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

Francis uj

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.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Synod14: No distinction between us and them

Pope francis boy

“After much debate had taken place, ...” is not a quote from an article about the Synod, but about the Council of Jerusalem, from the Acts of the Apostles (15:7), where there was ample discord among participants, some favoring tradition - extending Jewish circumcision to all Christians - and others feeling compelled to change in response to a prompting from the Holy Spirit, put into words by St. Peter, the pope in office then, who said (15:9-11):
“[God] made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.”
I don’t know about you, but this very much reminds me of Pope Francis’ homilies from the last two days ...

Reading the reports about the Synod since the “relatio post disceptationem” has been released could give one the sense that it has been a mistake, that it is leading to a schism, that what it says will be retracted and that there is huge opposition to its content in general. Not being at the Synod myself (obviously!), it is hard to get a sense of the temperature on the ground. While there is no shortage of positive, optimistic voices coming from there, e.g., Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach of Barcelona tweeting this morning that “The atmosphere at the Synod is one of communion and of being pastoral. The Church wants to become closer to and be with all the families of the world,” the vast majority of media outlets report mayhem (which, lets be honest, sells better than harmony :).

Without wanting to give too much oxygen to negativity, I would just like to point to a lack of subtlety in reporting the words of the Synod Fathers. E.g., taking Cardinal Raymond Burke’s words that the relatio “advances positions which many synod fathers do not accept and, I would say, as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept,” and presenting them as disagreement with the relatio is accurate. However, the same conclusion can’t be drawn from what Cardinal Wilfrid Napier saying:
“The message has gone out: This is what the synod is saying, this is what the Catholic church is saying. And it’s not what we’re saying at all. No matter how we try correcting that ... there’s no way of retrieving it. The message has gone out and it’s not a true message. Whatever we say hereafter is going to be as if we’re doing some damage control.”
This is universally interpreted as “Cardinal Napier says, message of “relatio” is not true.” Hold on. Read it again. What does he actually say? What does he say the message is? He even spells it out: “The message has gone out: This is what the synod is saying, this is what the Catholic church is saying.” The message is that the content of the relatio expresses the consensus of the Synod and presents the teaching of the Church. That, as Cardinal Napier rightly says, is untrue. The “relatio” is a working document (as it states itself) put together by a committee as input to the discussions and adjustments that it is receiving as we speak, during this week’s work in smaller groups. It couldn’t possibly be an expression of the Synod’s consensus, since the Synod Fathers first saw it the morning it was publicly read out and streamed across the internet. I can very well see how this would be irritating to those at the Synod, regardless of what they think about the content.

With that out of the way, let me point you to a couple of interviews that have come out over the course of the last day and that I consider to have great beauty.

First, the following interview with a Rwandan couple - Jean Dieudonné and Emerthe Gatsinga, who are members of the Focolare Movement, who are at the Synod as “auditors,” and with whom I am in complete agreement, has been published on the Vatican Television YouTube channel:
“Jean: “Families need the help of the Church to deepen their faith. Because, with faith in Jesus one receives, one earns the strength to overcome various situations. When there is faith, when one has chosen to place Jesus at the first place in one’s life, everything is possible. Life is not always easy, but in Jesus we take strength for overcoming many difficulties.”

Eremite: “With faith, the husband gives dignity to the wife. This helps the development of the family, because they try to build it together, relying on love. Like that, the family can be promoted in a spirit of reciprocal love and also of mutual help.””
A brief interview with Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, again underlines what this Synod is about, with a constant thread of closeness to and love for all running through his words: 1
“There is a need for attentive listening and accompanying, because there are also wounded families. It is not like there is the category of the divorced and remarried, there are stories, at times even dramatic ones. The theme with highest priority is that of closeness to all of them, with no one excluded. Then, within this new horizon, there is also the question of access to the sacraments. And here I have to say that, once the indissolubility of marriage is confirmed, which is that the true marriage is the one that took place and the rest is not a marriage union, then there is a range of possibilities. Certainly there are still some clean-cut cases, but it seems to me that there should be openness to evaluate individual cases by bishops so that a closer, more direct solution may be found. [...]

