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Deacon-structing Lent: part 1

Deconstructing_Lent_1

I wanted to start out not just “deaconstructing” Lent but more so with a reflection on Lent, in order to help us understand the meaning of Lent. But in the last week I’ve had so many questions about fasting and abstinence and about what we can do and can’t do in Lent that I would like to address some of these issues first.

Lent seems to be the one time of the year when Catholics get legalistic about our faith. “Can I eat meat today?” is a question I get all the time. A friend who just moved to Canada asked me if in Canada it was required to not eat meat on Fridays. Another person asked me if pork was considered red meat. Add to that the confusion between the difference between fasting and abstinence (“isn’t fasting a kind of abstinence?” is another question I get asked).

To my knowledge, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not say anything about fasting or abstinence as it pertains to the Lenten season except in the context of “the Precepts of the Church” (what the Baltimore Catechism called “the Commandments of the Church.”)

“The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbour.” (CCC#2041 emphasis my own)

The fourth precept has to do with fasting and abstinence. The Catechism says that this precept, “ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.” (CCC#2043)

The “rule” regarding fasting and abstinence is in Canon Law (again, all emphasis is my own):

Canon 1249 – The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.

Can.  1250 – The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can.  1251  – Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesdayand Good Friday.

Can.  1252 – The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

Can.  1253 – The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

Canon Law is very clear that each Episcopal Conference has the final word on the practice that is to be observed in a particular country. In Canada, the obligation is that we should fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and that every Friday in Lent is a day of fasting. On top of that, Fridays are days of abstinence from meat, but Catholics may substitute special acts of charity of piety on this day. (From the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops)

It’s clear to me, first, that from these paragraphs, there is no distinction or definition of what “abstinence” and “fasting are.” (I’ll get back to this later)

A few other things that I take from these paragraphs from the Catechism and the Code of Canon Law (and let me make clear that I am not a Canonist, I am a Deacon and so I tend to take the Pastoral bend on all these issues):

  1. The Catechism calls these Precepts “positive laws.” In my book we shouldn’t look at them as “laws”; that’s why they are “positive laws.” It may not be completely appropriate to call them suggestions or guidelines, but the bottom line is that we shouldn’t follow them because they are laws; we follow them because of love. You can’t legislate love. The point of these precepts is “to grow in love of God and neighbour.”
  2. Because of love, we are bound to do penance each in our own way. That is key. As with the Liturgy, the Church has us do certain things at the same time or in the same way “in order for all to be united (…) by some common observance…” This is why in every Church we have the same readings at Mass; why we all stand and sit and kneel at the same times during Mass; why there are Liturgical Seasons; and why the Church suggests that every Friday of the year is to be considered a day of penance.
  3. Abstaining from meat (not just red meat) is a suggestion. We can abstain from any other food, if appropriate. If you are a vegetarian or live somewhere where all you eat is fish; giving up meat doesn’t make sense.
  4. Children can learn the meaning of penance by participating in the discipline of fasting and abstinence; the tradition of giving up something for Lent comes out of the need to teach children the importance of penance.

And now to the difference between fasting and abstinence: Canon 1251 defines abstinence as “abstinence from meat or some other food.” Abstaining means not eating that particular food. I have not however, found a definition of “fasting”anywhere in the Catechism or in the Code of Canon Law (maybe someone can help me out).  The idea that the Church defines fasting as “one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity” is from the Third Baltimore Catechism.

Baltimore Catechism #3
Q. 1337 What do you mean by fast-days?
A. By fast-days I mean days on which we are allowed but one full meal.

Q. 1338. Is it permitted on fast days to take any food besides the one full meal?
A. It is permitted on fast days, besides the one full meal, to take two other meatless meals, to maintain strength, according to each one’s needs. But together these two meatless meals should not equal another full meal.)

[Maybe someone who knows more can clarify if this definition of fasting comes from anywhere else in Church teaching.]

