Sunday, October 25, 2015

"Jesus Wants To Include" – Synod's Mandate In Hand, Pope Says "Today Is A Time of Mercy!"

The needle successfully threaded – that is, having secured a complete consensus of the Synod to proceed from its conclusions with little blocking his path – the Pope formally closed the three-week assembly and two-year process this Sunday morning with another potent preach, albeit one whose core themes should be anything but unfamiliar to anyone who's been paying attention along the way.

Just in case it isn't already beyond clear for some, with no less than today's front page of the Italian church's national newspaper blaring "With All Families, Without Condemnation" as its wrap-up headline, the principles Francis laid out again here (as ever, using the springboard of the day's readings) will form the basis of his discernment in bringing the Synod's recommendations into force, most likely by means of an as-yet-unannounced Apostolic Exhortation during the coming Jubilee of Mercy, which runs through November 2016.

Drawing principally upon the Gospel account of the healing of Bartimaeus – likewise the source of a memorable reflection during July's trek to Latin America – below is the English translation of the Pope's concluding homily today, with the 270 Synod Fathers together one last time before heading their separate ways:
The three Readings for this Sunday show us God’s compassion, his fatherhood, definitively revealed in Jesus.

In the midst of a national disaster, the people deported by their enemies, the prophet Jeremiah proclaims that “the Lord has saved his people, the remnant of Israel” (31:7). Why did he save them? Because he is their Father (cf. v. 9); and as a Father, he takes care of his children and accompanies them on the way, sustaining “the blind and the lame, the women with child and those in labour” (31:8). His fatherhood opens up for them a path forward, a way of consolation after so many tears and great sadness. If the people remain faithful, if they persevere in their search for God even in a foreign land, God will change their captivity into freedom, their solitude into communion: what the people sow today in tears, they will reap tomorrow in joy (cf. Ps 125:6).

We too have expressed, with the Psalm, the joy which is the fruit of the Lord’s salvation: “our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy” (v. 2). A believer is someone who has experienced God’s salvific action in his life. We pastors have experienced what it means to sow with difficulty, at times in tears, and to rejoice for the grace of a harvest which is beyond our strength and capacity.

The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews shows us Jesus’ compassion. He also “is beset with weakness” (5:2), so that he can feel compassion for those in ignorance and error. Jesus is the great high priest, holy and innocent, but also the high priest who has taken on our weakness and been tempted like us in all things, save sin (cf. 4:15). For this reason he is the mediator of the new and definitive covenant which brings us salvation.

Today’s Gospel is directly linked to the First Reading: as the people of Israel were freed thanks to God’s fatherhood, so too Bartimaeus is freed thanks to Jesus’ compassion. Jesus has just left Jericho. Even though he has only begun his most important journey, which will take him to Jerusalem, he still stops to respond to Bartimaeus’ cry. Jesus is moved by his request and becomes involved in his situation. He is not content to offer him alms, but rather wants to personally encounter him. He does not give him any instruction or response, but asks him: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51). It might seem a senseless question: what could a blind man wish for if not his sight? Yet, with this question made face to face, direct but respectful, Jesus shows that he wants to hear our needs. He wants to talk with each of us about our lives, our real situations, so that nothing is kept from him. After Bartimaeus’ healing, the Lord tells him: “Your faith has made you well” (v. 52). It is beautiful to see how Christ admires Bartimaeus’ faith, how he has confidence in him. He believes in us, more than we believe in ourselves.

There is an interesting detail. Jesus asks his disciples to go and call Bartimaeus. They address the blind man with two expressions, which only Jesus uses in the rest of the Gospel. First they say to him: “Take heart!”, which literally means “have faith, strong courage!”. Indeed, only an encounter with Jesus gives a person the strength to face the most difficult situations. The second expression is “Rise!”, as Jesus said to so many of the sick, whom he took by the hand and healed. His disciples do nothing other than repeat Jesus’ encouraging and liberating words, leading him directly to Jesus, without lecturing him. Jesus’ disciples are called to this, even today, especially today: to bring people into contact with the compassionate Mercy that saves. When humanity’s cry, like Bartimaeus’, becomes stronger still, there is no other response than to make Jesus’ words our own and, above all, imitate his heart. Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy!

There are, however, some temptations for those who follow Jesus. The Gospel shows at least two of them. None of the disciples stopped, as Jesus did. They continued to walk, going on as if nothing were happening. If Bartimaeus was blind, they were deaf: his problem was not their problem. This can be a danger for us: in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered. In this way, just like the disciples, we are with Jesus but we do not think like him. We are in his group, but our hearts are not open. We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace. We are able to speak about him and work for him, but we live far from his heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded. This is the temptation: a “spirituality of illusion”: we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead, we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.

