Deacon-structing: Halloween

Capuchin-Crypt

I have many friends who do not participate in Halloween activities. They refuse to do so because they believe that Halloween is a pagan holiday. Some even go as far as saying that it is a Satanic feast.

I’ve always felt that there’s nothing wrong with participating in Halloween activities. After all, I don’t believe that when we dress up or go door-to-door looking for free candy, we are celebrating anything in particular. But, I too have heard about the Celtic Samhain festival of harvest and I do believe that there are crazy things that happen today on Halloween night, even occult rituals. So I went to do some research.

Turns out that most of our present-day Halloween traditions are deeply rooted, not just in our Catholic faith, but in specific activities that were done in order to celebrate our saints and the souls of the dead.

As you know, Halloween is an abbreviation of the term “All Hallow’s Eve,” which means “the eve of All Saints” (“hallow” means holy). I don’t need to tell you that, since the first century, Christians have been celebrating and remembering the “spirits and souls of the just.”

Originally the feast to honour Christian martyrs was on May 13th. Pope Boniface IV established it as the “Feast of All Martyrs” in 615 on the date that the Roman Pantheon was dedicated as a Church to Mary and all the martyrs. In 844 Pope Gregory IV moved the feast to November 1st.  By 714 the feast included not just all the martyrs, but all the saints as well. Pope Sixtus IV established November 1st as a holy day of obligation and gave it both a vigil (All Hallow’s Eve) and an octave.

Most of our present-day Halloween activities are a remnant of activities which were associated with the vigil of All Saints Day. For example, it was a practice to fast before the feast (as we still do before Lent) so people ate all the things that they were not suppose to eat on the feast day. In fact, just as with the eve of Ash Wednesday, pancakes were a popular fare. In England “soul cakes” were another food traditional for this feast. And people would go door-to-door, begging for a soul cake and promise to pray for the people’s dead relatives in exchange for the treat.

It’s true that the Celtic new year harvest festival called Samhain took place around the same time of the year. I’ve read that the Celts believed that during this time of the year the wall between the living and the dead was open, allowing spirits of the dead to come into ‘our world’. The way I understand it, the tradition of carving pumpkins into Jack-o’-lanterns is a left-over from this festival. This was merely of practical use, since the shell of the gourd or turnip would literally serve as a lantern. Inside the carved out pumpkin the people could also bring home an ember from the sacred bonfire.

But it was also a Christian belief that during certain times of the year, the veil between the afterlife and this life was thinned. Christians believed this to happen at Christmastime, as well. And so, traditions came to include practices to ward off spirits and honour the dead. It’s a belief that fire wards off evil spirits, so churches lit candles and held bonfires in cemeteries. In Spain, people visited graveyards and consecrated the graves with holy water. This is still done in many countries where people visit relatives’ graves, pray for them and even bring them special foods.

There is also a very marked tradition in the Catholic Church to venerate the bodies of saints, literally. We have bones and skulls that we venerate as relics. This is not done for morbid reasons, but rather because we believe in the tangible: all God’s creation is good. This may be the reason why when I typed “bone chapel” into my search engine, I found at least nine, all over Europe, including the famous Paris Catacombs and the Capuchin Crypt in Rome. Imagine a chapel where there are piles of skulls or wall-art made with human bones. Halloween or venerating our saints?

The Catholic concept of memento mori or “remembering our mortality” is as old as Christianity itself. We believe that we need to remember our death. Not because we’re obsessed with the macabre, but because it is through our death that we are brought to new life. Tertullian in his Apologeticus says that sometimes, during a victory parade after a war, the triumphant general was followed by a slave who reminded him, “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!” — “Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you’ll die!” It doesn’t take a long look through classical Christian art to find these memento mori themes. We’ve all seen the paintings and architecture featuring skeletons — look for The Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut or search “the Danse Macabre,” which was also represented in music, poems and plays. And we’ve all seen Caravaggio’s St. Francis in Prayer, where he is portrayed with a skull. St. Francis’ symbol is the skull because, we are told, he often contemplated death (like Hamlet). But there are other saints, such as St. Jerome, St. Ignatius and Mary Magdalene, who are often depicted with skulls.

What was not as easy to find out was where the whole dressing-up tradition came from. Do we dress like “death” to remind ourselves of our death, or to scare off unsuspecting spirits? There are so many conflicting accounts of the origins of why we dress-up for Halloween, that I am to conclude that no one really knows.

I did find out from various sources that the custom of going door-to-door in costumes or “guising” developed from Christian customs in Western Europe. Guising is recorded as taking place in Scotland in the late 19thcentury where people in disguise visit homes and are rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. In other cultures, this going door-to-door, whether in costume or not, included having to perform a song, dance or poem in order to receive the treat.

Since there are other Christian feasts, which include fasting, it makes sense to me that the eves of such feasts would have been “celebrated” with wild parties, dressing up in costumes and a carnival-like atmosphere. In fact, in Panama, young people still paint their faces and dress up as “devils” on Carnival Tuesday. So, I guess, if you’re going all-out feasting before the fast, why not really go all out?

So where does the idea that Christians are against Halloween come from? Something else I read, which also makes sense to me, is that after the Reformation, in many places, Catholic feast days were banned. And so when All Saints goes, so does All Hallow’s Eve. This is where the Christian objection to Halloween is born. When Christian Protestants come to North America and bring some of these now-secularised traditions, the licentious partying by adults is toned down and the traditions are emphasized among children. This describes Halloween in North America for most of the 20th century. It is in the latter part of the century that adults have been increasingly going to costume parties.

So, that’s the extent of my research. And it was part of the content of a previous episode of Perspectives: The Weekly Edition. Not sure how much is true or not, but if I learned anything, it’s that we shouldn’t be scared of evil or of death. Evil and death exist, but Christ already triumphed over both. This Halloween, when you honour our saints and your beloved departed, remember your mortality. Whether you choose to dress up as death or a princess (or not dress up at all), remember that after the night of death, always comes the light of life.

Official English Translation of Final Synod Document ‘Relatio Synodi’

Pope Francis attends morning session on final day of extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at Vatican

Earlier this afternoon, Vatican released the full, official English language translation of the “Relatio Synodi” of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops: “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization” (5-19 October 2014). Read the full text of the document below, dated October 18, 2014, the day the text was approved in Italian.

Introduction

1.   The Synod of Bishops, gathered around the Holy Father, turned its thoughts to all the families of the world, each with its joys, difficulties and hopes. In a special way, the Assembly felt a duty to give thanks to the Lord for the generosity and faithfulness of so many Christian families in responding to their vocation and mission, which they fulfill with joy and faith, even when living as a family requires facing obstacles, misunderstandings and suffering. The entire Church and this Synod express to these families our appreciation, gratitude and encouragement. During the prayer vigil held in St Peter’s Square on 4 October 2014 in preparation for the Synod on the family, Pope Francis evoked, in a simple yet concrete way, the centrality [of the experience] of the family in everyone’s lives: “Evening falls on our assembly. It is the hour at which one willingly returns home to meet at the same table, in the depth of affection, of the good that has been done and received, of the encounters which warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which hastens the unending feast in the days of man. It is also the weightiest hour for one who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of shattered dreams and broken plans; how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, of abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes the wine of joy has been less plentiful, and therefore, also the zest — the very wisdom — for life […]. Let us make our prayer heard for one another this evening, a prayer for all.”

2.   Within the family are joys and trials, deep love and relationships which, at times, can be wounded. The family is truly the “school of humanity” (Gaudium et Spes, 52), which is much needed today. Despite the many signs of crisis in the family institution in various areas of the “global village”, the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people, and serves as the basis of the Church’s need to proclaim untiringly and with profound conviction the “Gospel of the Family”,  entrusted to her together with the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ and ceaselessly taught by the Fathers, the masters of spirituality and the Church’s Magisterium. The family is uniquely important to the Church and in these times, when all believers are invited to think of others rather than themselves, the family needs to be rediscovered as the essential agent in the work of evangelization.

3.   At the Extraordinary General Assembly of October, 2014, the Bishop of Rome called upon the Synod of Bishops to reflect upon the critical and invaluable reality of the family, a reflection which will then be pursued in greater depth at its Ordinary General Assembly scheduled to take place in October, 2015, as well as during the full year between the two synodal events. “The convenire in unum around the Bishop of Rome is already an event of grace, in which episcopal collegiality is made manifest in a path of spiritual and pastoral discernment.” These were the words used by Pope Francis in describing the synodal experience and indicating the task at hand: to read both the signs of God and human history, in a twofold yet unique faithfulness which this reading involves.

4.   With these words in mind, we have gathered together the results of our reflections and our discussions in the following three parts: listening, looking at the situation of the family today  in all its complexities, both lights and shadows; looking, our gazeis fixed on Christ to re-evaluate, with renewed freshness and enthusiasm, what revelation,  transmitted in the Church’s faith, tells us about the beauty and dignity of the family; and facing the situation, with an eye on the Lord Jesus, to discern how the Church and society can renew their commitment to the family.

PART I

Listening: the context and challenges of the family

The Socio-Cultural Context

5.   Faithful to Christ’s teaching, we look to the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with both its lights and shadows. We turn our thoughts to parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, close and distant relatives and the bonds between two families forged by marriage. Anthropological and cultural changes in our times influence all aspects of life and require an analytic and diversified approach. The positive aspects are first to be highlighted, namely, a greater freedom of expression and a better recognition of the rights of women and children, at least in some parts of the world. On the other hand, equal consideration needs to be given to the growing danger represented by a troubling individualism which deforms family bonds and ends up considering each component of the family as an isolated unit, leading, in some cases, to the idea that a person is formed according to one’s own desires, which are considered absolute. Added to this is the crisis of faith, witnessed  among a great many Catholics, which oftentimes underlies the crisis in marriage and the family.

6.   One of the poorest aspects of contemporary culture is loneliness, arising from the absence of God in a person’s life and the fragility of relationships. There is also a general feeling of powerlessness in the face of socio-cultural realities which oftentimes end in crushing families. Such is the case in increasing instances of poverty and unemployment in the workplace, which at times is a real nightmare or in overwhelming financial difficulties, which discourage the young from marrying. Families often feel abandoned by the disinterest and lack of attention by institutions. The negative impact on the organization of society is clear, as seen in the demographic crisis, in the difficulty of raising children, in a hesitancy to welcome  new life and in considering the presence of older persons as a burden. All these can affect a person’s emotional balance, which can sometimes lead to violence. The State has the responsibility to pass laws and create work to ensure the future of young people and help them realize their plan of forming a family.

