creation, the dignity of human beings made in his image and likeness, and the power of Christ’s death and resurrection to bring redemption and rebirth to a world touched by the tragedy of sin and death.”
The sense of awe and wonder that drive both rational and artistic engagement with the universe (for believers and non-believers alike) is further emphasized in one of Francis’ catecheses about the Holy Spirit:
“When our eyes are illumined by the Spirit, they open to contemplate God, in the beauty of nature and in the grandeur of the cosmos, and they lead us to discover how everything speaks to us about Him and His love. All of this arouses in us great wonder and a profound sense of gratitude! It is the sensation we experience when we admire a work of art or any marvel whatsoever that is borne of the genius and creativity of man: before all this, the Spirit leads us to praise the Lord from the depths of our heart and to recognize, in all that we have and all that we are, an invaluable gift of God and a sign of his infinite love for us.”
And to round out this picture of how a knowledge of the universe complements faith, it is worth reading Pope Francis’ words from this year’s Epiphany homily, where he places the two side-by-side as “great books”:
“[O]ur life is a journey, illuminated by the lights which brighten our way, to find the fullness of truth and love which we Christians recognize in Jesus, the Light of the World. [… E]very person has two great “books” which provide the signs to guide this pilgrimage: the book of creation and the book of sacred Scripture. What is important is that we be attentive, alert, and listen to God who speaks to us, who always speaks to us.”
Pope Francis also points to Jesus himself having made use of this “book of creation” in his own teaching:
“When he speaks to the people, Jesus uses many parables: in language understandable to everyone, with images from nature and from everyday situations.”
Far from being optional or even frowned upon, knowledge of the material world is a guide to the Christian as is that of Scripture, which is further underlined by the universe being seen as good (as opposed to evil or even just neutral):
“In the first Chapter of Genesis, right at the beginning of the Bible, what is emphasized is that God is pleased with his creation, stressing repeatedly the beauty and goodness of every single thing. At the end of each day, it is written: “God saw that it was good” (1:12, 18, 21, 25): if God sees creation as good, as a beautiful thing, then we too must take this attitude and see that creation is a good and beautiful thing.” (General Audience, 21st May 2014)

““And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:12, 18, 21, 25). The biblical account of the beginning of the history of the world and of humanity speaks to us of a God who looks at creation, in a sense contemplating it, and declares: “It is good”.” (Vigil for Peace, 7th September 2013)
What then ought to be our attitude towards a universe that we can relate to in truth (through knowledge), beauty (through the senses and art) and goodness (through contemplation)? Francis’ answer, unsurprisingly, is “respect and gratitude”:
“[I]f God sees creation as good, as a beautiful thing, then we too must take this attitude and see that creation is a good and beautiful thing. [...] Creation is not some possession that we can lord over for our own pleasure; nor, even less, is it the property of only some people, the few: creation is a gift, it is the marvellous gift that God has given us, so that we will take care of it and harness it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude. […] We must protect creation for it is a gift which the Lord has given us, it is God’s present to us; we are the guardians of creation. When we exploit creation, we destroy that sign of God’s love. To destroy creation is to say to God: “I don’t care”. And this is not good: this is sin.”
An important aspect here is the harnessing of the universe for the good of all, which Francis also ties to the universe’s “grammar”:
“The human family has received from the Creator a common gift: nature. The Christian view of creation includes a positive judgement about the legitimacy of interventions on nature if these are meant to be beneficial and are performed responsibly, that is to say, by acknowledging the “grammar” inscribed in nature and by wisely using resources for the benefit of all, with respect for the beauty, finality and usefulness of every living being and its place in the ecosystem. Nature, in a word, is at our disposition and we are called to exercise a responsible stewardship over it.”
And on another occasion he then links the care for nature to the care we must have for one another:
“All of creation forms a harmonious and good unity, but above all humanity, made in the image and likeness of God, is one family, in which relationships are marked by a true fraternity not only in words: the other person is a brother or sister to love, and our relationship with God, who is love, fidelity and goodness, mirrors every human relationship and brings harmony to the whole of creation. God’s world is a world where everyone feels responsible for the other, for the good of the other.”
In summary, Francis’ universe is a gratuitous gift from God whose being He sustains and in which He is close to us, but also where He instituted laws and, at the same time, autonomy. It is a gift that has its origin and being in God and its destiny too, via its being harnessed for the good of all. It is a gift that exhibits goodness and beauty and whose nature can be expressed in truth. As a result it invites respectful stewardship for the good of all, contemplation and rational understanding. Francis, using a rich metaphor, therefore issues an “appeal for respect and protection of the entire creation which God has entrusted to man, not so that it be indiscriminately exploited, but rather made into a garden.”

Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Extraordinary Synod: Family, Church, God

Francis w baby

[Guest post: The following is a talk about the Extraordinary Synod on the Family given at a retreat by Dr. Ján Morovič, which is reproduced here with the author’s permission.]

What I’d like to do today is to give you an overview of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family that took place from 5th to 19th October, by covering the following:
  • First, to give you an “executive summary” in Pope Francis’ own words from a week ago,
  • second, walk you through the process that is underway towards a renewal of how families are cared for by the Church and how they form part of the Church,
  • third, give you a flavor of the key topics discussed during the Synod,
  • fourth, focus on Francis’ role in the Synod,
  • and finally, argue that what is at stake here both goes far beyond the family, and doesn’t :)

Francis’ executive summary

The best, most concise exposition of why there is a need for the question of the family to be addressed today and, therefore, of why there was a need for the Synod that concluded a couple of weeks ago, comes from Pope Francis himself, who addressed a meeting of the Schönstatt movement last Saturday with the following words:
“The Christian family, the family, marriage, have never been attacked as much as now. Attacked directly or attacked as a matter of fact. Maybe I am mistaken, and the historians of the Church could tell us, but the family is being beaten, is being bastardized, as if it were just a loose association, as if you could call anything a family. And then, how many wounded families there are, how many broken down marriages, how much relativism there is, as far as the understanding of the sacrament of marriage is concerned. From the sociological point of view, from the point of view of human values, and from the point of the Catholic sacrament, the Christian sacrament, there is a crisis of the family. It gets beaten up from all sides. It ends up being very wounded.

So, we have no choice but to do something. So, what can we do? Yes, we can give nice talks, declare some nice principles, this we do have to do for sure to have clear ideas. Look, these things you are proposing, they are not marriage. It is an association, but it is not marriage. Sometimes it is necessary to say things very clearly. And they must be said. But, the pastoral help that is needed is body to body. Accompanying. And this means loosing time. The greatest teacher of how to lose time is Jesus. He lost time by accompanying, helping consciences mature, healing wounds, teaching. Accompanying means to share a journey.

Evidently, the sacrament of marriage has been devalued. And, unconsciously, there has been a move from the sacrament to the ritual. A reduction of sacrament to ritual. This leads to thinking about the sacrament as a social matter. Yes, with religious elements, for sure, but the strong point being the social. […] The social aspect obscures that which is most important about marriage, which is union with God.”
With the above landscape in mind, consisting of the scaramentality of marriage, its being under attack, the ubiquity of wounded families, the need for imitating Jesus’ closeness to all, and the importance of understanding marriage as union with God, let’s look at how the Church arrived at this Synod and what journey it is on, moving forward.

The process

The Extraordinary Synod on the Family, whose full title is: “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelisation,” was called by Pope Francis in October 2013. It being an extraordinary synod, as opposed an ordinary one, taking place at regular intervals, points directly to its purpose being to “deal with matters which require a speedy solution” (Code of Canon Law, canon 346 §2). And the fact that it was announced as part of a pair of Synods - the one we just had, and its follow-up that will take place from 4th to 25th October 2015 - indicates the complexity of the topic, and the need for a year’s work and discernment to be part of the process.