Growing up I was taught that fasting is not eating at all. Some people eat only bread and water on the days they fast. If the least you can do is one full meal and two smaller meals, then that’s the best you can do – I would suggest that if you are truly going to fast, then don’t eat anything (water is OK). Based on who you are, what your circumstances are, I suppose you can choose the appropriate balance between these two. (For a really good reflection on fasting, read or watch Fr. Rosica’s Reflection for Ash Wednesday.)

But don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we don’t have to fast or abstain. What I am saying is that these are disciplines to help us in our spiritual journey. We don’t observe them because they are laws. Fasting and Abstinence are not ends in themselves.

If you tend to have a legalistic approach to giving up meat on Fridays of Lent (or to any aspect of our Faith), I think you’re missing the point. Lent is a time when we are supposed to get rid of the stuff that gets in the way between us and God. Fasting, prayer and alms-giving are disciplines that help us focus on what’s essential. Jesus went into the desert because in the desert is where we have the bare minimum; we get rid of the stuff we don’t need, the extras, so we can focus on the essentials (which may mean not just giving stuff up, but also doing things you don’t normally do); so we can focus on our relationship with God.

Isaiah tells us:

Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? This, rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” (Is 58:6-8)

It’s not about eating meat or not eating meat. You should give stuff up; and it should be a sacrifice; it should hurt a little – if you can’t come up with anything better or that is specific to where you are in your spiritual life, then the Church suggests giving up meat on Fridays (and so we can be united in our penance). But maybe you need to come up with something else that will help you specifically, get closer to God.

Besides, we should be focusing on our relationship with God all the time – this is why Canon 1250 says that every Friday of the year is a penitential day. I would add that prayer, fasting and alms-giving is a year-round discipline. Remember Psalm 51: “You do not delight in sacrifice; The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.”

If you’d like to explore these ideas further, take a look at a Weekly Edition of Perspectives panel we had on Fasting and Abstinence and come back next week so we can begin looking at what Lent really is.


CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review

Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide by the Most Reverend Paul-André Durocher

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Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide by the Most Reverend Paul-André Durocher, Archbishop of Gatineau and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Catholics are called by their faith to assist all those in need, particularly the poor, the suffering and the dying. Comforting the dying and accompanying them in love and solidarity has been considered by the Church since its beginning a principal expression of Christian mercy.

Helping someone commit suicide, however, is neither an act of justice or mercy, nor is it part of palliative care. The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada today does not change Catholic teaching.

“[A]n act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, our Creator.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2277).

The Bishops of our country invite Canadians, especially Catholics, to do all they can to bring comfort and support for all those who are dying and for their loved ones, so that no one, because of loneliness, vulnerability, loss of autonomy, or fear of pain and suffering, feels they have no choice but to commit suicide. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops will continue to promote palliative and home care, and to encourage all the faithful to work for the betterment of the elderly, the disabled, the ill, and those who are socially isolated.

My brother Bishops and I entreat governments and courts to interpret today’s judgment in its narrowest terms, resisting any calls to go beyond this to so-called acts of “mercy killing” and euthanasia. We again call on provincial and territorial governments to ensure good-quality palliative care in all their jurisdictions. We also urge governments and professional associations to implement policies and guidelines which ensure respect for the freedom of conscience of all health-care workers as well as administrators who will not and cannot accept suicide as a medical solution to pain and suffering.

+ Paul-André Durocher
Archbishop of Gatineau
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Now or never: urgency needed in run-up to Synod 2015

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When in October 2013 the Vatican announced the first ever two-stage Synod of Bishops, many in the Catholic Church were hopeful about the possibilities of an in-depth discussion and consultation. After all, a year in between the two Synods is a lot of time, right?

Not necessarily. The Vatican didn’t publish the Lineamenta—a discussion guideline consisting of the final document of the October Synod and a series of questions looking at particular family issues—until over one month after the Synod, on December 9th, 2014. At that time, the Vatican also requested that responses from the Bishops’ conferences on behalf of the local churches be submitted to Rome no later than April 15th.