7.   Some cultural and religious contexts pose particular challenges. In some places, polygamy is still being practiced and in places with long traditions, the custom of “marriage in stages”. In other places, “arranged marriages” is an enduring practice.  In countries where Catholicism is the minority, many mixed and interreligious marriages take place, all with their inherent difficulties in terms of jurisprudence, Baptism, the upbringing of children and the mutual respect for each other’s  religious freedom, not to mention the danger of relativism or indifference.  At the same time, such marriages can exhibit great potential in favouring the spirit of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue in a harmonious living of diverse religions in the same place. Even outside Western societies, many places are witnessing an overall increase in the practice of cohabitation before marriage or simply cohabitating with no intention of a legally binding relationship.

8.   Many children are born outside marriage, in great numbers in some countries, many of whom subsequently grow up with just one of their parents or in a blended or reconstituted family. Divorces are increasing, many times taking place solely because of economic reasons. Oftentimes, children are a source of contention between parents and become the real victims of family break-ups. Fathers who are often absent from their families, not simply for economic reasons, need to assume more clearly their responsibility for children and the family. The dignity of women still needs to be defended and promoted. In fact, in many places today, simply being a woman is a source of discrimination and the gift of motherhood is often penalized, rather than  esteemed. Not to be overlooked is the increasing violence against women, where they become victims, unfortunately, often within families and as a result of the serious and widespread practice genital mutilation in some cultures. The sexual exploitation of children is still another scandalous and perverse reality in present-day society. Societies characterized by violence due to war, terrorism or the presence of organized crime are witnessing the deterioration of the family, above all in big cities, where, in their peripheral areas, the so-called phenomenon of “street-children” is on the rise. Furthermore, migration is another sign of the times to be faced and understood in terms of its onerous consequences to family life.

The Importance of Affectivity in Life

9.   Faced with the afore-mentioned social situation, people in  many parts of the world are feeling a great need to take care of themselves, to know themselves better, to live in greater harmony with their feelings and sentiments and to seek to live their affectivity in the best manner possible. These proper aspirations can lead to a desire to put greater effort into building relationships of self-giving and creative reciprocity, which are empowering and supportive like those within a family. In this case, however, individualism and living only for one’s self is a real danger. The challenge for the Church is to assist couples in the maturation and development of their affectivity through fostering dialogue, virtue and trust in the merciful love of God. The full commitment required in marriage can be a strong antidote to the temptation of a selfish individualism.

10.   Cultural tendencies in today’s world seem to set no limits on a person’s affectivity in which every aspect needs to be explored, even those which are highly complex. Indeed, nowadays a person’s affectivity is very fragile; a narcissistic, unstable or changeable affectivity does not always allow a person to grow to maturity. Particularly worrisome is the spread of pornography and the commercialization of the body, fostered also by a misuse of the internet and reprehensible situations where people are forced into prostitution. In this context, couples are often uncertain, hesitant and struggling to find ways to grow. Many tend to remain in the early stages of their affective and sexual life. A crisis in a couple’s relationship destabilizes the family and may lead, through separation and divorce, to serious consequences for adults, children and society as a whole, weakening its individual and social bonds. The decline in population, due to a mentality against having children and promoted by the world politics of reproductive health, creates not only a situation in which the relationship between generations is no longer ensured but also the danger that, over time, this decline will lead to economic impoverishment and a loss of hope in the future.

Pastoral Challenges

11.   In this regard, the Church is conscious of the need to offer a particularly meaningful word of hope, which must be done based on the conviction that the human person comes from God, and that, consequently, any reconsideration of the great question on the meaning of human existence can be responsive to humanity’s most profound expectations. The great values of marriage and the Christian family correspond to the search that characterizes human existence, even in these times of individualism and hedonism. People need to be accepted in the concrete circumstances of life. We need to know how to support them in their searching and to encourage them in their hunger for God and their wish to feel fully part of the Church, also including those who have experienced failure or find themselves in a variety of situations. The Christian message always contains in itself the reality and the dynamic of mercy and truth which meet in Christ.

PART II

Looking at Christ: the Gospel of the Family

Looking at Jesus and the Divine Pedagogy in the History of Salvation

12.   In order to “walk among contemporary challenges, the decisive condition is to maintain a fixed gaze on Jesus Christ, to pause in contemplation and in adoration of his Face. … Indeed, every time we return to the source of the Christian experience, new paths and undreamed of possibilities open up” (Pope Francis, Discourse, 4 October 2014). Jesus looked upon the women and the men he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps with patience and mercy, in proclaiming the demands of the Kingdom of God.

13.   Since the order of creation is determined by its orientation towards Christ, a distinction needs to be made without separating the various levels through which God communicates to humanity the grace of the covenant. By reason of the divine pedagogy, according to which the order of creation develops through successive stages to the moment of redemption, we need to understand the newness of the Sacrament of Marriage in continuity with natural marriage in its origin, that is, the manner of God’s saving action in both creation and the Christian life. In creation, because all things were made through Christ and for him (cf. Col1:16), Christians “gladly and reverently lay bare the seeds of the Word which lie hidden among their fellows; they ought to follow attentively the profound changes which are taking place among peoples” (Ad Gentes, 11). In the Christian life, the reception of Baptism brings the believer into the Church through the domestic church, namely, the family; thus beginning “a dynamic process [which] develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God” (Familiaris Consortio, 9), in an ongoing conversion to a love which saves us from sin and gives us fullness of life.

14.   Jesus himself, referring to the original plan of the human couple, reaffirms the indissoluble union between a man and a woman and says to the Pharisees that “for your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so”(Mt 19: 8). The indissolubility of marriage (“what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” Mt19:6), is not to be understood as a “yoke” imposed on persons but as a “gift” to a husband and wife united in marriage. In this way, Jesus shows how God’s humbling act of coming to earth might always accompany the human journey and might heal and transform a hardened heart with his grace, orientating it towards its benefit, by way of the cross. The Gospels make clear that Jesus’ example is paradigmatic for the Church. In fact, Jesus was born in a family; he began to work his signs at the wedding of Cana; and announced the meaning of marriage as the fullness of revelation which restores the original divine plan (Mt 19:3). At the same time, however, he put what he taught into practice and manifested the true meaning of mercy, clearly illustrated in his meeting with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:1-30) and with the adulteress (Jn 8:1-11). By looking at the sinner with love, Jesus leads the person to repentance and conversion (“Go and sin no more”), which is the basis for forgiveness.

The Family in God’s Salvific Plan

15.   The words of eternal life, which Jesus gave to his disciples, included the teaching on marriage and the family. Jesus’ teaching allows us to distinguish three basic stages in God’s plan for marriage and the family. In the beginning, there is the original family, when God the Creator instituted the first marriage between Adam and Eve as the solid foundation of the family. God not only created human beings male and female (Gen 1:27), but he also blessed them so they might be fruitful and multiply (Gen1:28). For this reason, “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and the two become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). This union was corrupted by sin and became the historical form of marriage among the People of God, for which Moses granted the possibility of issuing a bill of divorce (cf. Dt 24: 1ff.). This was the principal practice in the time of Jesus. With Christ’s coming and  his reconciling a fallen world through his redemption, the period begun by Moses ended.

16.   Jesus, who reconciled all things in himself, restored marriage and the family to their original form (Mk 10:1-12). Marriage and the family have been redeemed by Christ (Eph 5:21-32), restored in the image of the Holy Trinity, the mystery from which every true love flows. The spousal covenant, originating in creation and revealed in the history of salvation, receives its full meaning in Christ and his Church. Through his Church, Christ bestows on marriage and the family the grace necessary to witness to the love of God and to live the life of communion. The Gospel of the Family spans the history of the world from the creation of man in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1: 26-27) until it reaches, at the end of time, its fulfilment in the mystery of the Christ’s Covenant with the wedding of Lamb (cf. Rev 19: 9) (cf. John Paul II, Catechesis on Human Love).

The Family in the Church’s Documents

17.   “Throughout the centuries, the Church has maintained her constant teaching on marriage and family. One of the highest expressions of this teaching was proposed by the Second Vatican Council, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, which devotes an entire chapter to promoting the dignity of marriage and the family (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 47-52). This document defined marriage as a community of life and love (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48), placing love at the center of the family and manifesting, at the same time, the truth of this love in counter distinction to the various forms of reductionism present in contemporary culture. The ‘true love between husband and wife’ (Gaudium et Spes, 49) implies a mutual gift of self and includes and integrates the sexual and affective aspects, according to the divine plan (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48-49). Furthermore, Gaudium et Spes, 48 emphasizes the grounding of the spouses in Christ. Christ the Lord ‘comes into the lives of married Christians through the Sacrament of Matrimony,’ and remains with them. In the Incarnation, he assumes human love, purifies it and brings it to fulfillment. Through his Spirit, he enables the bride and groom to live their love and makes that love permeate every part of their lives of faith, hope and charity. In this way, the bride and groom are, so to speak, consecrated and, through his grace, they build up the Body of Christ and are a domestic church (cf. Lumen Gentium, 11), so that the Church, in order fully to understand her mystery, looks to the Christian family, which manifests her in a real way” (Instrumentum Laboris, 4).

18.   “In the wake of Vatican II, the papal Magisterium has further refined the doctrine on marriage and the family. In a special way, Blessed Pope Paul VI, in his Encyclical Humanae Vitae, displayed the intimate bond between conjugal love and the generation of life. Pope St. John Paul II devoted special attention to the family in his catechesis on human love, his Letter to Families(Gratissimam Sane) and, especially, his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. In these documents, the Pope called the family the ‘way of the Church,’ gave an overview on the vocation of man and woman to love and proposed the basic guidelines for the pastoral care of the family and the presence of the family in society. In specifically treating ‘conjugal love’ (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 13), he described how the spouses, through their mutual love, receive the gift of the Spirit of Christ and live their call to holiness” (Instrumentum Laboris, 5)

19.   “Pope Benedict XVI, in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, again took up the topic of the truth of the love between man and woman, which is fully understood only in light of the love of Christ Crucified (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 2). The Pope emphasized that ‘marriage based on an exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love’ (Deus Caritas Est, 11). Moreover, in his Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he emphasizes the importance of love as the principle of life in society (cf. Caritas in Veritate, 44), the place where a person learns to experience the common good” (Instrumentum Laboris, 6).

20.   “Pope Francis, in his Encyclical Lumen Fidei, treating the connection between the family and faith, writes: ‘Encountering Christ, letting themselves (young people) be caught up in and guided by his love, enlarges the horizons of existence, gives it a firm hope which will not disappoint. Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness’ (Lumen Fidei, 53)” (Instrumentum Laboris, 7).