Within weeks of the Synod’s announcement last October, a preparatory document was published by the Synod’s secretariat, consisting both of some thoughts on the key challenges facing the family and - in an unprecedented move - a questionnaire that was sent to dioceses around the world for completion. It is a questionnaire that asked very open and direct questions about what of the Church’s teaching was understandable, and what positions were held with regard to its teaching on abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, etc. Importantly, many dioceses opened the questionnaire up to the public (e.g., including Brentwood and Westminster), which resulted in a very large-scale response.

The Synod secretariat’s next move was to publish an extensive summary (the “instrumentum laboris”) of the responses at the end of June. This was a great move of openness and transparency, further underlined by its very frank presentation of the questionnaire’s responses. There was both a reinforcing of positives here - i.e., the continuing recognition of the value and beauty of marriage - and an identification of and admission to problems - e.g., the general lack of an understanding of the Church’s teaching, a loss of meaning of the concept of “natural law,” the damage caused by the sexual scandals in the Church, and the mounting external and internal pressures that families face today.

Next, the Synod Fathers, comprising heads of all local episcopal conferences, the heads of some religious orders and a number of members directly appointed by Pope Francis, were asked to submit written statements in response to the “instrumentum laboris.” The Synod’s secretariat then summarized these in its first working document - the “relatio ante disceptationem,” whose reading took place during the first morning of the Synod. A week of interventions followed - including “witnesses” from married couples at the beginning of each of a day’s two sessions, after which an updated working document was produced - the “relatio post disceptationem.” Note, that it was written single-handedly by Archbishop Bruno Forte, appointed to this role directly by Pope Francis. The following week saw work in groups of around 30 people each that resulted in feedback to the small team in charge of editing the working document and producing the official outcome of the Synod. Finally, this “Relatio Synodi” was voted on, paragraph by paragraph, and published as a guide for what topics to deepen during the following year.

Next year, the second Synod, still on the topic of the Family, will result in proposals to the Holy Father, who can then freely choose how to take them into account in the measures he takes with regard to the care for and role of families in the Church. When looking at the details of the content discussed at the Synod, it is worth noting the very loose relationship between the Synod on the New Evangelization that took place in 2011 and Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium, that, procedurally, follows from it. In the end, the paradigm that applies here is the Jesuit concept of “You discern, we discern, I decide.”

The topics

Turning to what was discussed at the Synod, I’d like to pick out some key themes for you, without being comprehensive, as it may otherwise turn into sounding like a shopping list, and I’d like to focus on the areas that have received either the greatest support or where there was most debate. Before diving into these “hot” topics, it is worth noting that the sacramentality and indissolubility of marriage, its being a source of joy, its being between a man and a woman, and the sanctity of life that originates, runs its course and completes its earthly journey there, were unanimously reaffirmed. There was also broad agreement on the need to revise and strengthen marriage preparation and accompanying of married couples, and the pressures following from economic hardship (unemployment, separation as a result of traveling for work, the inequitable treatment of women) and the tragedy of wars were also a theme running through the Synod.

Subjects of evangelization

First, there was an emphasis on the family not only as object of evangelization (i.e., an entity to be evangelized), but also as its subject (an entity that evangelizes). In particular, movements like the Focolare and the Neocatecumenal Way (which were mentioned explicitly), were highlighted as examples of families carrying out evangelization by “patient and delicate accompanying” and by presenting “the attractive testimony of authentic Christian families.” As a consequence, it was also declared that “the Church must be more open to dialogue, and must listen more frequently (and not only in exceptional cases) to the experiences of married couples.”

A new language

Second, a very prominent topic throughout the Synod has been the call for a new language to be used when announcing the Gospel, calling for “forms and suitable language […] to be devised to proclaim that all are and remain God’s children and are loved by God the Father and the Church as Mother.” The need to listen to the world, so that it may listen to the Church was emphasized and it was noted that “dialogue may be based on important themes, such as the equal dignity of men and women and the rejection of violence.” As an example, “terms like “living in sin,” “intrinsically disordered,” and “contraceptive mentality” were singled out by the Synod Fathers as instances of “harsh language,” where there was a need for change that would demonstrate the Church's openness and love.” Let me quote a passage from Dublin’s Archbishop Dairmuid Martin’s intervention that regards this point:
“To many the language of the Church appears to be a disincarnated language of telling people what to do, a “one way dialogue”. I am in no way saying that the Church is not called to teach. I am not saying that experience on its own determines teaching or the authentic interpretation of teaching. What I am saying is that the lived experience and struggle of spouses can help find more effective ways of expression of the fundamental elements of Church teaching. Jesus himself accompanied his preaching the good news with a process of healing the wounded and welcoming those on the margins. His teaching was never disincarnated and unmoved by the concrete human situation in which people could come to be embraced by the Good News. Jesus’ care for the sick and the troubled and those weighed down by burdens is the key which helps to understand how he truly is the Son of God.”
I also found the words of our Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the next day, to be a great example of what this new language might look like:
“I don’t doubt that most young people aspire to having their own family, having their own family within the stable relationship between husband and wife, having that family with a sense of permanence and a permanent, faithful commitment. Nobody wants a wife or a husband who is unfaithful. And so what we have to get across to people is that casual relationships before marriage is actually being casual with somebody’s future husband or wife. And its that sense of the real value that’s written in us, its in the hearts of people, that they aspire to, that has consequences for how we behave today as well.”

Seeds of the Word

Third, one of the most revolutionary ideas of the Synod is that of recognizing whatever good there is also under imperfect circumstances, which the “relatio post disceptationem” puts as follows:
“Some ask whether the sacramental fullness of marriage does not exclude the possibility of recognizing positive elements even the imperfect forms that may be found outside this nuptial situation, which are in any case ordered in relation to it. The doctrine of levels of communion, formulated by Vatican Council II, confirms the vision of a structured way of participating in the Mysterium Ecclesiae by baptized persons. […] (§18)

Realizing the need, therefore, for spiritual discernment with regard to cohabitation, civil marriages and divorced and remarried persons, it is the task of the Church to recognize those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1,9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings. (§20)”
The idea of “levels of communion” is with reference to how ecumenism is presented in Lumen Gentium (§15): “The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter.” It is also important to note that this analogy was proposed by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, who was the general editor of the current Catechism. Another way of looking at what these changes mean is what Antonio Spadaro SJ (the editor of Civiltà Cattolica, and Synod Father by direct papal appointment) tweeted about it: “Today […] we have seen a church that pays more attention to sowing seeds than to pulling out weeds.”

Mercy

Closely related to the above desire, to look for the traces of God’s presence under all circumstances, is the focus on mercy that has been the backbone of the Synod:
“[M]ercy is not a justification to sin but rather the sinner's justification, to the extent that he converts and aims to sin no more. Mercy, the central theme of the God’s revelation, is highly important as a hermeneutic for the Church’s actions (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 193 ff.). Certainly, she does not do away with truth nor relativize it, but seeks to interpret it correctly in the hierarchy of truths (cf. Unitatis redintegratio, 11; Evangelii gaudium, 36-37). Nor does she do away with the demands of justice.” (Relatio ante disceptationem, 3b)
One of the Spanish-speaking Synod Fathers put this point particularly forcefully:
“Above all we must kneel before the Holy Spirit and remember that we aren’t the bosses of God’s mercy. We must remember that the mission that Jesus entrusted to his apostles, and by extension to us as their successors, is to evangelize and to heal. And this means, spreading the Good News.”
And finally, one of the English-speaking working groups feedback on the “relatio post disceptationem” has been the affirmation that mercy is needed by all of us:
“All of us need the help of the mercy of God. The mercy of God is not just a medicine, much less a consolation prize, for those who fail. None of us can be faithful without experiencing God’s mercy. No one should devalue the place of mercy in the economy of salvation.” (Relatio - Circulus Anglicus “B”)

Inclusion

A consequence of the above mercy is also the emphasis that inclusion has seen throughout the Synod, which was put particularly emphatically by the German Cardinal Reinhard Marx:
“We must be close to everyone, each with their particular circumstances. We must give them opportunities to find their place in the Church. No one is excluded! No one is redundant! No one is marginalized! Exclusion is not the language of the Church!”
It is also a point that Pope Francis underlined during the Angelus address he gave half-way through the Synod:
“The goodness of God has no boundaries and does not discriminate against anyone: this is why the feast of the Lord's gifts is universal, for all. Everyone is given the opportunity to respond to his invitation, to his call; no one has the right to feel privileged or to an exclusive claim. All this leads us to overcome the habit of positioning ourselves comfortably in the middle, as did the chief priests and the Pharisees. This mustn't be done; we must open ourselves to the peripheries, recognizing that even those who are on the margins, even one who is despised and rejected by society, is an object of God's generosity. We are all called to not reducing the Kingdom of God to the confines of a “little church” - our “tiny little church” - but to widen the Church to the scale of the Kingdom of God. There is only one condition: to wear a wedding dress, which is showing love towards God and neighbor.”