There is a second temptation, that of falling into a “scheduled faith”. We are able to walk with the People of God, but we already have our schedule for the journey, where everything is listed: we know where to go and how long it will take; everyone must respect our rhythm and every problem is a bother. We run the risk of becoming the “many” of the Gospel who lose patience and rebuke Bartimaeus. Just a short time before, they scolded the children (cf. 10:13), and now the blind beggar: whoever bothers us or is not of our stature is excluded. Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include, above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to him. They, like Bartimaeus, have faith, because awareness of the need for salvation is the best way of encountering Jesus.

In the end, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on his path (cf. v. 52). He did not only regain his sight, but he joined the community of those who walk with Jesus. Dear Synod Fathers, we have walked together. Thank you for the path we have shared with our eyes fixed on Jesus and our brothers and sisters, in the search for the paths which the Gospel indicates for our times so that we can proclaim the mystery of family love. Let us follow the path that the Lord desires. Let us ask him to turn to us with his healing and saving gaze, which knows how to radiate light, as it recalls the splendour which illuminates it. Never allowing ourselves to be tarnished by pessimism or sin, let us seek and look upon the glory of God, which shines forth in men and women who are fully alive.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"The Real Scandal Is A Fear of Love" – At Synod's Close, An Unknown Road Ahead

And so, after two years and three weeks of questionnaires, discernment, disputes and more disputes, bloodbaths on social media – and of course, as with any gathering of three or more Italians, overblown smatterings of intrigue around the edges – this climactic second Synod on the Family finished its work tonight with the complete, paragraph-by-paragraph passage of its 94-piece Final Report (Italian fulltext)... all while the ultimate resolution to the issues at stake remains unclear.

With a threshold of 177 votes required to secure the needed two-thirds' consent for each section, it was telling that the three grafs which barely reached the supermajority were those dealing with this assembly's most charged question: the church's pastoral response to the civilly remarried, specifically in the context of their admission to the Sacraments. Of the contentious trio, paragraph 85 – which presented an opening toward "pastoral discernment... taking account of the rightly-formed conscience of persons" – was approved by a margin of just one vote (178-80). The following section, which spoke of a conversation with a priest "in the internal forum" toward finding "a correct judgment on what obstructs a [remarried person's] fuller participation in the life of the church" passed on a margin of 190-64.

On another hot-button front, the final text – a reworking of the widely-panned Instrumentum Laboris fashioned from some 800 edits proposed by the Synod's 13 small-groups – spoke of keeping "a specific attention to accompanying those families in which live people with a homosexual tendency" and reaffirmed in the church's name that "every person, irrespective of their own sexual tendency, be respected in their dignity and welcomed with respect," while simultaneously retaining the 2003 CDF language which stipulated that "there exists no foundation to include or establish an equivalence" between gay unions and "the design of God for the family." The paragraph passed on a 221-37 vote.

Yielding to a widespread call from among the 265 voting Fathers, the Relatio Finalis was explicitly entrusted to Francis as opposed to the church at large, giving the Pope – who approved its public release – the option of legislating the gathering's conclusions in a document of his own in the mid-term future, most likely during the extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy which he'll open on 8 December, the 50th anniversary of Vatican II's close.

Prepared by a 10-cleric drafting committee of varying viewpoints, the final text was unanimously endorsed "without reservation" by the group before its presentation to the full Synod. However, unless and until Francis chooses to promulgate any of the report's content through his own authority as the church's supreme legislator, it bears particular underscoring that the proposals of the Relatio have no legal standing whatsoever.

Speaking of key players in the process' outcome, likeise yet to emerge is the new makeup of the all-important Synod Council, 12 of whose 15 members – who'll serve until the next, as yet unannounced Ordinary Assembly – were elected by the body in its final days, the group to be rounded out by papal appointees. Beyond laying the groundwork for future Synods, the group – meeting regularly in Francis-chaired sessions – is likely to guide the Pope's response to this gathering's conclusions. What's more, as this was the first instance of the Council's selection since Francis' arrival on Peter's chair, and especially given the ongoing tensions over Papa Bergoglio's vision of a significantly amplified role for the Synod in the church's life, the choices will prove telling.

In the meantime, the pontiff gave no indication of his intended course of action on the Synod's consensus in a remarkably blunt concluding address to the body, a magisterial instruction which – in the style of only his most significant speeches – was dotted by footnotes, including a sweeping, loaded message that's almost a mini-catechism in itself, yet one which wasn't delivered in the Aula, but cleverly lobbed by stealth in the closing citation.

Just in case that didn't make it clear: read the final footnote. Again: read the final footnote.