The Indissolubility of Marriage and the Joy of Sharing Life Together

21.   Mutual self-giving in the Sacrament of Marriage is grounded in the grace of Baptism, which establishes in all its recipients a foundational covenant with Christ in the Church. In accepting each other and with Christ’s grace, the engaged couple promises a total self-giving, faithfulness and openness to new life. The married couple recognizes these elements as constitutive in marriage, gifts offered to them by God, which they take seriously in their mutual commitment, in God’s name and in the presence of the Church. Faith facilitates the possibility of assuming the benefits of marriage as commitments which are sustainable through the help of the grace of the Sacrament. God consecrates the love of husband and wife and confirms the indissoluble character of their love, offering them assistance to live their faithfulness, mutual complementarity and openness to new life. Therefore, the Church looks to married couples as the heart of the entire family, which, in turn, looks to Jesus.

22.   From the same perspective, in keeping with the teaching of the Apostle who said that the whole of creation was planned in Christ and for him (cf. Col 1:16), the Second Vatican Council wished to express appreciation for natural marriage and the valid elements present in other religions (cf. Nostra Aetate, 2) and cultures, despite their limitations and shortcomings (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 55). The presence of the seeds of the Word in these cultures (cf. Ad Gentes, 11) could even be applied, in some ways,  to marriage and the family in so many societies and non-Christian peoples. Valid elements, therefore, exist in some forms outside of Christian marriage  —  based on a stable and true relationship of a man and a woman  —  which, in any case, might be oriented towards Christian marriage. With an eye to the popular wisdom of different peoples and cultures, the Church also recognizes this type of family as the basic, necessary and fruitful unit for humanity’s life together.

The Truth and Beauty of the Family and Mercy Towards Broken and Fragile Families

23.   With inner joy and deep comfort, the Church looks to families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, encouraging them and thanking them for the testimony they offer. In fact, they witness, in a credible way, to the beauty of an indissoluble marriage, while always remaining faithful to each other. Within the family, “which could be called a domestic church” (Lumen Gentium, 11), a person begins a Church experience of communion among persons, which reflects, through grace, the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. “In a family, a person learns endurance, the joy of work, fraternal love, and generosity in forgiving others  —  repeatedly at times  —  and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1657). The Holy Family of Nazareth is a wondrous model in whose school we “understand why we have to maintain spiritual discipline, if we wish to follow the teachings of the Gospel and become Christ’s disciples” (Blessed Pope Paul VI, Address at Nazareth, 5 January 1964). The Gospel of the Family also nourishes the seeds which are still waiting to grow; and serves as the basis for caring for those trees which might have withered and need treatment.

24.   The Church, a sure teacher and caring mother, recognizes that the only marriage bond for those who are baptized is sacramental and any breach of it is against the will of God. At the same time, the Church is conscious of the weakness of many of her children who are struggling in their journey of faith. “Consequently, without detracting from the evangelical ideal, they need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur. [...] A small step in the midst of great human limitations can be more pleasing to God than a life which outwardly appears in order and passes the day without confronting great difficulties. Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings”(Gaudium Evangelii, 44).

25.   In considering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of the God’s plan for them. Looking to Christ, whose light illumines every person (cf. Jn 1: 9; Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an incomplete manner, recognizing that the grace of God works also in their lives by giving them the courage to do good, to care for one another in love and to be of service to the community in which they live and work.

26.   The Church looks with concern at the distrust of many young people in relation to a commitment in marriage and suffers at the haste with which many of the faithful decide to put an end to the obligation they  assumed and to take on another. These lay people, who are members of the Church, need pastoral attention which is merciful and encouraging, so they might adequately determine their situation. Young people, who are baptized, should be encouraged to understand that the Sacrament of Marriage can enrich their prospects of love and they can be sustained by the grace of Christ in the Sacrament and by the possibility of participating fully in the life of the Church.

27.   In this regard, a new aspect of family ministry is requiring attention today  —  the reality of civil marriages between a man and woman, traditional marriages and, taking into consideration the differences involved, even cohabitation. When a union reaches a particular stability, legally recognized, characterized by deep affection and responsibility for  children and showing an ability to overcome trials, these unions can offer occasions for guidance with an eye towards the eventual celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage. Oftentimes, a couple lives together without the possibility of a future marriage and without any intention of a legally binding relationship.

28.   .In accordance with Christ’s mercy, the Church must accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children, who show signs of a wounded and lost love, by restoring in them hope and confidence, like the beacon of a lighthouse in a port or a torch carried among the people to enlighten those who have lost their way or who are in the midst of a storm. Conscious that the most merciful thing is to tell the truth in love, we go beyond compassion. Merciful love, as it attracts and unites, transforms and elevates. It is an invitation to conversion. We understand the Lord’s attitude in the same way; he does not condemn the adulterous woman, but asks her to sin no more (Jn 8: 1-11).

Part III

Facing the Situation: Pastoral Perspectives

Proclaiming the Gospel of the Family Today in Various Contexts

29.    Discussion at the synod has allowed for agreement on some of the more urgent pastoral needs to be addressed in the particular Churches, in communion cum Petro et sub Petro. Proclaiming the Gospel of the Family is urgently needed in the work of evangelization. The Church has to carry this out with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher (cf. Eph 4: 15), in faithfulness to the mercy displayed in Christ’s kenosis. Truth became flesh in human weakness, not to condemn it but to save it (cf.Gn 3: 16, 17).

30.    Evangelizing is the shared responsibility of all God’s people, each according to one’s  ministry and charism. Without the joyous testimony of married people and families,  proclamation, even if done in its proper way, risks being misunderstood or lost in a flurry of words which is characteristic of society today (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 50). On various occasions, the synod fathers emphasized that Catholic families, by reason of the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage, are called upon to be the active agents in every pastoral activity on behalf of the family.

31.    The primacy of grace needs to be highlighted and, consequently, the possibilities which the Spirit provides in the Sacrament. It is a question of allowing people to experience that the Gospel of the Family is a joy which “fills hearts and lives”, because in Christ we are “set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). Bearing in mind the Parable of the Sower (cf. Mt 13; 3), our task is to cooperate in the sowing; the rest is God’s work; nor must we forget that, in preaching about the family, the Church is a sign of contradiction.

32.    Consequently, this work calls for missionary conversion by everyone in the Church, that is, not stopping at proclaiming a message which is perceived to be merely theoretical, with no connection to people’s real problems. We must continually bear in mind that the crisis of faith has led to a crisis in marriage and the family and, consequently, the transmission of faith itself from parents to children has often been interrupted. If we confront the situation with a strong faith, the imposition of certain cultural perspectives which weaken the family is of no importance.

33.    Conversion also needs to be seen in the language we use, so that it might prove to be effectively meaningful. Proclamation needs to create an experience where the Gospel of the Family responds to the deepest expectations of a person: a response to each’s dignity and complete fulfillment in reciprocity, communion and fruitfulness. This does not consist in merely presenting a set of rules but in espousing values, which respond to the needs of those who find themselves today, even in the most secularized of countries.

34.    The Word of God is the source of life and spirituality for the family. All pastoral work on behalf of the family must allow people to be interiorly fashioned and formed as members of the domestic church through the Church’s prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture. The Word of God is not only good news in a person’s private life, but also a criterion of judgment and a light in discerning the various challenges which married couples and families encounter.

35.    At the same time, many synod fathers insisted on a more positive approach to the richness of various religious experiences, without overlooking the inherent difficulties. In these different religious realities and in the great cultural diversity which characterizes countries, the positive possibilities should be appreciated first and then on this basis evaluate their limitations and deficiencies.

36.    Christian marriage is a vocation which is undertaken with due preparation in a journey of faith  with a proper process of discernment and is not to be considered only a cultural tradition or social or legal requirement. Therefore, formation is needed to accompany the person and couple in such a way that the real-life experience of the entire ecclesial community can be added to the teaching of the contents of the faith.

37.    The synod fathers repeatedly called for a thorough renewal of the Church’s pastoral practice in light of the Gospel of the Family and replacing its current emphasis on individuals. For this reason, the synod fathers repeatedly insisted on renewal in the training of priests and other pastoral workers with a greater involvement of families.

38.    They equally highlighted the fact that evangelization needs to clearly denounce cultural, social, political and economic factors, such as the excessive importance given to market logic which  prevents authentic family life and leads to discrimination, poverty, exclusion, and violence. Consequently, dialogue and cooperation need to be developed with the social entities and encouragement given to Christian lay people who are involved in the cultural and socio-political fields.

Guiding Engaged Couples in Their Preparation for Marriage

39.   The complex social reality and the changes affecting the family today require a greater effort on the part of the whole Christian community in preparing those who are about to be married. The importance of the virtues needs to be included, among these chastity which is invaluable in the genuine growth of love between persons. In this regard, the synod fathers jointly insisted on the need to involve more extensively the entire community by favouring the witness of families themselves and including preparation for marriage in the course of Christian Initiation as well as emphasizing the connection between marriage and the other sacraments. Likewise, they felt that specific programmes were needed in preparing couples for marriage, programmes which create a true experience of participation in ecclesial life and thoroughly treat the various aspects of family life.

Accompanying the Married Couple in the Initial Years of Marriage

40.   The initial years of marriage are a vital and sensitive period during which couples become more aware of the challenges and meaning of married life. Consequently, pastoral accompaniment needs to go beyond the actual celebration of the Sacrament (Familiaris Consortio, Part III). In this regard, experienced couples are of great importance in any pastoral activity. The parish is the ideal place for these experienced couples to be of service to younger couples. Married couples need encouragement in a basic openness to the great gift of children. The importance of a family spirituality and prayer needs emphasis so couples might be encouraged to meet regularly to promote growth in their spiritual life and solidarity in the concrete demands of life. Meaningful liturgies, devotional practices and the Eucharist celebrated for entire families were mentioned as vital factors in fostering evangelization through the family.

Pastoral Care for Couples Civilly Married or Living Together

41.    While continuing to proclaim and foster Christian marriage, the Synod also encourages pastoral discernment of the situations of a great many who no longer live this reality. Entering into pastoral dialogue with these persons is needed to distinguish elements in their lives which can lead to a greater openness to the Gospel of Marriage in its fullness. Pastors ought to identify elements which can foster evangelization and human and spiritual growth. A new element in today’s pastoral activity is a sensitivity to the positive aspects of civilly celebrated marriages and, with obvious differences, cohabitation. While clearly presenting the Christian message, the Church also needs to indicate the constructive elements in these situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to it.

