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Statement from Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto on passing of Bill C-14 – legalization of euthanasia/assisted suicide

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CNS photo/Art Babych

Euthanasia comes to Canada 

“There are two ways, the way to life and the way to death, and there is a great difference between them.” These wise words from an ancient Christian writer come to mind as we mark Parliament’s enactment of the law implementing the Supreme Court’s decision on euthanasia and assisted suicide, which is a fundamentally misguided decision.

Though I do not question the good intentions of either judges or legislators, their decisions have set our country down a path that leads not simply, and obviously, towards physical death for an increasing number of our fellow citizens, but towards a grim experience for everyone in our society of the coldness of spiritual death. That death is found in a loss of respect for the dignity of the human person, in a deadening pressure upon the vulnerable to be gone, and in an assault upon the sanctuary of conscience to be suffered by good individuals and institutions who seek only to heal.

To those who are grievously suffering in body or spirit and who desperately seek relief: we need to be sure that you receive it, through whatever medical means are available, and through the loving care that you deserve. The question is not whether you need relief; it is how to find it. Suicide is not the answer to the very real question you face.

Some may be consoled by the fact that the law could be worse: there are some “safeguards” protecting the vulnerable, and there is some conscience protection. Any thankfulness for these positive elements must, however, be set against the fact that in other places where euthanasia has been introduced, it has always been cloaked with “safeguards” that lull the citizens into complacency. Over the years those “safeguards” gradually weaken and finally drop away, and then the full hard cold force of euthanasia is felt. Here is a chilling fact: despite the confidence of the Supreme Court justices that Canada is different from those jurisdictions, in only slightly more than a year since their decision, the “safeguards” are already under vigorous attack.

The deepest roots of this malign development in the history of our country are spiritual, and so in the weeks to come I will be suggesting ways to address them through prayer and penance.

Our broader society also needs to engage in the necessary but lengthy process of reflection upon the dire implications for every aspect of our life together when we lose the fundamental ability to distinguish between dying and being killed. We all need to recognize the profound moral significance of that distinction.

We also need to recognize the destructive consequences of reducing the dignity of the human person to a matter of autonomy, when actually it is our loving inter-dependence, not our independence, which sustains our dignity. In addition, we must not reduce worthiness to live to a matter of the ability to function according to some personally acceptable standard of performance. We must address these and the other shaky foundations for the judicial and legislative actions which are taking us down a path to nowhere. That will take time, and a persistent effort to raise and resolve these deeper issues, with clarity and charity. Life, however, is a marathon, not a sprint; our enterprise is begun and, founded upon both reason and faith, it will succeed, in due time.

Meanwhile, we need to take immediate steps.

First, we need to make available for all Canadians (not just 30% of us) real medical assistance in dying: palliative care, where people who are dying are surrounded with love, and where any pain they experience is countered with the most advanced medical care available.

Second, we need to speak forthrightly. When people feel compelled to use language in a way that does not reveal what is actually happening, but instead conceals it, it is a sign that something is radically wrong (and they know it). The now officially accepted terminology, such as “Medical Assistance in Dying” does not describe medical assistance in dying; it describes killing. Let us say what we mean, and mean what we say.

Finally, we need to assure that those individuals who have dedicated their lives to healing will not be pressured into either directly causing the death of their patients, or into arranging for this to happen. Similarly, we must assure that those health care institutions which are havens of hope, in a tradition whose noble roots long predate Confederation, will in no way be forced to violate their conscience (known as their “mission”).

“Lord, teach us the shortness of life, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” – Psalm 90:12

Deacon-structing the diaconate, part 3: Women

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Last time we looked at a little bit of the tradition of deacons in the Catholic Church. Deacons go way back and there is a consistent presence of deacons and the diaconate in many Church documents and writings up until the 3rd century. We also saw that the diaconate as a permanent order was brought back with the Second Vatican Council.

It is also true that there are many documents that refer to women deacons or deaconesses. Let’s look at those, beginning with the most obvious one from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae…” (Rom 16:1) Note that she is referred to as a “deacon” (male form) and not a “deaconess”. In some translations you may find her described as a “servant” and in others as a “minister”. (I only found one translation that referred to her as a deaconess.) Was Phoebe an ordained deacon? Was she a servant (remember that the word servant in Greek is diaconos)? In Greek, Paul calls her a diákonon. Does Paul mean “servant”; does he mean “Ordained deacon”? No one knows.

A less obvious passage that is sometimes recognized as referring to women deacons is 1 Timothy 3:8-11:

“Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.”

The argument is that in verse 11 Paul writes about women. Why would that instruction to women follow the instruction to deacons if it’s not referring to women deacons? (St. John Chrysosthom, Clement of Alexandria and Pelagius are among those who argued this point.)

It’s not as convincing an argument considering the verse that follows is: “Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” If the previous verses were referring to all deacons, men and women, why then, doesn’t Paul clarify that “deacons must be husbands (or wives) of one spouse”? Were women deacons not married? Or is Paul not referring to women deacons? Or does it mean that women deacons were the wives of men deacons? Again, no one knows.

There are dozens of references to women deacons (or at least that title) in the Eastern Church. Among the most notable ones are four letters John Chrysosthom wrote to the “woman deacon Amproukla in Constaninople.” Also, Severus, Bishop of Antioch wrote at least four letters to the “woman deacon Anastasia”; and Theodoret of Cyrrhus wrote to the “woman deacon Celerina in Constaninople.” All these letters exist to this day.

There are also substantial records to indicate that a woman by the name of Olympias was ordained a deacon by Bishop Nectarius in Constantinople, in 385. Her husband had died and she had decided to never remarry.

These are just a few. There are many more texts from the Eastern Church that point to the fact that there were women referred to as “deacons”. By the 11th century, however, women deacons were no longer ordained in the Eastern Church (except in the Armenian Church, which still today has women deacons. They are very similar to women religious or consecrated women in the Latin Church. They are part of what is referred to as “women monastics”. I’ve even seen them described as “nun-deaconesses”).

References to women deacons in the Western Church have more to do with suppressing them than recording they existed. The First Council of Orange in 441 noted, “Women deacons are by no means to be ordained. If there are any who have already been ordained, let them submit their heads to the benediction that is granted to the people.” Was the council referring to women deacons in the West or women deacons from the Eastern Church? Were they saying “we should no longer ordain them” or “we shouldn’t do what the Church of the East is doing”? The Council of Nimes in 394 seemed concerned about deacons and priests coming from the “far eastern parts”.

There is another theory that argues that women in the West who played the role of deacons were called “widows”. Widows were an order of women in the early Church who had their own distinctive vestments, vows and role in the liturgy. As far as I can tell, all references to these women (or really any women orders in the early Church) required that they be single (or widowed) and celibate. It sounds like they were consecrated virgins or something similar.