In Toronto, where Salt and Light is headquartered, Cardinal-Archbishop Thomas Collins invited “a concise response” to the Lineamenta from concerned Catholics with a submission deadline of February 16th. Time is needed, obviously, to organize the responses and send them to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) where the Conference will then need time to organize the responses from around the country.

Though the Archdiocese of Toronto is unique in terms of its size and complexity, we can assume that other dioceses find themselves in the same boat. Suffice it to say, the preparing of the Lineamenta, its wide dissemination and the three-tier organization of material from the local level up to the Vatican quickly turn “one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment,” into only a few weeks of actual discussion and consultation of Catholics in the local churches.

In a sense, no one can be blamed for this. The genuine desire of Pope Francis for real consultation involving the whole Church has been deflated by the reality of a complex bureaucratic system that is characteristic of any global institution. But perhaps a greater focus could be on the discussion and consultation rather than the organization of the material.

There are other challenges, including creating for people a “protected space so that the Holy Spirit may speak,” as the Pope likes to say about the Synods. In other words, conducting an effective and in-depth discussion/reflection even at the parish level is no walk in the park—many parishes have never done that. Considering these limitations, it would be easier to do nothing. But that cannot be the response of Catholics at an historic moment like this. In his landmark document on evangelization today, Pope Francis wrote:

“Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way.” I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 33)

There are two key points to be made here: first, the emphasis on thinking outside of the box. It’s clear; an attitude towards the Synod and this consultation of the People of God which reflects the status quo at the parish or diocesan level is not acceptable. Second, the link between this consultation and evangelization. The Pope is speaking about “pastoral ministry in a missionary key,” which we may not naturally attribute to a Synod consultation. But a process like this is as much about evangelizing ourselves—changing the way we think about being church—as it is about sharing our experiences of family life today.

All of this to speak a word of encouragement to Catholics participating in—or thinking of starting—a conversation around the Synod document at their parish, school or other community. The challenges are many and the timeline is short, but this is also a learning process for every community; “synod” literally means “journeying together.” “Even a bad shot is dignified when one accepts a duel,” as Chesterton wrote. Rest assured, if you consider the direction in which the Church is going, it won’t be the last consultation.  When the reality suggests we’re nowhere close to perfecting the process, practice is exactly what is needed.  Even if deadlines are missed.

The Pope has said clearly that there are only three authoritative documents to consider during this church-wide consultation: The Lineamenta, the Message to the People of God and the Pope’s final address to the Synod Fathers on October 18th. For those who wish to go a bit deeper, S+L provides you with a complete list of related documents on the Synod of Bishops on the Family:

Important texts for discussion/reflection on the Synod of Bishops on the Family

Authoritative

1) Lineamenta (Dec. 2014)

2) Message to the People of God (Oct. 2014)

3) Pope Francis’ final address to the Synod (Oct. 2014)

Other

4) Pope Francis’ homily during the concluding Mass of the Synod (Oct. 2014)

5) Midterm report (Oct. 2014)

6) Pope Francis’ opening address to the Synod (Oct. 2014)

7) Pope Francis’ homily during the opening Mass of the Synod (Oct. 2014)

8) Pope Francis’ homily during the prayer vigil for the Synod (Oct. 2014)

9) Instrumentum Laboris for the Extraordinary Synod (June 2014)

10) Cardinal Kasper addresses consistory (Feb. 2014)

11) Pope Francis’ letter to families (Feb. 2014)

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher’s Christmas Message

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Christmas Message 2014
The Most Reverend Paul-André Durocher, Archbishop of Gatineau
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

