Aparecida 184-185: Missionary Disciples With Specific Vocations

Every baptized person can and could aspire to be a disciple. A lot of ink and keystrokes are expended on the ministry/volunteer thing. Extremists on both sides miss the point. That said, this coming section looks at ministries/roles/duties (however you want to call it) through the lens of discipleship.

184. The condition of disciple springs from Jesus Christ as from its fountain, through faith and Baptism, and grows in the Church, the community where all its members acquire equal dignity and participate in various ministries and charisms. The proper and specific way of living out baptismal holiness in the service of the Kingdom of God is thereby embodied in the Church.

8 significant issues facing us:

185. In faithfully fulfilling their baptismal vocation, disciples must take into account the challenges that today’s world presents to the Church of Jesus, including:

  • the exodus of believers to sects and other religious groups;
  • cultural trends contrary to Christ and the Church;
  • frustration among priests faced with immense pastoral work;
  • the scarcity of priests in many places;
  • changing cultural paradigms;
  • the phenomenon of globalization and secularization;
  • the grave problems of violence, poverty, and injustice;
  • the growing culture of death, which affects life in all its forms.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Aparecida 181-183: Communion Between The Churches

Paragraph 181 begins a section entitled, “Episcopal conferences and communion between the churches.” First, a reminder that bishops share and interact in responsibility:

181. In addition to the service that they provide in their particular churches, the bishops exercise this office together with the other diocesan churches. They thereby embody and manifest the bond of community that unites them to one another.

The post-conciliar experience of the past fifty years has uncovered some new vectors with bishops working between diocesan borders:

Especially since Vatican II, this experience of episcopal community must be understood as an encounter with the living Christ, present in the brethren united in his name.(Cf. EAm 37) To grow in this brotherhood and in shared pastoral coresponsibility, bishops must cultivate the spirituality of communion in order to augment the bonds of collegiality that unite them to the other bishops in their own conference, but also to the entire college of bishops and to the church of Rome, presided over by the successor of Peter: cum Petro et sub Petro. (Cf. John Paul II, Apostolos Suos) The bishops find in the episcopal conference their space for discerning in solidarity the major problems of society and the Church, and the stimulus for offering pastoral guidelines for encouraging the members of the People of God to assume their vocation of being missionary disciples faithfully and decisively.

Bishops work and serve the Church together not for the good of their own order, but for the Church and its mission. What does this mean? St John Paul II endorsed the cross-fertilization:

182. The People of God is built up as a communion of particular churches, and through them, as an exchange between cultures. In this framework, bishops and local churches express their concern for all the churches, especially for those closest, united in ecclesiastical provinces, regional conferences, and other forms of interdiocesan association within each nation or between countries of the same region or continent. These varied forms of community vigorously stimulate the “relationships of brotherhood between dioceses and parishes,”(Ibid. 33) and foster “greater cooperation between sister churches.” (Ibid. 74)

It’s about a “stimulation” for the cause of the Gospel.

A few specific words about the Latin American/Caribbean bishops:

183. CELAM is an ecclesial organism of fraternal aid among bishops whose primary concern is to work together for the evangelization of the continent. Over the course of its fifty years, it has provided very important services to the bishops conferences and to our particular churches, among which we highlight the general conferences, regional gatherings, and study seminars in its various agencies and institutions. The result of all this effort is a brotherhood felt between the bishops of the continent and a theological reflection and a common pastoral language that fosters communion and exchange between the churches.


For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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On My Bookshelf: The Benedict Option IV

Gaining momentum, Rod Dreher devotes the last three chapters of his book to two favorite topics for everyone: sex and technology. With regard to the former, it’s all the arguments about sex outside of heterosexual marriage from the culturewar. No real news there.

Conservatives (and, admittedly others too) wring their hands a lot over the internet. I doubt Mr Dreher would have as many readers without it. I was surprised he was surprised with the lack of smartphone reception at a monastery.

