The Synod Fathers Speak 3: Burdens and Difficulties

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I applaud the bishops for addressing that many of the challenges to the modern family are not obstacles of their own making. Paragraphs six through nine of the “short” document address these problems, if not in all particulars, with a hopeful and reverent tone.

All families struggle with illness, infirmity, and death–it is part of our being less than perfect in all aspects of our lives:

We think also of the burden imposed by life in the suffering that can arise with a child with special needs, with grave illness, in deterioration of old age, or in the death of a loved one. We admire the fidelity of so many families who endure these trials with courage, faith, and love. They see them not as a burden inflicted on them, but as something in which they themselves give, seeing the suffering Christ in the weakness of the flesh.

As a parent of a special needs adopted child, I appreciate this statement. We do not always handle the challenges of life perfectly, but I think admiration is a good approach. Gratitude is not lost on many family members, either–especially when it is expressed by clergy.

I would have been surprised if one of the “true” dictatorships of the world was not mentioned:

We recall the difficulties caused by economic systems, by the “the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose” (Evangelii Gaudium 55) which weakens the dignity of people. We remember unemployed parents who are powerless to provide basic needs for their families, and youth who see before them days of empty expectation, who are prey to drugs and crime.

Outside of our First World comforts, people suffer indignities largely unimaginable to Europeans and North Americans and East Asians:

We think of so many poor families, of those who cling to boats in order to reach a shore of survival, of refugees wandering without hope in the desert, of those persecuted because of their faith and the human and spiritual values which they hold. These are stricken by the brutality of war and oppression. We remember the women who suffer violence and exploitation, victims of human trafficking, children abused by those who ought to have protected them and fostered their development, and the members of so many families who have been degraded and burdened with difficulties. “The culture of prosperity deadens us…. all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us” (Evangelii Gaudium 54). We call on governments and international organizations to promote the rights of the family for the common good.

Governments do have a role. In democracies, every official, elected or otherwise, represents people. Gridlock, in the face of these challenges, is a termination offense.

This statement of welcome satisfies me:

Christ wanted his Church to be a house with doors always open to welcome everyone. We warmly thank our pastors, lay faithful, and communities who accompany couples and families and care for their wounds.

I affirm this document’s tone that avoids navel-gazing. The lamentable movement to turn the Church into a culture of the victimized has been halted, I think. I hope. Our place is not to bemoan our own persecutions, even the ones we’re not imagining, but to advocate for those who are true victims.

And even misguided people have a place with us.

For reference, the so-called “short” document is online is here, in English.



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DPPL 100: The Winter Interstice

STA altar at night smallMaybe there’s a European understanding of “interstice” with which I’m unfamiliar. Pretty sure the CDWDS means “solstice.” But that may be a troublesome term. An interstice is an in-between period, as used here, and suggestive of all of winter. But I wouldn’t see winter as merely a bridge between harvest and planting, between Fall and Spring. In human culture and our practical experience, winter is full of its own qualities.

100. Advent is celebrated during the Winter interstice in the northern hemisphere. This indicate a change of seasons and a moment of rest in many spheres of human endeavor. Popular piety is extremely sensitive to the vital cycle of nature. While the Winter interstice is celebrated, the seed lays in the ground waiting for the light and heat of the sun, which begins its ascent with the Winter solstice, and eventually causes it to germinate.
In those areas where popular piety has given rise to the celebration of the changing season, such expressions should be conserved and used as a time to pray the Lord, to reflect on the meaning of human work, which is a collaboration with the creative work of God, a self-realisation of the person, service to the common good, and an actualization of the plan of redemption(Cf. Gaudium et Spes 34, 35, 67).

Not to understate our reliance on the weather patterns in temperate zones, the world’s people are largely urban today. And where they’re not, the concerns of cities and their populations drive much ex-urban activity.

Will the old aspects of winter culture fail to touch deeply into people’s imaginations in the decades and centuries to come? What new developments will we see that take into account the year-round pace of life, and technology’s conquest of cold?

