Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Précis of my homily for Chrism Mass

Our Indulgent God

This evening, as you arrived at the cathedral, we invited you to enter through the Door of Mercy... I often hear questions about the plenary indulgence associated with this practice... I've tried to understand such a complicated topic following a few indications from Pope Francis. Here are three lessons from my musings.

First, indulgence is not a thing, a kind of pass that we earn by accomplishing some quasi-magical acts. Indulgence is not a thing; it is a quality, a quality that we sometimes find in humans, a quality we recognize eminently in God. God gives us life, raises us up when we fall, heals our wounds, sends his Son to walk with us, gives us his Spirit to be our life. Indulgence is the love of God for us, faithful, unconditional, eternal.

Second, God is not satisfied to forgive our sins. God also wants to help us heal the wrong we have done. In his great mercy God forgives us AND helps us to repair the world. In contemporary Judaism, an expression has spread in recent decades: Tikkun Olan - which in Hebrew means 'repair the world'. I suggest that we Catholics should also learn this beautiful expression - Tikkun Olan - because we, as heirs of the Covenant, we share in the responsibility of repairing the world.
According to this evening's Gospel, Christ was anointed and sent by the Father 'to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim to the captives release, and they find the blind sight, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year granted by the Lord.' My friends, we meet this evening in the heart of such a good year, a jubilee year. And there are among us the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed. There is still a world to repair. Christ's mission is ours! God, ever indulgent, gives us his grace to help us respond to this mission. His Spirit heals us. His Spirit empowers us to repair the world.

Third, indulgence is not a private reality, but a communal reality. As soon as Jesus was consecrated to his mission, he sought collaborators in this great task. Thus was born the Church. God unites us to Christ and to each other, building up a network of grace, of goodness and of holiness, a network called the communion of saints. The Father's indulgence sets us in this network so that together we might help each other heal our wounds, discern wisely, to act with courage in repairing the world.  

Strengthened by God's indulgence, we go forth to practice the seven spiritual and seven corporal works of mercy and so repair the world. However, in our diocese, we have identified as our pastoral priority a fifteenth work of mercy: affirmation. Affirming another helps that person discover that he is part of this network of men and women dedicated to repairing the world. Affirming another is saying she makes a difference in our world and that her presence is important. Affirming another is to practice indulgence... a bit like God.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

This is what we celebrate at Christmas

Against the expectations of her family, a teenage girl finds herself pregnant. The laws of the State force her to follow her fiancé to another province, where she doesn’t know anyone. She gives birth to her child in the most abject poverty. Facing persecution, she is forced to exile herself to a foreign land, where she raises her son among refugees...

The media are full of stories like this one, day after day, to the point that we don’t notice them anymore. Except when the photo of a dead child who has just been washed up on a beach comes along to upset us. Then it’s no longer just a story. For here is a child just like mine. His family, too, is just like mine, even as they struggle through a terribly, cruel tragedy.

And the story of the pregnant teenager isn’t just a story, either. Her name was Myriam. Her fiancé was called Yosef. She named her son Yeshuwah. We know them better under their anglicized names: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Yes, Jesus was a real child with two flesh-and-blood parents, victims of the politics and the wars of his time, suffering exclusion, poverty and exile. Surrounding this family we find a few simple shepherds, some astrologers from foreign lands, two elderly people at the Temple.

In the lives of this couple and this child who resemble us so much, Christians from every age have recognized the Hand of God at work. God tracing a new path for our history. God opening up a future that promises, beyond all violence and war, a Reign of justice, peace, and joy

This is what we celebrate at Christmas. The memory of these people. The inauguration of a new era in our history. The arrival in our world of a God who, wonder of wonders, makes himself as small and as fragile as a newborn babe.

How can we celebrate Christmas, therefore, without thinking of the thousands of families who, even today, endure tragedies similar to those endured by that family from Nazareth? May Christmas open our hearts and our homes to lost teenagers, to desperate young couples, to refugees without hope, to exiles without friends, to all those who feel as small and as vulnerable as a newborn child. Just like Jesus.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Day 3 - Synod 2015

Today, I made my three-minute intervention at the Synod. It connects to numbers 29 and 30 of the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document of the Synod. It deals with the issue of violence against women, and what the Church should do to demonstrate that it considers women as full partners in ministry.

Unfortunately, I haven't had time to translate it into English, but this article from Catholic News Service pretty well sums it up:

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY — Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, said the synod should reflect on the possibility of allowing for female deacons as it seeks ways to open up more opportunities for women in Church life.

