Friday, 9 October 2015

Synod15: refugee families are part of us

Pope coffee break

Yesterday, Cardinal Angelo Scola gave a beautiful 1.5 minute interview in which he, to my mind, expressed the heart of what this and last year's Synods are about:
"After the 50s, and originating in France, many realities were born that have sought to value all elements of family life from the affective, sexual component to communion to the generation of children. However, we have remained too much on the side of treating the family as an object of pastoral care. Instead, in everyday life, the family, as family, made up of dad, mom, granddad, granny, children, nephews and nieces, aunts, friends, acquaintances, must face all circumstances of life, whether favorable or unfavorable, all relationships in the light of the Christian vision. This guarantees Christianity incarnation, which is why Jesus came to be way, truth and life. If we lose this density that Paul VI already defined as the rupture between faith and life that is destined to grow and humanity today no longer see the beauty, goodness and truth of following Jesus so as to be happy and fully human."
Yesterday also saw the publication of Monday's address by Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin, who spoke about the challenges faced by his community with regard to divorce and re-marriage and access to the Eucharist:
"[D]eeply faithful young Christians also ask me, in light of experiences in their families and circles of friends, the question: “But when we fail in our marriage and later enter into a new marriage, why are we then barred from the table of the Lord? Does God refuse people who have experienced failure?” I then try to explain why we don't admit divorced and remarried people to Communion, but the arguments of these theological statements do not silence the questions in the hearts of people: Is there no place at the Lord’s table for people who experienced and suffered an irreversible break in their lives? How free from mistakes and holy must one be to be allowed to the supper of the Lord? It becomes clear to me every time that the question of allowing divorced and remarried people to the Eucharist is not in the first place a question about the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage. Many people question the Church and her mercy in this regard. More than a few people concerned leave the Church with their children on the basis of what they see as rejection. Ultimately and most profoundly it is much more about the Christian faith and God and His mercy. For many, the question of admittance to the Eucharist makes God questionable."
Archbishop Koch also spoke powerfully about refugees as a blessing:
"For one third of the Catholics in the city of Berlin, German is not their mother tongue. Berlin is home to many immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. From the first day of my service in this city I have also witnessed the drama of refugee families, who have been separated by violence or who have fled together, but are now far from home. We can not leave these families alone, including at this Synod. The Holy Family fled and only had a manger for their child, but this refugee family became a blessing for us all. Does God perhaps also want the refugee families in particular to be a blessing for us today? At this Synod we must also speak about these families and we must speak about ourselves as the new family of Jesus, the family of His Church, which does not erect any walls or barbed wire.The refugee families are part of us and we of them. We are a blessing for each other."
Not from the Synod, but highly pertinent to it is a reflection by St. Vincent of Lerins that I came across today. St. Vincent, in the 5th century!, had the following thoughts on the development of doctrine:
"Is there to be no development of religion in the Church of Christ? Certainly, there is to be development and on the largest scale. Who can be so grudging to men, so full of hate for God, as to try to prevent it? But it must truly be development of the faith, not alteration of the faith. Development means that each thing expands to be itself, while alteration means that a thing is changed from one thing into another.

The understanding, knowledge and wisdom of one and all, of individuals as well as of the whole Church, ought then to make great and vigorous progress with the passing of the ages and the centuries,but only along its own line of development, that is, with the same doctrine, the same meaning and the same import.

The religion of souls should follow the law of development of bodies. Though bodies develop and unfold their component parts with the passing of the years, they always remain what they were. There is a great difference between the flower of childhood and the maturity of age, but those who become old are the very same people who were once young. Though the condition and appearance of one and the same individual may change, it is one and the same nature, one and the same person. The tiny members of unweaned children and the grown members of young men are still the same members. Men have the same number of limbs as children. Whatever develops at a later age was already present in seminal form; there is nothing new in old age that was not already latent in childhood."
And, finally, let's look at the words of Pope Francis from this morning's homily where he first spoke out against doctrinal rigidity:
"There was another group of people who didn't like Jesus and who always tried to interpret the words of Jesus and also the attitudes of Jesus, in a different way, against Jesus. Some out of envy, others due to doctrinal rigidity, others because they were afraid that the Romans would come and massacre them; for many reasons they tried to distance the authority of Jesus from the people, also with slander, as in this case. 'He casts out demons by the power of Beelzebub. He is a man possessed. He performs the magic, he is a sorcerer'. They continually put him to the test, they put traps in his way, to see whether he would fall."
Francis then calls for vigilance, discernment - to see what comes from God and what comes from evil, and underlines the importance of an examination of conscience and gives examples that have an added edge and sharpness in this context of the Synod, but that are also highly pertinent to any Christian's life:
"Vigilance. The Church always encourages us to exercise an examination of conscience: What happened today in my heart, today, why? Did this polite demon, with his friends, come to me? Discernment. Where do the comments, words, teachings come from, who says this? Discernment and vigilance, so as not to let enter that which deceives, seduces, fascinates. Let us ask the Lord for this grace, the grace of discernment and the grace of vigilance."
Next up: the reports of the small working groups on the first part of the Instrumentum Laboris that will be published today. As a great preview, here is a great summary by Fr. Spadaro, published just now on Twitter:
  1. Enough with the pessimistic vision of reality and sexuality.

  2. Use understandable language that favors dialogue with our contemporaries.

  3. Don't limit ourselves to normative language but use the positive language of the Council.

  4. Learn to read the signs of the times, that is of grace in the contemporary world.

  5. Review one's own pastoral approach in the light of Pope Francis' style.

  6. No more speaking about the family

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Synod15: no Church without the family