Online things and devices, like anything else, are a tool. The printing press led to big problems on the faith front in the years 1453-1517 and beyond. Just because something could be easily printed, didn’t mean it was reliable, true, or useful.

Some final thoughts … I admire the option to go Benedictine. Maybe I’m a bit envious of those I know who do. My wife, with her roots in evangelical Christianity, is a lot more suspect of “special communities.” So living apart and intentionally is not likely a working solution for me. I’m not invested enough to be persuasive of my spouse. Plus, I’m not so sure a skeptic like me would fit in one of Rod’s circles. I suspect it would be easier on me than on them. Living in an intentional community was something of a personal aspiration when I was in my twenties. But I’ve lived long enough to see the virtues of being realistic. Living in the world does not preclude good, constructive friendships–influencing and being influenced. I might even suggest that living in the world leaves some Christians more open to others who might need their friendship, guidance, and perspective. Not always, but sometimes. It’s a matter for discernment, not uniformity.

For the large part, Mr Dreher’s book adds to a larger discussion. It addresses questions primarily to lay people: How serious are you about your faith? What do you need to be a better person for Christ and his mission? For my part, I’d ask Rod why his inverviewees and acknowledgement credits are almost all male? He huffs and puffs a lot about sex, but despite going far afield in his conversations, he plays it pretty safe talking to conservative academics, conservative bloggers, conservative Christians, etc.. His book is valuable, well-written, and I’d recommend it if you like the topic, despite its flaws. But as a B-minus work, it just doesn’t go deep enough. For a guy who advocates “preparing for hard labor” in chapter 8, this effort is ideologically lazy. Several idoleogical activists and but one Benedictine monastery. That tells a lot.

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Aparecida 179-180: More on Base Communities

In paragraph 178, we ended with some concern on the part of bishops for base communities that have lost an “authentic feel” for the Church.

I mentioned in my comment on it that quite a number of groups might well be guilty of losing “authenticity” but retain an identification as “Catholic.”

The bishops offer some guidance. Here is an important checklist:

179. In the missionary following of Jesus, ecclesial base communities

  • have the word of God as source of their spirituality
  • and the guidance of their Shepherds to assure ecclesial communion.
  • They deploy their evangelizing and missionary commitment among the humblest and most distant,
  • and they visibly express the preferential option for the poor.
  • They are source and seed of varied services and ministries on behalf of life in society and the Church.

Remaining in communion with their bishop and participating in the overall thrust of diocesan pastoral activity, ecclesial base communities become a sign of vitality in the particular church. By thus acting in conjunction with parish groups, associations, and ecclesial movements, they can help revitalize parishes, making them a community of communities. In their effort to meet the challenges of the contemporary age, ecclesial base communities shall take care not to alter the precious treasure of the Church’s tradition and magisterium.

In addition to the Word, a deeplink to the sacramental life of the Church:

180. As a response to the demands of evangelization, along with ecclesial base communities there are other valid forms of small communities and even networks of communities, of movements, groups of life, prayer, and reflection on the Word of God. All ecclesial communities and groups will yield fruit insofar as the Eucharist is the center of their life and the Word of God is a beacon of their journey and activity in the one Church of Christ.

For a deeper look, remember to check the English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Aparecida 178: Base Communities

Base communities. Small groups. Intentional living. Lots of variations on this point, moving away from the parish. We know parishes can’t provide the level of personal interaction needed by people.

Let’s read what the Aparecida bishops build on, a tradition endorsed by previous meetings of the CELAM bishops.

178. In the ecclesial experience of some churches of Latin America and the Caribbean, basic (base) ecclesial communities have been schools that have helped form Christians committed to their faith, disciples and missionaries of the Lord, as is attested by the generous commitment of so many of their members, even to the point of shedding their blood. They return to the experience of the early communities as described in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. Acts 2:42-47). Medellin recognized in them an initial cell for building the Church and a focal point of faith and evangelization.(Cf. Medellin, 15) Puebla noted that small communities, especially basic ecclesial communities, enable the people to have access to greater knowledge of the Word of God, social commitment in the name of the Gospel, the emergence of new lay services, and education of the faith of adults.(Cf. Puebla 629) However, it also noted that “not a few members of certain communities, and even entire communities, have been drawn to purely lay institutions or have even been turned into ideological radicals, and are now in the process of losing any authentic feel for the Church.”(Ibid., 630.)