Where possible, qualified women should be given higher positions and decision-making authority within Church structures and new opportunities in ministry, he told Catholic News Service Tuesday.

Discussing a number of proposals he offered the synod fathers to think about, he said, "I think we should really start looking seriously at the possibility of ordaining women deacons because the diaconate in the Church’s tradition has been defined as not being ordered toward priesthood but toward ministry."

Currently, the Catholic Church permits only men to be ordained as deacons. Deacons can preach and preside at baptisms, funerals, and weddings, but may not celebrate Mass or hear confessions.

Speaking to participants at the Synod of Bishops on the family Oct. 6, Durocher said he dedicated his three-minute speech to the role of women in the Church — one of the many themes highlighted in the synod’s working document.

The working document, which is guiding the first three weeks of the synod’s discussions, proposed giving women greater responsibility in the Church, particularly through involving them in "the decision-making process, their participation — not simply in a formal way — in the governing of some institutions; and their involvement in the formation of ordained ministers.

Durocher, who recently ended his term as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNS that much of his brief talk was focused on the lingering problem of violence against women, including domestic violence. He said the World Health Organization estimates that 30 percent of women worldwide experience violence by their partner.

He reminded the synod fathers that in the apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio" in 1981, St. John Paul II basically told the Church that "we have to make a concerted and clear effort to make sure that there is no more degradation of women in our world, particularly in marriage. And I said, ‘Well, here we are 30 years later and we’re still facing these kinds of numbers.’"

He said he recommended one thing they could do to address this problem was, "as a synod, clearly state that you cannot justify the domination of men over women — certainly not violence — through biblical interpretation," particularly incorrect interpretations of St. Paul’s call for women to be submissive to their husbands.

In his presentation, the archbishop also noted that Pope Benedict XVI had talked about the question of new ministries for women in the Church. "It’s a just question to ask. Shouldn’t we be opening up new venues for ministry of women in the Church?" he said.

In addition to the possibility of allowing for women deacons, he said he also proposed that women be hired for "decision-making jobs" that could be opened to women in the Roman Curia, diocesan chanceries, and large-scale Church initiatives and events.

Another thing, he said, "would be to look at the possibility of allowing married couples — men and women, who have been properly trained and accompanied — to speak during Sunday homilies so that they can testify, give witness to the relationship between God’s word and their own marriage life, and their own life as families."

Monday, October 5, 2015

Day 2 - Synod 2015

This morning was dedicated to protocol and formalities. The Synod Hall was full: nearly 270 'fathers' of the Synod (most of them bishops, a few major superiors of priestly congregations), on top of 14 fraternal delegates (representing other Churches and Christian communities), 24 experts and 51 auditors (of which there are 17 married couples).

After the opening prayer, the Pope spoke to us. In a brief but powerful talk, he reminded us that the Synod is a journey that encourages wisdom and openness, centred on the good of the Church, the family, and the salvation of souls. It's not a parliament, but rather the visible expression of the journeying Church reflecting on the possibilities of faithfulness to the deposit of the faith in today's context. According to the Pope, the Synod walks forward in the midst of God's People, whose pastors and servants we are. It is a protected space, where the Spirit can speak to us through the voices of those who are open to the God of surprises, the God who created the Law as a gift for the fulfillment of human beings. One condition is necessary for its success: that we be clothed in apostolic courage, humility and prayer. Courage will allow us to bring God's life to others, sharing our convictions and the reasons for our hope. Humility will allow us to listen to others without feeling ourselves superior to them. Prayer will open a space of silence where the voice of God can echo in our hearts. It's not about negociating our way to a consensus, but about listening to the voice of God so that GOD might enlighten us and be our guide.

Cardinal Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod, then gave a report about the work that was accomplished by the secretariate as it prepared our meeting.

Cardinal Erdo, relator general, presented a magisterial speech, quiet classic in style in content, in which he gave his analysis of the questions that face us. I very much liked his introduction, where he recalled the passage in the Gospel of Mark (chapter 6, verse 34) when Jesus comes across a crowd: he looks at these people, is moved with compassion for them, then teaches them at length. The three actions of Jesus structure our own three-part working document: first, we are invited to look at the world which surrounds us; then, we bring to mind the Good News of God's compassion for families; finally, we consider our own role in journeying with and renewing our families.