Anyone who missed the daily blow-by-blow would be wise to catch up. For now, one last known word remains – Francis' homily at tomorrow's final Mass.... And here, the Vatican's English translation of the Pope's remarks tonight (emphases original):

Dear Beatitudes, Eminences and Excellencies,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I would like first of all to thank the Lord, who has guided our synodal process in these years by his Holy Spirit, whose support is never lacking to the Church.

My heartfelt thanks go to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Bishop Fabio Fabene, its Under-Secretary, and, together with them, the Relator, Cardinal Peter Erdő, and the Special Secretary, Archbishop Bruno Forte, the Delegate Presidents, the writers, consultors and translators, and all those who have worked tirelessly and with total dedication to the Church: My deepest thanks!

I likewise thank all of you, dear Synod Fathers, Fraternal Delegates, Auditors and Assessors, parish priests and families, for your active and fruitful participation.

And I thank all those unnamed men and women who contributed generously to the labours of this Synod by quietly working behind the scenes.

Be assured of my prayers, that the Lord will reward all of you with his abundant gifts of grace!

As I followed the labours of the Synod, I asked myself: What will it mean for the Church to conclude this Synod devoted to the family?

Certainly, the Synod was not about settling all the issues having to do with the family, but rather attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s tradition and two-thousand-year history, bringing the joy of hope without falling into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said.

Surely it was not about finding exhaustive solutions for all the difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family, but rather about seeing these difficulties and uncertainties in the light of the Faith, carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand.

It was about urging everyone to appreciate the importance of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life.

It was about listening to and making heard the voices of the families and the Church’s pastors, who came to Rome bearing on their shoulders the burdens and the hopes, the riches and the challenges of families throughout the world.

It was about showing the vitality of the Catholic Church, which is not afraid to stir dulled consciences or to soil her hands with lively and frank discussions about the family.

It was about trying to view and interpret realities, today’s realities, through God’s eyes, so as to kindle the flame of faith and enlighten people’s hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis, and growing pessimism.

It was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would “indoctrinate” it in dead stones to be hurled at others.

It was also about laying closed hearts, which bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.

It was about making clear that the Church is a Church of the poor in spirit and of sinners seeking forgiveness, not simply of the righteous and the holy, but rather of those who are righteous and holy precisely when they feel themselves poor sinners.

It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.

In the course of this Synod, the different opinions which were freely expressed – and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways – certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue; they offered a vivid image of a Church which does not simply “rubberstamp”, but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to refresh parched hearts.1

And – apart from dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium – we have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion. Cultures are in fact quite diverse, and each general principle needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied.2 The 1985 Synod, which celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, spoke of inculturation as “the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity, and the taking root of Christianity in the various human cultures”.3 Inculturation does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures.4

We have seen, also by the richness of our diversity, that the same challenge is ever before us: that of proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of today, and defending the family from all ideological and individualistic assaults.

And without ever falling into the danger of relativism or of demonizing others, we sought to embrace, fully and courageously, the goodness and mercy of God who transcends our every human reckoning and desires only that “all be saved” (cf. 1 Tm 2:4). In this way we wished to experience this Synod in the context of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy which the Church is called to celebrate.

Dear Brothers,

The Synod experience also made us better realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness. This is in no way to detract from the importance of formulae, laws and divine commandments, but raather to exalt the greatness of the true God, who does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy (cf. Rom 3:21-30; Ps 129; Lk 11:37-54). It does have to do with overcoming the recurring temptations of the elder brother (cf. Lk 15:25-32) and the jealous labourers (cf. Mt 20:1-16). Indeed, it means upholding all the more the laws and commandments which were made for man and not vice versa (cf. Mk 2:27).

In this sense, the necessary human repentance, works and efforts take on a deeper meaning, not as the price of that salvation freely won for us by Christ on the cross, but as a response to the One who loved us first and saved us at the cost of his innocent blood, while we were still sinners (cf. Rom 5:6).

The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord (cf. Jn 12:44-50).

