Saturday, February 05, 2011

Perseverance and Communion: Ordaining a Hong Kong Bishop, the Pope Speaks to China

For just the third time in his nearly six-year pontificate, this morning saw B16 preside at an episcopal ordination in St Peter's as the Pope gave the high-hat to five recent appointees to senior posts in the Roman Curia.

Of the high-ranking group, however, one figure was arguably the linchpin of the pontiff's decision to reserve the rite to himself: the newly-named #2 of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, now Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai SDB, a native of Hong Kong -- and, more to the point, the first-ever Chinese tapped to serve in a top Vatican post.

Called to Rome in December amid escalating Sino-Vatican tensions centering on the church's prerogatives in the People's Republic, the 60 year-old Salesian theologian was a visiting professor at mainland seminaries and gave conferences to priests there over the last two decades, alongside his chief assignment at Hong Kong's formation house. In his new post, Hon (below) becomes second-in-command of the church's vast mission efforts worldwide as deputy to the "Red Pope" -- the Indian chief of the historic Propaganda Fide, Cardinal Ivan Dias.

Keeping the custom of his prior ordinations of bishops in 2006 and 2009, the Pope's homily today was a catechesis on the episcopal office. At this morning's Mass, however, the text's subtleties were conspicuously evocative of the situation of the Chinese church in its calls to perseverance and communion as the "pillars" of the prelates' new ministry and, by extension, "the life of the church."

For the record, the latter "pillar" was referenced nearly 70 times in Benedict's 2007 Letter to Chinese Catholics.

Here, via AsiaNews, a snip of today's reflection:
[The new bishops'] mission is to "cast the net of the Gospel in the rough seas of this time to obtain the adhesion of people to Christ" because "it may seem that large parts of the modern world, of the men of today, are turning away from God and consider faith a thing of the past – and yet there is still a yearning for justice, love, peace, to be finally established and poverty and suffering overcome, that people find joy. All this yearning is present in today's world, a yearning for all that is great, for all that is good. It is nostalgia for the Redeemer, God himself, even where he is denied. "

It is a 'great task', which in practical terms requires the four elements that have already been the theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the memory of how the early Christians "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer"(Acts 2:42). They are "the fundamental elements of Christian communion in the Church of Jesus Christ," Benedict XVI traced his homily from the phrase "and they devoted themselves” ["they persevered"]. “Devotion, diligence, belongs to the essence of being a Christian and is fundamental to the pastors task as workers in the Lord's harvest. The Pastor should not be like chaff driven by the wind, a servant of the spirit of the time. Being intrepid, having the courage to oppose the trends of the time, is essential to the task of the pastor. He must not be chaff, but - according to the image of the first Psalm - he must be like a tree that has deep roots, upon which it is solid and well grounded. This has nothing to do with rigidity or inflexibility. Only where there is stability is there also growth. Cardinal Newman, whose path was marked by three conversions, says that living means transforming oneself. But his three conversions and the transformations that took place in them are, however, one consistent journey: the journey of obedience to the truth, to God, the true journey of continuity which in this way brings about progress".

"Perseverance to the teaching of the Apostles", then, means to remember that "faith has a concrete content. Spirituality is not a vague, indefinable feeling for transcendence. God has acted and He truly spoke. He has really done something and he actually said something. Certainly, faith is, at first, trusting in God, a living relationship with God But the God in whom we place our trust has a face and gave us His word. We can count on the stability of His word. "

The second “pillar of the life of the Church” is communion. "Communion with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Jn 1:1-4). God made himself visible and tangible for us and so has created a real communion with himself. We enter into communion through this belief and live together with those whom have been touched by Him. With them and through, we to in a certain way, see and touch the God who became close for us. Thus the horizontal and vertical are here inextricably intertwined with each other. By being in communion with the Apostles, by standing with them in faith, we ourselves are in contact with the living God. Dear friends, the purpose of the ministry of Bishops is that this chain of communion is not interrupted. This is the essence of apostolic succession: to preserve communion with those who have met the Lord in a visible and tangible way, and so keep Heaven open, God's presence among us. Only through communion with the Successors of the Apostles are we also in contact with the incarnate God. But the reverse is also true: only through communion with God, only through communion with Jesus Christ this chain of witnesses, stays together. One is never a Bishops on his won, says Vatican II, but always only in the College of Bishops. Therefore he cannot lock himself up in the time of his generation. The intertwining of all generations, the living Church of every age belongs to collegiality. You dear Brothers - he continued, turning to the soon to be ordained – have the mission of preserving this Catholic communion. You know that the Lord has appointed St. Peter and his successors to be the centre of that community, the guarantors of being in the totality of apostolic communion and His faith. Offer your help so the joy of the great unity of the Church, the communion of all the places and times, so the community of faith that embraces the heavens and the earth remains alive".

Third "fundamental element of the Church's" is the breaking of bread. "The Holy Eucharist is the centre of the Church must be the centre of our being Christians and our priestly life." "Breaking bread - along with what is also expressed in sharing, transmitting our love with others. The social dimension, sharing is not a moral appendix which is added an to the Eucharist, rather it is part of it. This is clear from his verse in Acts which follows the one quoted above: "... All the believers had everything in common," says Luke (2:44). We must be careful that faith is always expressed in love and justice of one towards another and that our social practice is inspired by faith, that faith is lived in love."
Hon will return to Hong Kong later this month for local celebrations of his ordination.

Notably present for today's rites was the recently-named head of the church there, Bishop John Tong Hon, who also attended his first Vox Clara meeting earlier this week as one of several new members of the blue-ribbon committee on English liturgical translations.