Pope baby davide

Yesterday, Archbishop Charles Chaput spoke at the Synod about the tension between despair and hope:
“When Jesus experienced the pastoral despair of his Apostles, he reminded them that for man a thing may seem impossible, but for God all things are possible. [...] Paragraphs 7-10 of the Instrumentum did a good job of describing the condition of today’s families. But overall, the text engenders a subtle hopelessness. This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals — which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church. The work of this synod needs to show much more confidence in the Word of God, the transformative power of grace, and the ability of people to actually live what the Church believes.”
The Chaldean Patriarch Luis Raphaël I Sako gave an extensive interview in which he spoke about the Church’s call to offer encouragement and to be a single family:
“The Church is also a mother. We churn out so much dogma, legislation takes up a lot of space in Church life. What we need today, however, is more sensitivity, more encouragement. We need to raise people’s morale, people’s spirits. Today, people need words of encouragement, a little joy, solidarity, they need to feel the Church’s presence, we must not be detached from them, like a hierarchy. We are one single family and we have been speaking as one family.”
Salt and Light have been recording excellent, short interviews with Synod attendees, including one with a married couple, Jabu and Buyi Nkosi, Members of the Advisory Committee for the National Family Desk of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Mrs. Nkosi starts off with drawing a broad picture that leads her to the declaration that without the family there is no Church:
“Every one of us comes from a family so it’s very important to support family, its very important to work with families, especially families in crisis as we have a lot of challenges for the family, like unemployment, socioeconomic conditions, migration, ... all those things have a tendency to attack the family, to disintegrate the family. Therefore the Church should be there for the family to sustain it, to support it. Because, without the family, which is the first Church, there is no Church.”
When asked about the challenges of mixed marriages (i.e., marriages between members of different Christian denominations), Mr. Nkosi gave the following, joyful answer, based on the experiences of their children, all of whom are married to non-Catholics:
“Yeah, we call it two faiths but one love and people who love each other, they are able to compromise, they are able to share and look at what is common between them rather than what makes them different.”
Bishop Peter Kang U-Il of Jeju, Korea, made a clear plea for reaching out to those excluded from the Church today:
“I have a hope that the Church could be more open towards those who are eliminated from the Church communion. So, I think we should show our charism of mercy to those who were alienated from the divine grace for several decades or several years. I hope that we could gather this kind of merciful teaching together.”
In a great interview today, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifican Council for Legislative Texts, spoke about how to prioritize the person before doctrine:
“[T]he Church has a doctrine that must be maintained firmly, but if she looks first at doctrine and then at the person, she may have more trouble understanding the person; if she looks first at the person and in their sufferings, their specific needs, then she finds a light in the doctrine for going towards meeting the person. But looking first at the person, their sufferings, their concrete needs, gives us the stimulus that we lack if we look more abstractly, only and first at doctrine.”
Asked about whether the Synod is a pastoral or doctrinal one, Card. Coccopalmerio spoke about this being a false distinction, pointing to the real distinction being about abstract versus pastoral doctrine:
“I would not place “doctrinal” and “pastoral” in opposition, because doctrine is for the person, for the good of the person and the pastoral is the good of the person. Sometimes, however, doctrine must take into account the circumstances of the person, or rather should be light that gives a response to concrete needs. So, you could say that we put abstract and pastoral doctrine in opposition, but not doctrine and the pastoral. Doctrine must serve, at its deepest core, to enlighten and to resolve concrete problems.”
Finally, in response to a question about whether it is true that there are different warring factions inside the Synod, Card. Coccopalmerio responded:
“There are different opinions and that’s really good, because if everyone thought the same way about realities that evidently are susceptible to different thought, that would be very poor, very negative; instead, these different ways of thinking are an asset. And it is a great treasure to be able to express your views, even if different from that of other brothers, other Synod Fathers, or different even from the majority of the views of other brothers or Synod Fathers. So, I would say that there are two treasures: to have different thoughts and to be able to express your ideas with freedom and joy.”
Vatican Radio also published excerpts from an article by the Synod Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, entitled “The reform of the Church according to Francis. Ignatian roots.” Fr. Spadaro there points to a fundamental kenotic Christocentrism in Francis’ approach:
“In Francis’ mind, the reformer must be someone who is “emptied”, he mustn’t be centered on himself but on the Lord, he is called to a lowering, a “hollowing out”. Reform for Francis is rooted in an emptying of oneself. If it were not so, if it were only an idea, an ideal project, the fruit of their own desires, even good ones, it would become yet another ideology of change.”
Fr. Spadaro then goes on to spell out what reform means for Pope Francis:
“For Bergoglio, reform means starting open processes open and not cutting heads or conquering spaces of power. It is precisely with this spirit of discernment that Ignatius and his first companions faced the challenge of the Reformation. However, for him the road to be taken is really open, it isn’t a theoretical road map: the path opens while walking. So, his plan is, in fact, a lived spiritual experience that takes shape in stages, that is translated into concrete terms, into action. The Bergoglian pontificate and its willingness to reform are not and will not only be of an administrative nature. Instead they will be a start and an accompanying of processes: some quick and dazzling, other extremely slow.”

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Synod15: abandon the old nets

Circoli minori

Since the meetings in small groups (circuli minores) have been underway since yesterday afternoon, the main source of information about the Synod until the small groups publish their reports on the first part of the instrumentum laboris on Friday will be interviews and blog posts by the Synod Fathers.

An example of a much-talked interview here is that with Archbishop Durocher, who proposed that the question of women deacons should be considered, who also spoke out in support of women having decision making authority in the Church and who called for more protagonism of married couples too:
“I propose three other courses of action for this Synod.
  1. That this Synod considers the possibility of granting to married men and women, well-trained and accompanied, permission to speak in homilies at Mass in order to show the link between the Word proclaimed and the lives of spouses and parents.

  2. That in order to recognize the equal capacity of women to assume decision-making positions in the Church, the Synod recommends the appointment of women to positions they are able to occupy in the Roman Curia and in our diocesan curias.

  3. Finally, concerning the permanent diaconate, that this Synod recommends the establishment of a process that could eventually open to women access to this order, which, as tradition says, is directed non ad sacerdotium, sed ad ministerium [“not to priesthood, but to ministry”].”

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, shared some important reflections about possible sources of disconnect between what the Church teaches and what those who listen to her hear:
“One fact that has struck me is that certain distinctions upon which the Church has long relied no longer work. [...]

The first is the distinction between public and private. We have long held to a policy of speaking the truth in public, even when it can seem harsh, but negotiating mercy in private. The clarity of the pulpit has been tempered by the tenderness of the confessional. But that no longer works in cultures which prize transparency and authenticity and see such an approach as hypocritical and inauthentic. What we need now are public enactments of mercy, such as we see when Pope Francis says, “Who am I to judge?” in answer to a question about homosexuality, or when he washes the feet of a Muslim woman in a detention centre, or when he makes absolution for the sin of abortion less difficult during the Year of Mercy. He is very much the Pope of public mercy, and as such he points the way forward to the Church as we seek to reconfigure public and private, truth and mercy.