Blessed Paul VI expressed this eloquently: “”We can imagine, then, that each of our sins, our attempts to turn our back on God, kindles in him a more intense flame of love, a desire to bring us back to himself and to his saving plan… God, in Christ, shows himself to be infinitely good… God is good. Not only in himself; God is – let us say it with tears – good for us. He loves us, he seeks us out, he thinks of us, he knows us, he touches our hearts us and he waits for us. He will be – so to say – delighted on the day when we return and say: ‘Lord, in your goodness, forgive me. Thus our repentance becomes God’s joy”.5

Saint John Paul II also stated that: “the Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy… and when she brings people close to the sources of the Saviour’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser”.6

Benedict XVI, too, said: “Mercy is indeed the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God… May all that the Church says and does manifest the mercy God feels for mankind. When the Church has to recall an unrecognized truth, or a betrayed good, she always does so impelled by merciful love, so that men may have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10)”.7

In light of all this, and thanks to this time of grace which the Church has experienced in discussing the family, we feel mutually enriched. Many of us have felt the working of the Holy Spirit who is the real protagonist and guide of the Synod. For all of us, the word “family” has a new resonance, so much so that the word itself already evokes the richness of the family’s vocation and the significance of the labours of the Synod.8

In effect, for the Church to conclude the Synod means to return to our true “journeying together” in bringing to every part of the world, to every diocese, to every community and every situation, the light of the Gospel, the embrace of the Church and the support of God’s mercy!

Thank you!


1 Cf. Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina on the Centenary of its Faculty of Theology, 3 March 2015.

2 Cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission, Fede e cultura alla luce della Bibbia. Atti della Sessione plenaria 1979 della Pontificia Commissione Biblica, LDC, Leumann, 1981; SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Gaudium et Spes, 44.

3 Final Relatio (7 December 1985), L’Osservatore Romano, 10 December 1985, 7.

4 “In virtue of her pastoral mission, the Church must remain ever attentive to historical changes and to the development of new ways of thinking. Not, of course, to submit to them, but rather to surmount obstacles standing in the way of accepting her counsels and directives” (Interview with Cardinal Georges Cottier, in La Civiltà Cattolica 3963-3964, 8 August 2015, p. 272).

5 Homily, 23 June 1968: Insegnamenti VI (1968), 1177-1178.

6 Dives in Misericordia, 13. He also said: “In the paschal mystery… God appears to us as he is: a tender-hearted Father, who does not give up in the face of his childrens’ ingratitude and is always ready to forgive (JOHN PAUL II, Regina Coeli, 23 April 1995: Insegnamenti XVIII, 1 [1995], 1035). So too he described resistance to mercy: “The present-day mentality, more perhaps than that of people in the past, seems opposed to a God of mercy, and in fact tends to exclude from life and to remove from the human heart the very idea of mercy. The word and the concept of ‘mercy’ seem to cause uneasiness…” (Dives in Misericordia [30 November 1980] 2).

7 Regina Coeli, 30 March 2008: Insegnamenti IV, 1 (2008), 489-490. Speaking of the power of mercy, he stated: “it is mercy that sets a limit to evil. In it is expressed God’s special nature – his holiness, the power of truth and of love” (Homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, 15 April 2007: Insegnamenti III, 1 [2007], 667).

8 An acrostic look at the word “family” [Italian: “famiglia”] can help us summarize the Church’s mission as the task of: Forming new generations to experience love seriously, not as an individualistic search for a pleasure then to be discarded, and to believe once again in true, fruitful and lasting love as the sole way of emerging from ourselves and being open to others, leaving loneliness behind, living according to God’s will, finding fulfilment, realizing that marriage is “an experience which reveals God’s love, defending the sacredness of life, every life, defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously” (Homily for the Opening Mass of the Synod, 4 October 2015: L’Osservatore Romano, 5-6 October 2015, p. 7) and, furthermore, enhancing marriage preparation as a means of providing a deeper understanding of the Christian meaning of the sacrament of Matrimony; Approaching others, since a Church closed in on herself is a dead Church, while a Church which doesn't leave her own precincts behind in order to seek, embrace and lead others to Christ is a Church which betrays her very mission and calling; Manifesting and bringing God’s mercy to families in need; to the abandoned, to the neglected elderly, to children pained by the separation of their parents, to poor families struggling to survive, to sinners knocking on our doors and those who are far away, to the differently able, to all those hurting in soul and body, and to couples torn by grief, sickness, death or persecution; Illuminating consciences often assailed by harmful and subtle dynamics which even attempt to replace God the Creator, dynamics which must be unmasked and resisted in full respect for the dignity of each person; Gaining and humbly rebuilding trust in the Church, which has been gravely weakened as a result of the conduct and sins of her children – sadly, the counter-witness of scandals committed in the Church by some clerics have damaged her credibility and obscured the brightness of her saving message; Labouring intensely to sustain and encourage those many strong and faithful families which, in the midst of their daily struggles, continue to give a great witness of fidelity to the Church’s teachings and the Lord’s commandments; Inventing renewed programmes of pastoral care for the family based on the Gospel and respectful of cultural differences, pastoral care which is capable of communicating the Good News in an attractive and positive manner and helping banish from young hearts the fear of making definitive commitments, pastoral care which is particularly attentive to children, who are the real victims of broken families, pastoral care which is innovative and provides a suitable preparation for the sacrament of Matrimony, rather than so many programmes which seem more of a formality than training for a lifelong commitment; Aiming to love unconditionally all families, particularly those experiencing difficulties, since no family should feel alone or excluded from the Church’s loving embrace, and the real scandal is a fear of love and of showing that love concretely.