[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. [...]

There is a greater understanding that to participate in the Eucharist also means to be in communion - not only by listening to the Word of God - Bread descended from Heaven - but also by being in communion with the body and blood of the Lord. In this sense, doctrine grows, expands, like each one of us. I, when I was ten years old, was very different from how I am now. I had hair and today I don’t anymore. But I am always Vincenzo! I am always me. And this is also how it is with Christianity. We mustn’t be rigid men made of marble, constrict ourselves, one the other hand we can’t stretch our necks to infinity either. I believe that the Gospel here is important. If we are faithful to the Gospel, we avoid all risks of turning Christianity into an ideology. The Gospel is the same, but the Spirit helps us to understand it in a way that fits the time in which we live. Today we are at the beginning of the 21st century. Many things have changed. We must be able to - and this is why the Spirit of the Lord is important - to speak the Gospel that has always been, in a way that the men and women of today may understand and put into practice.”
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna gave an interview yesterday, in which he shared his experience of a gay couple with great humility: “In Vienna, I got to know two men of homosexual orientation who have been living together for some time in a civil partnership. And I have seen how they have been helping each other when one of them fell seriously ill. It was wonderful, both in human and Christian terms, how one has cared for the other, staying by his side. These are things that need to be recognized. Jesus said: tax collectors and prostitutes will precede you into the Kingdom of God.2 And he says this to us, us cardinals, bishops, priests. Many times, even if we do not approve of this form of sexuality, we can bow down in front of exemplary human behavior.” Schönborn, himself a son of divorced parents, then also spoke about the importance of putting children first when families fall apart, and gave a first-hand account:
“Those who get divorced and have children must never forget that they remain parents. They mustn’t allow for the weight of their failure to fall on the shoulders of their children. There is so much suffering today ... I was thirteen years old [when my parents divorced]. It’s strange, but what stays with you is the dream that your parents get back together, until the end of their lives. It’s an instinctive thing, not rational. It is the heart. I know a lot of children in my situation. The dream remains for Mum and Dad to get back together.”
Another interview, very much worth reading in full, that has been published yesterday is with Bishop Anthony Borwah from Liberia, who was invited to participate at the Synod, but who has remained at home due to borders closing as a result of the outbreak of Ebola. At the beginning of the interview he says: “As Bishop of my people I carry within my heart their wounds and pains every moment of life here.” And this attitude also shines through the passage I would like to quote next, where he speaks about one of the sufferings of his people. His words struck me to be extremely Jesus-like:
“Generally the economy of the nation is in the pocket of few men, hence there is a lot of women prostitution. I often say that these prostitutes are prophets and friends of Jesus as they signify the inequality, marginalization and injustice meted out against the poor and nobodies of our society, especially women. Women are generally subject to men culturally, and are often subjected to brutal domestic violence and impoverishment. The government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has done a lot to raise the dignity of womanhood in beloved Liberia, but the walk is still too long.”
Finally, to round out the above thoughts on the family, I would like to share a quote from the writings of the Servant of God Igino Giordani, who speaks about how he, a married man and father of four children, understood God’s plan for the family:
“The family is not closed in on itself, as if in a fortress, but it grows like a cell that lives for itself when it lives with its brothers. It communicates in some way with the whole of humanity, which has the potential to be the Church, which is the family of God the Father. As it participates in the ideals and hopes, joys and sorrows of the largest family, there is no danger of boredom and loneliness, and not even of being abandoned, for its individual members. From this communion, which carries with it the duties of apostolate, of charity and justice, towards society, it can be understood how great the scope of the social and spiritual responsibilities of marriage is.”

1 Like a lot of the text here, this too is my own, choppy translation, which seems even choppier to me in this case, since listening to Archbishop Paglia’s Italian has been a bit like drinking from a fire hose for me. Apologies for any gross misinterpretations.
2 cf. Matthew 21:31.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Synod14: Be open to God’s surprises

Cafeteria pope

Yesterday’s “relatio post disceptationem” has lead to an avalanche of reactions - many positive but many also very negative. Before looking at some of them, it is worth taking a look at Pope Francis’ beautiful homily (on Luke 11:29-32) at Santa Marta before the document was presented, since it further fleshes out his vision:
“Why were these Doctors of the Law unable to understand the signs of the times? Why did they demand an extraordinary sign (which Jesus later gave to them), why they did not understand? First of all, because they were closed. They were closed within their system, they had perfectly systemized the law, it was a masterpiece. Every Jews knew what they could do and what they could not do, how far they could go. It was all systemized. And they were safe there. [...]