A second distinction that no longer works is the distinction between sin and sinner. We have long said that we condemn the sin but not the sinner. But this has broken down, especially in the area of sexuality. When we say that this or that act is “intrinsically disordered” or evil, we are taken to be saying that the person who commits the act is “intrinsically disordered” or evil. Because sexuality is no longer seen as being a matter of what a person does; it’s seen now as what a person is. It’s a matter of his or her whole being. So we can no longer condemn the sin but not the sinner. We need to think and act our way beyond that, and that’s not easy.

A third distinction I mention concerns the Church and her members. We have long said that the Church “in herself” is the sinless Bride of Christ but that her children can indeed be sinful and often are. It’s as if the Church has some ideal existence above and beyond her children. Of course there’s a way of explaining this theologically to make it sound perfectly sensible. The Church is more than her members; she is the Body of Christ who is the head of the Body. That’s true; but in the minds of most people these days, the distinction doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t work at the level of communication. So we need at least to find other more communicative ways to explain what we’re trying to say about sin and the Church.”
Next, Bishop Lucas Van Looy of Ghent and President of Caritas Europa published the 3-minute contribution he made to yesterday’s General Congregation, where he focused on the needs of migrants and refugees and posed the question of whether the permanent diaconate couldn’t provide greater service with the scope of God’s mercy:
“Migrant and refugee families suffer because of social exclusion. They live in poverty and can not take part in social life. It is hard to obtain civil rights in western countries. They have no income and are often not welcome in the area where they end up. Invisible suffering, poverty and anger are growing in our cities because of unemployment, especially among young people. We all know that commerce, industry, banks and technology are omnipresent today and that their free circulation knows no bounds. For people, on the other hands, there are strict boundaries. It is high time that we tell the world that people are the most important. We can not give up these migrant or refugee families and leave them to their own devices. How to give them credible hope? (EG 86).

Service, diakonia, is for the Church the way towards credibility. Thanks to the Second Vatican Council we have permanent deacons. Should we not focus more on the diaconate and service to help separated families? How to give hope to broken families, whatever the reason for their break may be? The cry of families in need must be heard by the Christian community and by the parishes. People in great need are loved by God, the Good Shepherd. They deserve our full attention, regardless of their origin, gender, age, social status, religion or the broken situation they find themselves in. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus went looking for the lost sheep, lost by accident or on purpose. Moses, too, went back to the unfaithful people to lead it to the promised land.

This leads us to the topic of mercy. Who are we to judge, to exclude people who live in situations which make unity impossible? Who are we not to use the means that we have to bring hope and joy to families who have lost all their rights because of war and poverty? We must start from the fact that God sent His Son to all people to save them, not to judge them. His mercy fills our hearts when we encounter actual people who have been excluded and live in exile. What they need is our love, which comes from the love that God has for us.”
Cardinal Schönborn in an interview yesterday spoke with great clarity when asked whether faithfulness, truth and charity can come together:
“If this were not possible, the Church would not be possible, the Gospel would not be possible. The Gospel is a word of truth, but a word of truth in charity. Love without truth is soft and truth without love is hard. Therefore, uniting charity and truth is what the Gospel itself requires. Much has been spoken about conflicts before the Synod, let’s see whether they will be spoken about during the Synod ... In any case, there is a climate of communion and there is fellowship.”
And finally, let’s conclude with Pope Francis’ catechesis from today’s General Audience, whose topic was the “indissoluble” relationship between Church and family, for the good of humanity and where Pope Francis called of an injection of family spirit into society. Particularly poignant here are the two concluding paragraphs, where a call for new nets must resonate strongly with the Synod Fathers as yet another indication of the pope’s will:
“When Jesus called Peter to follow him, he told him that he would make him a “fisher of men”, and for this, a new type of nets is needed. We could say that today families are one of the most important nets for the mission of Peter and of the Church. This is not a net that makes us prisoners. On the contrary, it frees from the evil waters of abandonment and indifference, which drown many human beings in the sea of loneliness and indifference. Families know well the dignity of feeling themselves children and not slaves or strangers, or just a number of an identity card.

From here, from the family, Jesus begins again his passage among human beings, to persuade them that God has not forgotten them. From here Peter gets the vigor for his ministry. From here, obeying the word of the Master, the Church goes out to fish in the deep certain that, if this happens, the fishing will be miraculous. May the enthusiasm of the Synod Fathers, animated by the Holy Spirit, foster the impetus of a Church that abandons the old nets and returns to fish trusting in the word of her Lord. Let us pray intensely for this! As for the rest, Christ has promised and encourages us: if even evil fathers do not refuse bread to their hungry children, just think if God will not give the Spirit to those that -- though imperfect as they are -- asked for it with impassioned insistence (cf. Luke 11:9-13)!”

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Synod15: no to the ministers of rigidity

Sinodo della famiglia 2015 papa francesco

On Saturday, Cardinal Ravasi - one of the Synod Fathers, and head of the Pontifical Council for Culture - published a short reflection on the family, entitled “The room of pain,” whose English translation I’d like to share here next:
“The French writer Jules Renard, author of the famous novel Poil de carotte (1894), was right when he noted in his diary: “If we want to build the house of happiness, we must remember that the largest room must be the waiting room.” In fact, if we take a look at the biblical house of the family, we realize how large and populated is the room of pain. The Bible is a constant witness to this, from the brutal violence of Cain’s fratricide of Abel and the quarrels among the children and spouses of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, then moving on to the tragedy that has bloodied the family of David, with his son Absalom’s aspiring to parricide, to the many difficulties that pepper the familiar tale of the book of Tobit or to that bitter confession of Job: “My family has withdrawn from me, my friends are wholly estranged. ... My breath is abhorrent to my wife; I am loathsome to my very children.”(19:13,17). Jesus himself is born in a refugee family, enters Peter’s house where the mother-in-law is ill, let’s himself be involved in the drama of death in the house of Jairus, or in that of Lazarus, hears the desperate cry of the widow of Nain. In their homes he meets tax collectors like Matthew-Levi and Zacchaeus, or sinners like the woman who is introduced in the house of Simon the leper; he knows the anxieties and tensions of families, pouring them into his parables: from children who leave home in search of adventure (Luke 15:11-32) up to difficult children (Matthew 21:28-31) or the victim of external violence (Mark 12:1-9). And he shows interest in a wedding that runs the risk of becoming embarrassing due to the absence of wine or of guests (John 2:1-10, Matthew 22:1-10), and he also knows the horror of the loss of a coin in a poor family (Luke 15:8-10). One could go on for a long time, describing the vastness of the room of pain, arriving at the present day. The list of the old wounds of divorces, rebellions, infidelities, pornography, abortions and so on is expanding to new socio-cultural phenomena such as individualism, privatization, the surprising and often disconcerting bioethical approaches to fertilization, the requests for recognition of new models of marriage, different from that between man and woman and their adoptions, of theories of “gender”, of cloning, of single parenthood and so on. A list that shakes the traditional system of family and turns the family “home” into something “liquid,” pliable into soft and changing forms. We stop here, leaving it to the Synod of Bishops on the family that opens this difficult visit to the space of questions and of questions. What remains, however, is the realization that the values ​​that families preserve are great too. Next to the room of pain, in fact, there are bright rooms where the love between parents develops, where you can feel the joy of children, where windows are opened to listen to the cry for help of the poor and to go out to meet them.”
I feel a great sense of looking at the world with open eyes from Cardinal Ravasi’s words. A not looking away even when faced with suffering and a simultaneous bearing in mind also of all the good, true and beautiful that there is in that same, suffering world.