Friday, October 09, 2015

At the Synod, The Moment of Truth... Part I

Since its opening early Monday, this climactic Synod on the Family hasn't just met strictly behind closed doors, but mostly away from the Aula in its 13 circuli minores, the small(er) discussion groups divvied up by language.

A stark change from the prior methodology – in which each member's set-piece speeches before the entire gathering dominated the first week and beyond – while several prelates in attendance have taken to either giving interviews on their impressions or made their (three-minute) interventions public, the overwhelming bulk of the 300-person assembly hasn't, leaving much to be desired as a result. That ends this Friday morning, however, as the circuli – four English groups, three each for French, Italian and Spanish-speakers and one for Germans – each present their feedback on Part One of the Instrumentum Laboris, the Synod's "baseline" text, providing by far the most comprehensive snapshot to date of where consensus exists... and, in particular, where it doesn't.

(SVILUPPO: Each in their language of origin – and featuring a host of viewpoints on the Instrumentum, including a remarkable share of frank critique – the complete circuli reports were released by the Holy See shortly after 1pm Rome Friday. In addition, a summary of the reports across languages has likewise been prepared.)

As previously reported here, another marked shift from the usual procedure has seen this ordinary assembly essentially broken up into three "mini-Synods," with each week being dedicated to one of the three parts of the Instrumentum. In that light, even as some Fathers – most prominently Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. – have taken early aim at perceived lapses in the opening segment's cultural or anthropological sense of the contemporary family, the biggest "fireworks" are bound to come in the Synod's final leg (slated to begin Wednesday, the 14th), as the working paper's third piece on "the mission of the family" contains the heavily-charged consideration of the issues which have commanded immense attention and frenzied levels of anticipation among the media and wider audience alike.

Signaling the import of the Instrumentum's loaded final section to the entire venture, the circuli discussions on Part III are scheduled to extend for a full week, through Wednesday the 21st. At the close of the group discussions on each of the three segments, the edits submitted by the groups – each comprising around 30 participants, including the lay delegates – will be given to the ten-prelate commission assigned to draft the Relatio Finalis, the final text to be voted upon by the body for its ultimate presentation to the Pope. (Indeed, the days of Synods providing their members a relaxing junket of leisurely meals and ample opportunity to doze in the Aula – all while rubber-stamping proposals manufactured from on high – are well over.)

Chosen by the Synod Secretariat with Francis' approval, the drafting committee includes several crucial figures, among them this assembly's Relator-General, Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdö, whose opening report on Monday was widely seen as a move to short-circuit any discussion on changes of pastoral practice toward the civilly remarried and other hot-button fronts; Erdö's de facto counterpoint, Archbishop Bruno Forte, the gathering's Secretary cited as the hand behind the contentiously "open" paragraphs on homosexuality and cohabitation in last year's (in)famous "midterm report"; Washington's Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the ever-meticulous theologian likely to be a key architect of fleshing out the Pope's merciful intent in doctrinally sound form; the Pope's most trusted ghostwriter from home, the Argentine Archbishop Victor Fernandez, who was spontaneously elevated by Francis within weeks of the Conclave (both to highlight the papal protege... as well as to embed Fernandez in their homeland's episcopal conference), and the Synod's Secretary-General, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, who has been dogged by claims of the process' manipulation which, in a sudden intervention on Tuesday, the Pope himself saw fit to slam as fomenting an unwarranted "hermeneutic of conspiracy."

Even beyond the tensions evident on a number of fronts, the drafters face a herculean task: the team will have all of 24 hours between receiving the groups' Part III findings and presenting their first version of the final text for debate in the Aula, the finished product slated for a vote just 48 hours after that.

With the first round of the group reports slated to be publicly released by the Holy See after their presentation (time unknown), more to come when they do. (Again, full reports in their original languages... and their English summary.) But as a word to the wise, the more than a few already in hysterics over all this – whatever the opinion might be – will have knocked yourselves out by the time the core of these days is at hand.

If that's your choice, have at it... especially amid a time like this, though, at least some of us need to know better.

All that said, it seems a good moment to reprise the prayer to the Holy Family for the Synod written by Francis in late 2013, as the long process now at its culmination was just beginning to take shape:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendour of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.

Monday, October 05, 2015

"The Deposit of Faith Is Not A Museum" – In the Aula, It's Showtime

(Updated with Pope's opening remarks.)