They did not understand that God is the God of surprises, that God is always new; He never denies himself, never says that what He said was wrong, never, but He always surprises us. They did not understand this and they closed themselves within that system that was created with the best of intentions and asked Jesus: ‘But, give us a sign’. And they did not understand the many signs that Jesus did give them and which indicated that the time was ripe. Closure! Second, they had forgotten that they were a people on a journey. On a path! And when we set out on a journey, when we are on our path, we always encounter new things, things we did not know.

And this should make us think: am I attached to my things, my ideas, [are they] closed? Or am I open to God’s surprises? Am I at a standstill or am I on a journey? Do I believe in Jesus Christ - in Jesus, in what he did: He died, rose again and the story ended there - Do I think that the journey continues towards maturity, toward the manifestation of the glory of the Lord? Am I able to understand the signs of the times and be faithful to the voice of the Lord that is manifested in them? We should ask ourselves these questions today and ask the Lord for a heart that loves the law - because the law belongs to God – but which also loves God’s surprises and the ability to understand that this holy law is not an end in itself.”
Even though Francis has not spoken during the Synod, other than opening it and setting the tone for the discussions, his daily homilies are very much aimed at it, and none more so than yesterday morning’s one. With that key in mind, let’s turn to his homily from this morning (on Luke 11:37-41):
“Jesus condemns this cosmetic spirituality, of appearing to be good, beautiful, but the truth inside is another thing! Jesus condemns the people of good manners but bad habits, of habits that can’t be seen but are done in secret. But the appearance is right: these people who liked to go for walks in the squares, to be seen praying, wearing the ‘make-up’ of a little weakness when fasting ... Is the Lord like that? You saw that there are two, but related, adjectives that he uses here: greed and wickedness.

What counts is faith. But what faith? That which is ‘working through love’.1 Jesus says the same to the Pharisee. A faith that is not merely reciting the Creed: we all believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in eternal life ... We all believe! But this is a static faith, not active. What is true in Jesus Christ is the actions that come from faith, or rather the faith that becomes active in love, that turns to alms. Alms in the broadest sense of the word: breaking away from the dictatorship of money, the idolatry of money. Every greed leads us away from Jesus Christ.”
Wow! This is truly a return to the Early Church and not the “laxity” or “modernism” for which yesterday’s “relatio” has been criticised so broadly and so harshly by many. It is, as Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ, who said that “at the Synod one looks with the eyes of the shepherd who looks for every sheep, starting from the lost ones”2 and that “Today in the “relatio” we have seen a church that pays more attention to sowing seeds than to pulling out weeds.”3 With all of the above under out belts, let’s look at the official notes from the free discussion that immediately followed the presentation of the “relatio” yesterday. To begin with it was acknowledged that the document represents the preceding week’s work well and that it:
“reveals the Church’s love for the family faithful to Christ, but also her capacity to be close to humanity in every moment of life, to understand that, behind the pastoral challenges, there are many people who suffer. The Synod, it was emphasised, should have the watchful gaze of the shepherd who devotes his life to his sheep, without a priori judgement.”
For the sake of balance, it was suggested that:
“while the Church must welcome those in difficulty, it would be useful to speak more widely about those families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, thanking them and encouraging them for the witness they offer. From the Synod it emerged more clearly that indissoluble, happy marriage, faithful for ever, is beautiful, possible and present in society, therefore avoiding a near-exclusive focus on imperfect family situations.”
Having the week’s summary also lead to the identification of important themes that haven’t received adequate coverage and it was suggested what is needed is:
“giving more emphasis to the theme of women, their protection and their importance for the transmission of life and faith; to include consideration of the figure of grandparents within the family unit; more specific reference to the family as a “domestic Church” and the parish as a “family of families”, and to the Holy Family, an essential model for reference. In this respect, it was also suggested that the family and missionary role in proclaiming the Gospel in the world be further promoted.”
The other interventions were focused on being careful about a sense of balance and of not loosing sight of what is good while being merciful to what is imperfect.