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

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The Synod Fathers Speak 2: Christ Enters

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The “short” document is online is here, in English. We’re taking a few paragraphs a day from it. The fourth sets the stage for a series of challenges that follow:

We offer you the words of Christ: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20). On his journeys along the roads of the Holy Land, Jesus would enter village houses. He continues to pass even today along the streets of our cities. In your homes there are light and shadow. Challenges often present themselves and at times even great trials. The darkness can grow deep to the point of becoming a dense shadow when evil and sin work into the heart of the family.

We recognize the great challenge to remain faithful in conjugal love. Enfeebled faith and indifference to true values, individualism, impoverishment of relationships, and stress that excludes reflection leave their mark on family life. There are often crises in marriage, often confronted in haste and without the courage to have patience and reflect, to make sacrifices and to forgive one another. Failures give rise to new relationships, new couples, new civil unions, and new marriages, creating family situations which are complex and problematic, where the Christian choice is not obvious.

And so the situation is acknowledged: people are imperfect. I like the diagnosis that the marital crisis in which we find ourselves so often is blundered by taking things too quickly and not embracing courage. In marriage, there are two. Teamwork, companionship, mutual support: all these better than being mindless breeding stock chained to expectations of fertility.

The Christian choice is not at all obvious in many situations. The role models we are offered are not celibate saints, but celebrities with flashy lives, plus the secular advertisements urging us to youth and frivolity. And make no mistake: even self-styled “faithful” Catholics are steered wrong as often as not.

My hope is that institutionally, we can look at more positive role models of married couples who have sex, and live ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. Religious wannabes, not so much.

The irony in paragraph 5 is that so much of this–probably all of it–applies to clergy and even bishops: enfeebled faith, indifference to values, individualism, impoverishment of relationships, and a lack of reflection and contemplation. Clergy and bishops confront crises in the Church, often with haste and cowardice, lacking patience and discernment, void of sacrifices and especially forgiveness.

But this synod didn’t say anything about the priesthood, did it? Or did it?

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DPPL 99: Advent Processions

STA altar at night smallThe procession that comes to mind is Las Posadas, which I believe originated in Mexico.

99. In many regions, various kinds of processions are held in Advent, publicly to announce the imminent birth of the Saviour (the “day star” in some Italian processions), or to represent the journey to Bethlehem of Joseph and Mary and their search for a place in which Jesus would be born (the posadas in the Hispanic and Latin American tradition).

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

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Aparecida 85-86 — The Amazon

The Amazon basin is one of the most ecologically rich regions of the earth and has been called the “lungs of the earth.” However, as the bishops note in paragraph 85, citing Pope Benedict XVI, the devastation wreaked on the region:

In his address to youth in Pacaembu Stadium in Sao Paulo, Pope Benedict XVI drew attention to the “environmental devastation to the Amazon and the threats to the human dignity of its peoples,” and asked the young people for “greater commitment and the broadest areas of action”.

In paragraph 86, the bishops express their opposition to the internationalization of the Amazon, a policy that would negatively affect the lives of the native peoples living there as well as the environment.

The growing assault on the environment may serve as a pretext for proposals to internationalize the Amazon, which only serve the economic interests of transnational corporations. Pan-Amazon society is multiethnic, multicultural, and multi-religious.

They also note what of the most critical and volatile issue: land use and ownership.

The dispute over the occupation of the land is intensifying more and more. The traditional communities of the region want their lands to be recognized and legalized.

The Church in Brazil has been engaged in efforts to assist the landless as well as the native populations to organize against the efforts of large landowners and international corporations to take over lands, some of which have been used traditionally by native peoples. In these efforts leaders in the church and the popular organizations have experienced persecution, threats, and even death. Among the martyrs of the struggle for land in Brazil are Chico Mendes, a leader of the rubber workers, Fr. Josimo Morais Tavares, and Sister Dorothy Stang.