42.   The synod fathers also noted in many countries an “an increasing number of people live together ad experimentum, in unions which have not been religiously or civilly recognized” (Instrumentum Laboris, 81). In some countries, this occurs especially in traditional marriages which are arranged between families and often celebrated in different stages. Other countries are witnessing a continual increase in the number of those who, after having lived together for a long period, request the celebration of marriage in Church. Simply to live together is often a choice based on a general attitude opposed to anything institutional or definitive; it can also be done while awaiting more security in life (a steady job and income). Finally, in some countries de facto marriages are very numerous, not because of a rejection of Christian values concerning the family and matrimony but primarily because celebrating a marriage is too expensive. As a result, material poverty leads people into de facto unions.

43.   All these situations require a constructive response, seeking to transform them into opportunities which can lead to an actual marriage and a family in conformity with  the Gospel. These couples need to be provided for and guided patiently and discreetly. With this in mind, the witness of authentic Christian families is particularly appealing and important as agents in the evangelization of the family.

Caring for Broken families (Persons who are Separated, Divorced, Divorced and Remarried and Single-Parent Families)

44.   Married couples with problems in their relationship should be able to count on the assistance and guidance of the Church. The pastoral work of charity and mercy seeks to help persons recover and restore relationships. Experience shows that with proper assistance and acts of reconciliation, though grace, a great percentage of troubled marriages find a solution in a satisfying manner. To know how to forgive and to feel forgiven is a basic experience in family life. Forgiveness between husband and wife permits a couple to  experience a never-ending love which does not pass away (cf. 1 Cor 13:8). At times, this is difficult, but those who have received God’s forgiveness are given the strength to offer a genuine forgiveness which regenerates persons.

45.   The necessity for courageous pastoral choices was particularly evident at the Synod. Strongly reconfirming their faithfulness to the Gospel of the Family and acknowledging that separation and divorce are always wounds which causes deep suffering to the married couple and to their children, the synod fathers felt the urgent need to embark on a new pastoral course based on the present reality of weaknesses within the family, knowing oftentimes that couples are more “enduring” situations of suffering than freely choosing them. These situations vary because of personal, cultural and socio-economic factors. Therefore, solutions need to be considered in a variety of ways, as suggested by Pope St. John Paul II (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 84).

46.   All families should, above all, be treated with respect and love and accompanied on their journey as Christ accompanied the disciples on the road to Emmaus. In a particular way, the words of Pope Francis apply in these situations: “The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this ‘art of accompaniment’, which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3: 5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting a closeness and compassion which, at the same time, heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life” (Evangelii Gaudium, 169).

47.   A special discernment is indispensable for pastorally guiding persons who are separated, divorced or abandoned. Respect needs to be primarily given to the suffering of those who have unjustly endured separation, divorce or abandonment, or those who have been subjected to the maltreatment of a husband or a wife, which interrupts their life together. To forgive such an injustice is not easy, but grace makes this journey possible. Pastoral activity, then, needs to be geared towards reconciliation or mediation of differences, which might even take place in specialized “listening centres” established in dioceses. At the same time, the synod fathers emphasized the necessity of addressing, in a faithful and constructive fashion, the consequences of separation or divorce on children, in every case the innocent victims of the situation. Children must not become an “object” of contention. Instead, every suitable means ought to be sought to ensure that they can overcome the trauma of a family break-up and grow as serenely as possible. In each case, the Church is always to point out the injustice which very often is associated with divorce. Special attention is to be given in the guidance of single-parent families. Women in this situation ought to receive special assistance so they can bear the responsibility of providing a home and raising their children.

48.   A great number of synod fathers emphasized the need to make the procedure in cases of nullity more accessible and less time-consuming. They proposed, among others, the dispensation of the requirement of second instance for confirming sentences; the possibility of establishing an administrative means under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop; and a simple process to be used in cases where nullity is clearly evident. Some synod fathers, however, were opposed to this proposal, because they felt that it would not guarantee a reliable judgment. In all these cases, the synod fathers emphasized the primary character of ascertaining the truth about the validity of the marriage bond. Among other proposals, the role which faith plays in persons who marry could possibly be examined in ascertaining the validity of the Sacrament of Marriage, all the while maintaining that the marriage of two baptized Christians is always a sacrament.

49.   In streamlining the procedure of marriage cases, many synod fathers requested the preparation of a sufficient number of persons  —  clerics and lay people  —  entirely dedicated to this work, which will require the increased responsibility of the diocesan bishop, who could designate in his diocese specially trained counselors who would be able to offer free advice to the concerned parties on the validity of their marriage. This work could be done in an office or by qualified persons (cf. Dignitas Connubii, art. 113, 1).

50.   Divorced people who have not remarried, who oftentimes bear witness to their promise of faithfulness in marriage, ought to be encouraged to find in the Eucharist the nourishment they need to sustain them in their present state of life. The local community and pastors ought to accompany these people with solicitude, particularly when children are involved or when in serious financial difficulty.

51.   Likewise, those who are divorced and remarried require careful discernment and an accompaniment of great respect. Language or behavior which might make them feel an object of discrimination should be avoided, all the while encouraging them to participate in the life of the community. The Christian community’s care of such persons is not to be considered a weakening of its faith and testimony to the indissolubility of marriage, but, precisely in this way, the community is seen to express its charity.

52.   The synod father also considered the possibility of giving the divorced and remarried  access to the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Some synod fathers insisted on maintaining the present regulations, because of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church as well as the teaching on the indissoluble character of marriage. Others expressed a more individualized  approach, permitting access in certain situations and with certain well-defined conditions, primarily in irreversible situations and those involving moral obligations towards children who would have to endure unjust suffering. Access to the sacraments might take place if preceded by a penitential practice, determined by the diocesan bishop. The subject needs to be thoroughly examined, bearing in mind the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances, given that “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735).

53.   Some synod fathers maintained that divorced and remarried persons or those living together can have fruitful recourse to a spiritual communion. Others raised the question as to why, then, they cannot have access “sacramentally”. As a result, the synod fathers requested that further theological study in the matter might point out the specifics of the two forms and their association with the theology of marriage.

54.   The problems relative to mixed marriages were frequently raised in the interventions of the synod fathers. The differences in the matrimonial regulations of the Orthodox Churches creates serious problems in some cases, which require due consideration in the work of ecumenism. Analogously, the contribution of the dialogue with other religions would be important for interreligious marriages.

Pastoral Attention towards Persons with Homosexual Tendencies

55.   Some families have members who have a homosexual tendency. In this regard, the synod fathers asked themselves what pastoral attention might be appropriate for them in accordance with the Church’s teaching: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”Nevertheless, men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity. “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” )Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4(.

56.    Exerting pressure in this regard on the Pastors of the Church is totally unacceptable: this is equally so for international organizations who link their financial assistance to poorer countries with the introduction of laws which establish “marriage” between persons of the same sex.

The Transmission of Life and the Challenges of a Declining Birthrate

57.   Today, the diffusion of a mentality which reduces the generation of human life to accommodate an individual’s or couple’s plans is easily observable. Sometimes, economic factors are burdensome, contributing to a sharp drop in the birthrate which weakens the social fabric, thus compromising relations between generations and rendering a future outlook uncertain. Openness to life is an intrinsic requirement of married love. In this regard, the Church supports families who accept, raise and affectionately embrace children with various disabilities.

58.   Pastoral work in this area needs to start with listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional openness to life, which is needed, if human life is to be lived fully. This serves as the basis for an appropriate teaching regarding the natural methods for responsible procreation, which allow a couple to live, in a harmonious and conscious manner, the loving communication between husband and wife in all its aspects, along with their responsibility at procreating life. In this regard, we should return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods in regulating births. The adoption of children, orphans and the abandoned and accepting them as one’s own is a specific form of the family apostolate (cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, III, 11), and oftentimes called for and encouraged by the Magisterium (cf. Familiaris Consortio, III, II; Evangelium Vitae, IV, 93). The choice of adoption or foster parenting expresses a particular fruitfulness of married life, not simply in the case of sterility. Such a choice is a powerful sign of family love, an occasion to witness to one’s faith and to restore the dignity of a son or daughter to a person who has been deprived of this dignity.

59.   Affectivity needs assistance, also in marriage, as a path to maturity in the ever-deepening  acceptance of the other and an ever-fuller gift of self. This necessitates offering programmes of formation which nourish married life and the importance of the laity providing an accompaniment, which consists in a life of witness. Undoubtedly, the example of a faithful and deep love is of great assistance; a love shown in tenderness and respect; a love which is capable of growing over time; and a love which, in the very act of opening itself to the generation of life, creates a transcendent mystical experience.

Upbringing and the Role of the Family in Evangelization

60.   One of the fundamental challenges facing families today is undoubtedly that of raising children, made all the more difficult and complex by today’s cultural reality and the great influence of the media. Consideration, then, needs to be given to the needs and expectations of families, who are able to bear witness, in their daily lives, to the family as a place of growth in the concrete and essential transmission of the virtues which give form to our existence. Parents, then, are able freely to choose the type of education for their children, according to their convictions.

61.   In this regard, the Church can assume a valuable role in supporting families, starting with Christian Initiation, by being welcoming communities. More than ever, these communities today are to offer support to parents, in complex situations and everyday life, in their work of raising their children, accompanying children, adolescents and young people in their development through personalized pastoral programmes, capable of introducing them to the full meaning of life and encouraging them in their choices and responsibilities, lived in the light of the Gospel. Mary, in her tenderness, mercy and maternal sensitivity can nourish the hunger of humanity and life itself. Therefore, families and the Christian people should seek her intercession. Pastoral work and Marian devotion are an appropriate starting point for proclaiming the Gospel of the Family.

Conclusion

62.   These proposed reflections, the fruit of the synodal work which took place in great freedom and with a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate points of view which will later be developed and clarified through reflection in the local Churches in the intervening year leading to the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October, 2015, to treat The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World. These are not decisions taken nor are they easy subjects. Nevertheless, in the collegial journey of the bishops and with the involvement of all God’s people, the Holy Spirit  will guide us in finding the road to truth and mercy for all. This has been the wish of Pope Francis from the beginning of our work, when he invited us to be courageous in faith and to humbly and honestly embrace the truth in charity.

 

– Photo Credit: CNS (Pope Francis attends morning session on final day of extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at Vatican)

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri Address to British Parliamentarians on 2014 Synod

Cardinal-Baldisseri

Photo Credit: CNS

This morning at the Vatican, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of Synod of Bishops, addressed the British Ambassador to the Holy See, H.E. Nigel Baker, and a group of British Parliamentarians on the 2014 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops. The full text of his English language address is found below. It is a good summary of the recent Preparatory Synod of Bishops on the Family.