Another early reflection on the Synod that I have particularly liked comes from another of the Synod Fathers, the Canadian Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, who read the singing during the opening mass as a parallel to the challenges of the coming weeks:
“We sang [the Creed] in Latin, alternating with the men of the choir. [...] I was sitting in the midst of the bishops who will be participating in the Synod, and I listened to them sing (as I sang along, naturally). One of the bishops would start the verse even before the organ had sounded the note; others sang more quickly than the rest; another, to the contrary, would always end after the rest; some were certain they had the correct rhythm and would sing louder, hoping to impose their rhythm to the others; a few didn’t know Latin or Gregorian Chant very well and were happy to simply murmur... or listen. For a song that was supposed to manifest the Church’s unity in the faith, I must admit it was a bit funny listening to this vocal struggle. Thankfully, we all sang the same words!

The Synod is a bit like that. Nearly 300 bishops gathered to discuss a fundamental issue: how to help Christian families live their mission in today’s world. Among the bishops, some want to go quickly, while others hesitate and want to move with great prudence. Some are certain that they know the correct rhythm and want to impose upon the group, lifting their voices and speaking out loudly. Others feel a bit lost: they listen, read, observe...

[...] I didn’t want to sing so loud that I would break what was left of the group’s harmony. Slowly, some bishops followed me in this search for unison, and we were able to adapt our rhythm to that of the organ and the boys. I think that, by the end of the Creed, we manifested the Church’s unity a bit more than we had at the beginning.

During the Synod, only one can give us the correct rhythm: the Holy Spirit. Our work as bishops is to discern this rhythm, this vital pulse that the Spirit want to give us.”
Cardinal Schönborn has also shared his hopes for the Synod in a reflection on the Gospel from the Synod’s opening mass:
“Jesus approaches the question of marriage in a much more fundamental way. He looks at what God originally intended with marriage: man and woman are made for each other, and the two should become one: “one flesh”, a couple: “They are no longer two, but one.” And forever, because “what God has joined together, man must not separate”. Isn’t that clear? Jesus shows why marriage forms an indissoluble bond: God himself has formed this covenant.

And if it does not work? Is there no way out in sight? Moses has allowed for the wife to be dismissed. Did Jesus forbid that? He does not deny that there are always separations. But he also calls out their deepest cause: “because you are so hard-hearted!” Yes, certainly, if we were all patient, understanding, didn’t hold grudges, kind, loving, then there would certainly be much fewer divorces.

But what if we do not succeed, despite all efforts to stay together? Does Jesus have no advice then? Is there no way out of such an emergency? Here children come into play. Jesus says, “Let the children come to me; do not stop them.” I see it as the prayer of Jesus to take care of children. They are often the first victims of divorce. They need the unity of their parents, so as to feel secure. It is hard-hearted when parents wage their marital wars on the backs of their children. What does Jesus want from us? That we are all more merciful with one another, even when a marriage falls into crisis or breaks. This is the message that I hope to hear from the Synod that begins today.”
Turning to the General Congregations, yesterday afternoon and this morning saw both scheduled contributions and “free” ones during the evening session. During the press conference this lunchtime, Fr. Lombardi provided some statistics also about the languages used by the speakers. The majority (over 20) were in Italian, closely followed by also more than 20 speakers using English. Furthermore, this morning Pope Francis addressed the Synod (unlike last year, where he only spoke at the beginning and very end of the Synod), making two points: first that the Church’s teaching on marriage has not been questioned either during last year’s Synod or the year that has passed since and that it remains fully in force and, second, that the Synod mustn’t focus solely on the question of communion for the divorced and civilly remarried since there is a broad range of important topics to be dealt with. Pope Francis also emphasized the importance of work in small groups this year and the continuity between last year’s Synod from which three formal documents are carried forward: his opening and closing speeches and the Relatio Sinodi.

Fr. Lombardi then provided an overview of the topics that were discussed, mentioning the question of what language is most appropriate for describing various situations of the family and, importantly, to avoid giving the impression of judging persons and situations negatively. Some have pointed to Pope Francis’ catecheses as a positive example of how to speak simply, concretely and positively about the reality of the family in the world of today. Many have also emphasized the importance of growth in the Christian life of couples and families and about the accompanying that is necessary for helping such growth.

Fr. Rosica, the English-speaking assistant to Fr. Lombardi, who is the Vatican’s spokesperson, then underlined that there has been an emphasis on the family being the main protagonist of evangelization. Poverty, unemployment, war and the refugee crisis all put pressure on the family. “There must be an end to exclusionary language and an emphasis on embracing reality as it is, and we should not be afraid of new and complex situations.” “We deal with the people as they are and lead them forward.” The need for a renewed language was also linked to the Jubilee of Mercy that starts soon and that will also require such a new language. “In particular, when speaking about homosexual or gay persons we do not pity gay persons but we recognize them for who they are: they are our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and neighbors and colleagues. [...] These are our children, family members - they are not outsiders, they are our flesh and blood. How do we speak about them and how do we offer a hand of welcome to them?”