December 4, 2014

As I write this Christmas message, barely a week has gone by since Remembrance Day, a day marked by the still fresh memory of the recent assassinations of two members of the Canadian Armed Forces. This year, Christmas in Canada will take on a different shading, muted and somber, because of these events which have saddened our hearts and our spirits. Many voices proclaimed that Canada “lost its innocence” in October 2014. I understand and sympathize with that feeling. However, we should remember that our country’s history has been scarred by many episodes of sporadic violence: the kidnapping of Chief Donnacona by Jacques Cartier, the assassination of Member of Parliament Thomas D’Arcy McGee, the violent death of demonstrators during the Winnipeg general strike, the assault on the Quebec National Assembly, the Montreal massacre at the École Polytechnique. These examples, among many, should dispel our illusions. And it’s not just our past. Our present also confronts us with gang crimes, sexual assaults, family violence and workplace harassment. All of this convinces me that, sadly, we are not as innocent as we like to believe.

The good news is that Christmas carries with it this marvellous, nearly unbelievable hope: that innocence can be recovered. In a world marked by violence, disfigured by the scars of wars, of murders, of exploitation and injustice, a Child is born to whom has been given the unexpected title of “Prince of Peace”. Newborn children make us dream of innocence. Faced with a defenceless child, our hearts are softened, our passions calmed, our fantasies made warm and loving. But the Child of Bethlehem is not only a source of dreams: he calls us to decision, to a foundational commitment in favour of truthful love. He himself would grow up to become the Prophet of a new world where justice, peace and joy would reign. On the Cross, he confronted human violence at its worst … and responded with mercy and forgiveness, thus uncovering for the world new ways to reconciliation and freedom. His Resurrection revealed to his friends the ultimate meaning of life, woven through with surprising grace and life-giving Spirit. This is the mystery we celebrate at Christmas.

For in Jesus, innocence can be recovered, healed and renewed. Each of us is invited to open our hearts to this Good News, to make it our own, to share it with family, with friends, with an entire country. We celebrate Christmas at the time of year when nights are longest. Is this not a sign that innocence can surge forth at the very moment we believed it lost? Let us therefore not be afraid to wish each other a joyful Christmas. Let us especially not be afraid to live it!

+ Paul-André Durocher
Archbishop of Gatineau
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

 

- Photo Credit: (CNS photo/Paul Haring) Archbishop Durocher, Cardinal Ouellet leave Mass of thanksgiving for canonization of two Canadian saints.

The Missionary Dynamic of the Parish Today

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(CCCB – Ottawa)… The Episcopal Commission for Doctrine of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has released a new document entitled “The Missionary Dynamic of the Parish Today.” Written from the current Canadian context, the text emphasizes that “spreading faith in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of humanity, is the Church’s fundamental and primary mission” (no. 1). The reflection is primarily for pastors and those who serve in parishes, but also for all Catholics who wish to understand better the role of the parish in the Church’s mission. The Commission notes that “it is through the parish that most Canadians experience the Catholic Church.”

The Bishops of the Commission are aware of the diversity of parish realities across the country, as well as the common challenges they face. The response required to these varied challenges, however, is the same: being missionary parishes which evangelize. The text explains how Canadian parishes can live out their call to evangelization by means of missionary, catechetical, and pastoral activity.

The Bishops declare that “as a concrete sign of the Church’s presence in society, parishes should be places for a new dialogue to occur between contemporary culture and the Gospel of Christ; and for a profound encounter between Christ, the Living Word, and those who have yet to meet him” (no. 9). All of this will require a profound conversion on the part of people and communities, part of what Pope Francis has called “the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are.”

This text complements the Commission’s recent work, “The Essential Elements of Evangelization Today,” which was published in 2013.

Link to the full document. 

Original text found here

– Photo Credit: (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Perspectives Daily – The Bishops of Canada Look to the Middle East

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis’ weekly general audience, the Patriarchs of the eastern Churches travel to the United Nations, the Maronite Church celebrates Liturgy at the CCCB Plenary and the CNEWA Canada board meets in Beaupre at the Plenary Assembly.