Here is an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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A Match In Three Acts

I viewed the Man City match versus Spurs today before heading to the office. Blogging will be light, as I have duty at four Masses plus the student retreat.

The announcers were talking about missing the Premier League after a two-week break. I got the idea it was more than just shilling for their corporate masters at Barclays and NBC.

The first thirty minutes were thrilling, and Spurs seemed to be punching back at the home team, keeping nearly level in chances and in the score.

The middle thirty minutes, I got the notion that it was more about missing chances rather than connecting. Hugo Lloris was big in net for Spurs and Joe Hart also had to work to keep his team ahead.

After the 67th minute penalty, it seemed like the life went out of Tottenham. They had their chances to draw level in the second act. But then things spiraled out of control. Grim inevitability set in for the visitors. I had to tune out by the 85th minute to get ready for work.

Ice hockey divides its contests into three acts, like a play. This early match seemed also to have three acts. It wasn’t a nailbiter to the end (unless I missed a Spurs miracle after the 85th minute) but it was a great experience to watch.

swan-in-attack-mode-2Swansea have a rare Sunday match–I will be back at the parish, playing at Mass. hopefully I can catch the replay online when I get home tomorrow night. I hope they can get the full six points from their next two opponents, as the schedule gets notably tougher in their November matches.

One of the students was wearing a Man U shirt at Mass the other night. We struck up a conversation, mainly talking about how David DeGea saved their butts at the end of the Everton match two weeks ago.

He was amazed to find someone rooting for Swans here in the States. The Manchester United brand is worldwide, of course. Small cities on the South Wales coast, not so much.

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The Synod Fathers Speak 1

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The final “small” document from the extraordinary synod is out, in English.  Another, longer form, is due out later. That presumably will contain “proper” language on this and that.

I found the small version heartening and appropriate. Leading off with “We, Synod Fathers” is accurate.  But there is more to a family than the Father. And more to Church than bishops.

As I wasn’t in attendance, and I’m not sure just what the impact of lay testimony was, I will offer a cautious criticism that more voices need to speak and be heard. Families consist mainly of husbands and wives. Our sacrament is at the center of the family.

Voices of adult children (the priests and bishops) are important and must be heard. But their experience is limited to being observers, and in a way, outsiders to the graced inner life of spouses.

Let’s read:

We, Synod Fathers, gathered in Rome together with Pope Francis in the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, greet all families of the different continents and in particular all who follow Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We admire and are grateful for the daily witness which you offer us and the world with your fidelity, faith, hope, and love.

Each of us, pastors of the Church, grew up in a family, and we come from a great variety of backgrounds and experiences. As priests and bishops we have lived alongside families who have spoken to us and shown us the saga of their joys and their difficulties.

The preparation for this synod assembly, beginning with the questionnaire sent to the Churches around the world, has given us the opportunity to listen to the experience of many families. Our dialogue during the Synod has been mutually enriching, helping us to look at the complex situations which face families today.

These things strike me in these first three paragraphs:

  • I appreciate gratitude. God knows I try to cultivate it in myself. I also feel grateful that the world’s bishops are spending time and effort, and if one believes the blogosphere, their reputations to invest time in assisting in this most blessed sacrament and the families that spring from it.
  • It is true that every cleric was once a child in a family, and later entered into an adult relationship with parents. It is not quite the same as the sacrifice we husbands and wives embrace. I would not presume to say what it is like to preside over the Eucharistic assembly during the anaphora–on a daily basis. Most priests and all Catholic bishops today are spectators to a degree, participants with a perspective common to close friends, adult children, and counsellors. Often experienced? Yes. Insights to offer with perspective? Certainly. I would trust a man who has been a parish pastor much more than academics, chancery officials, seminary staff, or others who have insulated themselves from preparing women and men for marriage, witnessing the commitment, and being there when things begin to go wrong.
  • The bishops acknowledge the importance of the pre-synod efforts as well as the lay speakers. We have helped them in this effort. I feel grateful for that.


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