Proponents of the female diaconate say that perhaps the most famous “woman deacon” in the Western Church was St. Radegund, wife of King Clothar I (511-58). Though married, she seemed to have lived a celibate life and served the poor. One night she left her husband and demanded to be consecrated by St. Medard, the bishop. The bishop did. However, it’s hard not to read the description/poem of that event by bishop Venantius Fortunatus without concluding that she was being consecrated into a monastery. At the end of paragraph 12 it says that Medard laid his hands on her and consecrated her as a deaconess, but all throughout, she is referred to as a “monacha”, which is a nun. And she is given a monastic garb.

There are other references, such as three letters by Pope Gregory II who wrote to “women deacons of St. Eustachius” and also to “Matrona, a religious woman deacon, and her sons and nephews.” There is also Sergius, Archbishop of Ravenna, who in 753 “consecrated his wife Euphemia, a “diaconissa” and other references forbidding the marriage of women deacons by Pope Leo VII (c.937) and during the Council of Rome (826).

There are references to the Rites of Ordination for women deacons in the Eastern Church. There are also references in the Western Church, dating as far back as the 8th century. The 9th century Gregorian sacramentary includes a prayer for the making of a female deacon and in the 10th century Romano-Germanic Pontifical there is a complete liturgy for both the ordination of a woman deacon and a male deacon. It refers to the women as “deaconess.” An almost identical liturgy appears in the 12th century Roman Pontifical, but without instructions so it’s not clear if it was used to ordain women. By the 13th century this rite had completely disappeared.

Where does this leave us? History records both women called “deacons” and women called “deaconesses”. Some women called “deaconess” were married to men deacons. Some were called “deaconess” merely as a description of the work they were doing. There is a tradition in both the Eastern and Western Church of bishops formally appointing women to perform a type of diaconal (service/charity) ministry. Is it possible that “deaconesses” became what today are women religious and nuns?

It’s clear that in the early Church women were required to serve certain functions that men could not serve – as in baptizing other women (remember people were baptized naked or with little clothing). Even entering the house of a woman may have not been proper for a man. Anyone instructing women in the faith had to have been a woman. We see this even up until almost the end of the 1st millennia: Ninth century canonical commentaries describe women deacons as “ordained by the imposition of hands by the bishop… in order to instruct all Christian women in the faith and law of God as they did in the old Law.”

This is likely what the function of these women was. But, were these women involved in the governance of the Church? Were they allowed to preach in Liturgy? Did they even have a liturgical function at all? See how no one really knows.

Let’s not end without pointing out that bringing this up was not just a Pope Francis thing. As the hierarchy considered the restoration of the permanent diaconate, it was Paul VI that asked about women deacons. Pope Benedict XVI also brought up the question. John Paul II also spoke about it. When Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) said that ordination to the priesthood is reserved to men alone and made  no reference to women deacons, is that because he meant that only ordination to the priesthood is reserved to men, or simply because he (like so many) was just not thinking about the diaconate? (I am always amazed when we see prayers for vocations to the priesthood instead of vocations to the ordained life – this is not because we are only praying for priests and not deacons; it’s because no one is thinking about deacons!)

It is fair to ask whether we can separate the question of ordination of women to the diaconate from the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood? Even the idea that priests and bishops are ordained to the ministerial priesthood, but deacons to the priesthood of service, does not adequately address the question of the difference of those two. Why are all three major orders? I have yet to find an adequate and clear  explanation of this distinction.  The truth is that the theology of the diaconate is still under-developed.

This has been a little scattered, but I hope that it gives you an idea of why many will say when we speak of women deacons or deaconesses in the tradition of the Church, we just don’t know. They existed, yes. But what were they? Were “women deacons” the same as “deaconesses” (a minor order separate from the order of deacons)? Were women deacons merely wives to deacons? Were women deacons widows or consecrated singles? Could they be married or only married if married to a deacon? Sure there were women in the Church that were appointed to the work of caring for the sick and the poor (which is very much diaconal service). That sounds like women religious to me.There were women deacons, but were they ordained in the sense that we understand “ordination” today?

I have to say that, while I find difficulties with this conversation (mainly because of the issue of ordination), in the last weeks that I’ve been researching this, I have grown more and more open to the idea that there is a bigger distinction between a deacon and a priest that I thought. Perhaps some of you brother deacons can help me with this.

What I’ve always known however, is that the Church can have diaconal-type ministers that are installed to do certain things, preach even (we call them Lectors, actually), or lead certain type liturgies (which again, already exists – lots of women lead para-liturgies every day) and do those things that women in the Church already do, like take Communion to the sick.

But I do not think that the real problem would be addressed by ordaining women to the diaconate. The question has to do with giving women leadership roles in the Church. And so, can the Vicar or Chancellor of a Diocese be a woman? Can the head of a Marriage Tribunal be a woman? Can the Rector of a Seminary be a woman? Can the president of a pontifical council be a woman? Can a parish administrator be a woman? To all of the above, absolutely yes.

Maybe what we need is less clericalism.

Next week let’s begin deacon-structing World Youth Day.


Photo Credit: St Radegund Led before Clothair I. Miniature from the Life of St Radegund. 11th century. Bibliotheque Municipale, Poitiers, France

 


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Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Deacon-structing the Diaconate, part 2

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In the last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at the diaconate, first by addressing the event that brought about this whole conversation and then in two parts (part 1 and part 2), briefly, the meaning of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, for I don’t think you can separate the conversation about Church hierarchy outside of the conversation about Ordination.

This leads us back to talk about the diaconate, in particular, the Permanent Diaconate.

I believe most of you are familiar with Acts 6:1-6, traditionally referred to as the ordination of the first deacons. It’s the story of the seven men that were “ordained” by the Apostles to help with the service to the Greek-speaking Jewish widows. The Apostles chose seven men, among them Stephen and Philip for this task. The word in Greek that is used to describe their ministry is diakonia. [*It’s important to note than in most places in the Gospels where the words “serve”, “servant” or “service” (Mt 20:26-28; Mt 23:11; Mk 9:35; Mk 10:43-45; Lk 22:24-27; Jn 12:26; ) is used (even “waiting” on them or “providing” for them, as in Lk 12:37 and Lk 8:1-3, and even “ministering” as in Mt 4:11 and in Mt 25:44-45), the word in Greek is a form of the word diakonos.]

We also see the use of this word in many of Paul’s Letters: Rm 11:13 “I glory in my ministry (diakonian)”; 1 Cor 12:4-5, “there are different forms of service (diakonión)”; 2 Cor 9:12-13 “through the evidence of this service (diakonias) you are glorifying God.” In other Pauline Letters the English translation may say “minister” or “ministry” but the Greek word used is a form of diakonia (see 2 Cor 3:2-9; Phil 1:1; Eph 3:7 and 4:11-13; Col 1:7; 1:23 and 4:17 for examples).