Perspectives Daily – Cardinal Archbishop of Havana Addresses Canadian Bishops

Today on Perspectives, day two of the 2014 CCCB Plenary Assembly featuring the day’s activities, interviews with Cardinal Archbishop of Havana, the Papal Nuncio to Canada, and a look back at events from this past weekend here in Quebec.

Perspectives Daily – New Papal Nuncio Addresses Canadian Bishops

Today on Perspectives, day one of the 2014 Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Plenary Assembly, with messages from the president of the conference and the Papal Nuncio. We also take a look at the 350th anniversary celebrations of Notre-Dame de Quebec.

Ukrainian Patriarch encourages bishops to speak with courage


Photo: Archbishop Richard Smith, President of the CCCB (left) and Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, Vice-President of the CCCB (center) stand and applaud Beatitude Shevchuk at the conclusion of his address at the 2012 Plenary Assembly.

On Tuesday morning at the Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Bishops, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, spoke about the solidarity between the Canadian and Ukrainian churches, the first Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Church that was held in Canada earlier this month, and the need to speak the truth of the Gospel in the public and political arena with courage and confidence.  The full address appears here:

Your Eminences,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Brother Bishops of Canada,

This is for me a particular privilege and honour to be among you, as Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest of the Eastern Churches in the Catholic communion. Only 20 years ago this was the so-called “Silent” Church of Martyrs, called to witness to Christ in the Soviet Union, both secretly in the catacombs as well as openly in defiance of the atheist communist regime. Our Church today is experiencing a period of resurrection. Fully embracing its identity of being “Orthodox in faith and Catholic in love” we are aware of our role in allowing the Catholic Church to breathe with both its lungs, East and West.
[Read more…]

Canada’s bishops converge on Sainte-Adèle

Salt + Light Television will be providing live daily coverage of the 2012 Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) Plenary Assembly in Sainte-Adèle, Quebec from September 24-28.

The Plenary Assembly brings together Catholic bishops from across Canada — some 80 in number — to review pastoral initiatives, receive annual reports as well as share their experiences and insights on the life of the Church and society.

Coverage of the annual Plenary Assembly will include daily liturgical celebrations as well as the daily press briefing. In addition, Salt + Light will broadcast the annual report of the CCCB President, Most Rev. Richard Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton.

The full broadcast schedule is published below. Broadcast times are subject to change.

Monday, Sept. 24
9:00 am ET / 6:00 am PT:   LIVE Opening Mass from Sainte-Adèle
10:15 am ET / 7:15 am PT:  LIVE Welcome & Opening of CCCB Plenary
5:15 pm ET /  2:15 pm PT:   LIVE Day 1 Press Briefing
7:00 pm ET / 4:00 pm PT:  Perspectives

Tuesday, Sept. 25
7:30 am ET / 4:30 am PT:   LIVE Daily Mass from Sainte-Adèle
5:15 pm ET / 2:15 pm PT:    LIVE Day 2 Press Briefing
7:00 pm ET / 4:00 pm PT:  Perspectives

Wednesday, Sept. 26
7:30 am ET / 4:30 am PT:   LIVE Daily Mass from Sainte-Adèle
5:45 pm ET / 2:45 pm PT:   LIVE Day 3 Press Briefing
7:00 pm ET / 4:00 pm PT:  Perspectives

Thursday, Sept. 27
7:00 am ET / 4:00 am PT:  LIVE Celebration of the Divine Liturgy, marking the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Ukrainian Catholic Bishop appointed to Canada
4:45 pm ET / 1:45 pm PT:   LIVE Day 4 Press Briefing
7:00 pm ET / 4:00 pm PT:  Perspectives

Friday, Sept. 28
7:30 am ET / 4:50 am PT:  LIVE Daily Mass from Sainte-Adèle
9:00 am ET / 6:00 am PT:  LIVE Day 5 of Plenary Activities (Closing remarks from CCCB President Archbishop Richard Smith)
12:00 pm ET / 9:00 am PT: LIVE Day 5 Press Briefing