After seeming eons of prayers, publications and politicking, now the process finally begins – 9am Rome time this Monday sees the opening work-session of this climactic Synod on the Family, with Vatican cameras live in the Aula to capture the only substantive piece of the three-week assembly that'll be visible to the outside world.

As plans stand, the usual opening reports are to be delivered by the Synod's Secretary-General, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, and the Relator (keynoter) of the family assemblies, the Hungarian primate Cardinal Peter Erdö... with the duo most likely to be followed (again) by a word from the Pope.

Here, the livefeed – as ever, texts as they emerge:

Over each day of the Synod, leading members of the assembly will help brief the press at the start of the lunch break. Among other key pieces of what ensues, the "interventions" – now three-minute floor speeches (reduced from five) – from each of the 300-odd Fathers and delegates begin in today's afternoon session and continue through the 15th, interspersed with meetings of the circuli minores, the language-based small discussion groups.

As previously relayed, each of this assembly's three weeks is slated to cover one part of the Synod's instrumentum laboris – its sprawling working document. However, the alert's unusually been made that "the calendar isn't definitive [and] can be changed by the decision of the President": that is, the Pope.

SVILUPPO: And as expected, beyond the reports of the gathering's chiefs, Francis rose to outline the parameters of the discussion, highlighting the three key qualities he expects from the Fathers' exchanges, including along the way the core principle underpinning his recent broad reform of the annulment process.

Here, the Vatican translation of the Pope's kickoff remarks (emphases original)....

Dear Beatitudes, Eminences, Excellencies, brothers and sisters,

The Church today takes up once again the dialogue begun with the announcement of the extraordinary Synod on the family, and certainly even long before that, to evaluate and reflect on the text of the Working Document (Instrumentum laboris), elaborated on the basis of the [Extraordinary Assembly’s] final report (Relatio Synodi) and the responses of the Bishops’ Conferences and from the other organizations with the right to contribute.

The Synod, as we know, is a journey undertaken together in the spirit of collegiality and synodality, on which participants bravely adopt parrhesia, pastoral zeal and doctrinal wisdom, frankness, and always keep before our eyes the good of the Church, of families and the supreme lex [supreme law], the Salus animarum [the salvation of souls].

I should mention that the Synod is neither a convention, nor a parlor, nor a parliament or senate, where people make deals and reach compromises. The Synod is rather an Ecclesial expression, i.e., the Church that journeys together to read reality with the eyes of faith and with the heart of God; it is the Church that interrogates herself with regard to her fidelity to the deposit of faith, which does not represent for the Church a museum to view, nor even something merely to safeguard, but is a living source from which the Church shall drink, to satisfy the thirst of, and illuminate, the deposit of life.

The Synod moves necessarily within the bosom of the Church and of the holy people of God, to which we belong in the quality of shepherds – which is to say, as servants. The Synod also is a protected space in which the Church experiences the action of the Holy Spirit. In the Synod, the Spirit speaks by means of every person’s tongue, who lets himself be guided by the God who always surprises, the God who reveals himself to little ones, who hides from the knowing and intelligent; the God who created the law and the Sabbath for man and not vice versa; by the God, who leaves the 99 sheep to look for the one lost sheep; the God who is always greater than our logic and our calculations.

Let us remember, however, that the Synod will be a space for the action of the Holy Spirit only if we participants vest ourselves with apostolic courage, evangelical humility and trusting prayer:

with that apostolic courage, which refuses to be intimidated in the face of the temptations of the world – temptations that tend to extinguish the light of truth in the hearts of men, replacing it with small and temporary lights; nor even before the petrification of some hearts, which, despite good intentions, drive people away from God; apostolic courage to bring life and not to make of our Christian life a museum of memories;

evangelical humility that knows how to empty itself of conventions and prejudices in order to listen to brother bishops and be filled with God – humility that leads neither to finger-pointing nor to judging others, but to hands outstretched to help people up without ever feeling oneself superior to them.

Confident prayer that trusts in God is the action of the heart when it opens to God, when our humors are silenced in order to listen to the gentle voice of God, which speaks in silence. Without listening to God, all our words are only words that are meet no need and serve no end. Without letting ourselves be guided the Spirit, all our decisions will be but decorations that, instead of exalting the Gospel, cover it and hide it. 
Dear brothers, as I have said, the Synod is not a parliament in which to reach a consensus or a common accord there is recourse to negotiation, to deal-making, or to compromise: indeed, the only method of the Synod is to open up to the Holy Spirit with apostolic courage, with evangelical humility and confident, trusting prayer, that it might be He, who guides us, enlightens us and makes us put before our eyes, with our personal opinions, but with faith in God, fidelity to the Magisterium, the good of the Church and the Salus animarum.