Mr. Ambassador,

Distinguished Members of the British Parliament,

Dear Friends,

It is an honor and privilege for me to address you today on the theme of the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization that we just concluded in the Vatican one week ago. I am very grateful for your kind invitation.

First allow me to offer you some background on the meaning of “synod.” The very word “synod” comes from a Greek word formed by combining roots meaning “together” and “going” or “way;” literally, journeying forward on the way together. The word “Synod” has been used over the centuries to refer to an assembly of bishops, as in the Oriental Church, at which Church leaders would elect the patriarch and establish church law.

In September 1965 at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Blessed Pope Paul VI, the Council’s helmsman, desired to build upon the tremendous fraternal spirit that reigned during the Council’s sessions and to strengthen the bonds that united the Bishop of Rome with the bishops of the world. He created the Synod of Bishops to give the world’s bishops a voice – a sounding board that would advise the pope on various aspects of the Church’s life. From the beginning, synodal assemblies would be consultative, not legislative.

Since Blessed Paul VI established the format in 1965, the global gatherings have certainly not produced new dogma or overturned Church teachings. The majority of Synods took place during the long pontificate of St. John Paul II. The final documents of these meetings are called “Apostolic Exhortations” and clearly bear the mark of the reigning Pontiff.

No one can deny that the synodal process and structure had grown tired with the passage of time, and there seemed little opportunity for evaluation or renewal. Pope Francis mentioned this in an interview last year. He said, “Synodality should be lived at various levels. Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synod of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic. This will also have ecumenical value, especially with our Orthodox brethren. From them we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality” (Civiltà Cattolica, Sept. 19, 2013).

Within months of his election as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis appointed me as the new General Secretary to head the Vatican’s Synod office. The Synod of Bishops is a body outside the Curia itself, accountable to the Pope but also to the bishops. The Holy Father’s desire was clear: he wished to give new life to this important body and allow it to become once again a sounding board, a place for authentic dialogue, debate and fraternal sharing – all for the good of the Church. Pope Francis wished to reform the synodal structure so that it could better discuss and consult on major questions facing the Church, just as it did in the early centuries of Christianity.

The most recent Synod, from October 5-19, did not come in the normal sequence of every four years. It was an Extraordinary Synod bringing together the presidents of national bishops’ conferences, heads of Eastern Catholic churches and members of the Roman Curia. Although the number of participants in the extraordinary synod was smaller, it also included twenty-six voting members named by the Pope, three priests chosen by the Union of Superiors General, sixteen expert advisers, eight representatives of other Christian communities and thirty-six observers, more than half comprised of married couples who addressed our assembly.

The “Ordinary” Synod of Bishops, which will include a larger assembly of Church leaders, will meet at the Vatican from October 4-25, 2015, to continue the discussion on pastoral approaches to the challenges facing families today. The most recent Extraordinary Synod prepared the agenda for discussion for that Ordinary Synod which will have as its theme: The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.

Many of you undoubtedly followed the recent Extraordinary Synod in the mainstream media, and you may have received indications or impressions that the Synod was a time of great tension, revealing differing opinions within the Church. This morning I would like to share with you what this experience was for us – a journeying together – and how the results of this Extraordinary Synod have an impact not only on the Church but on the world.

I wish to stress one of the most important contributions of the recent Synod, and hopefully a constitutive part of future Synods – the rediscovery of the synodal process. A very important aspect of the Church’s life is based on our understanding that the Spirit of the Risen Christ is given to all the baptized. Synods are not about taking a poll or voting in a democratic way on Church teaching and practice but they embody a humble openness to the fact that the Lord is leading the pilgrim church through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Last fall, in preparation for the recent Synod, Pope Francis had the Synod office send out a questionnaire to the whole Church, raising very important topics that included the problems facing the family today: the extensive practice of divorce, cohabitation, contraception, procedures of artificial procreation, same-sex unions and polygamy (cf. Instrumentum Laboris, n. 27). We received responses to the consultation from 101 bishops’ conferences (an almost 89% response rate) and nine-hundred and eighty-three Catholic organizations and individuals. Though the timing of the questionnaire was somewhat problematic given the short turnaround for responses, the process nevertheless ensured that the Synod did not begin with abstractions and hypotheses but from a real, direct knowledge of the many challenges sweeping across the globe.

Some responses questioned the Church’s teaching or encouraged greater understanding of people who cannot always live up to that teaching. I stressed on several occasions over the past year that we must recognize that the faithful perceive the truth about the Gospel and its values and their input cannot be ignored. But the bishops have the responsibility and authority to discern ways to apply the constant teaching of the Church,

Synodal Members who took part in the recent Extraordinary Synod described an honest and prayerful attempt to discern answers to complex pastoral challenges across many cultures and ways of thinking. They said the discussions allowed for a genuinely dynamic synod, and that its overall purpose was achieved: to find ways of preaching the Gospel of the family in contemporary society and to find pastoral solutions for families facing difficult situations. The Synod’s purpose was to highlight the Church’s teaching on the family, which always reveals the missionary and pastoral dimension of that teaching, and the Church as merciful, healing, loving and welcoming.

During the first week of the Synod, instead of reading their presentations, the bishops had three or four minutes to summarize their texts – focusing only on one theme – and included ideas or clarifications that had come from listening to their brother bishops.

The second week of the synod was taken up mainly by work in small groups, organized according to language, that treated every theme that had been raised during the prior week. Instead of brainstorming propositions for the Pope, the small groups worked, theme by theme, on amending the summary report, which will be used as the working document for the 2015 Synod.

The recent Synod ended with a ‘Synod Report’, each paragraph of which Synod Members were able to vote for or against. The votes, which were published with the final text, indicated where there was or was not a two-thirds majority. This Report or “Relatio” now forms the starting point for the next Synod on the family, to take place in a year’s time.

We spoke together about the beauty, dignity and sacredness of marriage – as a vital institution for the Church and for the world. We recalled the words of St. John Paul II, that “the future of humanity passes through the family.” The pastoral mission of the Church is to preach the Gospel of the family clearly and with humility, accompanying people in difficult or exceptional situations. That is what comes first. From this point, we learn to move together towards conversion and towards the goodness of life that God has for us and that Jesus opens for us all. This positive approach flows right through the “Relatio” or Synod Report.

Pope Francis spoke about his duty to guarantee the unity of the Church and to remind the faithful to follow the Gospel of Christ. He also stressed that pastors must see it as their duty to nourish the flock that the Lord has entrusted to them, not only welcoming the lost sheep with fatherly care, but also going out and finding them.

It was hardly surprising that there was such a huge media interest in the recent Synod, unlike many previous Synods. Our Synodal experience together in Rome focused on important issues pertaining to marriage, family, and sexual morality – including those that are controversial both within and outside the Church. For this reason, it generated increased interest in certain areas of Church teaching. The themes we addressed touched on the reality facing the majority of Catholics in their every day life.

The Synod was an attempt to “lend an ear to the rhythm of our time,” as Pope Francis put it. Across the Western world, the collapse of the cultural narrative of marriage means fewer marrying and more and more children born into families lacking necessary stability. This is a serious challenge, because the family is the “school of humanity” according to Gaudium et Spes, the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (n. 52), and also the “domestic church,” the locus of spiritual life for most ordinary people, as well as the primary vehicle for learning and handing on faith down the generations.

The recovery of the Gospel of the family is key to a more missionary Church that can walk with contemporary people, binding their wounds and guiding them into the spiritual life. The Church is called to live in the harmony of mercy and justice, the pastoral and doctrinal, working out how to be both compassionate mother and clear teacher.

His Eminence, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, participated as a Member of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops and recently published a very timely Pastoral Letter to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Westminster, which sums up beautifully the experience of the Synod. He wrote that it was an opportunity to strengthen and reinvigorate the pastoral practice of the Church. Allow me to quote from that Letter: “This Synod … was about the pastoral care that we try to offer each other, the ‘motherly love of the Church’, especially when facing difficult moments and experiences in family life … At the end of our meeting Pope Francis spoke at length about his joy and satisfaction at its work. He told us to look deeply into our hearts to see how God had touched us during the Synod, and to see how we may have been tempted away from the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Synod, he insisted, has been a spiritual journey, not a debating chamber” (Pastoral Letter on the Synod on the Family, October 26, 2014).

I would like to conclude with the words of Pope Francis himself at the closing of the Synod, with which he summarized the synodal experience as a “journey” moving towards the next stage of the Synod to take place in 2015. The Holy Father said, “I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of ‘Synod,’ a path of solidarity, a ‘journey together.’ And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say ‘enough’; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour (…). A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations (…). This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy(…). It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.”

Thank you very much for your attention and interest. Let us continue our journey together.

 

+Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri

Secretary General, Synod of Bishops

Vatican City

Throwback Thursday: Counting Down to The Church Alive.

Salt + Light producer Cheridan Sanders recounts her experience working alongside producer Sebastian Gomes as they prepare to launch The Church Alive, a television series dedicated to #TheNewEvangelization. Read Cheridan’s experience  below: 

Sebastian-Cheridan

When we sat down to write The Church Alive series, Sebastian Gomes and I considered the state of affairs inside and outside the Church. Presumably, if we were going to evangelize we’d have to understand what’s going on. Needless to say, I quickly realized this ‘New Evangelization’ was a topic of gargantuan proportions. But as is the case with all things Catholic, we’re rarely (actually never) left without the resources to meet the challenge.  After 2,000 years of existence there is hardly a question that hasn’t already been tackled by men and women considerably holier and more intelligent. That said, the help we needed was right there in front of us. Literally.

Let me explain. For those of you who haven’t had the privilege of working with Sebastian aka ‘Prof. Gomes’, there is one thing you should know.

There are few things, no scratch that, there is nothing that Sebastian loves to talk about more than theSecond Vatican Council.   I do not exaggerate when I say that he has no less than three hard copies of the The Second Vatican Council documents (with notes and commentaries) on his desk see, Exhibit 1 below. And he reads them often, and out-loud to anyone within earshot. Eccentric? Maybe. Enlightening? Definitely.

Exhibit A. 

Vatican Council Sebastian

OK, so there aren’t three copies pictured here, but that’s only because Sebastian is out of the office and he always carries one set with him at all times.

 

So that’s what I mean when I say that the resources were right there in front of us: they were on Sebastian’s desk.