I don’t see these considerations as different from the aspirations of many Christians outside Latin America. The aspirations are certainly shared by folks like Rod Dreher, the promoter of the Benedictine Option. The variations in ideology are irrelevant.

For a deeper look, remember to check the English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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On My Bookshelf: The Benedict Option III

Rod Dreher’s middle chapters on liturgy and community make the most sense to me. Once he gets out of politics, his thinking and the writing that represents it gets clearer. Liam’s comment brings it together for me:

When Rod steps off the topical treadmill, his writing gains immensely.

I can even see the point Mr Dreher makes about “tightening church discipline,” though I think this is ideally handled in the context of a fair-minded local community and not a distant clerical elite. Or worse, an ideological one. I recognize Rod’s personal bitterness with “misbehavers” over the years. That’s certainly colored my church experience, too.

In my view, Chapter Seven on “Education as Christian Formation” is largely a failure. I might comment on the Enlightenment emphasis on human reason and will. I’m a big skeptic to the notion that you can learn a person into good morality and ethics–let alone faith and belief. Here’s one nugget:

In traditional Christianity, the ultimate goal of the soul is to love and serve God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, to achieve unity with Him in eternity.

Do you see what’s missing? The Great Commission entrusts a mission to us before we achieve eternal unity, namely the proclamation of Christ to the world. Sure: you can say this is done in the service of God. I might argue that heaven is the natural consequence of the cooperation with grace in this life–why mention that either? The commonality of the ancient Church was this kerygmatic impulse. Evangelization wasn’t left to the experts. It began with those unnamed seventy-two even before Jesus completed his earthly mission.

The author touts Great Books and a Classical Education, but again: this is head stuff. It can be mastered without touching a student’s heart. The uncritical embrace of “traditional” Western Civilization is part of the problem. There are values to be found among the “dead white men” of the Christian West, to be sure. But not every value is a virtue. Classical education did not prevent many grievous sins in generations past. Young people are right to question aspects of “tradition” that work in ways contrary to the Gospel, or to basic moral conduct.

I’ll finish up the book in a few days and report one those final chapters and offer a conclusion.

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Aparecida 177: Sacrament of Reconciliation

You readers know I’m a skeptic when it comes to any notion of “exceptionalism” in generations–good or bad. When I read observations about a loss of a sense of sin, I think, “That’s not new. That’s always going on.”

177. Benedict XVI reminds us that “a love for the Eucharist leads to a growing appreciation of the sacrament of Reconciliation”(Sacramentum Caritatis 20) We live in a culture marked by strong relativism and a loss of the sense of sin which leads us to forget the need for the sacrament of Reconciliation in order to worthily approach receiving the Eucharist.

It is not a mark of a particular culture, but rather the human condition to lose or lack a sense of sin. That said, the following guidance is always helpful and appropriate:

As pastors, we are called to encourage frequent confession. We invite our priests to devote sufficient time to offering the sacrament of Reconciliation with pastoral zeal and merciful hearts, and to prepare worthily the places of celebration, so that they may express the meaning of this sacrament. Likewise, we ask our faithful to appreciate this marvelous gift of God and to approach it in order to renew baptismal grace and to live more authentically the call of Jesus to be his disciples and missionaries.

Good, this: the connection to baptism, grace, and the work of discipleship.

We bishops and priests, ministers of reconciliation, are particularly called to live intimately with the Master. We are conscious of our weakness and of the need to be purified by the grace of the sacrament which is offered to us so that we may identify ever more with Christ, Good Shepherd, and missionary of the Father. As it is our joy to be fully available as ministers of reconciliation, we ourselves must also frequently approach, on our penitential journey, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

For a deeper look, remember to check the English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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