Archbishop Durocher, who was one of the two Synod Fathers at the press conference - alongside Cardinal Celli, shared his perspective on how to relate the Church’s teaching to the reality of the world:
“There is a great unanimity in recognizing that there is a growing distance between the cultural vision of marriage and family life and what the Church proposes and teaches growing out of the teaching of Jesus. And that growing gulf involves different ways of reaction. One reaction is to emphasize what the teaching is, for fear that as the culture moves away from the vision, our own understanding gets diluted. The other fear is that we lose contact with that culture and that we close in on ourselves and become a kind of a ghetto or a sect that no longer has an impact in culture. And all the bishops, I think, agree that the teaching of the Church, coming from Jesus, is a gift for the world, it is not just for a select few. We really believe that the teaching, the vision of marriage which is ours is a good news for the world. So, how, on the one hand, do we hold on to the teaching without it being diluted, and at the same time entering into dialogue with that world in a way that will speak to the world and will provoke its imagination and its interest. And so some of the bishops will emphasize the teaching and others will emphasize the importance of the dialogue and I think that’s why its important that this is a collegial exercise in the sense that we do this together, because we need to hold both those together. I think Cardinal Erdő’s talk was a beautiful, classical presentation of the Church’s teaching and I think there are other bishops who are thinking this is important, we need to hold onto this, now how do we enter into dialogue with this world, and what we have been hearing in the various interventions is that loving look upon the world to try and discern where it is that the message of the Gospel can the men and women of today’s world and the families that are ours.”
Beyond the press conference, a gem coming from the Synod today have been the tweets of Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ - director of La Civiltà Cattolica and directly appointed Synod Father by Pope Francis - of which I’d like to share four here:
Discernment helps us not to see the demon in what are only our fears and our obsessions.

During #Synod15, when we speak about the family, we are in fact speaking about Gaudium et spes, that is about what the relationship is between the Church and the world.

I have to admit with humility that at times today we are called to face challenges that we don’t understand well yet.

We have to always be careful that, with the excuse of defending faith, it is not just our own ideas that get defended.”
And, finally, what better way to conclude an overview of the day’s events at the Synod than with Pope Francis’ homily from this morning’s mass at Santa Marta, where he reflects on the first reading from the book of Jonah (3:1-10):
“He really performs a miracle, because in this case he has left his stubbornness behind and has obeyed the will of God, and has done what the Lord had commanded him.

The story of Jonah and Nineveh, consists therefore of three chapters: the first is the resistance to the mission that the Lord entrusted to him; the second is obedience, and when he obeys he performs miracles. He obeys God’s will and Nineveh repents. In the third chapter, there is resistance to the mercy of God:

Those words, ‘Lord, was not this what I said when I was in my country? For you are a merciful and gracious God’, and I have done all that work of preaching, I have done my job well, and you forgive them? It is the heart with that hardness that does not let in the mercy of God. My sermon is more important, my thoughts are more important, more important is that list of all the commandments that I must observe, everything, everything, everything is more important than God’s mercy.

And Jesus too experienced this drama with the Doctors of the Law, who did not understand why he did not let the adulteress be stoned, why he went to dinner with tax collectors and sinners, they did not understand. They did not understand mercy. ‘You are merciful and gracious’. The Psalm that we prayed today suggests that we “wait for the Lord because with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.”

Where the Lord is there is mercy. And St. Ambrose added: ‘And where there is rigidity there are his ministers’. Stubbornness that defies mission, that challenges mercy.”

Monday, 5 October 2015

Synod15: courage, humility and prayer

Baby at synod

This morning saw the opening of the Ordinary Synod on the Family, entitled “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the contemporary world.” The first General Congregation consisted of an opening address by Pope Francis, an overview of the journey traversed so far by Card. Baldisseri and an introduction by Card. Erdő.

Pope Francis spoke briefly and after calling for parrhesia (speaking boldly), frankness and a bearing in mind of the supreme law being the salvation of souls (for which he referenced Can. 1752), he proceeded to spell out what a synod is (and is not):1
“I would like to remind you that the Synod is not a conference or a “parlor”, it is not a parliament or a senate, where one comes to an agreement. The Synod, instead, is an ecclesial expression, which is that it is the Church walking together to read reality with the eyes of faith and with the heart of God; it is the Church who questions herself about her own fidelity to the deposit of faith, which for her is not a museum to look at or even just to protect, instead it is a living source from which the Church quenches her thirst so as to quench the thirst of and illuminate the deposit of life.

The Synod necessarily moves within the bosom of the Church and in the Holy People of God to which we belong as pastors, that is servants.

The Synod is also a protected space where the Church experiences the action of the Holy Spirit. In the Synod the Spirit speaks through the language of all the people who let themselves be led by the God who always surprises, by the God who reveals to the little ones what he hides from the wise and the intelligent, by the God who created the law and the Sabbath for man and not vice versa, by the God who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one lost sheep, by the God who is always greater than our logic and our calculations.

Let us recall, however, that the Synod may be a space of the Holy Spirit only if we, its participants, put on vestments of apostolic courage, evangelical humility and trusting prayer.”
Francis then proceeds to elaborate on these three prerequisites for receiving the Holy Spirit:
“Apostolic courage that doesn’t allow itself to be scared either in the face of the temptations of the world that tend to extinguish the light of the truth in the hearts of men, replacing it with small and temporary lights, or when faced with hearts turned to stone that - in spite of good intentions - drive people away from God. “Apostolic courage that brings life and that does not turn our Christian life into a museum of memories” (Homily at Santa Marta, 28 April 2015).

Gospel humility that knows how to empty itself of its own conventions and prejudices, to listen to his brother Bishops and be filled with God. Humility that leads to not pointing a finger at others to judge them, but to offer them a hand to help lift them up without ever feeling superior to them.

Trusting prayer is performed by the heart when it opens to God, when all of our moods are silenced to listen to the gentle voice of God that speaks in silence. Without listening to God all our words will only be “words” that do not sate and that do not serve. Without letting ourselves be guided by the Spirit, all our decisions will only be “decorations” that instead of exalting the Gospel cover it and hide it.”
To conclude, Pope Francis returns to contrast the workings of parliaments with what the Synod is called to:
“As I said, the Synod is not a parliament, where it is necessary to negotiate, to bargain or to compromise, so as to reach consensus or a common agreement. Instead, the only method of the Synod is to open up to the Holy Spirit, with apostolic courage, with evangelical humility and trusting prayer; so that it may be Him who guides us, who enlightens us and who makes us put before our eyes not our personal opinions, but faith in God, fidelity to the Magisterium, the good of the Church and the salus animarum [salvation of souls].”
Cardinal Baldisseri then presented an extensive review of the synodal way that has been followed so far - including an overview of last year’s Extraordinary Synod and the work carried out by the Church worldwide during this past year in preparation for the present Synod. Cardinal Baldisseri also presented the methodology that will be followed during this year’s Synod.