My point is, I’ve studied these documents at university but they weren’t exactly bedtime reading for me. Obviously I didn’t fully appreciate their value. Although I’m sure I’m not alone in making that mistake. All kidding aside, I insist that you read these. They really are all that and a bag of chips. But don’t take my word for it, take Pope Benedict’s who said they are the “Magna Carta” for the Church today.

The Church Alive is our modest attempt to share with you some the treasures found within the documents of the Second Vatican Council and we’ve published a 75 page study guide to accompany the series, so you too can benefit from all of Sebastian’s bedtime reading, ahem, I mean research. And for fun, remember this?

The Church Alive is now available for $59.95.

My God I know this place. I am home.

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Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed – Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Why do Catholic Christians commemorate the dead during the month of November? The feast of All Souls and the month of November are sources of consolation for each of us. If our hearts are broken and suffering because of the loss of loved ones, or if we are dealing with unresolved issues about goodbyes that were never said, peace that was not made, gratitude that was not expressed – let us ask the faithful departed to intercede for us and for our own peace. The consoling doctrine of the Communion of Saints allows us to feel ever close to those who have died and gives us much hope in moments of despair and sadness.

I share with you two texts that have remained with me throughout my priestly life. In his little book Encounters with Silence, the great Jesuit theologian Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ, wrote about those who have died:

That’s why our heart is with them now, our loved ones who have taken leave of us. There is no substitute for them; there are no others who can fill the vacancy when one of those whom we really love suddenly and unexpectedly departs and is with us no longer. In true love no one can replace another, for true love loves the other person in that depth where he is uniquely and irreplaceably himself. And thus, as death has trodden roughly through our lives, every one of the departed has taken a piece of our hearts with them – and often enough – our whole heart.

As he was dying in the fall of 1996, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago wrote a moving, personal testament, The Gift of Peace, which speaks powerfully about life and death (pp. 152-153):

Many people have asked me to tell them about heaven and the afterlife. I sometimes smile at the request because I do not know any more than they do. Yet, when one young man asked if I looked forward to being united with God and all those who have gone before me, I made a connection to something I said earlier in this book. The first time I traveled with my mother and sister to my parents’ homeland of Tonadico di Primiero, in northern Italy, I felt as if I had been there before. After years of looking through my mother’s photo albums, I knew the mountains, the land, the houses, the people. As soon as we entered the valley, I said, “My God, I know this place. I am home.” Somehow I think crossing from this life into eternal life will be similar. I will be home.

May I suggest that each of you do the following during these days of November? Spend some time reflecting on those who have been close to you, who have died, and are now with the Lord.

Slowly read this Scripture passage – Wisdom 3:1-3:

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.

Remember one person close to you who has died. Bring this person’s image into your mind’s eye. As you remember his or her life, imagine the Lord Jesus escorting the person into heaven at the time of death. Finally, imagine this loved one waiting for you. Know that when your time of passing comes, the Lord and your loved ones who have gone before you will escort you into the kingdom of heaven.

End your short remembrance with this prayer:

Lord, you are the resurrection and the life. You promised that whoever believes in you will never die. Lord, through the power of your rising, help me believe in my own resurrection. Amen.

May we spend our earthly pilgrimage filling our minds with the thoughts of heaven, so that when we finally cross over into eternal life, the images we see may not be foreign, startling, or strange. Let us pray that we, too, may be able to say: “My God, I know this place. I am home.”

(Photo courtesy CNS/Dominic Ebenbichler, Reuters)

The Beatitudes: Blueprint for Holiness

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Solemnity of All Saints – Saturday, November 1, 2014

The following words of Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, spoken during the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in 2008, still resound in my mind and heart on this Solemnity of All Saints:

Jesus says: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). For more than 2,000 years men and women, old and young, wise and ignorant, in the East as in the West, applied themselves to the school of the Lord Jesus, which caused this sublime commandment to echo in their hearts and minds: “You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48) […]

Their library was largely composed of the life and the words of Jesus: blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the gentle, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted. The saints, understanding that the Beatitudes are the essence of the Gospel and the portrait of Christ Himself, became their imitators. 

The Beatitudes: Blueprint for Holiness

The Beatitudes in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12) are a recipe for extreme holiness. As has been pointed out by many others in the past, though the Mount of the Beatitudes is a few dozen feet above sea level, it is the really the highest peak on earth! On this holy mountain in Galilee, Jesus proclaimed the new law that was expression of Christ’s holiness. They are not an abstract code of behavior. Jesus is the poor in spirit, the meek, the persecuted, the peacemaker. He is the new “code of holiness” that must be imprinted on hearts, and that must be contemplated through the action of the Holy Spirit. His Passion and Death are the crowning of his holiness.

Holiness is a way of life that involves commitment and activity. It is not a passive endeavour but rather a continuous choice to deepen one’s relationship with God and then to allow this relationship to guide all of one’s actions in the world. Holiness requires a radical change in mindset and attitude. The acceptance of the call to holiness places God as our final goal in every aspect of our lives.

Looking at Jesus, we see what it means to be poor in spirit, gentle, and merciful, to mourn, to care for what is right, to be pure in heart, to make peace, to be persecuted. This is why he has the right to say to each of us, “Come, follow me!” The call of Christ is not simply, “Do what I say.” He says, “Come, follow me!” 

Taking stock of our treasury of Saints

The Saints and Blesseds are travel companions along our journey, in our joy and in our suffering. They are men and women who turned a new page in their own lives and in the lives of so many people. This was the core of Saint John Paul II’s message to humanity: holiness is not a gift reserved for a few. We can all aspire to it, because it is a goal within our capacity – a great lesson articulated by the Second Vatican Council and its call to universal holiness (cf. Lumen Gentium).

The Solemnity of All Saints is a wonderful opportunity for the whole Church to take stock once again of the way that Pope John Paul II changed our way of viewing the Saints and Blesseds. In nearly 27 years of his pontificate, he gave the Church 1,338 Blesseds and 482 Saints!

John Paul II reminded us that the heroes and heroines the world offers to young people today are terribly flawed. They leave us so empty. The real “stars” are the Saints and Blesseds who never tried to be regarded as heroes, or to shock or provoke. To believe greatness is attainable, we need successful role models to emulate. There is a desperate need for real heroes and heroines, models and witnesses of faith and virtue that the world of sports, cinema, science, and music simply cannot provide.

Standing at the radical centre

Many think that sainthood is a privilege reserved only for the chosen few. In fact, to become a saint is the task of every Christian, and what’s more, we could even say it’s the task of everyone! How many times have we thought that the Saints are merely “eccentrics” that the Church exalts for us to try to imitate – people who were so unrepresentative of and out of touch with the reality of the human scene? It is certainly true that all of those men and women were “eccentric” in its literal sense: they deviated from the centre, from usual practice, from the ordinary ways of doing things, the established methods. Another way of looking at the saints is that they stood at the “radical centre.”

Be the Saints of the New Millennium

Saint John Paul II spoke powerfully to young people about the call to holiness and their vocation to be saints. In his message for World Youth Day 2000 in Rome, he wrote to his “dear young friends” throughout the world unforgettable words that became the rallying cry for the greatest celebration of the Jubilee Year:

Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity.

Two years later for our World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, John Paul II took up the theme of holiness and saints with renewed vigour:

Just as salt gives flavor to food and light illumines the darkness, so too holiness gives full meaning to life and makes it reflect God’s glory. How many saints, especially young saints, can we count in the Church’s history! In their love for God their heroic virtues shone before the world, and so they became models of life which the Church has held up for imitation by all. […] Through the intercession of this great host of witnesses, may God make you too, dear young people, the saints of the third millennium!

At the concluding World Youth Day Mass at Downsview Park in Toronto on July 28, 2002, Saint John Paul issued a stirring challenge:

And if, in the depths of your hearts, you feel the same call to the priesthood or consecrated life, do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross! At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit, just as Kateri Tekakwitha did here in America and so many other young people have done.

Pope Benedict XVI continued the momentum of John Paul’s invitations and exhortations to holiness at World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany. At the opening ceremony on August 18, 2005, Benedict addressed the throng of young people gathered from across the entire world:

Dear young people, the Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. Many have gone before us along this path of Gospel heroism, and I urge you to turn often to them to pray for their intercession.

Benedict XVI continued this theme at the great Vigil on Saturday evening, August 20, 2005 at Marienfeld:

It is the great multitude of the saints – both known and unknown – in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages; he has done this throughout history and he still does so today. In their lives, as if in a great picture book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed. They are the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today.

Then Pope Benedict XVI cried out in that great assembly of over one million young people gathered in prayer at Marienfeld in Cologne:

The saints…are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.

The core of the proclamation of Saints and Blesseds

Every crisis that the Church faces, every crisis that the world faces, is a crisis of holiness and a crisis of saints. Holiness is crucial because it is the real face of the Church. The core of the proclamation of the Saints and Blesseds was always hope, even in the midst of the darkest moments of history. It’s almost as if in those times of darkness the light of Christ shines ever more brightly. We are living through one of those times, and the Lord is still taking applications for his extreme form of holiness and sanctity.

Believers in Jesus and his message must allow themselves to be enticed and enchanted by his life and his message contained in the Beatitudes. Today we must hold up the Beatitudes as a mirror in which we examine our own lives and consciences. “Am I poor in spirit? Am I humble and merciful? Am I pure of heart? Do I bring peace? Am I ‘blessed,’ in other words, ‘happy’?” Jesus not only gives us what he has, but also what he is. He is holy and makes us holy.

[The readings for the Solemnity of All Saints are: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; and Matthew 5:1-12a.]
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Deacon-structing: The Law of Love

Photo Credit: CNS

A reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A. The readings are  Exodus 22:20-26, Psalm 18, Thessalonians 1:5c-10 and Matthew 22:34-40.

Which is the greatest commandment of the Law? This was a real question at the time of Jesus. People would gather around the water cooler at work and talk about which commandment was the most important. It’s like today, everyone talking about whether we need more security at the Parliament or people talking about which diet is better or what we need to do to be happy. That was a question that a journalist once asked Pope Francis: What is the secret to happiness; the secret to having joy in your life.

The scholar of the law in today’s Gospel reading is not just trying to trick Jesus – he’s actually asking him a real, valid question that people had at the time – like the journalist asking Pope Francis what’s the secret to being joyful.