While the focus of the Synod has been very positive and optimistic, in my opinion, and my own impression of it is one of unreserved admiration and a joy because of the greater love that the Church will be able to show all - both within it and without,4 there have also been very negative reactions. And I believe it is important to hear them, try to understand them, and find ways to make their authors too feel welcome in the Church. Here the most prominent negative voice so far has been that of Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, head of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, who said that the “relatio” is “not acceptable to many bishops,” that it “departs from the teaching of John Paul II, and even that traces anti-marriage ideology can be seen in it,” adding that:
“Our main task is to support the family pastorally, not to attack her, by exposing difficult situations that do exist, but that do not make up the core of the family itself and that do not do away with the need for support, which should be given a good, normal, ordinary families who are struggling not so much for survival as for faithfulness. [...]

[The “relatio”], instead of presenting incentives for faithfulness, family values​​, seems to accept everything as is. It creates the impression that the teaching of the Church has been merciless, while it now starts a teaching of mercy.”

1 cf. Galatians 5:6.
2 cf. Luke 15:1-7.
3 cf. Matthew 13:24-30.
4 Not to mention that this kind of opening is precisely what I have been hoping for when Pope Francis was elected :).

Monday, 13 October 2014

Synod14: Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze

Franic coffee break

This morning saw Cardinal Péter Erdő present the report prepared after all the presentations and discussion at the Synod last week - the “relatio post disceptationem” and I would like to encourage you to read it in full. In the meantime, here are some of its highlights:

The report starts with a positive tone, emphasizing the persistent value of the family:
“Despite the many signs of crisis in the institution of the family in various contexts of the “global village”, the desire for family remains alive, especially among the young, and is at the root of the Church’s need to proclaim tirelessly and with profound conviction the “Gospel of the family” entrusted to her with the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ.”
Then it sets out the structure of the following sections, following Pope Francis trademark three-keyword approach:
listening, to look at the situation of the family today, in the complexity of its light and shade; looking, our gaze fixed on Christ, to re-evaluate with renewed freshness and enthusiasm what the revelation transmitted in the faith of the Church tells us about the beauty and dignity of the family; and discussion in the light of the Lord Jesus to discern the ways in which the Church and society can renew their commitment to the family.”
The “listening” part lays out an analysis of the present situation:
“The most difficult test for families in our time is often solitude, which destroys and gives rise to a general sensation of impotence in relation to the socio-economic situation that often ends up crushing them. This is due to growing precariousness in the workplace that is often experienced as a nightmare, or due to heavy taxation that certainly does not encourage young people to marriage. [...]

Many children are born outside marriage, especially in certain countries, and there are many who subsequently grow up with just one of their parents or in an enlarged or reconstituted family context. The number of divorces is growing and it is not rare to encounter cases in which decisions are taken solely on the basis of economic factors. The condition of women still needs to be defended and promoted, as situations of violence within the family are not rare. Children are frequently the object of contention between parents, and are the true victims of family breakdown. Societies riven by violence due to war, terrorism or the presence of organized crime experience deteriorating family situations. Furthermore, migration is another sign of the times, to be faced and understood in terms of the burden of consequences for family life. [...]

The danger of individualism and the risk of living selfishly are significant. Today’s world appears to promote limitless affectivity, seeking to explore all its aspects, including the most complex. Indeed, the question of emotional fragility is very current: a narcissistic, unstable or changeable affectivity do not always help greater maturity to be reached. In this context, couples are often uncertain and hesitant, struggling to find ways to grow. Many tend to remain in the early stages of emotional and sexual life. [...]

