The Synod Fathers Speak 4: “Light of a Wedding Story”

window from inside

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


There is also the evening light behind the windowpanes in the houses of the cities, in modest residences of suburbs and villages, and even in mere shacks, which shines out brightly, warming bodies and souls. This light—the light of a wedding story—shines from the encounter between spouses: it is a gift, a grace expressed, as the Book of Genesis says (2:18), when the two are “face to face” as equal and mutual helpers. The love of man and woman teaches us that each needs the other in order to be truly self. Each remains different from the other that opens self and is revealed in the reciprocal gift. It is this that the bride of the Song of Songs sings in her canticle: “My beloved is mine and I am his… I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 2:16; 6:3).

The truth? This is one of the most lyrical paragraphs to emerge from an official church source. More like this, please, and we lay people will have something to work with when we welcome people home.

It’s one of the reasons I chose that window as an image to accompany this series. God’s light is bright and warm, and welcomes people to find their desire and their calling in the sacrament of marriage. This wedding story is much more tender and profound than what is presented on reality tv.

“Equal and mutual helpers.” Nice, eh? Comments?

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Taking a break from English football to follow the World Series. I was on retreat, silently, earlier this summer. The Royals didn’t lose during the days I was incommunicado with the world, and were in first place for something like a day. Then I started reading the sports pages online and they fell from the top.

I told my baseball friends I wasn’t going to tune in until the last game of the Series. Given the way tonight’s game is running, I might have held to that promise.

I was amused at David Schoenfeld’s commentary here. Worst Series ever? Right.

As baseball and other pro sports expand playoffs, it no longer is about the best team winning. Playoffs are a tournament, and in an elimination tournament, a lot of unexpected things can happen. Witness the success of the NCAA basketball events each Spring. People like madness. Sometimes the best team wins. Sometimes it’s the best players. And sometimes it’s the group that puts together the right number of wins at the right moment.

If MLB were serious about three-hour games, they can enforce the rules already in the books. But they like the income from 180-minute games more than from the 150-minute games. So they won’t change.

MLB added playoffs in 1969, and baseball fans have enjoyed a lot of exciting, competitive sport. The price to pay is that often the 3rd, 4th, or even now, the 10th best regular season team might win the whole thing.

Baseball seasons are long. If people were really interested in the best team winning, they would organize a league so that all the teams would play one another the same number of games. Then, at the end, the first place team would be clearly the best. End of story. But that’s not the way American sport works.

I rather like the English model. In the Premier League, every team plays every other once at home and once in the enemy park. Winner is the champion. Then there are tournaments and champion’s leagues on the side. And that can be fun.

Worst World Series ever? It might still work out that way. Four 9-1 games. Lots of errors. That would be “worst.” What about this contest? Did the better team win?

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Free Speech Is The Earthquake

David Gibson on the synod:

Amid all the lobbying and armchair analysis, it’s important to step back and realize that in the three decades before Francis was elected pope, bishops, priests and theologians could have been investigated, censured, silenced or fired for many of the ideas that were being openly discussed at the synod.

That is perhaps the real earthquake, and it’s one that Francis himself wanted.

I think this is right.

In one sense, the hard-liners have already lost. They cannot control the speech. They cannot silence those who interrupt their aristocratic serenity. And best of all, people outside the Church know we are not a monolith of rigor. They might have to look a bit past the surface, but many Christians are here to welcome them.

I think Pope Francis has allowed this to play out crazy clever. The onus is on the bishops now to provide something for those of the household–all the clattering for more support for those who struggle in faithfulness to Christ.

One big step might be to put on hiatus the causes for bishops, priests, and religious founders. Married couples, and not just a few, need to be set out there as role models. As it is, the rigorists, knowingly or not, have ceded most of the exemplars in the Church to those of society, namely celebrities.

And on the local level, I think a lot of Catholics feel unburdened. Hopefully, we are prepared to offer the hand of welcome that a minority of bishops felt they could not extend. As for the bishops, fine. It’s not like they prepare couples for marriage, or write up documents for the declaration of nullity, or really get into the trenches much. In some cases, I’d prefer they take time for reflection and devote energy to their own formation and catechesis.

No, I think the synod turned out just fine. I know a number of people who will feel more free to talk. And truthfully: you can’t stop the talk.

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Aparecida 87 – Ice Fields

I was surprised to find the bishops writing about ice fields. But both Chile and Argentina have recognized claims on parts of Antartica, as well as some disputed claims.

Their concerns about shrinking ice fields, which they relate to global warming, are expressed in paragraph 87:

We likewise note the shrinking of ice fields throughout the world: dwindling ice in the Arctic, whose impact is now being observed in the flora and fauna of that ecosystem; global warming can also be felt in the thundering crackle of blocks of Antarctic ice that are reducing the glacier coverage of the continent which regulates world climate.

They conclude this section with a quote from Pope John Paul II.

Twenty years ago speaking from the tip of the Americas, John Paul II pointed out prophetically:

“From the Southern Cone of the American Continent and facing the limitless spaces of the Antarctic, I issue a cry to all those responsible for our planet to protect and preserve nature created by God: Let us not allow our world to be an ever more degraded and degrading land.”

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

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DPPL 101: The Blessed Virgin Mary and Advent

STA altar at night smallThe mother of Jesus features prominently in the liturgies of Advent. Also in the popular imagination.

101. The Liturgy frequently celebrates the Blessed Virgin Mary in an exemplary way during the season of Advent(Cf. Paul VI, Marialis Cultus 4). It recalls the women of the Old Testament who prefigured and prophesied her mission; it exalts her faith and the humility with which she promptly and totally submitted to God’s plan of salvation; it highlights her presence in the events of grace preceding the birth of the Savior. Popular piety also devotes particular attention to the Blessed Virgin Mary during Advent, as is evident from the many pious exercised practised at this time, especially the novena of the Immaculate Conception and of Christmas.

However, the significance of Advent, “that time which is particularly apt for the cult of the Mother of God”(Cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus 4), is such that it cannot be represented merely as a “Marian month”.

I’m not familiar with any impulse to make December a “Marian month.” Mary is such a part of the liturgy and religious culture of the weeks before Christmas, it wouldn’t add anything.

Samples of those novenas are online here and here. But numerous versions are available on the internet, and likely, in pamphlets.

We also have the witness of our Eastern sisters and brothers:

In the calendars of the Oriental Churches, the period of preparation for the celebration of the manifestation (Advent) of divine salvation (Theophany) in the mysteries of Christmas-Epiphany of the Only Son of God, is markedly Marian in character. Attention is concentrated on preparation for the Lord’s coming in the Deipara. For the Orientals, all Marian mysteries are Christological mysteries since they refer to the mystery of our salvation in Christ. In the Coptic rite, the Lauds of the Virgin Mary are sung in the Theotokia. Among the Syrians, Advent is referred to as the Subbara or Annunciation, so as to highlight its Marian character. The Byzantine Rite prepares for Christmas with a whole series of Marian feasts and rituals.

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

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The Synod Fathers Speak 3: Burdens and Difficulties

window from inside

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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