Next, Cardinal Erdő presented an overview of the instrumentum laboris published in June that will be the basis for the Synod’s work over the next three weeks (each week focusing on one of its three parts).

1 In this post and in all that will follow about the Synod, I will strive to share information as soon as possible, which means that many of the English translations will be my, rough ones. If the link I provide to the source is not in English, please, assume that the translation is mine, with all the caveats that that carries.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Synod15: gentle breeze, faint light

Vatican pope francis vigil prayer before synod assembly afp 041015

The second in a pair of Synods on the Family opened this morning with a mass presided over by Pope Francis. It will last for the next three weeks, during which 270 Synod Fathers (45 of which have been directly nominated by the pope), 51 auditors (among whom there are 9 married couples) and 14 fraternal delegates (representatives of other Christian churches and ecclesial communities) will discuss “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the contemporary world.” This will be done by following the structure of the working document (“instrumentum laboris”) that was published at the end of June, where each week will focus on one of the document’s parts: “Considering the challenges of the family,” “The Discernment of the Family Vocation,” and “The Mission of the Family Today.”

Like I did last year, I will again try to share excerpts from the material published during this Synod and I will here start with selecting parts from yesterday’s prayer vigil for the Synod and his homily at the opening mass of the Synod this morning.

Pope Francis opened his prayer vigil address with underlining the gentleness of God’s call:
“God’s grace does not shout out; it is a whisper which reaches all those who are ready to hear the gentle breeze – that still, small voice. It urges them to go forth, to return to the world, to be witnesses to God’s love for mankind, so that the world may believe…”
Then, he spoke about the fundamental importance of the Holy Spirit, by referring to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch who said that:
“without the Holy Spirit God is far off, Christ remains in the past, the Church becomes a mere organization, authority becomes domination, mission becomes propaganda, worship becomes mystique, Christian life the morality of slaves.”
Francis then set out his desires for the Synod:
“[L]et us pray that the Synod which opens tomorrow will show how the experience of marriage and family is rich and humanly fulfilling. May the Synod acknowledge, esteem, and proclaim all that is beautiful, good and holy about that experience. May it embrace situations of vulnerability and hardship: war, illness, grief, wounded relationships and brokenness, which create distress, resentment and separation. May it remind [...] every family, that the Gospel is always “good news” which once again enables us to start over. From the treasury of the Church’s living tradition may the Fathers draw words of comfort and hope for families called in our own day to build the future of the ecclesial community and the city of man.”
To emphasize the importance of even the smallest good, Francis then declared that “Every family is always a light, however faint, amid the darkness of this world,” and he equated love for even the most insignificant neighbor with an ascent to God: “For in loving others, we learn to love God, in stooping down to help our neighbour, we are lifted up to God.”

Concluding the vigil he then set out parallels between the family and the Church, again drawing on the image of the Church being mother, father and a community of siblings and at the same presenting ideals for both Church and family to strive for:
“In the “Galilee of the nations” of our own time, we will rediscover the richness and strength of a Church which is a mother, ever capable of giving and nourishing life, accompanying it with devotion, tenderness, and moral strength. For unless we can unite compassion with justice, we will end up being needlessly severe and deeply unjust.

A Church which is family is also able to show the closeness and love of a father, a responsible guardian who protects without confining, who corrects without demeaning, who trains by example and patience, sometimes simply by a silence which bespeaks prayerful and trusting expectation.

Above all, a Church of children who see themselves as brothers and sisters, will never end up considering anyone simply as a burden, a problem, an expense, a concern or a risk. Other persons are essentially a gift, and always remain so, even when they walk different paths.

The Church is an open house, far from outward pomp, hospitable in the simplicity of her members. That is why she can appeal to the longing for peace present in every man and woman, including those who – amid life’s trials – have wounded and suffering hearts.

This Church can indeed light up the darkness felt by so many men and women. She can credibly point them towards the goal and walk at their side, precisely because she herself first experienced what it is to be endlessly reborn in the merciful heart of the Father.”
This morning, Pope Francis then set out his vision for the Synod to the Synod Fathers themselves, by plotting a path from the individual, through the relationship between a man and a woman to the family. The starting point here, as in St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, is Adam’s solitude in the Genesis accounts of creation that has echoes in today’s world:
“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.”
God’s response to Adam’s loneliness, and to the loneliness we experience today, is to give him “another heart like his own”:
“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).

[... Jesus] brings everything back to the beginning, 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.”
Pope Francis presents a profound insight about Jesus’ self-sacrificing love, perceived as folly by his contemporaries, being the key to understanding the indissolubility and exclusivity of conjugal love:
““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.”
What can the Church do to support such a Christocentric understanding and living of marriage?
“We see people chase after fleeting loves while dreaming of true love; they chase after carnal pleasures but desire total self-giving. [...]

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.”
Such a defense of faithful love is built on two pillars: truth and charity:
“The Church is called 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).

And the Church is called 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; even more, 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.”
And finally, Francis calls for an intensified love for those who fall and err so that the Church may be the bridge it is called to be:
“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).”
To my mind, Pope Francis’ words last night and today are a beautiful synthesis of what he has taught about the family all throughout this year and what he has already emphasized during the last Synod. I pray for him, the whole Synod and all families that the next three weeks may be a journey towards Pope Francis’ vision of bringing God’s love to all.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Schönborn: The door is never closed

Yesterday, the Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, published an extensive interview of its director Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna in Italian. Even though some partial translations in English are already available, the following is my, rough translation of the passages that spoke to me most strongly (it is around 90% of the full text and the passages I left out were only left out for practical reasons …).