The law of gradualness

Looking at the above, the mistaken impression may arise that there is a departure from a striving for perfection, or that virtue and a close adherence to the Church’s teaching and the Gospel are somehow secondary or optional. Such a reading of the Synod’s discussions would be missing an important point though:
“In the Christian life, the reception of Baptism brings the believer into the Church through the domestic church, namely, the family; thus beginning “a dynamic process [which] develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God” (Familiaris Consortio, 9), in an ongoing conversion to a love which saves us from sin and gives us fullness of life.” (Relatio Synodi, §13)
Cardinal Marx, putting the above into his own words, declares that:
“On every human journey, including one that may be based on a mistake, there is growth and increasing maturity, there is improvement, there is something that can be lived through the spirit of the Gospel.”
The key here is that the recognition of goodness in imperfection is a stepping stone, the beginning of a journey towards fulness.

Divorced and remarried

The first case to which the above focus on inclusion, mercy and the recognition was applied, and one that has had a lot of media attention already before the synod, are the divorced and remarried, and the question of their access to the Eucharist. Here the main aspects of discernment revolved around, on the one hand, the indissolubility of marriage being recognized by all, and, on the other hand, there being differing conceptions of the Eucharist, ranging from a focus on a compliance with prerequisites by some and a focus on its being a healing gift by others. The latter is best represented by Fr. Adolfo Nicolas SJ, the Superior General of the Jesuits, saying: “A divorced person has suffered, but we withdraw medicine from him or her who needs it most. No, this cannot be!”

At the conclusion of the Synod, there was great variety in how this challenge is to be addressed, ranging from some, few, being emphatic about there being no way to provide the divorced and remarried with access to the Eucharist, to a variety of positions that called for further study and discernment both with an initial proposal for what a solution might look like, and without. Here the types of solutions ranged from individual, case-by-case discernment by the local bishop to prolonged penitential processes.

An example of the more cautious, yet not categorically opposed position here is that of Cardinal Angelo Scola:
“Personally, on a substantial level, I can not find an answer yet to the possibility that [the divorced and civilly remarried] could have access to sacramental communion without this clashing with the indissolubility of marriage. In short, indissolubility either has an impact on the reality of daily life, or remains a Platonic idea.”
The attitude to adopt already while potential solutions are considered was best expressed by Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels:
“In the first place we are invited to greatly respect our brothers and sisters, the divorced and remarried. Mercy starts where we have unconditional respect for all who want to live within the Church but can’t marry again for the Church and receive Communion. […]

It is so important to speak with them, to let them speak about the beauty of marriage and the Christian family. Beauty is so powerful! This is obviously not esthetic beauty, but beauty who is the sister of truth and goodness. According to Aristotle “beauty is truth in all its glory”.”

Welcoming homosexual persons

The second case under discussion was the question of the Church's relationship with gay people, where the “relatio post disceptationem” declared:
“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony? (§50)

The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. […] (§51)

Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. (§52)”
The above represents a very clear application of the desire to seek the presence of good under all circumstances and to recognize in it the potential for a journey towards perfection, not being exclusive of anyone. It was Cardinal Marx again who also put the position most bluntly here:
“[... I know] a homosexual couple who have been together for 30-35 years in a faithful relationship, which as a sexual relationship is not accepted by the Church, but they live together, one looks after the other, during the last phase of his life. Here, as Church, I cannot say that everything that these people have done during their lives is without value, because they have a homosexual relationship. […] It would be unthinkable to say that because you are homosexual, you can live nothing of the spirit of the Gospel. That's unthinkable! At least for me.”
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, also spoke about homosexual people with great warmth, putting the ball in our, the Church's, court to make the first step:
“[Homosexuals] are our brothers or sisters. To be loved as children of God to the end, to be embraced, accompanied, sustained, to be close to. Another question is that of marriage. Because marriage, since the world has been the world, is between man and woman. [...] Then ... affection ... well we can be attracted by anyone. What’s more, I wish for all of us that we would all love each other, so we aren’t like frigid sticks that don’t encounter each other! The challenge is how to be close to those who are maybe in difficulty, and here I believe that it is all of us, believers, who need to take the first step. Whoever is in difficulty is to be embraced and helped.”
Again, as in the case of the divorced and remarried, the path forward is not clear and there was a great deal of difference in opinion on this subject (including objections to the use of “welcoming” with reference to gays), but that we must - as followers of Jesus - direct a merciful, loving gaze at them too is crystal clear. Not because they are gay or divorced, but because we are all children of God, members of the one family.

Francis’ role

Having given you a taster of what the process has been and a flavor of what has been discussed and how, I would like to turn our attention to Pope Francis’ presence in the above picture, and I would just like to pick out a few of the key moments, since I think they offer a model that we can learn from also.

First, I’d like to give you a sense of the timescale and consistency of Francis’ vision. Already during the meeting of cardinals before the consistory that elected him, the then-cardinal Bergoglio said:
"Holy Week challenges us to step outside ourselves so as to attend to the needs of others: those who long for a sympathetic ear, those in need of comfort or help. We should not simply remain in our own secure world, that of the ninety-nine sheep who never strayed from the fold, but we should go out, with Christ, in search of the one lost sheep, however far it may have wandered.”
And it is on the back of this vision that he is elected, and it is a vision he re-iterates the very next day, when addressing the cardinals:
“[A]ll together, pastors and faithful, we will make an effort to respond faithfully to the eternal mission: to bring Jesus Christ to humanity, and to lead humanity to an encounter with Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life, truly present in the Church and, at the same time, in every person.”
Note the focus on bringing Jesus to humanity and on his pointing to His presence in every person. Eight months later, he reaffirms this commitment in his apostolic exhortation - Evangelii Gaudium, a magisterial document of the Church, where he says:
“Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
And finally, on the eve of this Synod on the Family, Francis’ homily focuses on excessive burdens and on “God’s dream”:
“[E]vil pastors lay intolerable burdens on the shoulders of others, which they themselves do not lift a finger to move (cf. Mt 23:4). We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the Lord’s vineyard. [...] We are all sinners and can also be tempted to “take over” the vineyard, because of that greed which is always present in us human beings. God’s dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants. […] My Synod brothers, to do a good job of nurturing and tending the vineyard, our hearts and our minds must be kept in Jesus Christ by “the peace of God which passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7). In this way our thoughts and plans will correspond to God’s dream: to form a holy people who are his own and produce the fruits of the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 21:43).”
Taken with everything he has done during the year and a half between his election and the Synod, he couldn’t have been clearer about what he wants to see from his brothers, and, so - after encouraging them to speak their minds freely on the first morning of the Synod, he spends the following two weeks attending all but one of the sessions (skipping only one due to a General Audience) and doing so in silence. This, to me, is a remarkable approach and one that makes me immediately think about how Chiara saw Mary in Paradise - “as the blue of the sky contains sun and moon and stars.” In fact, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi pointed out that Pope Francis’s silence was fundamental for the Synod’s discussions to be possible, quoting the Latin saying “Roma locuta, causa finita.” If Francis had spoken, it would have been the end of the discussion.