When Paul writes Timothy he is referring to a specific office and uses the words diakónous, diákonoi and diakonéisthosan (Tim 3:8-13). In English these are all translated as “deacons.” When he refers to Phoebe in his letter to the Romans he calls her a “diákonon (translated as minister or servant) of the Church in Cenchrae” (Rom 16:1). Clearly there is something about the diaconate that has to do with ministry and service and it was a common term used at the time of the Apostles and the early Church.

There are also dozens of references in the writings of the Fathers of the early Church. In the first century Clement of Rome (ca. 96) writes to the Corinthians about the “Apostolic Institution of the Bishops and Deacons.” Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 70-107) writes in his letter to the Ephesians about a “fellow-servant Burrhus, your deacon in regard to God…” He also mentions deacons in his letter to the Christians of Magnesia, his letter to the Trallians, his letter to the Philadelphians, his letter to the Smyrnaeans and his letter to Polycarp. Polycarp (ca. 69-155), in turn, writes about the “Duties of Deacons, Young Men and Virgins” in his letter to the Philippians and Hermas (ca. 140) in his famous work “The Shepherd” also mentions deacons. Justin and Iranaeus who also lived in the second century, wrote about deacons too.

If we were to continue this exercise, you would see that many Church Fathers, including Clement of Alexandria (True Presbyters and True Deacons), Origen (Unworthy Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons), Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom (Gifts that a Candidate to the Diaconate Must Posses), Gregory Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine – pretty much all of them, wrote about deacons and the diaconate.

If we were to go to other canonical literature, like the Didache, which dates to the first century – probably the first teaching document of the Church – the diaconate is mentioned. Another of these documents, the Didascalia of the Apostles (3rd century document of Eastern Syrian Christianity) has a whole sections on the Dignity of Deacons and Bishops, Exhortation to Unity Among Bishops and Deacons, and The Role of Deacons and the Spirituality of Deacons. This document is also one of the ones that refers to the ministry of “deaconesses” or “women deacons”.

References to the “Ordination of a Deacon” appears as early as the Apostolic Tradition, attributed to Hyppolytus of Rome ca. 215.

At the expense of making this an exhausting (not just exhaustive) exercise, let me lead you to Council documents: Council of Elvira, Council of Arles, Council of Nicaea and the Council of Trent all mention deacons or the diaconate. We also know that during the Second Vatican Council there were many conversations and debates about the diaconate, which resulted in the re-establishing of the Permanent Diaconate as it existed in the early Church.

It is with the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church,  where I would like to end today. This is perhaps the most solemn document of the whole Council. In Chapter III it looks to the Hierarchy of the Church: the Episcopate, the Presbyterate and the Diaconate. This document is where the Church established that local bishops can restore the diaconate as a permanent Order, conferring this Order on married men.

It’s very interesting that this whole chapter dedicates the first 9 sections, 18-27 to the Episcopate and only one chapter each, 28 and 29, to the Presbyterate and the Diaconate. This, perhaps, is because there are three levels to the hierarchy and the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred with Episcopal Consecration. [LG 21]

Lumen Gentium Chapter III begins by establishing the role of the Bishop, to “preach the Kingdom of God” (that’s why Jesus appointed the Apostles) [LG 19] and then says that,

Bishops, therefore, with their helpers, the priests and deacons, have taken up the service of the community, (11*) presiding in place of God over the flock,(12*) whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing. [LG 20]

More interesting, however is that Lumen Gentium asserts the true diaconal character of the Church and of the role of all bishops, priests and deacons:

Bishops, as successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord, to whom was given all power in heaven and on earth, the mission to teach all nations and to preach the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain to salvation by faith, baptism and the fulfilment of the commandments. To fulfill this mission, Christ the Lord promised the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and on Pentecost day sent the Spirit from heaven, by whose power they would be witnesses to Him before the nations and peoples and kings even to the ends of the earth. And that duty, which the Lord committed to the shepherds of His people, is a true service, which in sacred literature is significantly called “diakonia” or ministry. [LG 24]

The chapter concludes with section 29:

At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed “not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service.” For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests they serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God. It is the duty of the deacon, according as it shall have been assigned to him by competent authority, to administer baptism solemnly, to be custodian and dispenser of the Eucharist, to assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church, to bring Viaticum to the dying, to read the Sacred Scripture to the faithful, to instruct and exhort the people, to preside over the worship and prayer of the faithful, to administer sacramentals, to officiate at funeral and burial services. Dedicated to duties of charity and of administration, let deacons be mindful of the admonition of Blessed Polycarp: “Be merciful, diligent, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all.”

Since these duties, so very necessary to the life of the Church, can be fulfilled only with difficulty in many regions in accordance with the discipline of the Latin Church as it exists today, the diaconate can in the future be restored as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy. It pertains to the competent territorial bodies of bishops, of one kind or another, with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, to decide whether and where it is opportune for such deacons to be established for the care of souls. With the consent of the Roman Pontiff, this diaconate can, in the future, be conferred upon men of more mature age, even upon those living in the married state. It may also be conferred upon suitable young men, for whom the law of celibacy must remain intact. [LG 29]

Let’s leave it at this. You may also be interested in reading Pope Francis’ homily during the Jubilee of Deacons last week.

Next week let’s look at the history of the diaconate and where women deacons or deaconesses have been part of the Tradition.


Photo Credit:Deacons process to their seats near the altar as they arrive for Pope Francis’ celebration of a Mass for the Jubilee of Deacons in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 29, 2016. The Mass was a celebration of the Holy Year of Mercy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


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Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

“Assistance in Dying”: No Deadline for Dignity

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(CNS photo/Philippe Vaillancourt, Presence)

An open letter from Cardinal Lacroix…

On June 6th, the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision concerning “medical assistance in dying” will take effect with or without a federal law to control it.

The adoption of bill C-14 or the Carter decision’s coming into effect will certainly give place to appeals within the court system to widen the use of euthanasia in Québec, available to its citizens for the past 5 months. Pressures will also be felt to provide assisted suicide as defined by Bill C-14: “the prescribing or providing by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner of a substance to a person, at their request, so that they may self-administer the substance and in doing so cause their own death”.

Today, I wish to address myself especially to the persons that have “a grievous and irremediable medical condition, (including an illness, disease or a disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable1”.

The life you have received, the breath that sustains you, the personality that characterizes you are imprinted with beauty, nobility and greatness. The love you have received, the love you have given are always present and make you – like all of us – people that are vested with great dignity in all circumstances. What you have been, what you are today require, among other things, respect, accompaniment and appropriate care to help you grow to the very end.

To respect the sanctity of life, the Catholic Church firmly opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide. She deplores that all the scenarios put forward by the federal government eventually allow a growing number of people to ask to end their life.