In response to a question about whether the scope of the upcoming Synod on the family ought to be doctrinal, Cardinal Schönborn replied:

"The challenge that Pope Francis puts in front of us is to believe that, with the courage that comes from simple closeness, from the everyday reality of people, we will not distance ourselves from doctrine. We don't risk diluting its clarity by walking with people, because we ourselves are called to walk in faith. Doctrine isn't, in the first place, a series of abstract statements, but the light of the word of God demonstrated by the apostolic witness at the heart of a Church and in the hearts of believers who walk in the world today. The clarity of the light of faith and its doctrinal development in each person is not in contradiction with the journey that God undertakes with us, who are often far from living the Gospel fully."
When asked about how we ought to view and what attitude we ought to have towards those who live in irregular arrangements, he then replied:
"At the last Synod, I proposed an interpretative key that has lead to much discussion and was referred to in the Relatio post disceptationem, but that was no longer present in the final document, the Relatio Synodi. It was an analogy with the ecclesiological interpretative key given by Lumen Gentium, the constitution on the Church, in its article 8. There the question is: "Where is the Church of Christ? Where it is incarnated concretely? Does the Church of Jesus Christ, which he desired and founded, really exist?" To this, the Council responded with the famous statement: "The only Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church", subsistit in Ecclesia catholica. It is not a pure and simple identification, like saying that the Church of Jesus Christ is the Catholic Church. The Council affirmed: it "subsists in the Catholic Church", united with the Pope and legitimate bishops. The Council adds this phrase, which has become key: "Although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity." Other denominations, other churches, other religions are not simply nothing. Vatican II excludes and ecclesiology of the all or nothing. The all is fulfilled in the Catholic Church, but there are elements of truth and holiness in other churches, and even in other religions. These elements are elements of the Church of Christ, and by their nature they tend to catholic unity and the unity of mankind, towards which the Church herself tends, in anticipation of, so to speak, the great plan of God that is the one Family of God, humanity. The approach of the Council is justified in this key, because of which one does not consider first what is missing in the other Churches, Christian communities or religions, but what is positive there. One gathers the semina Verbi, as has been said, the seeds of the Word, elements of truth and sanctification."
And how does this translate to the family?
"I simply proposed to apply this interpretation to the ecclesiological reality of the sacrament of marriage. Because marriage is a Church in miniature, an ecclesiola, the family as a small Church, it seems legitimate to me to establish an analogy and say that the sacrament of marriage is fully realized where there is a properly established sacrament between a man and a woman living in faith etc. But this does not prevent that, outside of this full realization of the sacrament of marriage, there be elements of marriage that are anticipatory signs, positive elements."
Let's take, for example, civil marriage:
"Yes, we consider it as something more than simple cohabitation. Why? It is a simple civil contract that from a strictly ecclesial point of view has no meaning. But we recognize that in civil marriage there is more commitment, therefore a greater alliance, than in simple cohabitation. The two make a commitment before society, humanity and themselves, in a more explicit alliance, anchored legally with sanctions, obligations, duties, rights ... The Church believes that this is a further step than simply living together. There is in this case a greater proximity to sacramental marriage. As a promise, an anticipatory sign. Instead of speaking about all that is missing, one can approach these realities, noting the positive that exist in this love that is becoming more stable."
How do we therefore consider situations that have objective shortcomings?
"We should look at the numerous situations of coexistence not only from the point of view of what is missing, but also from the point of view of what is already promised, what is already present. Moreover, the Council adds that, although there is always real holiness in the Church, it is made up of sinners and advances along the path of conversion (LG 8). It is always in need of purification. A Catholic mustn't put themselves on a step above others. There are saints in all the Christian churches, and even in other religions. Jesus said twice to the pagans, a woman [cf. Luke 8:48] and a Roman officer [Luke 7:9]: "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." A true faith, that Jesus found outside the chosen people."
So, the dividing line is not between those who live sacramental marriage and who don't?
"Those who have the grace and the joy of living sacramental marriage in faith, humility and mutual forgiveness, in a trust in God who acts in our daily lives, know how to look and discern in a couple, in a cohabitation, the elements of true heroism, true charity, true mutual giving. Even though we must say: "It is not yet the full reality of the sacrament." But who are we to judge and say that there are no elements of truth and sanctification in them? The Church is a people that God draws to himself and to which all are called. The Church's role is to accompany everyone in growth, along a path. As a pastor I experience this joy of being on a journey, among believers, but also among many non-believers."
Cardinal Schönborn then gives examples of how a person who has been through several marriages may find faith in later life and how accompanying them and caring for them may require considering their specific, individual circumstances rather than a simple application of rules. He concludes that answer with saying "I can't hide [...] that I have been shocked by how a purely formalist way of thinking wields the axe of the "intrinsece malum." Fr. Spadaro then explains it in a footnote thus: "What is meant by an "intrinsically evil" (intrinsece malum) act is an action whose moral connotation is such that it can in no case change from negative to positive. Therefore it is an act that is always considered morally evil, irrespective of the ulterior intentions of the one acting and of the circumstances."