By the way, readers of this blog who want to follow my comments more closely would find an advantage in having a copy of our working document at hand. You can find it at : http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20150623_instrumentum-xiv-assembly_en.html#

After lunch, we started listening to the individual comments of bishops concerning the first part of the working document. These interventions each last three minutes and must concern a particular paragraph of the text, according to the will of the bishop. Il will be presenting my comment tomorrow. It will be focused on the role of women.

Our last hour, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., was given over to 'free' interventions. A few voices were heard, regretting the purely anecdotic or sociological style of the first section. It presents the challenges that couples and families face today, but in a rather dry and objective manner. I suggested to the group that we might work in our small groups to give this section a bit of 'breath', as we try to see these elements with the eyes of faith. We'll see where that suggestions goes..

This has been a long first day, starting with Mass at 7:00 a.m. here at the Casa Romana del Clero where I'll be living for the next three weeks. I'm starting to fall asleep as I write this, so I'm heading off to bed, thinking of all you and carrying you in my prayers. Good night!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Day 1 - Synod 2015

Many friends have asked if I would repeat what I did last year and publish a daily reflection about my experience at the Synod. I don't know if I'll have the time to do so on a regular basis, but I will try. I'll start today by sharing a thought that came to me during the singing of the Creed this morning at the opening Mass, presided by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica.

We sang this in Latin, alternating with the men of the choir. They would sing one unaccompanied verse (well sung, by the way) and we would respond with the choir boys, accompanied by the organ. I was sitting in the mmidst of the bishops who will be participating in the Synod, and I listened to them sing (as I sang along, naturally). One of the bishops would start the verse even before the organ had sounded the note; others sang more quickly than the rest; another, to the contrary, would always end after the rest; some were certain they haad the correct rhythm and would sing louder, hoping to impose their rhythm to the others; a few didn't know Latin or Gregorian Chant very well and were happy to simply murmur... or listen. For a song that was supposed to manifest the Church's unity in the faith, I must admit it was a bit funny listening to this vocal strugggle. Thankfully, we all sang the same words!

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

Because of my training in choral music, I listened closely this morning to the organ accompaniment and the boys' voices during the singing of the Creed. It wasn't easy: they were sitting on the opposite side of the chancel, and all the voices around me made it difficult to focus on their song. However, I tried to discern their rhythm, and sang loud enough so that those around me might follow it more closely. On the other hand, I didn't want to sing so loud that I would break what was left of the group's harmony. Slowly, some bishops followed me in this search for unison, and we were able to adapt our rhythm to that of the organ and the boys. I think that, by the end of the Creed, we manifested the Church's unity a bit more than we had at the beginning.

During the Synod, only one can give us the correct rhythm: the Holy Spirit. Our work as bishops is to discern this rhythm, this vital pulse that the Spirit want to give us. It's not always easy. The world's noise, the excitement of the exercise, the human beings that we are, marked by our cultures, our experiences, our personnalities: all of this makes it difficult to listen together to the Spirit. Learning to adjust ourselves to the Spirit's rhythm is not evident. Maybe that's why Pope Francis invited us, during a prayer vigil last evening, to talk less about the Holy Family and to spend more time contemplating it.

In the word 'adjust', we find the root 'just-' from which we get the noun 'justice'. The justice of the Kingdom of God consists precisely in this: adjusting ourselves to the Spirit's breath. Let us pray that the bishops will do a work of justice in the next three weeks.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Synod - Day 11

The final report has now been published, at least in Italian. The media have concentrated public attention on two issues: access to the sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics, and pastoral care of homosexuals. I guess I'll have to share my thoughts on these two questions.

Of the two, the first was raised well before the Synod by Cardinal Kasper in a noted intervention before the world's cardinals last February. Rejected by other cardinals at the end of the summer, it kept the attention of numerous speakers during the Synod and, in fact, required a lot of energy. A proposd paragraph in the final report which presented the two approaches that were discussed (maintaining the present discipline or opening to change) as well as a related paragraph did not receive the required two thirds approval of the members, even though a solid majority supported them. The fact remains that these two approaches WERE discussed, and with much passion. Pope Francis decided that the whole text of the final report should be published, including the texts that did not receive the two thirds' vote. I imagine then that this discussion is far from finished, and that it will be taken up by the episcopal conferences of the world during the coming year as we prepare for the General Ordinary Synod in October 2015.