It is necessary to accept people in their concrete being, to know how to support their search, to encourage the wish for God and the will to feel fully part of the Church, also on the part of those who have experienced failure or find themselves in the most diverse situations. This requires that the doctrine of the faith, the basic content of which should be made increasingly better known, be proposed alongside with mercy.”
The “looking” section then presents the key points of what the Church’s response to the current challenges hinges on:
“Jesus looked upon the women and the men he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps with patience and mercy, in proclaiming the demands of the Kingdom of God. [...]

[It is] necessary to distinguish without separating the various levels through which God communicates the grace of the covenant to humanity. Through the law of gradualness (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 34), typical of divine pedagogy, this means interpreting the nuptial covenant in terms of continuity and novelty, in the order of creation and in that of redemption. [...]

We are able to distinguish three fundamental phases in the divine plan for the family: the family of origins, when God the creator instituted the primordial marriage between Adam and Eve, as a solid foundation for the family: he created them male and female (cg. Gn 1,24-31; 2,4b); the historic family, wounded by sin (cf. Gn 3) and the family redeemed by Christ (cf. Eph 5,21-32), in the image of the Holy Trinity, the mystery from which every true love springs. The sponsal covenant, inaugurated in creation and revealed in the history of God and Israel, reaches its fullest expression with Christ in the Church. [...]

In considering the principle of gradualness in the divine salvific plan, one asks what possibilities are given to married couples who experience the failure of their marriage, or rather how it is possible to offer them Christ’s help through the ministry of the Church. [...]

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. [...]

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. [...]

The Gospel of the family, while it shines in the witness of many families who live coherently their fidelity to the sacrament, with their mature fruits of authentic daily sanctity must also nurture those seeds that are yet to mature, and must care for those trees that have dried up and wish not to be neglected.

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. [...]

Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care, restoring trust and hope to them like the light of a beacon in a port, or a torch carried among the people to light the way for those who are lost or find themselves in the midst of the storm.”
Having set out both the challenges of the present day and a desire to recognise God’s presence in all the good, wherever it may be found, the document turns to its third and most extensive part - a discussion of particular themes that will be deepened over the coming year. It starts with a beautiful synthesis of its aim:
“The Church has to [announce the Gospel of the family] with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher (cf. Eph 4,15), in fidelity to the merciful kenosis of Christ. The truth is incarnated in human fragility not to condemn it, but to cure it.”
The questions of marriage preparation and subsequent accompanying are then addressed:
“Christian marriage cannot only be considered as a cultural tradition or social obligation, but has to be a vocational decision taken with the proper preparation in an itinerary of faith, with mature discernment. This is not about creating difficulties and complicating the cycles of formation, but of going deeply into the issue and not being content with theoretical meetings or general orientations. [...]

The early years of marriage are a vital and delicate period during which couples grow in the awareness of the challenges and meaning of matrimony. Thus the need for a pastoral accompaniment that goes beyond the celebration of the sacrament. Of great importance in this pastoral is the presence of experienced couples. The parish is considered the ideal place for expert couples to place themselves at the disposal of younger ones. Couples need to be encouraged towards a fundamental welcome of the great gift of children. The importance of family spirituality and prayer needs to be underlined, encouraging couples to meet regularly to promote the growth of the spiritual life and solidarity in the concrete demands of life. Meaningful liturgies, devotional practices and the Eucharist celebrated for families, were mentioned as vital in favoring evangelization through the family.”
That the good in civil unions need to be recognised was outlined next:
“A new sensitivity in today’s pastoral consists in grasping the positive reality of civil weddings and, having pointed out our differences, of cohabitation. It is necessary that in the ecclesial proposal, while clearly presenting the ideal, we also indicate the constructive elements in those situations that do not yet or no longer correspond to that ideal. [...]

In the West as well there is an increasingly large number of those who, having lived together for a long period of time, ask to be married in the Church. Simple cohabitation is often a choice inspired by a general attitude, which is opposed to institutions and definitive undertakings, but also while waiting for a secure existence (a steady job and income). In other countries common-law marriages are very numerous, not because of a rejection of Christian values as regards the family and matrimony, but, above all, because getting married is a luxury, so that material poverty encourages people to live in common-law marriages. Furthermore in such unions it is possible to grasp authentic family values or at least the wish for them. Pastoral accompaniment should always start from these positive aspects.