Could you elaborate on the problem of that which is defined as "intrinsece malum"?
"In practice, it excludes any reference to the question of fitness [convenientia] that, for St. Thomas, is always a way of expressing prudence. It is neither utilitarianism nor an easy pragmatism, but a way to express a sense of appropriateness, of conformity, of harmony. Regarding the question of divorce, this type of argument has been systematically excluded by our intransigent moralists. If misunderstood, the intrinsece malum suppresses discussion of - by definition complex - circumstances of and situations in life. A human act is never simple, and the risk is to "paste" in a false relationship between the true object, purpose and circumstances, which instead should be read in the light of freedom and of an attraction to the good. The free act is reduced to a physical one so that the clarity of logic suppresses any moral discussion and all circumstances. The paradox is that by focusing in the intrinsece malum one loses all the wealth, I would say almost the beauty of a moral articulation, resulting in its annihilation. Not only does the moral analysis of situations become univocal, but but one is left cut off from a comprehensive perspective on the dramatic consequences of divorce: economic, educational, psychological, etc. This is true for everything that regards the themes of marriage and the family. The obsession with intrinsece malum has so impoverished the debate that we are deprived of a wide range of arguments in favor of the uniqueness, indissolubility, openness to life, of the human foundation of the doctrine of the Church. We have lost the flavor of discourse on these human realities. One of the key elements of the Synod is the reality of the Christian family, not from an exclusive point of view, but from an inclusive one. The Christian family is a grace, a gift of God. It is a mission, and by its nature - if it is lived in a Christian way - is something to be welcomed. I remember a proposal for a pilgrimage for families in which the organizers wanted to invite only those who practice natural birth control. During a meeting of the Bishops Conference we asked them how they would: "Select only those who practice 100%, n%? How do you do that?". From these somewhat caricature expressions you realize that if the Christian family is lived in this way, it inevitably becomes sectarian. A world apart. When you seek safety, you are not a Christian, you are focused only on yourself!"
On the challenges of pastoral accompaniment of persons living in irregular unions:
"If a valid sacramental marriage existed, a second marriage is an irregular union. However, there is the whole dimension of spiritual and pastoral care for people living in irregular situations, where it will be necessary to discern between everything and nothing. You can not transform an irregular situation into a regular, but there are ways of healing, of deepening, ways in which the law is experienced step by step. There are also situations where the priest, the accompanying person, who knows the people well, may arrive at saying: "Your situation is such that, in conscience, in your and in my consciousness as a pastor, I see your place in the sacramental life of the Church.""
Could you tell me about a pastoral experience that was particularly significant for you?
"I have an unforgettable memory of the time when I was a student at Saulchoir, with the Dominicans in Paris. I was not yet a priest. Under the bridge over the Seine that leads to the Évry convent lived a homeless couple. She had been a prostitute and I don't know what he has done in life. Certainly they were not married, nor did they frequent the Church, but every time I passed by there, I said to myself: "My God, they help each other along the path through such a hard life." And when I saw gestures of tenderness between them, I said to myself: "My God, it is beautiful that these two poor people should help each other, what a great thing!" God is present in this poverty, this tenderness. We must break free from this narrow perspective on the access to the sacraments in irregular situations. The question is: "Where is God in their lives? And how can I, as a pastor, discern the presence of God in their lives? And how can they can me to better discern the work of God in a life?" We need to learn how to read the Word of God in actu [in reality] between the lines on which life is written and not only between the lines of incunabula!"
Are there any situations that are irreparable for the mercy of God?
"There may certainly be situations of self-exclusion. When Jesus says: "But you were unwilling" [Matthew 23:37]. Faced with this, in some way, God is disarmed, because He gave us the freedom … And the Church must recognize and accept the freedom to say no. It's hard to want to reconcile at all costs complex situations in life with full participation in the life of the Church. This will never prevent either hoping or praying, and will always be an invitation to entrust such a situation to the providence of God, which can continuously offer instruments of salvation. The door is never closed."
How can we find realist and Gospel-based words to accompany homosexuals along their journey of faith?
"We can and we must respect the decision to form a union with a person of the same sex, to seek means under civil law to protect their living together with laws to ensure such protection. But if we are asked, if it is demanded of the Church to say that this is a marriage, well, we have to say: non possumus [we cannot]. It is not a discrimination of persons: to distinguish does not mean to discriminate. This absolutely does not prevent having great respect, friendship, or collaboration with couples living in this kind of union, and above all we mustn't look down on them. No one is obliged to accept this doctrine, but one can't pretend that the Church does not teach it."
Have you come across circumstances in the lives of homosexuals that have spoken to you in a particular way?
"Yes, for example, I know a homosexual person who has lived a series of experiences for years, not with a particular person or cohabiting, but frequent experiences with different people. Now he has found a stable relationship. It is an improvement, if nothing else then on a human level, this not jumping from one relationship to another, but being in a stable relationship that is not based only on sexuality. One shares one's life, one shares the joys and sufferings, one helps one another. We must recognize that this person has made an important step for his own good and for the good of others, even though, of course, this is not a situation that the Church can consider regular. The judgment on homosexual acts as such is necessary, but the Church mustn't look first in the bedroom, but in the dining room instead! We must accompany."
What then is the correct, Gospel-based attitude in the face of all these challenges?
"Pope Benedict has magnificently shown in his teaching that the Christian life is not at first a morality, but a friendship, a meeting, a person. In this friendship we learn how to behave. If we say that Jesus is our teacher, it means that we learn directly from him the path of Christian life. It is not a catalog of abstract doctrine or a backpack full of heavy stones that we must carry, it is a living relationship instead. In the life and Christian practice of following Christ, the Christian path shows its soundness and its fruits of joy. Jesus promised us that on this path "the Holy Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you." (Jn 14:26). The entire doctrine of the Church acquires sense only in a living relationship with Jesus, of a friendship with him and a docility towards the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Herein lies the power of Pope Francis’ gestures. I think that he really lives the charism of the Jesuits and of St. Ignatius, that of being available to the movement of the Holy Spirit. It is also the classical doctrine of St. Thomas on the new law, the law of Christ, which is not an external law, but the work of the Holy Spirit in the human heart. Of course, we also need external teaching, but for it to be a living reality, it must pass through the heart. When we observe a lived Christian marriage, we perceive the meaning of marriage; and seeing Mother Teresa in action, in her gestures, we understand what it means to love the poor. Life teaches us doctrine, more than doctrine not teaching us life."
How do we unite the two dimensions of doctrine and mercy?
"The doctrine of the Church is the doctrine of the Good Shepherd. In an attitude of faith, there is no opposition between "doctrine" and "pastoral". Doctrine is not an abstract utterance without a link to "what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev 2.7). Pastoral ministry is not a degraded putting into practice, or even a pragmatic version of doctrine. The doctrine is the teaching of the "Good Shepherd", which manifests itself in his person, the true way of life, a teaching of a Church who, as she walks, goes towards all those who are awaiting Good News, a waiting that is sometimes kept secret in the heart . The pastoral is a doctrine of salvation in actu [in reality], the "Good Teacher"'s Word of life for the world. There is an involution between these two dimensions of the Word of God, of which the Church is bearer. The pastoral without doctrine is nothing but a "clashing cymbal" (1 Cor 13.1). The pastoral without doctrine is only "human thought" (Mt 16:[23]). Doctrine is first of all the Good News: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." (Jn 3:16). It is the announcement of the fundamental truth of faith: God has used mercy. And all that the Church teaches is this message, that is then translated into complementary doctrines, into a true hierarchy of truth, both dogmatic and moral. We must constantly return to the kerygma, to what is essential and gives meaning to our whole body of doctrine, especially to moral teaching."
We need to be pastors [shepherds] ...
"Pope Francis calls each of us, pastors to a real pastoral conversion. In the final speech of the Synod, he summed up what he meant when he said that the experience of the Synod is an experience of the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic and composed of sinners, in need of His mercy. It is the Church who is not afraid of eating and drinking with prostitutes and tax collectors. The Pope expresses perfectly the balance that must characterize this pastoral conversion. At the end of this, his speech, all spontaneously stood up, and there was a unanimous and intense applause. Everyone felt that it was the Pope, Peter, who spoke."
I feel a great sense of gratitude towards Cardinal Schönborn for his deep wisdom and obvious love for humanity, that has also shone during this last days in his welcoming of Syrian refugees - a welcoming that was not only conceptual by highly practical when he went to meet and welcome them as they crossed the border from Hungary to Austria. I wish the bishops of other Central European countries would follow his example. I am also grateful to Fr. Spadaro for not only having conducted such an outstanding interview, but for having made it freely available. Thank you!