Let me give you a little background. Today, in post-Temple Judaism, which we call rabbinic Judaism (maybe some of my Jewish readers can correct me if I get this wrong) – we commonly accept that there are 613 commandments in the Torah: 613 commandments in the Law of Moses. This does not include the 10 commandments. We’re talking about all the other commandments contained in all the 5 books of Moses. These are called the Mitzvot (mitzvah means law; mitzvot is plural). Many of these laws have to do with priestly service. The Levites were the priests and they had very specific laws as to how to do their job and how to offer sacrifice and serve at the Temple. These are the levitical laws and most of them are in the Book of Leviticus. There are also laws about food; what to eat, what not to eat and how to eat (like not to eat worms found in fruit, Lev 11:41 or not to eat the limb removed from a living beast, Deut. 12:23, or not to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day, Lev 22:28).

There are laws about offering sacrifice and about ritual purity and impurity (what makes one pure or impure); laws about marriage (like marrying a widow of a brother who has died childless, Deut 22:5), about clothing (like a man shall not wear women’s clothing or a woman not wearing men’s clothing, Deut. 22:5); about agriculture and how to breed your animals (like not to sow grain or herbs in a vineyard, Deut 22:9 and not to cross-breed cattle of different species, Lev. 19:19); about idolatry (like not to tattoo the body, Lev 19:28, or plant a tree for worship, Deut 14:1). There are also criminal laws and laws about judicial procedure and punishment; laws about property (like never to settle in the land of Egypt, Deut 17:16). There are laws about employment and how to treat your slaves; laws about how to conduct business; laws about how to treat the stranger and the foreigners (like  in today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus), how to treat the poor and unfortunate; laws about prayer and blessings; laws about signs and symbols (like every male offspring must be circumcised, Lev 12:3) and of course, laws about God. A good Jew knew about all these laws. Pharisees were strict with all these laws and a scholar of the law, was, well, an expert in all this Law.

So when this scholar asks Jesus the question, he may have been trying to trick Jesus, but he’s asking a very real question that people had at the time. And Jesus responds well. He responds with a prayer that every Jewish person at the time knew and very Jewish person today knows very well, the “Shema”: “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength” (Deut 6:4-6). This is the prayer that every Jewish person prays first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I imagine the scholar and the people accepting the answer and beginning to walk away and then Jesus saying, “wait, I’m not done. There’s another part. This is the greatest and first commandment, but there is a second, which is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” These were two separate commandments, one from Deuteronomy 6 and the other from Leviticus 19:18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Again, every Jew would be familiar with that scripture passage, but no one would have thought to put the two together. Love God and love neighbour. Jesus says they’re the two greatest commandments.

And that makes perfect sense. We cannot pretend to love God if we do not love our neighbour. And all those who love their neighbour, are loving God. The Vatican II Document, The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium -#16) says that those who through no fault of their own have not come to know God, but strive to live a good life, can achieve salvation. I think that means that those who love neighbour, can find eternal life, even if they do not know or think they do not know God, because in truly loving our neighbour, we love God.

What doesn’t make sense to me is that it is a commandment. We do not love because we are commanded to love. I do not love my wife or my family because the law says I have to love them – I love them… well… because I love them. God is love. God has loved us first. He loves us into creation and we, in turn, love him as a response to his everlasting, perfect, total love. If today you feel you have not experienced the perfect love of God, ask him, as you receive the Eucharist, to open your heart to receive His love. Ask Him to let you feel His love. He gives himself totally in love in the Eucharist. Open your heart to receive him love. Respond to His love the way the beloved responds to the love of the lover.

Our love our neighbour, is also a response to God’s love. Our love of neighbour flows out of the loving response to the love of the Father. That is why the Mass is not just about coming here to receive God’s love and keep it to myself. At the end of Mass we are sent on a mission: Ite, missa est. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. Take this love you have received and go love your neighbour and make disciples of all nations.

And do you notice that there is actually a third commandment that is implicit in those two? Love God; love neighbour and love yourself: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” It implies that we must love ourselves. Again, it makes sense. You cannot love God or neighbour if you do not love yourself and if you love God, then you will automatically love neighbour and self.

A few years ago I went through a phase where I had all these buttons. I collected them and had them attached to my backpack. I must still have them somewhere. Someone gave me one that had the letters J O Y. It spells “joy”. But it stands for “Jesus”, “Others” and “Yourself”. It is a reminder of how these three loves have to be ordered. First we love Jesus, we love God. Then we love others. That’s important – that’s the love of the cross: the vertical love of God and the horizontal love of neighbour. But if those two are in place, then automatically there is the third one of loving yourself: Jesus, Others, Yourself. It spells JOY.

In the time of Jesus they wanted to know what was the greatest commandment. Today we want to know what brings us Joy. It’s the same answer.

Throwback Thursday: The Church Alive Wins 2014 Gabriel Award

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Remember when S+L producers Cheridan Sanders and Sebastian Gomes won a 2014 Gabriel Award for Best Religious Series for The Church Alive? Check out the post below from early June:

Salt + Light Television was once again recognized by the Catholic Academy for Communications Arts Professionals and was awarded the prestigious Gabriel Award for the fifth time since the network’s inception in 2003. The Church Alive, a fast-paced, segmented and interactive show on Salt +Light hosted by producers Cheridan Sanders and Sebastian Gomes, was named Best Religious Series for the 2014 season.

An international Vatican-approved organization for communication, the Catholic Academy for Communications Arts Professionals began the Gabriel Awards in 1965. Each year the Gabriel Awards celebrate and honour excellence in film, television, radio and other communication projects that serve audiences “through the positive, creative treatment of concerns to humankind.” This year, winners will recognize at the Gabriel Awards banquet of the Catholic Media Conference in Charlotte, NC on Thursday, June 19, 2014.

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Past Gabriel Awards for Salt + Light include:

    • 2014-Best Religious Series The Church Alive
    • 2012-Best Arts Documentary for Panes of Glory
    • 2011-Religious Television Station of the Year
    • 2008-Television Station of the Year
    • 2009-Television Station of the Year

 

 

 

 

The Church Alive is available for purchase now at the S+L store! Get your copy today for $59.99! The_church_alive_cover

 

John Paul II: A Saint for Canada

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I once had a teacher who knew exactly how to keep her students focused during the day. She promised us that if we were very good, she would read us a few pages from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. She would only have to give the gentlest reminder that we would not have time for The Hobbit and there would be a swift end to our cavorting and carrying-on. As you can imagine, she had us eating out of her hand.

My love for a great story has continued, and I’ve found that the best stories are always those “based on a true story.” At Salt + Light we have a storytelling ritual, you could say, and Fr. Thomas Rosica is one of the best storytellers I know. Whenever Fr. Rosica returns to the office from a trip, he gathers everyone to celebrate Mass, and following that it’s time for our meeting around the conference table. After we have prayed and he has given us all a little token from his travels -usually a prayer card, a spiritual booklet, or some chocolates- he settles down to tell us about everything that happened.  As I said, Fr. Tom Rosica is a masterful storyteller. By the time the meeting has concluded, we feel as if we have lived through it all – the highs and the lows: the lost luggage, the inevitable poor internet connection fiascos, the exceptional encounters, the developments and the messages of encouragement.

My favourite stories, however, are the ones where he tells us of his encounters with Pope John Paul II. These stories are an incredible source of insight.  Sure, there’s something to be learned from reading great encyclicals, but to know a person firsthand and to get a sense of who he was and why he did what he did – this can only be imparted through personal experience; anything else simply doesn’t have the same impact. Moreover, Fr. Rosica’s stories are always full of meaning. Significant dates in history have moods and feelings attached to them, and there’s always a deep sense of what these things mean for us and for the world. As a scripture scholar, Fr. Rosica’s biblical imagination imbues his commentary on events with a profound love of scriptural images and also a great sense of humour.

Not everyone has the opportunity to listen to these stories firsthand, but you will certainly feel as if you are sitting around the Salt + Light conference table when you pick up the new release  John Paul II, A Saint for Canada. It’s a short book that can be read at a leisurely pace in a few hours. Filled with Fr. Rosica’s personal reflections on Pope John Paul II,  John Paul II, A Saint for Canada is a delight that will leave you with a deep appreciation for this saint and what he means for us in Canada.

To get a taste of what you can expect, you’re invited to watch our latest Catholic FOCUS featuring John Paul II.

Photo description: Father Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, is pictured reading in a kayak in this photo dated from 1955. Three years later, he was on the water with friends when he learned he had been called to Warsaw for the announcement that he was to be made a bishop. He was canonized on April 27 with Pope John XXIII. (CNS photo)

 

A Saint for Canada: John Paul II

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On June 24 and 25, 2014, Zenit sat down with Fr. Thomas Rosica to discuss his new book, “John Paul II: A Saint for Canada.” Below you can find the full text of the interview:

A Saint for Canada: John Paul II
Interview on Zenit International News Service

There are many lenses through which to view Pope St. John Paul II. A book released this year by Basilian Father Thomas Rosica proposes the Polish Pontiff as a “saint for Canada” (Novalis 2014).

ZENIT spoke with Fr. Rosica about his insights into the Pope and saint who loved Canada and was loved by Canadians.

ZENIT: Why is a Polish Pope a “saint for Canada?”

Father Rosica: Pope John Paul II was the first Pope to set foot on Canadian soil. It was the longest pastoral visit ever made by any Pope in a single country back in 1984 — 12 days. With his arrival on September 9 in the Quebec City suburb of Ste. Foy, the Holy Father began a 15,000-kilometre marathon that took him from the Atlantic to the Pacific. When the visit ended on September 20 that year, he had visited Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, Montreal, St. John’s, Moncton, Halifax, Toronto, Midland (Ontario), Winnipeg/St. Boniface, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Vancouver and Ottawa/Hull. In some of those cities, he visited major Canadian pilgrimage sites: Sainte-Anne de Beaupré, Cap-de-la-Madeleine, St. Joseph’s Oratory and the Canadian Martyrs Shrine in Midland. Millions of Canadians turned out to greet the pontiff, pray with him and to celebrate, many of them deeply moved by his words and presence. His visit left a deep and lasting impression on our country.

During that historic 1984 visit, John Paul II endeared himself to Canadians and from the very beginning, and Canadians loved him. That affection reached its peak in 2002 when he returned to us as an elderly, infirm man and presided over World Youth Day 2002, his last great international youth event. He made us all feel young again. Though I did not choose the title for the book “A Saint for Canada,” more than any pope, John Paul II was ours in a very special way!

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ZENIT: Tell us about Pope John Paul II’s relationship with the First Nations     (Native Communities) in Canada?

Father Rosica: In 1984, bad weather had forced the cancellation of a visit prepared for Fort Simpson in the Northwest Territories, where John Paul II was to meet with First Nations peoples. The pope felt so deeply sad about missing this visit with them that he promised to return. And he did, in 1987, when he spoke to Aboriginal peoples gathered from across the North. His reverence for the First Nations peoples and compassion for their history of suffering helped change the way Canadians viewed their own troubled relationship with their Aboriginal sisters and brothers.