Oftentimes, I repeat that the Church’s position is not to highlight the value of suffering. Yes, faith can give a sense to suffering, but Christians, just like Jesus, wish to avoid suffering when possible: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). I am firmly convinced that God loves us with an eternal love, just as we are here and now, and until our death when he will receive us with open arms. Just listen to our emeritus Archbishop Maurice Couture’s recent conference on our diocesan web television ECDQ.tv to be convinced of it.

Until next June 6th, I collectively challenge ourselves. You surely know a person who can recognize him or herself in the Québec and (soon to be) Canadian criteria for access to medical assistance in dying. Listen to that person express to the very end his or her suffering and fear. Tell that person that he or she has a great worth in your eyes and will always be able to count on your presence. Remind him or her of your unconditional love.

The calls for assistance in dying usually disappear when suffering people are well accompanied. Doctors and palliative care personnel have so many times witnessed it to me. I thank them for pursuing their role in this new legislative context in Québec. Their efforts to relieve physical and moral suffering carry real fruits and investments in palliative care must continue. For those who oppose euthanasia – still a majority – , their objection of conscience must be protected. If a doctor does not wish to refer a patient to his medically provoked death, the doctor’s wish must be respected without being questioned.

I also want to thank the caregivers. The present debate puts us at risk to forget their dedication, courage, strength, but also their sense of presence to others and their respect for life. These persons have a great need to be recognized and
supported.

My personal journey in accompanying people in end of life situations confirms to me that it is dangerous to allow permission to provoke the death of another person, even with his or her consent. Not only does the law dictate, but it
educates and gives a demand of the right and a suggestion of duty. With time,
customs are affected and the rarity of the gesture cedes way to habit. In my
humble opinion, it is a very sad “progress”. We have the responsibility, the
mission to accompany with gentleness and tenderness the life of our close ones
who suffer, and that, without recourse to a law that promotes death. In this
context, we are invited to prevent this suicidal mode by choosing to recognize
the dignity of life.

Written by Gérald C. Cardinal Lacroix
Archbishop of Québec
May 30, 2016

Deacon-structing Ordination, part 2

blog_1464472724 Deacon Pedro is ordained by Bishop Vincent Nguyen on May 26, 2012.

Last week we looked, very briefly, at the basics of the Sacrament of Ordination.

One of the common challenges to the idea of Sacraments as “a visible sign of an invisible Grace, instituted by Christ” is the “instituted by Christ” part. With Ordination, there are many places in Scripture that could be used to show Christ instituting the priesthood: The sending out of the 70 when He sent them two-by-two (Luke 10:1-20). There’s also Pentecost (Acts 2), which is definitely the birthday of the Church, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles like tongues of fire. There is also Matthew 16:17-19 when Jesus gives Peter the keys of the Kingdom. However, most scholars will agree that the passage that best describes the institution of the priesthood is the washing of the feet:

“After he had washed their feet, he said to them, ‘do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example that you should also do as I have done to you.’” (John 13:12-15)

Last week I said that the priest’s main job was to bring us the Sacraments, but a priest is first a servant, a foot-washer, and his job is to serve the Church.

Another challenge to the Sacrament of Holy Orders and to the priesthood in general is to the discipline of celibacy. While it’s important to note that there are many reasons why it would not be practical for a bishop or a priest to be married, priestly celibacy is not Dogma. It is an important part of our tradition and a discipline that many priests were living in the early church, because they saw how it helped their priesthood, but it is not Dogma. It could be changed.

The married priesthood is also part of our tradition. We know that some of the Apostles were married, (Peter was married at some point because Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Mark 1:29-31) and in the early centuries many priests (those original elders and overseers) were married. St. Paul writes to Timothy that a bishop should be “married but once.” (Timothy 3:2)

Also, Jewish Priests in the Old Testament were married, but forbidden from having sexual relations for one day before offering sacrifice (Interesting considering that in the Catholic Church, the priest offers sacrifice every day). In fact, all Eastern Rites Churches (that are in Communion with Rome) have a married priesthood and in fact, in our own Latin Rite, there are married priests. This is something that, at least among the diocesan priesthood, could change. Still, I am not trying to knock celibacy. This is a good thing.

If we look to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, we can see that celibacy is more than a discipline. It is a gift, and a call to love in an extraordinary way. It’s a beautiful concept: Just as sex is a means to love or a part of love, so is celibacy. A celibate priest (and all consecrated singles) is fulfilling his nature to love. This is probably why Thomas Merton said that if a man was afraid of love, he should not be a priest. Remember that a priest is first a servant so he has to be able to love. In fact, he has to be in love: with Christ and the Church!

Another challenge is this idea of that the Priesthood has to be male. Over the centuries many have asked why women don’t have the right or aren’t qualified to be priests.

It’s a very difficult question and may be one that cannot be fully understood, but it can be understood in part.

First, it’s not really about qualifications: No one is really qualified to be a priest and no one really has a right to be a priest either. So it’s not about rights, or equality. Nowadays people think equality means same-ness, but saying that men and women are equal, doesn’t mean that they are the same. Men will never be able to be pregnant; that doesn’t make them inferior to women; just different, called to different roles.

Second, there is also the fact that there is no history in the Jewish tradition (from where our tradition of priesthood comes) of women priests. For the Jews, there was something very male about the priesthood. We can conclude that this is because the people of Israel were a patriarchal society, or we can conclude that God is greater than that and if there was something about the priesthood that was female, the patriarchal-ness of Israel would not have made a difference.

Then there is the age-old argument that Jesus only selected men as his Apostles. There is also the age-old response to that argument that times have changed.

This is true but Jesus didn’t really follow the norms of his time. He broke every rule. Don’t you think that had it been appropriate to select women as apostles, he would have? In fact, the Apostle to the Apostles is a woman: Mary Magdalene, but she was not chosen as one of the twelve.

And the number one disciple, Mary, his mother, would have been the best apostle. She would’ve been the best priest! She would’ve been able to say, ‘this is my body’ and really mean it, but Jesus did not choose her to be one of the twelve.

The Church teaches that there is something male about the Priesthood and that this is instituted by God; the Church has no authority to ordain women.

Perhaps another way to understand part of it is through Theology of the Body. Remember how the Eucharist is like a Marriage? That means that Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. It means that there is something male about the priesthood and something female about the Church.

It’s not that the Church doesn’t want to ordain women; the church doesn’t have the authority to change the designs that Christ instituted anymore than the Church has the authority to re-define Marriage.

When the question of the ordination of women arose in the Anglican Church, Pope Paul VI reminded Anglicans of this position of the Catholic Church. He said:

“She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the sacred scriptures of Christ choosing his apostles only from among men; and “the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church.”