All these situations have to be dealt with in a constructive manner, seeking to transform them into opportunities to walk towards the fullness of marriage and the family in the light of the Gospel. They need to be welcomed and accompanied with patience and delicacy. With a view to this, the attractive testimony of authentic Christian families is important, as subjects for the evangelization of the family.”
The next part of the “discussion” section is entitled “Caring for wounded families (the separated, the divorced who have not remarried, the divorced who have remarried)” and builds on “the necessity for courageous pastoral choices” having been recognised broadly during the Synod:
“Reconfirming forcefully the fidelity to the Gospel of the family, the Synodal Fathers, felt the urgent need for new pastoral paths, that begin with the effective reality of familial fragilities, recognizing that they, more often than not, are more “endured” than freely chosen. [...] It is not wise to think of unique solutions or those inspired by a logic of “all or nothing”. [...]

Each damaged family first of all should be listened to with respect and love, becoming companions on the journey as Christ did with the disciples of the road to Emmaus. [...]

What needs to be respected above all is the suffering of those who have endured separation and divorce unjustly. The forgiveness for the injustice endured is not easy, but it is a journey that grace makes possible. In the same way it needs to be always underlined that it is indispensable to assume in a faithful and constructive way the consequences of separation or divorce on the children: they must not become an “object” to be fought over and the most suitable means need to be sought so that they can get over the trauma of the family break-up and grow up in the most serene way possible. [...]

Divorced people who have not remarried should be invited to find in the Eucharist the nourishment they need to sustain them in their state. The local community and pastors have to accompany these people with solicitude, particularly when there are children involved or they find themselves in a serious situation of poverty.

In the same way the situation of the divorced who have remarried demands a careful discernment and an accompaniment full of respect, avoiding any language or behavior that might make them feel discriminated against. For the Christian community looking after them is not a weakening of its faith and its testimony to the indissolubility of marriage, but rather it expresses precisely its charity in its caring.”
Still in the same part of the document there followed an account of the discussions about the question of the Eucharist for the divorced and civilly remarried, which has been one of the most broadly medialized aspects of the Synod and also the aspect with regard to which there has been most variety of position:
“As regards the possibility of partaking of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, some argued in favor of the present regulations because of their theological foundation, others were in favor of a greater opening on very precise conditions when dealing with situations that cannot be resolved without creating new injustices and suffering. For some, partaking of the sacraments might occur were it preceded by a penitential path – under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop –, and with a clear undertaking in favor of the children. This would not be a general possibility, but the fruit of a discernment applied on a case-by-case basis, according to a law of gradualness, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances.

Suggesting limiting themselves to only “spiritual communion” was questioned by more than a few Synodal Fathers: if spiritual communion is possible, why not allow them to partake in the sacrament? As a result a greater theological study was requested starting with the links between the sacrament of marriage and the Eucharist in relation to the Church-sacrament. [...]”
The next part is entitled “Welcoming homosexual persons,” which by itself is a great opening and which becomes even more clear when the following paragraphs are read:
“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 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. [...]

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. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.”
The next part of the “discussion” section addressed the openness to life:
“Being open to life is an intrinsic requirement of married love.[...]

[H]elp is required to live affectivity, in marriage as well, as a path of maturation, in the evermore profound welcoming of the other and in an ever-fuller giving. It has to be emphasized in this sense the need to offer formative paths that nourish married life and the importance of a laity that provides an accompaniment consisting of living testimony. It is undoubtedly of great help the example of a faithful and profound love made up of tenderness, of respect, capable of growing in time and which in its concrete opening to the generation of life allows us to experience a mystery that transcends us.”
I have to say that the above gives me great joy, as it is a mature expression of the absolute need to make every single person feel loved by us, the Church. There are clear challenges and solutions still need to be studied and formulated, but the direction that Pope Francis has indicated in Evangelii Gaudium is being applied here not only to a renewal of how we think and speak about the family, but about God himself - as merciful Father, tender Mother and close Brother - a God who is family (as St. John Paul II put it) and whose family members constitute all of humanity.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Synod14: God does not discriminate

Pope Francis embraces a young man at World Youth Day Rio in 2013

Even though there haven't been any press conferences or synodal meetings today, more interviews with Synod Fathers have been published over the course of the last day.