ZENIT: What was it like to know a saint personally?

Father Rosica: I think I visited with Pope John Paul II five times before I was appointed to World Youth Day 2002, at least 12 times in preparation for World Youth Day 2002 and six times following World Youth Day and prior to his death in 2005. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, gave a great emphasis to holiness, and the call to holiness extended to everyone. And it’s very important that we see this call embodied in a person’s life. John Paul II was a man who was in constant dialogue with God. He was the pope of holiness. I knew that there was something extraordinary about this man. It was pretty clear that he lived with God, and he lived with us. Whenever I spoke with him, I knew that I was talking with someone who was a friend of God. Each time I was with him, and for that matter each time I am with a holy person, I go away from that encounter with a deep desire to pray, to spend more time with God, and to be a better person. I think one of the great qualities of holy persons is that they give us a “holy jealousy” – making the rest of us thirst for God, desire to be holy and to be a better people.

ZENIT: You mention a theory for why young people had such a great love for John Paul II. What is that?

Father Rosica: John Paul II enjoyed an incredible popularity with young Catholics. At the World Youth Day in Rome in 2000, he called the young people of the world his “joy and his crown”. In July 2002 in Toronto, he showed us the same. Young people today are experiencing an extreme crisis of fatherhood. I am convinced that they flocked to him because in many cases he was the father they never had and the grandfather who had been so painfully absent in their lives. John Paul II was a rock, a moral compass, and a very demanding friend. He made all of us discover our youthfulness, generosity and joy as he invited us to become salt and light in a world, a society and a culture that is so cynical, so tasteless and so often devoid of the flavor and joy of the Gospel and the light and hope of Christ.

From the beginning of his Pontificate, he insisted on meeting young people whenever he visited Roman parishes or foreign countries. Building on a tradition begun by his predecessor, Paul VI in the twilight years of his reign (1976), John Paul II invited hoards of young people to Rome in 1984 for the Jubilee Year of the Redemption, and in March 1985 for the International Year of Youth, when, on Palm Sunday, he established World Youth Days as a permanent event. “No one invented the World Youth Days. It was the young people themselves who created them”, John Paul II wrote in his 1994 book, Crossing The Threshold of Hope. In actual fact, he first sought them out; they then discovered him. Most of the World Youth Days, including ours in Canada, have been something of a surprise for priests and bishops, in that they surpassed all our expectations!

John Paul II issued to young people a clarion call to commitment. To his young friends he said: “Many and enticing are the voices that call out to you from all sides: many of these voices speak to you of a joy that can be had with money, success, and power. Mostly they propose a joy that comes with the superficial and fleeting pleasure of the senses.” The alternative call was Jesus’ siren song. “He calls you to be the salt and light of the world, to live in justice, to become instruments of love and peace.” The choice was stark, self-denying, life-defining, irrevocable. It was between, “good and evil, between light and darkness, between life and death.” There were no shortcuts or compromises for John Paul II, only clarity. And that is what the young are seeking today, not quick answers but Gospel clarity.

How many people are not afraid anymore because they saw a Pope who was not afraid. How many young seminarians and religious have spoken their “yes” because of him! How many young couples have made permanent commitments in marriage because of his profound theology of the body! How many ordinary people have done extraordinary things because of his influence, his teaching and his gestures!

ZENIT: John Paul II wrote and preached volumes. Even in focusing on a specific element, such as his ministry to Canada, how does one begin to digest or sort through such a huge body of teaching and a powerful message?

Father Rosica: Pope John Paul II tirelessly travelled the world, bringing to women and men of every race, nation and culture, a message of hope; that human dignity is rooted in the fact that each human being is created in the image and likeness of God. The Holy Father’s courageous and steadfast witness to the power of the Risen Lord has been the hallmark of his Pontificate– in which he has opened wide the doors of many human hearts and of many nations to Christ. By his witness and preaching of the Catholic faith, the Holy Father has had a great part in changing the course of history. The body of teaching that he left us is staggering- immense, accessible, rich and transforming. It is now up to us to unpack the gift of his teaching and appropriate it in our lives.

The challenge to the Church in Canada, and for that matter to the Church in each country, is to deepen its relationship with the living communion of faith of the whole Church. Canada has much from its experience to offer to the universal Church – about tolerance, peace, social justice, a significant, rich heritage of Saints and Blesseds who brought us the faith. That is the mission of the Church in Canada as well. We cannot forget the deeply Christian roots and heritage of this country. This is not only a religious question but also of an anthropological order since human identity cannot be separated or divorced from its Christian identity. In an increasingly secularised world the place and role of religion in our cultural identity must be re-evaluated and re-vitalised. There can be no future without a past. Our present has been formed by a Christian heritage handed down to us; will future generations to come have a similar Christian heritage to hand on?

ZENIT: John Paul II is now set before us as a saint, as someone to emulate. Yet, how can one imitate someone as other-worldy as John Paul II?

Father Rosica: That a person is declared “Blessed” or “Saint” is not a statement about perfection. It does not mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Nor is it a 360-degree evaluation of the Pontificate or of the Vatican. Beatification and Canonization mean that a person lived his or her life with God, relying totally on God’s infinite mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. That person lets those around him know that there is a force or spirit animating his or her life that is not of this world, but the next. Such a person lets us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and shows us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth. Canonization and holiness is not some kind of perfection that erases all kinds of faults and errors. The first requirement to be a saint in the Church is you have to be a sinner – but a sinner who recognizes the power of God’s mercy and forgiveness, and lives in that experience.

One of the most profound lessons John Paul II taught us in the twilight of his pontificate was that everyone must suffer, even the Vicar of Christ. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, he let the whole world see what he went through. The passing of John Paul II did not take place in private, but before television cameras and the whole world. In the final act of his life, the athlete was immobilized; the distinctive, booming voice silenced; the hand that produced voluminous encyclicals no longer able to write. John Paul II’s final homily was an icon of his Galilean Master’s final words to Simon Peter:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” … After this [Jesus] said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19)

In the life of Karol Wojytyla, the boy from Wadowice who would grow up to be a priest and Bishop of Krakow, the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for the ages, holiness was contagious. We have all been touched and changed by it. Pope John Paul II was not only “Holy Father” but “a Father who was and is Holy.” At his funeral mass on April 8, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the world that the Holy Father was watching us and blessing us ‘from the window of the Father’s House.”

Let us learn from this great, contemporary saint how to cross thresholds, open doors, build bridges, embrace the Cross of suffering and proclaim the Gospel of Life to the people of our time. May we learn how to live, to suffer and die unto the Lord. Let us pray to have a small portion of the fidelity of Peter’s witness and the boldness of Paul’s proclamation that were so mightily present in Karol Wojtyla – St. John Paul II. May he intercede for us and for all those who suffer in body and spirit, and give us the desire to become holy and to be saints.

In his homily at the Beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI summarized beautifully Karol Wojtyla’s life of holiness:

“… When Karol Wojtyla ascended to the throne of Peter, he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man. This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man. With this message, which is the great legacy of the Second Vatican Council and of its ‘helmsman’, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, John Paul II led the People of God across the threshold of the Third Millennium, which thanks to Christ he was able to call ‘the threshold of hope’.

Throughout the long journey of preparation for the great Jubilee he directed Christianity once again to the future, the future of God, which transcends history while nonetheless directly affecting it. He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an “Advent” spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace. …

“Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed! Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God’s people. You often blessed us in this Square from the Apostolic Palace: Bless us, Holy Father! Amen.”

And on April 27 of this year, Pope Francis said of John Paul II:

“They (Wojtyla and Roncalli – John XXIII) were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.

…In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.”

ZENIT: From your continued work with the Holy See Press Office, as well as your work at Salt and Light, you have a unique perspective on the global response to (or interaction with) the Successor of Peter. As two Popes were just canonized, another is to be canonized, and as a Pope Emeritus and a reigning Pope live side-by-side in the Vatican, what overall reflections do you have about God’s ways in ruling his Church through the Bishops of Rome?

Father Rosica: It has been a tremendous, most unexpected privilege and a blessing to work closely with the Vatican during these momentous weeks, and years, especially over the past years of the momentous papal transition. What a lesson this has been in seeing the ministry of the Bishop of Rome up close! Having led a World Youth Day and served at two Synods of Bishops- in 2008 on the “Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” and in 2012 on “The New Evangelization”, I thought that I had reached the summit of any great projects I could serve in the Church! I was wrong! When Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Director of the Holy See Press Offices called me the day after Benedict’s resignation and asked me to come immediately to Rome, a new adventure began that continues to this day. For me, personally, Fr. Lombardi represents the religious communicator par excellence: intelligence, decency, kindness, patience, goodness and calm! I have learned much from him and admire him greatly.

People constantly ask me where I did my media training and film studies. I smile and tell them that I don’t even watch TV and I see few movies. I studied Scripture at the University of Toronto, at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, the Ecole Biblique et Arcéhologique Française de Jérusalem, and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I learned about ancient texts, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic verbs, and things of the past. I never studied filmmaking, media, public relations, and all the other hi-tech things that are now part of my new world.

But I also tell them that I had the privilege of having a master and mentor who knew the power of words and images, and who taught me everything I know about television, media, and Evangelization. It was a character study of nearly 27 years… a master class that I never sought out and certainly never deserved. That mentor is now a saint: Karol Wojtyla – John Paul II.

It is hardly any surprise then, in this world of faith and in the culture of the Church, that one of the first fruits of World Youth Day 2002, should be the establishment of a national, Catholic television network, truly born on the wings of World Youth Day 2002 – the project that was the driving force of my mentor’s life. This little book is merely a way of saying thanks to him.

To order your copy of “John Paul II: A Saint for Canada” visit:

http://saltandlighttv.org/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=180

Fr. Rosica may be reached at rosica@saltandlighttv.org

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, was National Director and CEO of World Youth Day 2002 in Canada. He is founder and CEO of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network since 2003. Appointed by Pope Benedict as Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, he served as English language Media Attaché at the Synods of Bishops of 2008 and 2012. He has been English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office since the Papal transition of 2013.A Saint for Canada: John Paul II

Fr. Rosica Speaks About Knowing a Saint Personally and Why Youth Loved John Paul So Much
Part 1 published June 24, 2014

Father Rosica Speaks About Living This Unique Time of the Papacy From the View of the Vatican Press Office
Part 2 published June 25, 2014