What Francis did at the end of the Synod is another important lesson though. First, he had the entire final report - the “Relatio Synodi” published, instead of only the paragraphs that received 2/3rds of the Synod Fathers’ votes, as follows from the Synod’s constitution. Not only that, but he ordered for the vote counts to be published for each paragraph too. This ensured that all topics discussed during the first Synod would be deepened over the next year and discussed again at next year’s Synod - including those that did not get a 2/3rds majority, which were all of the controversial ones regarding the challenges of welcoming divorced and gay people, and ones that spoke about the need to recognize the presence of the seeds of the Word in imperfect circumstances.

To further underline his resolve and his commitment to the need for an opening and a going out to the peripheries that he has been pioneering since before his election, Francis gives an unscheduled closing speech that effectively upstages the Synod’s final report.

There, he first chastises the Synod Fathers for having succumbed to some of four types of temptation:
“- One: the temptation of hostile rigidity, that is, wanting to enclose oneself in the written (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, the God of surprises (the spirit); within the law, in the certainty of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and achieve. Since the time of Jesus, there has been the temptation of the zealots, the scrupulous, the cautious, the - today - so-called “traditionalists” and even the intellectuals.

- The temptation of destructive do-goodery, which in the name of a false mercy bandages wounds without first curing and medicating them; which treats symptoms and not their causes and roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders”, of the fearful and even the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

- The temptation to turn stone into bread so as to break a long, heavy and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4), and also to turn bread into stone and throw it at sinners, the weak and the sick (cf. Jn 8.7), that is, to turn it into “unbearable burdens” (Lk 10:27).

- The temptation to come down from the cross, to please people, and not to stay, to fulfill the will of the Father; to bow to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

- The temptation to neglect the “deposit of faith”, not considering themselves custodians, but masters or owners, or, on the other hand, the temptation to ignore reality by using meticulous language and language so polished that saying many things result in not having said anything! Such language used to be called “byzantine”, I think, such language ...”
Next, he reiterates what the Church is:
“And this is the Church, the Lord’s vineyard, the fertile Mother and caring [female] Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on the wounds of men (cf. Lk 10: 25-37); who does not look at humanity from a glass castle to judge or categorize people. This Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, in need of His mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, seeking to be faithful to her spouse and to his doctrine. It is the Church who is not afraid of eating and drinking with prostitutes and tax collectors (Luke 15). The Church that has doors wide open to receive the needy, the repentant and not only the righteous or those who think they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and does not pretend not to see him, what’s more, she feels involved and almost obliged to raise him and encourage him to continue his journey, and she accompanies him to the final encounter with her ​​Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

This is the Church, our mother! And when the Church, in the variety of its charisms, is expressed in communion, she can make no mistakes: this is the beauty and strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of faith, which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and to learn to follow Jesus in our lives, and this must not be seen as a source of confusion and discomfort.”
And, finally, after quoting an extensive excerpt from an address Pope Benedict XVI gave about who the pope is, he concludes by speaking to those who have been misusing the law as a veto against the renewal that the Holy Spirit has been driving in the Church since the first Pentecost, by quoting canon law to them:
“So, the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).”
“You discern, we discern, I decide.” :)

What is at stake

To conclude this long, but still only very sketchy and incomplete run through the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, I would like to argue that it hasn’t really been about the family. Much greater things are at stake here than “just” the nature of how man and woman unite to welcome each other and be open to new life.

What is at stake here is the very nature of the Church. Is she restricted to the virtuous few, to the wholly compliant, to the pious and proper, to the i dotters and t crossers? Or is she the mother who seeks out her children wherever they may be, welcoming them with open arms and an even more open heart, healing their wounds, but also delighting in their child-like achievements, and enveloping them in a warm embrace? Francis’ position is very clear here, but so is that of many of our bishops and pastors. Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow puts it as follows:
“[T]he Church has to find a way to speak St Paul’s words of love, which compassionately excuse and forgive, but which also heal and renew and lift up again; where forgiveness is not accommodation or indifference but genuine and sometimes hard-won reconciliation, engendering new trust, new hope, new endurance, and new faithfulness, a new page in the story of love.”
And the notes from one of the Synod’s sessions emphasize:
“[T]he Church is not a customs [checkpoint], but rather the house of the Father, and must therefore offer patient accompaniment to all people, including those who find themselves in difficult pastoral situations. The true Catholic Church encompasses healthy families and families in crisis, and therefore in her daily effort of sanctification must not show indifference in relation to weakness, as patience implies actively helping the weakest.”
In fact, what is at stake here is not only what the family is, who the Church is, but also who God is. Here, our understanding of both Church and family flow from who we believe God is, and Pope Francis again places a crystal-clear image in front of us, an image projected from the words of Jesus about his Father, brought into focus by the Holy Spirit’s presence today:
“God is good to us, freely offering us his friendship, his joy, salvation, but often it is us who do not accept his gifts, we place our material concerns, our interests in the first place and also when the Lord calls us, it often seems to bother us.” (Angelus, 12 October 2014)

“God is always new; He never denies himself, never says that what He said was wrong, never, but He always surprises us.” (Homily at Santa Marta, 13 October 2014)

“Our name is in God’s heart, is in God’s bowels, just as the baby is inside its mother. Our joy lies in our being elected. We cannot understand this with our head alone. We cannot understand this even with our heart. To understand this we must enter into the Mystery of Jesus Christ. The Mystery of His beloved Son: ‘He has poured out his blood for us in abundance, with all wisdom and intelligence, making known to us the mystery of His will’.” (Homily at Santa Marta, 17 October 2014)
Yet, in spite of having said that more than the family is at stake, it is also true to say that we have been talking about the family all along, which becomes clear through the words of St. John Paul II: “[T]he primordial model of the family is to be sought in God himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of life. […] The family itself is the great mystery of God.” (Letter to Families, 1994, §6, §19)

Monday, 27 October 2014

The family: union with God

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On Saturday, Pope Francis met with members of the Schönstatt Apostolic Movement in the Vatican and answered some of their questions. Since I haven't found the full text in English anywhere, and since the topic of most of the questions was the family, I was keen to hear Francis' words this soon after the conclusion of the Synod.

Instead of an extensive analysis, I would just like to share the following translated transcript of the introduction to his first answer, which I read as a beautiful "relatio synodi" put in Francis' own words:
“The Christian family, the family, marriage, have never been attacked as much as now. Attacked directly or attacked as a matter of fact. Maybe I am mistaken, and the historians of the Church could tell us, but the family is being beaten, is being bastardized, as if it were just a loose association, as if you could call anything a family. And then, how many wounded families there are, how many broken down marriages, how much relativism there is, as far as the understanding of the sacrament of marriage. From the sociological point of view, from the point of view of human values, and from the point of the Catholic sacrament, the Christian sacrament, there is a crisis of the family. It gets beaten up from all sides. It ends up being very wounded.

So, we have no choice but to do something. So, what can we do. Yes, we can give nice talks, declare some nice principles, this we do have to do for sure to have clear ideas. Look, these things you are proposing, they are not marriage. It is an association, but it is not marriage. Sometimes it is necessary to say things very clearly. And they must be said. But the pastoral help that is needed is body to body. Accompanying. And this means loosing time. The greatest teacher of how to lose time is Jesus. He lost time by accompanying, to help consciences mature, to heal wounds, to teach. Accompanying means to share a journey.