Probably the most dramatic have been the words of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, who pointed to significant changes: “[T]his synod cannot simply repeat what was said twenty years ago. It has to find new language, to show that there can be development of doctrine, and that there has been a willingness to listen to what emerged in the questionnaires that went out and what emerged in the synod itself.” He then went on to emphasize the inherent reality of marriage as opposed to its being though of as an imposed teaching:
“There's a move away from simply an understanding of the church's teaching on marriage as something that is taught to people - and a greater understanding of the fact that sacramental marriage is an ecclesial reality.

It's not just a blessing on two spouses. The couple who are married sacramentally develop an ecclesial status for their own lives, but also, as in every other sacrament, for the building of the church.

So in many ways we have to find a way in which the lived experience of this ecclesial reality of marriage ... is almost in its own way something that the church learns from rather than simply tries to carry out an external survey of it. That's certainly one of the changes.”
Finally, Archbishop Martin underlined the need for recognizing the good in people's lives:
“I meet people in my diocese every, including the poorest people, who live in very difficult situations, and who truly live the values ​​of loyalty, dedication to their children, but they would never be able to express this using the formulations of our theology: but this does not mean they do not live their reality. We need to have a new kind of dialogue with families and a new language.”
The very positive spirit of the Synod can also be felt from comments made by Bishop Oscar Gerardo Fernández Guillén, head of the Bishops' Conference of Costa Rica who said:
“Even though we face dramatic situations and it could seem like all is lost, that is now how it is. Let us go to the Lord with a humble attitude: He will know how to sustain us and know how to carry us forward.”
The Venezuelan Archbishop Diego R. Padrón Sánchez was equally positive:
“We must announce the joy of living in a family. We are all Church and that is how we must also feel. The Church does not discriminate against anyone, least of all against those who are facing difficulties.”
Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, argued for the need present Christian anthropology in a way shares its beauty:
“I think that the anthropology that we have, and therefore the concept of marriage, is really fantastic, brilliant. If we could explain this to the world of today, it would be a great success. Many do not understand the concept of natural law, but this is fundamentally about understanding what is right and good, according to the light of human reason, for people, for humanity and the long term. It is not, in fact, about ensuring temporary, short-lived pleasure, but about what is good for humanity, for certain progress, for the growth of humanity. We can now see a big gap between scientific and technical progress and, on the other hand, the disgrace regarding the growth of people: there is so much hunger in the world, so many wars, so much hatred, such a lack of respect for people, and we see so much persecution. We have to think of the welfare of humanity. We must not think only of well-being technically, but of that of the human being. I think that this Synod will go in the following direction: how to help people today to live better, to contribute to real progress.”
Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, also spoke very clearly about a need for change with regard to homosexual persons: “There is no doubt that we have been slow in assuming a fully respectful view of the dignity and equality of homosexuals.” With regard to communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, Cardinal Scola expressed clear doubts though:
“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 highlight of today, and the strongest indicator that substantial changes are on the horizon, has been Pope Francis' magisterial Angelus address, where he insists on God not discriminating against anyone and explaining today's Gospel reading about the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14) thus:
“Jesus speaks about the answer given to God's invitation - represented by a king - to attend a wedding banquet. The invitation has three characteristics: gratuity, scale, and universality. Those invited are many, but something surprising happens: none of the selected ones agree to take part in the celebration, saying that they have something else to do; indeed showing some indifference, alienation, even annoyance. 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.

Some guests even mistreat and kill the servants who deliver the invitation. But, despite a lack of reception on the part of those who are called, God's plan is not interrupted. Faced with the refusal of the first guests, he does not lose heart, does not cancel the party, but extends his invitation beyond all reasonable limits and sends his servants into the streets and to the crossroads to gather all those they find. It is ordinary people, the poor, abandoned and destitute, both the good and and bad - yes, even those who are bad are invited - without distinction. And the hall is filled with the “excluded”. The Gospel, rejected by someone, find an unexpected warm welcome in so many other hearts.

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.”