In 1994, Pope John Paul II declared,

“At the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force. Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren, I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful”

These are hard questions and I know I didn’t address them in full, but it is my hope that this will spark in you a desire to know more. As I’ve said before, we must trust that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, despite of our human sinfulness. Let’s continue learning about and praying for the priesthood (and episcopate and diaconate) and pray that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church.

More importantly, perhaps we need to be supportive of bishops, priests (and deacons). We tend to have such high expectations of them, but they are human. I know I’ve been critical of priests but there are so many great priests, bishops and deacons. (I know at least one!) These are men who are truly the face of Christ on earth.

On this Feast of Corpus Christi, when we will hear about the first priest Melchizedek (first reading and Psalm) and reflect on the Memorial of Christ’s Sacrifice (second reading), Let’s pray for bishops, priests and deacons. Lets also pray for vocations to the Ordained Life.

We may not understand all there is to understand, but that’s what faith is, no?

Next week, let’s begin looking at the history of the diaconate.


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Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Deacon-structing Ordination | Part 1

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In light of the fact that last week everyone became aware that the early Church had women in the role of deacons or deaconesses (or both, we’re not sure what exactly these roles were), I have begun to deaconstructing the diaconate. But before, let’s take a little detour and look at Ordination.

It seems appropriate that as we are delving into this topic of Holy Orders, it’s the time of the year when many men are being ordained to the diaconate and the priesthood. Perhaps we should begin by keeping them in our prayers.

Today I’d like to focus on some of the basics (very basic, so I apologize if it seems simplistic) of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and it’s good to be reminded at first, that we are not just talking about priests. There are three Orders: bishops, priests and deacons. This goes back to the Acts of the Apostles.

When Jesus sent his 12 apostles to go to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:16-20), they took him seriously (we wouldn’t be in the Church today if it wasn’t for that): They went and made disciples everywhere. As groups of people became Christian, churches were created and elders were put in place (often with the laying on of hands) to shepherd these churches since the Apostles couldn’t be everywhere. As these churches grew in size and in region, the apostles began appointing a supervisor of the elders. This person was usually appointed by one of the apostles (again with the laying on of hands) when they visited the various churches. The supervisor was called the Episkopos which means overseer, in Greek. (We know that St. Paul writes to Timothy and Titus. They were both “overseers”.)

The episkopoi, or overseers, became what today we call bishops. As the churches continued to grow the overseers also couldn’t be everywhere and they had priests representing them in various churches (in fact, some historians will say that these original Episcopal representatives were deacons).

The word priest comes from the Greek word Presbyteroi, which was the word used for elder. (The word in Latin is sacerdos.)

There were also other ordained ministers known as diakonoi. They existed even before there were elders.

The word diakonoi literally means server (as in the ones who served the food). The appointment (ordination) of the first deacons appears in Acts 6:1-6. These seven men were ordained to beg for food for the Greek-speaking Jewish widows, who in those days, they were the most marginalised group, because the Apostles didn’t have time to do that work. Two famous Acts of the Apostles deacons are Philip and Stephen.

Deacons originally had a very specific function in the Church, which was separate from the priesthood, serving the most marginalised. As things evolved, slowly the diaconate disappeared as a separate ministry and became merely a step toward the priesthood (which is why today, all priests are first ordained to the transitional diaconate. This is very, very basic, but we will look at the history of the diaconate later in this series.) The permanent diaconate as it existed in the first couple of centuries was renewed by the Second Vatican Council and so now many dioceses have married men (like me) who are ordained as Permanent Deacons. (Note: the diaconate was renewed not because there was shortage of priests, but because there was a shortage of deacons. The Church needs both priests and deacons!)

In the first centuries, in addition to bishops, presbyters and deacons (major orders), there were also other ministers in the Church who were not ordained. We call them “minor orders”.

These included:
• Subdeacons, who helped the deacons with their duties
• Exorcists, who assisted at rituals of initiation and repentance
• Lectors, who read the scriptures during worship
• Porters, who had janitorial and guard duties and
• Acolytes, who accompanied the bishops and acted as secretaries and messengers.
(Many of these still exist in the Eastern Churches.)

As priests began to perform many of these functions, these orders also began to disappear as separate from the priesthood. Most have still not been renewed. Although, still today, before ordination to the diaconate, all candidates are installed as Lectors and Acolytes. And we know that all priests are first ordained as deacons (and all bishops are first priests).

This is probably not the best way to approach the subject, because Holy Orders is not about function, but sometimes it’s easier to understand something when we look at the function. (I do hope, as we get deeper into this that you understand Holy Orders not merely as something functional but something theological.)

The reason why the Apostles ordained deacons was so they (the Apostles) could “devote themselves to prayer and to serving the Word.” (Acts 6:4) The deacons then dedicated themselves to the work of charity. In a way, today that is still the case. The priest’s primary function is to administer the Sacraments.

I had a priest once tell me that his job was to bring God to the people and bring the people to God. This is a perfect way to look at it since that is what the Sacraments do. If we go way back to look at where our whole tradition of priesthood originates from, the Old Testament, we’ll see that this is also what the Jewish priests did. They didn’t have Sacraments, but they were mediators between God and the people.

God’s chosen people, the people of Israel was considered a “Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation”, but within the people of Israel God chose one of the twelve tribes, the Tribe of Levi (which was the tribe Moses and Aaron belonged to), and set it apart for liturgical service. God said to Moses: “Consecrate your brother Aaron and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazer and Ithamar, to be priests, to minister to me.” (See Exodus 28:1 and 30:30. For the first ever consecration or ordination of priests, look at Exodus 29)
Part of their job was to take care of the Tabernacle, the Holy place where they kept the Arc of the Covenant, which contained the Tablets of the 10 Commandments. The Tabernacle is where the Holy of Holies was. That is where God was present. The priest’s job was to act on behalf of the people in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. When Jesus came, He became the ultimate Priest, who offered the ultimate Sacrifice. So, we see Aaron’s priesthood as the priesthood of the Old Covenant and Jesus is the Priest and only Priest of the New Covenant. All priests today (and for the last 2000 years) participate in this one Priesthood of Jesus Christ.

But as we said earlier, we’re not just talking about priests: There are three Orders: The bishop represents the fullness of Christ for the Church. The priest shares in the bishop’s office; these two constitute the ministerial priesthood. The deacon is ordained to the ministry of service, not to the priesthood of Christ.

In the past when I’ve deacon-structed Sacraments (and we did this in our show In Your Faith. To understand Sacraments better, check out all our episodes in Season 2 on the seven Sacraments.), I’ve looked at what I call the “metaphysical occurrence” that takes place. With every Sacrament something that is more than physical takes place – every Sacrament effects a change and this change is not just spiritual but also physical; it is metaphysical. For example, with the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ; with Marriage, the couple becomes one flesh; in Reconciliation, our sins are wiped clean.