Evidently the sacrament of marriage has been devalued. And, unconsciously, there has been a move from the sacrament to the ritual. A reduction of sacrament to ritual. This leads to thinking about the sacrament as a social matter. Yes, with religious elements, for sure, but the strong point being the social. […] The social aspect obscures that which is most important about marriage, which is union with God.”
And this, in turn, made me think of St. John Paul II's profound words on the same subject:
“[T]he primordial model of the family is to be sought in God himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of life. […] The family itself is the great mystery of God.” (Letter to Families, 1994, §6, §19)
Very much is at stake here. Not only the family, but our relationship with God too. The God of mercy and vicinity, who invites us to share in the life of his being family.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Synod14: A reality check

Francis synod

If you are a regular on this blog, you’ll know that I have been following the Extraordinary Synod on the Family very closely. I have seen all the press conferences, read all the documents, watched all the interviews, waded through the, sadly mostly morass, of tweets tagged with #synod14, and have written blog posts daily. At the end of the Synod’s two weeks, I felt a great sense of joy and I delighted at the whole process, which, to my mind, was an example of a shared journey, of transparency, and of a group of bishops and lay people striving for the good of the family, with a tremendous sense of seriousness and honesty.

When I then read the first reports on Saturday evening, and then during the course of today in the general press, about what this Synod has arrived at, I have to admit that I came away from them with disappointment. I shouldn’t have been that naive, since this seems to be the norm in how anything moderately nuanced gets reported. From the perspective of the media, the result has been some variant of the following Guardian headline: "Catholic bishops veto gay-friendly statements leaving Pope Francis the loser."

What I have seen over the last two weeks couldn’t be further from a loss for Pope Francis, first of all because that is a meaningless way of looking at the situation. And even if one were to apply the loss/victory categories to the Synod, the opposite would be my conclusion. Let me therefore lay out what I believe just happened, in as blunt terms as I can, and, please, bear with me while I take a couple of steps back to do this picture justice.

In the beginning was the Word ...

No, let me not go back that far just yet (although that verse from the Johannine prologue is highly relevant to one of the keys to the Synod that I will return to in a later post) and instead start with a thought from Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation letter, where he assesses the current situation in the world as follows:
"[T]oday’s world [is] subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith"
Questions of deep relevance need to be addressed and Benedict does not have the strength to do it. So, he does what a true servant of servants must, and vacates the See of Peter. A conclave is called and cardinals present their visions for the Church. One Jorge Bergoglio presents the following program:
"Holy Week challenges us to step outside ourselves so as to attend to the needs of others: those who long for a sympathetic ear, those in need of comfort or help. We should not simply remain in our own secure world, that of the ninety-nine sheep who never strayed from the fold, but we should go out, with Christ, in search of the one lost sheep, however far it may have wandered.”
He gets elected Pope Francis and, the next day, in his first address to the cardinals since his election he declares:
“[A]ll together, pastors and faithful, we will make an effort to respond faithfully to the eternal mission: to bring Jesus Christ to humanity, and to lead humanity to an encounter with Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life, truly present in the Church and, at the same time, in every person.”
Then follow months of Francis putting his mission to welcome and accompany not only every single person who comes his way, but to go out of his way to reach out to those who may feel far from the Church. His correspondence with the atheist Eugenio Scalfari, his iPhone video to Evangelical Christians in the US and his resounding “Who am I to judge them?” with regard to gays are just a couple of examples off the top of my head.

Eight months after his election and to drive home the message that being a Church that is open and welcoming of all is a must, Francis pens the magnificent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium - a magisterial document of the Catholic Church, where he declares in the section entitled “A mother with an open heart” that:
“Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.[51] These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” (§47)
A whole year later, and a year where an outreach to the peripheries, an openness to all, regardless of how “proper” or well-ordered their lives are, have been Francis’ daily mission, he has the following to say on the eve of the Synod - just in case someone hasn’t been listening during the preceding year and a half:
“The temptation to greed is ever present. We encounter it also in the great prophecy of Ezekiel on the shepherds (cf. ch. 34), which Saint Augustine commented upon in one his celebrated sermons which we have just reread in the Liturgy of the Hours. Greed for money and power. And to satisfy this greed, evil pastors lay intolerable burdens on the shoulders of others, which they themselves do not lift a finger to move (cf. Mt 23:4)

We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the Lord’s vineyard. [...] We are all sinners and can also be tempted to “take over” the vineyard, because of that greed which is always present in us human beings. God’s dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants. We can “thwart” God’s dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us that wisdom which surpasses knowledge, and enables us to work generously with authentic freedom and humble creativity.

My Synod brothers, to do a good job of nurturing and tending the vineyard, our hearts and our minds must be kept in Jesus Christ by “the peace of God which passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7). In this way our thoughts and plans will correspond to God’s dream: to form a holy people who are his own and produce the fruits of the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 21:43).”
Note two things about what Francis says here: First, God’s dream is a holy people who are his own and who are looked after by his servants, servants who are not to overburden them. Second, he quotes Scripture and a saint to them [remember this for contrast with how he speaks to the Synod Fathers after the Synod].

A week of the Synod later, during which Francis attends almost every single session (skipping one due to the General Audience on the Wednesday), but during which he does not intervene, the interim report of the Synod is published - written by Archbishop Bruno Forte, whom Francis directly appointed to the job of doing so. What does the interim report (the “relatio post disceptationem”) say? Well, amongst other things:
“[I]t is the task of the Church to recognize those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1,9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings. [...]

In this respect, a new dimension of today’s family pastoral consists of accepting the reality of civil marriage and also cohabitation, taking into account the due differences. Indeed, when a union reaches a notable level of stability through a public bond, is characterized by deep affection, responsibility with regard to offspring, and capacity to withstand tests, it may be seen as a germ to be accompanied in development towards the sacrament of marriage. [...]

Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”
The Pope listened to everyone speaking their mind and then had “his man” pen the key takeaways - recognize a participation in the life of the Gospel no matter under what circumstances it happens, be welcoming, look for ways for everyone, who wants to, to find their place in the Church.

A week later, during which significant resistance is shown by some cardinals to the interim report, a final report is produced that tones down the interim reports’ language, but that still speaks about all the topics mentioned in the interim report. The final report is voted on paragraph by paragraph, but instead of only those paragraphs that have reached the 2/3 majority needed for them to be official proposals from the Synod to the Pope, all paragraphs are published on the Pope’s orders, including the data on how many votes each paragraph received. The purpose of this final document of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family is that it sets the agenda for the work of this, next year that leads to the Ordinary Synod on the Family in October 2015. Keeping all topics from the interim report in the final report means that they will get discussed both over the course of this year and at the next Synod.

Is that the end of the story? Not at all! What Pope Francis does next is to completely upstage the final report of the Synod, by delivering an amazing closing speech. Why does he do that? Because this Synod is not about its final document - it is the kick-off for a year of discernment and work towards the next Synod, after which proposals are going to be made to the Pope.

So, what did Pope Francis say at the end of this year’s Synod? First, he thanked all for their great effort and then he moved straight to telling them the temptations he saw them struggle with: “the temptation of hostile rigidity,” “the temptation of destructive do-goodery,” “the temptation to turn stone into bread and also to turn bread into stone,” “the temptation to come down from the cross” and “the temptation to neglect the “deposit of faith” and the temptation to ignore reality.” Ouch!

Then he proceeds to spell out, yet again!, what he is looking for:
“And this is the Church, the Lord’s vineyard, the fertile Mother and caring [female] Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on the wounds of men (cf. Lk 10: 25-37); who does not look at humanity from a glass castle to judge or categorize people. This Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, in need of His mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, seeking to be faithful to her spouse and to his doctrine. It is the Church who is not afraid of eating and drinking with prostitutes and tax collectors (Luke 15). The Church that has doors wide open to receive the needy, the repentant and not only the righteous or those who think they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and does not pretend not to see him, what’s more, she feels involved and almost obliged to raise him and encourage him to continue his journey, and she accompanies him to the final encounter with her ​​Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.”
But he doesn’t leave it there and in true Steve Jobs fashion pulls a “one more thing”:
“We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops [laughing]. So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.”
Francis pulls a great in-joke here, since the word “welcome” as applied to homosexuals was one of the most contested points in the interim report. Note the serrated edge that the above (“I made a mistake here. I said welcome”) gets in light of what Francis says at the end of his speech. First, however, he reads to them from one of Benedict XVI’s General Audiences:
“His duty is to remind everyone that authority in the Church is a service, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly explained, with words I cite verbatim: “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ… through the Pastors of the Church, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter… to participate in his mission of taking care of God’s People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community, or, as the Council puts it, ‘to see to it... that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with Gospel preaching, and to sincere and active charity’ and to exercise that liberty with which Christ has set us free (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6)… and it is through us,” Pope Benedict continues, “that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: ‘let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord’ (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).”
In other words, Francis is saying: what I have set out before you at the beginning of the Synod is pretty much what Benedict asked of you four years ago and what I have been telling you day in, day out, for the last year and a half.