On the question of the pastoral accompaniment of homosexuals, a paragraph simply proposed recalling the Church's teaching that there is no equivalence between marriage and a homosexual relationship, while maintaining the dignity and the non-discrimination of homosexuals. This paragraph was also supported by the majority, without attaining the two-thirds bar. Why did some Bishops choose not to approve a text which only repeated the Church's received teaching? I have the impression many would have preferred a more open, positive language. Not finding it in this paragraph, they might have chosen to indicate their disapproval of it. However, it has also been published, and the reflexion will have to continue.

So let's set these two important questions aside for a moment. After all, the Synod's theme was not 'Communion for the divorced and remarried and the accompaniment of homosexuals', but rather 'The pastoral challenges of families in the context of new evangelization.' And on this theme, what do the other 58 paragraphs of the text have to say? What can we glean from the Synod's work? Has any ground been broken?

My answer? Absolutely! And particularly on one point. It has approved a very precise pastoral approach, one which is more attentive to the good in people than to their faults; one that speaks less of the sin to be avoided and more of the grace to be attained; one which is less centred on the faults of our society and more attuned to its possible openings to the Gospel message. It's not about being naive or polly-annish, but rather of counting on the Spirit of Jesus-Christ already present in the hears of human beings, even those who believe themselves to be far from God.

This approach is not new: many pastoral workers already have adopted it. However, this is the first time -- as far as I know -- that such a text gives it a blessing. Even more, it explains the biblical and doctrinal foundation for this approach, and invites all pastoral worker to embrace it.

This is indeed new. And it fills my heart with joy. In a certain sense, we have done for family life what the Second Vatican Council did for liturgy and ecumenism: give the green light to a style of ministry that is already emerging in the Church, assure its theological grounding, and invite the whole Church to make it its own. (Of course, those who don't like what Vatican II did for the liturgy and for ecumenism might not like what the Synod has done for family life... That's another discussion for another time.)

I don't know if the media will pay much attention to this issue. For me, however, and for many leaders in parishes and Christian communities, this is fundamental. And for this I give thanks to the Pope for having called us to this great work of the Church.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Days 8 and 9

Thanks for all the get-well wishes. They worked: I'm coughing less and breathing more easily. Blessed be to God!

After day 7 which we passed in our linguistic groups discussing the 'relatio post-disceptationem', day 8 was given over to the proposed amendments of this text. Archbishop Léonard, our group's 'relator', accomplished a remarkable job in collecting the ideas we expressed on day 7 and transforming them into a considerable number of amendments. These we examined closely, nearly word by word before voting on each, one after another. Indeed, for an amendment to be accepted for consideration by the Secretariat of the Synod, it must have received two thirds of the votes in the linguistic group which is bringing it forward.

Some amendments only added a word or two. Others meant a complete rewrite of a numbered paragraph. We were able to find the words that allowed the whole group to support each of the amendments: but it's intense work, requiring a lot of listening and a lot of respect, some creative, much patience. Sometimes, a member would propose expression A, while another would propose expression B; then the discussion would get lively as we debated the value of each expression; until someone proposed expression C, to which all could give their assent. This didn't always mean seeking the 'via media' between the two expressions, but finding the new way that all could take with the conviction they had been respected and understood.

At the end of the day, our three lay couples expressed their great satisfaction, even their joy, at the conclusion of the experience we had just been through. I need to say that these men and women were all highly competent, experts in their field, experienced in the teaching of the Church and their involvement in family ministry. Such was day 8.

Day 9 was shorter than the others. We spent the morning on the small group reports. First, each group met to approve the relators' text (or modify it a bit), and then these texts were read to all in the synodal hall. These reports will all be published, and I invite you to read them to see for yourselves the fruits of the discussions we had in each of the linguistic groups, the richness of the conversation and the quality of the process.

Now the real work starts. Cardinal Erdo's team, which has been enriched with delegates from the five continents named by the Pope, must study each of the amendments (I would estimate there are at least two hundred of them) and re-write the 'relatio post-disceptationem' in order to present a 'relatio finale'. The first version of this 'relatio finale' will be presented to us Saturday morning... which is why we can rest this afternoon and tomorrow morning while the members of this special theme try to come up with a text that will gain the support of the great majority of delegates.

As for the 'message' on which I have been working as part of a small team under the leadership of Cardinal Ravasi, our original text - quite poetic and biblical - had to be shortened at the request of the Secretariate of the Synod. It has become a simpler greeting to the families of the world. However, I'm keeping all our beautiful ideas in mind for use in a homily or two in the future. No use wasting the fruit of our work!