With Holy Orders there is also a metaphysical occurrence that takes place. In simple terms, the ordained person becomes the person of Christ (Persona Christi Capitis), when he administers the Sacraments. But every also Sacrament mirrors how Christ is a Sacrament of God to the Church. In Holy Orders, Christ is ministering to our religious needs. That’s what priests, deacons and bishops do – just as Christ did. And the Sacrament of Holy Orders represents Christ the Servant, and Christ the Sacrifice and Priest.

And if you remember your catechism, a Sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible Grace so every Sacrament confers Grace. In Holy Orders, the ordained minister receives the grace to be a servant, to offer sacrifice and the grace of being the person of Christ.

Next week we’ll go a bit deeper into the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Photo Credit: Pope Francis ordains one of 19 new priests during ordination Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican on April 27, 2015. CNS/Paul Haring


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Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Human Life is Sacred and Inviolable: Reflections to Guide Us as We March and Work for Life

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Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation

On April 11, 2014, Pope Francis addressed the Italian Pro-Life movement with these provocative words:

“We know that human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right rests on the recognition of the first and fundamental right, that of life, which is not subordinate to any condition, be it quantitative, economic or, least of all, ideological. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills…. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading” (Evangelii Gaudium #53). And in this way life, too, ends up being thrown away. One of the gravest risks our epoch faces, amid the opportunities offered by a market equipped with every technological innovation, is the divorce between economics and morality, the basic ethical norms of human nature are increasingly neglected. It is therefore necessary to express the strongest possible opposition to every direct attack on life, especially against the innocent and defenseless, and the unborn in a mother’s womb is the example of innocence par excellence. Let us remember the words of the Second Vatican Council: “Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (Gaudium et Spe #51).”

Today we are living in the midst of a culture that denies solidarity and takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents that encourage an idea of society exclusively concerned with efficiency. It is a war of the powerful against the weak. There is no room in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the dying, is a weak element in the social structure or anyone who appears completely at the mercy of others and radically dependent on them and can only communicate through the silent language of profound sharing of affection. Abortion is the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. How can we forget Pope Benedict XVI’s words at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, on July 17, 2008:

“And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?”

Nor can we forget what Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (#214):

“It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?”

The Catholic Church’s Consistent Ethic of Life

The Roman Catholic Church holds a consistent ethic of life. The Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and dignity of the human person. However, opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons – all of these things and more poison human society.

In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.

“Openness to life is at the centre of true development,” wrote Pope Benedict in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.” The Holy Father sums up the current global economic crisis in a remarkable way with these words: “Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs.”

The burning issues of the promotion of human life, from conception to natural death, must be high on the agenda of every human being on every side of the political spectrum. They are not only the concern of the far right of the political spectrum. Many people, blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones.

The market push towards euthanasia

If we look carefully at the great dramas of the last century, we see that as free markets toppled Communism, exaggerated consumerism and materialism infiltrated our societies and cultures. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As St. John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.”

Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice. They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life. Our dignity and quality of life don’t come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity. They come from a deeper place – from who we are and how we relate to each other. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

In his most recent Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes (#48):

“The elderly who are vulnerable and dependent are at times unfairly exploited simply for economic advantage. Many families show us that it is possible to approach the last stages of life by emphasizing the importance of a person’s sense of fulfilment and participation in the Lord’s paschal mystery. A great number of elderly people are cared for in Church institutions, where, materially and spiritually, they can live in a peaceful, family atmosphere. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide; in many countries, they have been legalized. The Church, while firmly opposing these practices, feels the need to assist families who take care of their elderly and infirm members”.

What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection, and embryonic research is not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease. But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

Being pro-life is one of the deepest expressions of our baptism: we stand up as sons and daughters of the light, clothed in humility and charity, filled with conviction, speaking the truth to power with firmness, conviction and determination, and never losing joy and hope. Being Pro-Life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are Pro-Life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. To March for Life in Ottawa, Washington and in many other cities of the world means that we stand up for all human life, and we do not have a myopic view of the cause of life. Let us strive for a consistent ethic of human life, from womb to tomb. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

Read more: Taking the Gospel of Life to the Streets in Ottawa and Many Other Cities 

CCCB brief on Bill C-14 (“medical assistance in dying”) to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights

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As clearly stated in its previous statements on this issue, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops absolutely and categorically disagrees with any attempt at justifying or supporting a “right” to assisted suicide or euthanasia. This is based on the unchanging teaching of our Church, derived from the teaching of Christ himself, that these practices are always inherently wrong (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2276-79; St. John Paul II,Evangelium Vitae n. 66). For this reason, Bill C-14, which legalizes the killing of certain categories of persons, is a fundamentally unjust law. From the Catholic perspective, no amendments could legitimate the inherent evil in the premises behind the proposed legislation.

While the legislation is itself intrinsically and gravely immoral for the reasons stated above, there are particular characteristics of the current draft of Bill C-14 which make it even more damaging and dangerous to Canadian society. For example, it contains no protections for health care workers who refuse to cooperate in so-called “medical assistance in dying” or to give an effective referral, nor to institutions that refuse to provide the service for religious or conscientious reasons. Leaving such protections to provincial legislators or professional organizations (such as provincial colleges of physicians, pharmacists, or nurses) would result in a chaotic situation with conflicting rules between provinces and would effectively prompt the resignation or removal of many health care professionals. It could also potentially force the closure of hospitals operated under religious auspices, most of which are Catholic. These institutions employ thousands of physicians and tens of thousands of staff. At a time when our health care system requires more resources, not less, the federal government should not allow lower jurisdictions to drive conscientious health care practitioners from their professions.

It is also regrettable that Bill C-14 fails in what appears to be an attempt to limit the potential harm caused by legalizing assisted suicide, as in the criterion enunciated in section 241.2(d) (that a person’s “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable”). Every person who has reflected on their own mortal existence knows that their own natural death is not only reasonably foreseeable, but indeed inevitable. This “safeguard” will protect no one.

The teaching of the Catholic Church and the stance of the Catholic Bishops of Canada affirm the sacredness and dignity of human life. Suicide and euthanasia are contrary to the most profound natural inclination of each human being to live and preserve life. Furthermore, they contradict the fundamental responsibility that human beings have to protect one another and to enhance the quality of health and social care which every human life deserves, from conception to natural death.

Bill C-14, no matter how it may be amended, is an affront to human dignity, an erosion of human solidarity, and a danger to all vulnerable persons – particularly the aged, disabled, infirm and sick who so often find themselves isolated and marginalized. Moreover, it is a violation of the sacrosanct duty of healthcare providers to heal, and the responsibility of legislators and citizens to assure and provide protection for all, especially those persons most at risk. The passage of Bill C-14, occasioned by the seriously flawed Carter decision, will have devastating effects on the social fabric of our country that cannot be predicted today.