Finally, I would like to thank: His Eminence Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod; His Excellency, Archbishop Fabio Fabene, Undersecretary; and with them I thank the Rapporteur, His Eminence Cardinal Peter Erdö and the Special Secretary, His Excellency Archbishop Bruno Forte; the Presidents-delegate, writers, consultors, translators and all those who worked with true fidelity and total dedication to the Church. Thank you so much!

I also thank all of you, dear Synod Fathers, fraternal delegates, auditors and assessors, for your active and fruitful participation.
I want to address a special thanks to the journalists present at this time and to those who follow us from afar. Thank you for your enthusiastic participation and for your admirable attention.

We begin our journey by invoking the help of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Thank you.
While it wasn't part of the formal reports, in a brief homily given as part of the Midmorning Prayer that opened the talks, the influential head of Francis' "Gang of Nine" chief advisers – the Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga – tellingly spoke of the process as a means of providing "a new day for the families of the world," adding a prayer that the Synod's consensus would produce "a path of joy and hope."


Sunday, October 04, 2015

A "Mission In Truth" – At Synod's Start, Pope Returns To "God's Dream"... and "Not Pointing A Finger"

Having made a focus on the "domestic church" his keenest priority for global Catholicism from his very first days on Peter's chair, this Sunday morning brought the first long story-arc of Francis' pontificate into its home-stretch as the Pope opened the climactic second Synod of Bishops on the family, in the process delivering one of the landmark messages of his 31-month reign.

Dedicated to "The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World," the three-week, 270-member gathering – more than two years in the making – has been the source of no lack of discussion and sheer, yet subtle gamesmanship in church circles over the assembly's expected discussions on some of the most charged challenges of ministering to a 1.2 billion-member fold, an overflowing plate ranging from the socio-

economic difficulties facing families to a fresh outreach toward cohabitating and civilly remarried couples and gays and lesbians distanced from full participation in ecclesial life.

Indeed, as but one signal of the high drama surrounding the Synod, yesterday saw the wildly-public surprise announcement by Msgr Krzystof Charamsa, a longtime staffer at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that he is gay and in a relationship. Responding to the Polish cleric's coming out, a Vatican statement said that, in light of the "very serious and irresponsible" move on the assembly's eve, Charisma, 42, would lose both his Curia post as well as his teaching assignments at the pontifical universities. While the official reaction noted a sense of "respect due to the events and personal situations," it is telling that the monsignor's provocative disclosure came as dueling conferences took place in Rome to advocate traditional and progressive approaches on the church's pastoral response to the same-sex attracted.

At its opening session Monday morning, the Synod will receive reports from its top two officials and – albeit unannounced as yet – likely (as before) an address from the Pope, who as the body's president can unilaterally do as he pleases, armed with the sole deliberative vote. Once the closed-door discussions get underway, a revised methodology will limit the set speeches of Synod members to three minutes (down from the prior five) as well as placing more emphasis on the circuli minores, the language-based small groups where the bulk of the body's ideas and proposals are traditionally hashed out. Unlike last year's extraordinary assembly, a midterm relatio – whose 2014 preparation and release had been the cause of no shortage of controversy – will be conspicuous this time by its absence... but with a high-powered group already in place to prepare a final report which will be entrusted to the body for approval, then to Francis for his definitive conclusions sometime in the coming "Year of Mercy," the publication of that document is the Pope's call, one only likely to be made at the Synod's end.

As previously noted, the days to come will make for the Vatican's "Main Event" of 2015, and those of you who've been blowing energy over Kim Davis these last days have done about the same for your credibility when it comes to this beat. In a nutshell, the moment upon us represents a period of showtime, showdown and utter consequence for the wider church unseen since the Conclave itself: an event whose impact could well extend beyond this new Franciscan age....

Then again, if you've been around here long enough, you've known from the get-go that the Synod is the key to everything else.

Speaking of echoes, in a reprise of his sketch on "God's dream" at the opening of last year's assembly – and pointedly quoting his two predecessors along the way – as today's readings notably addressed marriage, divorce and indissolubility, below is the English translation of the Pope's homily... a preach given in the same serious, disciplined, driven tone with which he addressed the US bishops in Washington 11 days ago:

“If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 Jn 4:12).

This Sunday’s Scripture readings seem to have been chosen precisely for this moment of grace which the Church is experiencing: the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family, which begins with this Eucharistic celebration. The readings centre on three themes: solitude, love between man and woman, and the family.


Adam, as we heard in the first reading, was living in the Garden of Eden. He named all the other creatures as a sign of his dominion, his clear and undisputed power, over all of them. Nonetheless, he felt alone, because “there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:20). He was lonely.