And, just to sharpen the point a touch - and make it more directly understandable for those who have been misusing the law as a veto against accepting change - Francis concludes by quoting canon law to them (a. k. a. reading them the riot act!):
“So, the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).”
Boom! Oh, you think my saying “welcoming” was a “mistake”? Think again.

“Catholic bishops veto gay-friendly statements leaving Pope Francis the loser.” Not even close.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Synod14: A Church composed of sinners

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The work of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family has concluded today with a vote on the final report - the “Relatio Synodi”, which is now available in the full, Italian original (including data on how many of the Synod Fathers were in favor of or not in favor of each of the Relatio’s 62 paragraphs.

Instead of taking at look at the Relation, I would like to share some passages from the closing address of Pope Francis, who spent the last two weeks without intervening in the Synod, since - as Card. Ravasi said in the press conference earlier today, the saying “Roma locuta, causa finita” applies - if Francis had spoken it would have been the end of the discussion. Instead, as Ravasi pointed out, the Pope’s silence was fundamental for the Synod’s discussions to be possible.

Now that the Synod has concluded, Pope Francis could speak again, and speak he did!1

After thanking all for the shared journey of the past days and highlighting the positive, mutual help and collaboration among all involved, Francis turned to the challenges, in the form of five temptations that the Synod Fathers faced:
“- One: the temptation of hostile rigidity, that is, wanting to enclose oneself in the written (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, the God of surprises (the spirit); within the law, in the certainty of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and achieve. Since the time of Jesus, there has been the temptation of the zealots, the scrupulous, the cautious, the - today - so-called “traditionals” and even the intellectuals.

- The temptation of destructive do-goodery, which in the name of a false mercy bandages wounds without first curing and medicating them; which treats symptoms and not their causes and roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders”, of the fearful and even the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

- The temptation to turn stone into bread so as to break a long, heavy and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4), and also to turn bread into stone and throw it at sinners, the weak and the sick (cf. Jn 8.7), that is, to turn it into “unbearable burdens” (Lk 10:27).

- The temptation to come down from the cross, to please people, and not to stay, to fulfill the will of the Father; to bow to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

- The temptation to neglect the “deposit of faith, not considering themselves custodians, but masters or owners, or, on the other hand, the temptation to ignore reality by using meticulous language and language so polished that saying many things result in not having said anything! Such language used to be called “byzantine”, I think, such language ...”
While the above are strong accusations, Francis does not list them out of a desire to tell the Synod Fathers off, but sees them as a sign of the reality and seriousness of the work done over the preceding two weeks:
“Dear brothers and sisters, temptations must neither scare nor disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; therefore since Jesus was tempted - and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) - his disciples should not expect better treatment.

Personally I would have been very worried and saddened, if there hadn’t been these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St. Ignatius (EE 6) called it, if all were in agreement or silent in a false, quietist peace. Instead I saw and heard - with joy and gratitude - speeches and interventions full of faith, doctrinal and pastoral zeal, wisdom, frankness, courage and boldness [parresia]. And I felt that was put in front of your eyes was the good of the Church, of families and the “suprema lex”, the “salus animarum” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always - as we have said here, in the hall - without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of Marriage: indissolubility, unity, fidelity and procreation, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056 and Gaudium et Spes, 48).”
Next, Francis presents his vision of the Church - a Church welcoming of all, open to all:
“And this is the Church, the Lord’s vineyard, the fertile Mother and caring [female] Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on the wounds of men (cf. Lk 10: 25-37); who does not look at humanity from a glass castle to judge or categorize people. This Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, in need of His mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, seeking to be faithful to her spouse and to his doctrine. It is the Church who is not afraid of eating and drinking with prostitutes and tax collectors (Luke 15). The Church that has doors wide open to receive the needy, the repentant and not only the righteous or those who think they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and does not pretend not to see him, what’s more, she feels involved and almost obliged to raise him and encourage him to continue his journey, and she accompanies him to the final encounter with her ​​Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

This is the Church, our mother! And when the Church, in the variety of its charisms, is expressed in communion, she can make no mistakes: this is the beauty and strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of faith, which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and to learn to follow Jesus in our lives, and this must not be seen as a source of confusion and discomfort.”
Wow! This is indeed the Church, my Church, and the Church I am proud for all of my friends to meet.

Francis then continues with this magnificent line of thought, but, for today that’s all from me :).



1 Since, at the time of writing this post, only the Italian version has been made available, the following is my, rough translation.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Synod14: Exclusion is not the language of the Church

Francis inclusion

Like all this week, today too is best started with Pope Francis' homily, which is not only a source of joy and edification, but also an answer to the incessant question on the lips of all Synod pundits this week about what he thinks.

Today Pope Francis focused on the first reading (Ephesians 1:11-14) in which St. Paul tells us that “God not only chose us, but [he] gave us a style, a way of life, which is not only a list of habits, it is more: it is an identity”:
“Our identity is precisely this seal, this power of the Holy Spirit, that we all have received in Baptism. And the Holy Spirit has sealed our hearts, and more, walks with us. This Spirit, that was promised us – that Jesus promised us - this Spirit not only gives us an identity, but it is also a down payment on our inheritance. With Him, Heaven begins. We are already living in this Heaven, this eternity, because we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, which is the very beginning of Heaven: it was our down payment; we have it in hand. We have Heaven in hand with this seal.”
This is very much in line with St. John Paul II saying that “Eschatology has already begun with the coming of Christ,” and it leads Francis to warn against a “dulling down” of our Christian identity:
“This is the lukewarm Christian. It is a Christian who, yes, goes to Mass on Sundays, but whose identity is not visible in his way of life. He may even live like a pagan, but he is a Christian. Being lukewarm. Dulling down our identity. And the other sin, of which Jesus spoke to his disciples, and which we heard: 'Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.' 'Pretending': I pretend to be a Christian, but am not. I am not transparent, I say one thing - 'yes, yes I am a Christian' - but I do another, something that is not Christian”
And, finally, Francis points to what is needed: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And this is our path to Heaven, it is our road, so that Heaven may begin here.”

With the above it mind, I would just like to share some of the highlights of today's press conference with Synod participants, where I will focus in particular on the words of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who - to my mind - spoke with great clarity and charity today. To begin with Cardinal Marx declared that the answer to the question of whether anything will come out of this process as to be a “clear yes.”
“The Holy Father doesn't invite for two Synods just to hear at the end that we can keep repeating what we have always been saying. [...] He expects input from us that leads ahead, that opens doors, that points to ways of proclaiming the Gospel of the family in a clearer, more intensive way. Also in conversation with the people. Not just by quoting ourselves, but by being in dialogue about what moves people.”
Commenting on the work of the Synod, Marx pointed to its purpose being both to develop and to “sharpen” the material it deals with. When asked what he thought the Pope thinks about the question of access to the Eucharist for the divorced and remarried, Cardinal Marx said: “The spokesperson of the Pope is Fr. Lombardi.” while pointing at him and giving a big smile :). He then proceeded to comment on it being a key question of how irregular circumstances are approached:
“circumstances that don't fit the sacramental scheme of marriage, but that are not entirely devoid of value. There are examples here of people who are on a journey, people who live in broken relationships, yet who live elements of good community. Fundamentally this is the question. [...] And here it is my opinion that we must find a different language. We have to make it clear that this is not about black or white, all or nothing, but that the circumstances of people are more difficult. And that's also how I'd interpret the Pope's words in Evangelii Gaudium. I have to interpret it in this way. First, it is about seeing people in their circumstances, including the good that is alive in their circumstances. And that is why I believe we have to develop further in this area.”
In response to a question asking for clarification about where the Synod is heading with regard to homosexuals, Marx provides the following, beautifully clear and personal piece of thinking:
“Here it is fundamentally about looking at individual cases. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear that homosexuals are not condemned because of their orientation; the sexual practice, the sexual relationship cannot be accepted. This applies to other aspects too. But not everything is to be evaluated with an equal measure of negativity. [... I know] a homosexual couple who have been together for 30-35 years in a faithful relationship, which as a sexual relationship is not accepted by the Church, but they live together, one looks after the other, during the last phase of his life. Here, as Church, I cannot say that everything that these people have done during their lives is without value, because they have a homosexual relationship. This is what it is about, that one can differentiate here. Then, someone who is in a different relationship every day, will receive a different assessment in terms of spiritual accompaniment, that someone who tries to be chaste, or who is striving towards faithfulness, a faithful relationship. We are still not at the destination, where we could say: “Aha! Now we can say that all is in order.” Of course. But I can't just say that everything is either black or white. And it is difficult to make this understood sometimes and it is also the responsibility of individual pastoral care. [...] Maybe this cannot be encapsulated in rules, that may be correct, but nonetheless I can share a journey with them and also experience a maturing. No question about it! That is possible. On every human journey, including one that may be based on a mistake, there is growth and increasing maturity, there is improvement, there is something that can be lived through the spirit of the Gospel. It would be unthinkable to say that because you are homosexual, you can live nothing of the spirit of the Gospel. That's unthinkable! At least for me.”
Then, in the context of a question about the divorced and remarried, Marx declared forcefully:
“We must be close to everyone, each with their particular circumstances. We must give them opportunities to find their place in the Church. No one is excluded! No one is redundant! No one is marginalized! Exclusion is not the language of the Church!”
In response to a question about the principle of gradualness, Marx emphasized that:
“We must take the circumstances of an individual seriously. [...] In the relationships among people, which have become so varied, we must recognize the good they contain in terms of the Gospel being lived by them, without giving up the aim of sacramental marriage. But there is a variety of ways that lead there.”
Cardinal Marx's next answer, to the question of whether the teaching of the Church can change, was particularly important, and presented the same position as shared by Archbishop Paglia the other day and by Pope Francis on many occasions:
“Of course! Of course! Two thousand years of Church history isn't a repetition of always the same. First of all, the teaching of the Church isn't a static collection of statements that just sit there, but a development. The teaching of the Church does not change, it gets understood more deeply. [...] It is not like doctrine is given and we try to apply it. Instead, doctrine too is in dialogue with the pastoral.1 For example, the decision of John XXIII to call for a pastoral Council, is a dogmatic decision. This is not about saying: “Here is something solid that doesn't move and our problem is only about how to make people understand it.” Then it looks like it is people who are the problem. But that can't be! Doctrine is given, yes, it doesn't answer to the spirit of the times, but it can develop. Benedict XVI [...] said, with reference to the Council, that it wasn't a hermeneutic of rupture, of discontinuity, but a hermeneutic of reform. And this reform, naturally, also affects what is being said about teaching. Otherwise we wouldn't need theology anymore. A new discovery, a deeper discovery of what is meant by the truth of Christ, of what the Gospel wants to tell us today. The truth isn't a system, the truth is a person, with whom we speak. Just to say that the Church's teaching will never change, in this sense, that is too narrow a view. At it's core, Catholic truth and what the Gospel tells us remain unchanged, but whether we have discovered everything, whether we have found everything, that I dare to doubt.”
All I can say to that is: Amen! :)



1 Note that this point has been mistranslated by some as “doctrine is communicated pastorally,” which is a different position altogether.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Synod14: God knew me before He created the world

Pope baby

Putting to one side a variety of great interviews that I have come across over the course of the last day, my focus today will be on the summaries of the 10 working groups (“circoli minori”) that have worked on refining the “relatio post disceptationem” since it was published on Monday morning and that have presented their conclusions to the whole Synod today. The team preparing the final “relatio” of the Synod will now take these 10 sets of inputs and work over the next day and a half to arrive at the final document of the current, extraordinary Synod. This in turn will be the basis for work over the course of the following year, which in turn will provide an input to the pope following which he will take his decisions. It is a long process (thank God!) and one that allows for deep understanding and a shared journey to be traversed.

Before looking at the working group syntheses, let me just quote from Pope Francis’ homily from this morning, where he stresses the importance of giving praise to God and of remembering who we are in His eyes:
“Prayers of praise bring us the joy of being happy before the Lord. Let’s make a real effort to rediscover this! However, the starting point is remembering this choice: God chose me before the creation of the world.

This is impossible to understand or even imagine: The fact that the Lord knew me before the creation of the world, that my name was in the Lord’s heart. This is the truth! This is the revelation! If we do not believe this then we are not Christian! We may be steeped in a theist religiosity, but not Christian! The Christian is a chosen one, the Christian is someone who has been chosen in God’s heart before the creation of the world. This thought also fills our hearts with joy: I am chosen! It gives us confidence.

Our name is in God’s heart, is in God’s bowels, just as the baby is inside its mother. Our joy lies in our being elected. We cannot understand this with our head alone. We cannot understand this even with our heart. To understand this we must enter into the Mystery of Jesus Christ. The Mystery of His beloved Son: ‘He has poured out his blood for us in abundance, with all wisdom and intelligence, making known to us the mystery of His will’. And this is a third attitude to have: entering into the Mystery.”
It is with the above image of the human person that Francis arrives at the imperative to closeness, to accompanying, to a shared journey.

Turning to the working group summaries (which weigh in at 12K words), what I’d like to do is group their content into themes, rather than keep to an arrangement by working group.1
  1. An explicit setting out of the Christian understanding of marriage. The final document ought “to speak of human life, marriage and family life, as we know it to be revealed to us by God through reason and faith, both aided by the grace of God, [... to] proclaim the truth of the Gospel, the truth of human life and sexuality as revealed by Christ” [AA] “It is important that the Scriptural foundation for marriage, as well as the teaching found in Tradition, be made clear in the document from its beginning in order to build the framework for the issues to be discussed.” [AC] (+ [AB], [IA], [IB], [IC], [HB])

  2. An emphasis on the centrality of the Gospel. ““Listening” or “seeing” must always be through the lens of the Gospel.” [AA] (+ [AC], [IA], [IB], [IC])

  3. A need to evidence continuity. “The pastoral character of this Synod, ought to show even more clearly that there is no break between doctrine and pastoral care, but that the latter is based on the former and expresses its truth in the daily life of the Christian community. In the words of St. Gregory the Great: “Pastoral commitment is the proof of love.” [...] This also implies the need to highlight that we are always faced with a progressive development of doctrine.” [IB]

  4. Being explicit about recognizing the need for change in imperfect situations. A call to “honestly recognizing and acknowledging sinful situations, and searching for ways to invite conversion of heart.” [AA] “It seems that there is a fear of expressing an opinion on several issues that have by now become dominant cultural expressions. This does not seem consistent with the prophetic mission of the Church.” [IB] “The Relatio [ought to] reiterate explicitly the doctrine on marriage, family and sexuality, without hesitating to relying on the categories of “sin” and “adultery” and “conversion,” with respect to situations which are objectively contrary to the Gospel of the family.” [IC]

  5. An emphasis on mercy. “All of us need the help of the mercy of God. The mercy of God is not just a medicine, much less a consolation prize, for those who fail. None of us can be faithful without experiencing God’s mercy. No one should devalue the place of mercy in the economy of salvation.” [AB] “The context of and the challenges of the family raise the need for the Church to repeat words of the Gospel combining hope with truth and mercy, looking to engage with the concrete lives of people, bringing about a re-emergence of the desire for God in them.” “The Gospel of mercy is an indispensable, integral part of truth itself and truth, therefore, can not be reduced to the mere observance of a pastoral attitude towards people.” [IC] “Knowing that the greatest mercy is to speak the truth with love (St. Augustine), we go beyond compassion. As merciful love attracts and unites, so it also transforms and exalts and calls to conversion. (cf. John 8:1- 11).” [HA]

  6. The need to clarify or more broadly apply the principle of graduality. To show that “we are not speaking of the GRADUALITY of DOCTRINE of faith and morals, but rather the gradual moral growth of the individual in his or her actions.” [AA] “The group expressed concern about an over emphasis on the term “positive elements” when speaking of civil marriage and cohabitation. It preferred language which would address the law of gradualness as a way to enter into a pastoral dialogue with [them]. [...] The law of gradualness always involves a progression and a conversion towards the full ideal.” [AB] “We felt it necessary to carefully define the meaning of the law of gradualness, which should not be understood as gradualness of the law. Gradualness should not make insipid the challenge of the Gospel to conversion, to “go and sin no more”, as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery. The aim of recognizing gradualness should be to draw people closer to Christ.” [AC] There is a danger that the principle of graduality “would make one think that the difficulties of married life ought to lead to a reduction of the full meaning of the vocation to marriage itself.” [IA] (+ [IC])

  7. An expression of support and encouragement for those who are living marriage faithfully. The relatio ought to “express words of encouragement and support to those who are faithfully living out their marriage vows and bringing up their families according to the teaching of the Church.” [AA] It ought “to provide an enthusiastic message which would encourage and inspire hope for those Christian families who despite many challenges and even failures - strive every day to live out faithfully and joyfully their mission and vocation within the Church and society. [...] The main thrust should be to encourage those who are committed and witness to the Christian ideal and who struggle day by day, with the help of God’s grace to realize that ideal.” [AB] (+ [AC], [HA])

  8. A re-balancing of the document between problems and a positive message, in favor of the latter. “We should not fall into the trap of thinking, or in some way conveying, that marriage and family are a failure, no longer appropriate to our times.” [AC] (+ [AB], [IB], [HB])

  9. The presentation of an attractive message about the family. The relatio “should direct itself towards young people, to help them understand and be attracted by the Christian vision of marriage and the family, in a world in which they are exposed to many contradictory visions.” [AB] “We must not lose sight of the fact that there are many marriages that – despite the ups and downs of life – do radiate harmony and love, where children are raised in a safe environment, are nurtured and educated in virtue and the values taught to us by Christ, and where the family is truly a domestic Church.” [AC] Marriage is a ““mutual gift of self.” Like this a strong emphasis is given to Christ the Lord, Bridegroom of the Church: a spousal relationship that began with the Incarnation, made complete on Calvary and current for humanity through the gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments; only in this way are the beauty and attractiveness of spousal and family life made to shine as signs of the love of Christ.” [IA] The family is “a school for sanctification, in which the path of holiness of the spouses and of children is nurtured and followed[. It] must be a special nursery for vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. For these reasons, the Church proclaims the value and beauty of the family, by which it provides service to a world that yearns for illumination by the light of hope.” [IC] (+ [HB])

  10. A focus on openness to life. “In many areas of the world children are seen as a burden rather than a gift of God. The group stressed that children are really the supreme gift of marriage. Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love will help couples to be ready with generous hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day.” [AB] (+ [HA])

  11. An emphasis on the mystical and self-giving nature of sex. “The gift of self in marriage, which in some way manifests the self-giving of Jesus Christ to his people, reaches its fullest expression in sexual intercourse, where the couple express their total giving of self to other, emotionally, physically and spiritually, and not as a selfish self-gratification. It is in such self-giving that we become more human and more Christ-like.” [AC] (+ [HA])

  12. Addressing the needs of older people. “The lengthening of life is creating situations of serious difficulty that the Church should not be unprepared for, but, on the contrary, should have a far-sighted perspective on, by offering pastoral commitments that make its presence and its closeness clear. There are households of elderly people reduced to poverty, lonely elderly people far from the rest of their family and households of elderly people deprived of hope, with the sole desire for death. These realities challenge us and require a credible answer. Our silence would be harmful.” [IB]

  13. An emphasis on the goodness found in all people. We want to “acknowledge that there are seeds of truth and goodness found in the persons involved [in lifestyles that do not lead to human fulfillment], and through dedicated pastoral care these can be appreciated and developed.” [AA] The ““desire for family” is sown by the Creator in the heart of every person, even those faithful who, for various reasons,do not live fully in line with the Word of Christ.” [IC] (+ [IA], [HA])

  14. An emphasis on being a welcoming Church. We have a “strong desire to invite and embrace sincere Catholics who feel alienated from the family of the Church because of irregular situations.” [AB] We want “to care for individuals with same sex attraction, providing for them in the family of the Church, always protecting their dignity as children of God, created in his image. Within the Church, they should find a home” [AB] “We rightly wish to welcome, without judgement or condemnation, those who, for some reason, are not yet able to express life-long commitment in a marriage between a man and a woman. We wish also to give them encouragement, to help them recognize their own goodness, and to care for them as Christ cares for his sheep. We wish them to know that they are loved by God and rejected neither by him nor the Church. [...] The document must be a positive expression of the Church’s love for all people, the love which knows no bounds and which welcomes sinners and those who are made to be on the fringes of society.” [AC] (+ [HA])

  15. A reiteration of the need for accessible language. We must “use language which does not hurt people but which encourages them and helps them in their journey to God. It must speak the Truth of the Gospel clearly and directly, using language that cannot be interpreted by some to be condemning them, but rather expressing the Church’s deep interest and care for them.” [AA] “The group felt that it could well draw on the testimonies - and the language - of the lay men and women who addressed the Synod. [...] The narrative [should not] end up marginalizing or discouraging those [who] are still struggling.” [AB] To “leverage on the positive elements that are already present in imperfect family experiences.” [IC]

  16. A variety of positions were taken with regard to the reception of the Eucharist by the divorced and remarried: some against [AA], others in favor of access on a case-by-case basis [AB], others proposing specific conditions under which it could be possible [IC], others asking for further study of the arguments [IA] [HB], while others did not mention it [AC], [IB], [HA].

  17. The suggestion for pastors to recognize their own failures “and their inadequacies in fostering support for families.” [AB]

  18. Emphasizing the positive role of lay movements. ([IB], [IC], [HA])

  19. Emphasizing the role of women. [IA]

  20. A recognition of the family as the subject of pastoral work. [IA] (+ [HA])

  21. Surprise at the publication of the “relatio post disceptationem”. [AC] [IC]

Finally, let me conclude with a passage that spoke to me particularly strongly, from the summary of the Anglicus B working group:
“Very often when we find the courage to knock on forbidden doors what we discover surprises us: what we encounter inside is the loving presence of God which helps us to address the challenges of today, no longer on our terms, but in new ways which might otherwise have been unimaginable. Knocking on forbidden or unaccustomed doors involves risk and courage. Fear and anxiety of what we think are forbidden doors may mean excluding opening ourselves to the God who always surprises.”



1 Since I don’t speak French, I’ll only look at 8 of the 10 groups here. Note also that I have tagged quotes with a two-letter code. The first letter indicates the language group: A - Anglicus (English), I - Italicus (Italian) and H - Hibericus (Spanish), and the second letter which of the two (A, B) or three (A, B, C) groups speaking the same language is meant. Indicating groups at the end of a point in brackets means that they too brought up a topic, even if I don’t quote them verbatim.