The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is the national assembly of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic Bishops. As its principal pastors who officially speak on behalf of the Church in Canada, the Bishops are the spiritual leaders and teachers of more than thirteen million Canadian Catholics. Forty-six per cent of Canadians are baptized Catholics.

Photo: Diocese of Hamilton

Deacon-structing: The Voice of Christ

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A reflection for the 6th Sunday in Easter, Year C. The readings are Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Revelation 21:10-14; 22-23 and John 14:23-29.

Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them… (Jn 14:23) Let’s get this straight: If you love me; you will keep my word. That’s a no-brainer! If you love someone you care about what they think, what they say and what they want. If you love them, you do what they ask you to do. And for Christians who love Jesus, we want to keep his word.

Two weeks ago the readings at Mass told us about the Good Shepherd who says that His sheep know His voice. But Jesus’ voice is but one voice among many: The voice of pleasure and the voice of power; the voices of pride and despair, of fear and doubt. How do we know the voice of Christ? We listen. That’s it. We have to make quiet time for listening so we can tune in to the voice of Jesus. If our prayer time is consumed with speaking: Thanksgiving prayers and petition prayers and asking for forgiveness and offering praise – all the while listening to praise and worship music – then it’s a bit one-sided. We have to be quiet; silent, so we can listen. We need to start this today. Set aside quiet time each day. Be silent and listen. And when you do, how do you know you’re listening to the voice of Jesus so that you can keep his word? How do we discern His voice among all the voices in the world? And how do we recognize his voice when it’s about something that Jesus didn’t speak about? It’s easy to keep His word when it’s about something that Jesus spoke about, but how do we keep His word about stuff that Jesus never spoke about?

Let me make a proposal: The voice of Jesus is the voice of the Church. Or rather, the voice of the Church is the voice of Jesus. Jesus gives His voice to the Church. He gives His voice to the apostles; He gives them His authority and that’s the way it’s been from the beginning of Christianity.

See what’s happening in the Book of Acts (15:1—29): The disciples are doing what Jesus asked them to do: They are keeping His word. They are going to the ends of the earth making disciples. And Paul and Barnabas are disciple-making machines. And most of their converts are gentiles: People of non-Jewish background. But what happens? They’re in Antioch and to Antioch comes a group of Jewish-Christians (converts from Judaism; called the Judaizers) and they tell the gentile-Christians that in order for them to be Christian, they have to follow the Law of Moses: All the Jewish Levitical laws. Remember that the Jewish people had strict laws about what they could eat and not eat, about washing, about rituals and sacrifice and other things. And the main issue was the issue of circumcision. These Judaizers said that in order to be saved you had to be circumcised. But they had a “not small dissent or debate” with Paul and Barnabas. That means they had a big dissent and debate with Paul and Barnabas. They duked it out because Paul and Barnabas are pretty sure that this teaching is wrong. But is it up to Paul and Barnabas to make this decision? No. They are not the Church leadership. They are important but they are not the Church leadership. So they take the matter to Jerusalem to the Church leadership, the Apostles. And we have the first Church council. We call it the Council of Jerusalem. And ever since then, when the Church encounters a matter that needs to be defined or clarified, they gather as a council in order to define doctrine or teaching. We’ve heard of the Council of Trent and the Council of Chalcedon and the two Vatican Councils. Well, in the Book of Acts we have the first council in Jerusalem. They had a problem that had to be solved; a teaching that had to be defined. And it’s something that Jesus never spoke about: Circumcision. Jesus never spoke about what Gentiles should or shouldn’t do if they became Christians. So the Apostles and Church leaders gather and make a decision. And we know that they decide that you do not have to be Jewish, in order to be a Christian.

How do they decide? With the Holy Spirit. The letter they send back to Antioch says, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us…” (Acts 15:28) It doesn’t say they decided under the guidance of the Holy Spirit or that the Holy Spirit inspired them to decide. No. They decided together with the Holy Spirit. And that’s the way the Church has been since then. Together with the Holy Spirit, doctrine can be defined because the Church speaks with the authority and the voice of Jesus.

Look at the Gospel (John 14:23-29): Jesus says to the Apostles: “The Father will send you the Holy Spirit in my name and He will teach you everything and will remind you of everything that I have spoken.” What does that mean? It means that of the things Jesus spoke about, the Spirit will remind us; but of the things Jesus didn’t speak about, the Spirit will teach us. So we are guaranteed that the Church leadership will always, together with the Holy Spirit, speak with the authority and voice of Christ, whenever they speak as a whole. Jesus does not give His Spirit to 12 individual people; He gives His Spirit to them as Church and so it’s not whatever an individual Bishop says, but when the Bishops and the Holy Father speak as the College of Bishops or in the context of a Ecumenical Council.

I believe that this happens whenever the Holy Father, together with the College of Bishops speak as a whole. In the last couple of years we’ve all heard of Synods of Bishops. This is another occasion when Bishops come together with the Holy Father and they look at a situation that may need to be defined. Out of the Synod comes an Apostolic Exhortation (the latest one, Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love, on the challenges faced by the family). With an Exhortation the Holy Father gives some pastoral advice to the people. This is exactly what the Apostles did at that first council. Interesting that some translations refer to the letter from the Council of Jerusalem as an exhortation; The Apostles exhort the people in Antioch.) We have to trust that to this day, the Bishops who are the successors of the Apostles, together with the successor of Peter, still make decisions together with the Holy Spirit.

Church leadership is important and it’s always been this way. The Book of Revelation (21:10-23) presents us with a beautiful and immense city: The New Jerusalem. And many scholars agree that when the Book of Revelation speaks of the New Jerusalem it refers to the Church. See what this city looks like: It has a wall with 12 gates and over each gate are written the names of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. That’s where we came from. That’s our heritage; the old Jerusalem, the first Covenant. But there are 12 foundations and over each foundation are written the names of the 12 apostles. Jesus said to Peter, you are a rock and on this rock I will build my Church. (Mt 16:18) The foundation of the Church is the 12 apostles and it’s always been that way. That foundation continues today with the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops and our Holy Father, Pope Francis.

So, if we want to love Jesus and keep his word we have to listen to the Church. If we do we will keep His word and the Father will come to us and the Father, Son and Spirit will come to us and make their home with us. (Jn 14:23)

Not entirely unrelated, I want to ask you your opinion on the words “doctrine” and “dogma”. What do they mean? When the Holy Father speaks together with the Bishops and the Holy Spirit to define a particular Church teaching, is that dogma or doctrine? Write to me and tell me what you think. I would say that “doctrine” cannot change because it is absolute; it deals with faith or morals. Perhaps I should be using the word “dogma” to mean that. Not sure. What do you think? I’ll explain better next week.

Photo Credit: Bishops and cardinals attend a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


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Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Homily of Pope Francis at Mass for the Jubilee of Young People

PopeYouth

On Sunday, April 24, 2016, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the Jubilee of Young People. Read below for the full text of his Homily:

St. Peter’s Square – Sunday April 24, 2016

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”

 Dear young friends, what an enormous responsibility the Lord gives us today! He tells us that the world will recognize the disciples of Jesus by the way they love one another. Love, in other words, is the Christian’s identity card, the only valid “document” identifying us as Christians. It is the only valid document. If this card expires and is not constantly renewed, we stop being witnesses of the Master. So I ask you: Do you wish to say yes to Jesus’ invitation to be his disciples? Do you wish to be his faithful friends? The true friends of Jesus stand out essentially by the genuine love; not some “pie in the sky” love; no, it is a genuine love that shines forth in their way of life. Love is always shown in real actions. Those who are not real and genuine and who speak of love are like characters is a soap opera, some fake love story. Do you want to experience his love? Do you want this love: yes or no? Let us learn from him, for his words are aschool of life, a school where we learn to love. This is a task which we must engage in every day: to learn how to love.

Before all else, love is beautiful, it is the path to happiness. But it is not an easy path. It is demanding and it requires effort. Think, for example, of when we receive a gift. It makes us happy, but receiving a gift means that someone generous has invested time and effort; by their gift they also give us a bit of themselves, a sacrifice they have made. Think too of the gift that your parents and group leaders have given you in allowing you to come to Rome for this Jubilee day dedicated to you. They planned, organized, and prepared everything for you, and this made them happy, even if it meant that they had to give up a trip for themselves. This is putting love into action. To love means to give, not only something material, but also something of one’s self: one’s own time, one’s friendship, one’s own abilities.

Look to the Lord, who is never outdone in generosity. We receive so many gifts from him, and every day we should thank him… Let me ask you something. Do you thank the Lord every day? Even if we forget to do so, he never forgets, each day, to give us some special gift. It is not something material and tangible that we can use, but something even greater, a life-long gift. What does the Lord give to us? He offers us his faithful friendship, which he will never take back. The Lord is a friend forever. Even if you disappoint him and walk away from him, Jesus continues to want the best for you and to remain close to you; he believes in you even more than you believe in yourself. This is an example of genuine love that Jesus teaches to us. This is very important! Because the biggest threat to growing up well comes from thinking that no one cares about us – and that is always a sadness – from feeling that we are all alone. The Lord, on the other hand, is always with you and he is happy to be with you. As he did with his first disciples, he looks you in the eye and he calls you to follow him, to “put out into the deep” and to “cast your nets wide” trusting in his words and using your talents in life, in union with him, without fear. Jesus is waiting patiently for you. He awaits your response. He is waiting for you to say “yes”.

Dear young friends, at this stage in your lives you have a growing desire to demonstrate and receive affection. The Lord, if you let him teach you, will show you how to make tenderness and affection even more beautiful. He will guide your hearts to “love without being possessive”, to love others without trying to own them but letting them be free. Because love is free! There is no true love that is not free! The freedom that the Lord gives to us is his love for us. He is always close to each one of us. There is always a temptation to let our affections be tainted by an instinctive desire to “have to have” what we find pleasing; this is selfishness. Our consumerist culture reinforces this tendency. Yet when we hold on too tightly to something, it fades, it dies, and then we feel confused, empty inside. The Lord, if you listen to his voice, will reveal to you the secret of love. It is caring for others, respecting them, protecting them and waiting for them. This is putting tenderness and love into action.

At this point in life you feel also a great longing for freedom. Many people will say to you that freedom means doing whatever you want. But here you have to be able to say no. If you do not know how to say “no”, you are not free. The person who is free is he or she who is able to say “yes” and who knows how to say “no”. Freedom is not the ability simply to do what I want. This makes us self-centred and aloof, and it prevents us from being open and sincere friends; it is not true to say “it is good enough if it serves me”. No, this is not true. Instead, freedom is the gift of being able to choose the good: this is true freedom. The free person is the one who chooses what is good, what is pleasing to God, even if it requires effort, even if it is not easy. I believe that you young men and women are not afraid to make the effort, that you are indeed courageous! Only by courageous and firm decisions do we realize our greatest dreams, the dreams which it is worth spending our entire lives to pursue. Courageous and noble choices. Do not be content with mediocrity, with “simply going with the flow”, with being comfortable and laid back. Don’t believe those who would distract you from the real treasure, which you are, by telling you that life is beautiful only if you have many possessions. Be sceptical about people who want to make you believe that you are only important if you act tough like the heroes in films or if you wear the latest fashions. Your happiness has no price. It cannot be bought: it is not an app that you can download on your phones nor will the latest update bring you freedom and grandeur in love. True freedom is something else altogether.

That is because love is a free gift which calls for an open heart; love is a responsibility, but a noble responsibility which is life-long; it is a daily task for those who can achieve great dreams! Woe to your people who do not know how to dream, who do not dare to dream! If a person of your age is not able to dream, if they have already gone into retirement… this is not good.Love is nurtured by trust, respect and forgiveness. Love does not happen because we talk about it, but when we live it: it is not a sweet poem to study and memorize, but is a life choice to put into practice! How can we grow in love? The secret, once again, is the Lord: Jesus gives us himself in the Mass, he offers us forgives and peace in Confession. There we learn to receive his love, to make it ours and to give it to the world. And when loving seems hard, when it is difficult to say no to something wrong, look up at Jesus on the cross, embrace the cross and don’t ever let go of his hand. He will point you ever higher, and pick you up whenever you fall. Throughout life we will fall many times, because we are sinners, we are weak. But there is always the hand of God who picks us up, who raises us up. Jesus wants us to be up on our feet! Think of the beautiful word Jesus said to the paralytic: “Arise!”. God has created us to be on our feet. There is a lovely song that mountain climbers sing as they climb. It goes like this: “In climbing, the important thing is not to not fall, but to not remain fallen!. To have the courage to pick oneself up, to allow oneself to be raised up by Jesus. And his hand is often given through the hand of a friend, through the hand of one’s parents, through the hand of those who accompany us throughout life. Jesus himself is present in them. So arise! God wants us up on our feet, ever on our feet!

I know that you are capable of acts of great friendship and goodness. With these you are called to build the future, together with others and for others, but never againstanyone! One never builds “against”; this is called “destruction”. You will do amazing things if you prepare well, starting now, by living your youth and all its gifts to the fullest and without fear of hard work. Be like sporting champions, who attain high goals by quiet daily effort and practice. Let your daily programme be the works of mercy. Enthusiastically practice them, so as to be champions in life, champions in love! In this way you will be recognized as disciples of Jesus. In this way, you will have the identification card of the Christian. And I promise you: your joy will be complete.