The drama of solitude is experienced by countless men and women in our own day. I think of the elderly, abandoned even by their loved ones and children; widows and widowers; the many men and women left by their spouses; all those who feel alone, misunderstood and unheard; migrants and refugees fleeing from war and persecution; and those many young people who are victims of the culture of consumerism, the culture of waste, the throwaway culture.

Today we experience the paradox of a globalized world filled with luxurious mansions and skyscrapers, but a lessening of the warmth of homes and families; many ambitious plans and projects, but little time to enjoy them; many sophisticated means of entertainment, but a deep and growing interior emptiness; many pleasures, but few loves; many liberties, but little freedom… The number of people who feel lonely keeps growing, as does the number of those who are caught up in selfishness, gloominess, destructive violence and slavery to pleasure and money.

Our experience today is, in some way, like that of Adam: so much power and at the same time so much loneliness and vulnerability. The image of this is the family. People are less and less serious about building a solid and fruitful relationship of love: in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, in good times and in bad. Love which is lasting, faithful, conscientious, stable and fruitful is increasingly looked down upon, viewed as a quaint relic of the past. It would seem that the most advanced societies are the very ones which have the lowest birth-rates and the highest percentages of abortion, divorce, suicide, and social and environmental pollution.

Love between man and woman

In the first reading we also hear that God was pained by Adam’s loneliness. He said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen2:18). These words show that nothing makes man’s heart as happy as another heart like his own, a heart which loves him and takes away his sense of being alone. These words also show that God did not create us to live in sorrow or to be alone. He made men and women for happiness, to share their journey with someone who complements them, to live the wondrous experience of love: to love and to be loved, and to see their love bear fruit in children, as today’s Psalm says (cf. Ps 128).

This is God’s dream for his beloved creation: to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self. It is the same plan which Jesus presents in today’s Gospel: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mk 10:6-8; cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24).

To a rhetorical question – probably asked as a trap to make him unpopular with the crowd, which practiced divorce as an established and inviolable fact – Jesus responds in a straightforward and unexpected way. He brings everything back to the beginning of creation, to teach us that God blesses human love, that it is he who joins the hearts of two people who love one another, he who joins them in unity and indissolubility. This shows us that the goal of conjugal life is not simply to live together for life, but to love one another for life! In this way Jesus re-establishes the order which was present from the beginning.


“What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:9). This is an exhortation to believers to overcome every form of individualism and legalism which conceals a narrow self-centredness and a fear of accepting the true meaning of the couple and of human sexuality in God’s plan.

Indeed, only in the light of the folly of the gratuitousness of Jesus’ paschal love will the folly of the gratuitousness of an exclusive and life-long conjugal love make sense. For God, marriage is not some adolescent utopia, but a dream without which his creatures will be doomed to solitude! Indeed, being afraid to accept this plan paralyzes the human heart.

Paradoxically, people today – who often ridicule this plan – continue to be attracted and fascinated by every authentic love, by every steadfast love, by every fruitful love, by every faithful and enduring love. We see people chase after fleeting loves while dreaming of true love; they chase after carnal pleasures but desire total self-giving.

“Now that we have fully tasted the promises of unlimited freedom, we begin to appreciate once again the old phrase: “world-weariness”. Forbidden pleasures lost their attraction at the very moment they stopped being forbidden. Even if they are pushed to the extreme and endlessly renewed, they prove dull, for they are finite realities, whereas we thirst for the infinite” (JOSEPH RATZINGER, Auf Christus schauen. Einübung in Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe, Freiburg, 1989, p. 73).

In this extremely difficult social and marital context, the Church is called to carry out her mission in fidelity, truth and love. To carry out her mission in fidelity to her Master as a voice crying out in the desert, in defending faithful love and encouraging the many families which live married life as an experience which reveals of God’s love; in defending the sacredness of life, of every life; in defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously.

To carry out her mission in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions. The truth which protects individuals and humanity as a whole from the temptation of self-centredness and from turning fruitful love into sterile selfishness, faithful union into temporary bonds. “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love” (BENEDICT XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 3).

To carry out her mission in charity, not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but – faithful to her nature as a mother – conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy; to be a “field hospital” with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.

A Church which teaches and defends fundamental values, while not forgetting that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27); and that Jesus also said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17). A Church which teaches authentic love, which is capable of taking loneliness away, without neglecting her mission to be a good Samaritan to wounded humanity.

I remember when Saint John Paul II said: “Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved… we must love our time and help the man of our time” (JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Members of Italian Catholic Action, 30 December 1978). The Church must search out these persons, welcome and accompany them, for a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock: “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb 2:11).

In this spirit we ask the Lord to accompany us during the Synod and to guide his Church, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse.