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!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Synod - Day 7

Today, I lived a truly beautiful 'Church' moment. About twenty cardinals, bishops and priests, sitting for six hours with three married couples, all working through the various points raised in the 'relation post-disceptationem'. I was struck by the quality of the interventions, by the intensity of mutual listening, by the confrontation of cultures and experiences, by the great variety of the questions themselves. I admired the sustained effort to bring the centuries-old wisdom of the Church into dialogue with the modern world. The deeply humanising vision of the Gospel is at the heart of the Synod's work. 

And how did we do this work? Simply by going through the text paragraph by paragraph and reacting according to our worries, our enthusiasms and our convictions. the confrontation of ideas slowly allows us to arrive at a formulation where all can find themselves.

I admire the work of our moderator, Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna, who allows each of us to express ourselves freely and with respect, while ensuring that we move forward efficaciously... for we need to make our way to the end of the text. Our secretary, Bishop Léonard of Brussels, shows a remarkable gift of synthesis and a keen sense of wit. 

Tomorrow, we will discuss the modifications to the text which will have been prepared by Bishop Leonard according to our propositions. A few of us will also present some paragraphs on themes we feel were not well developped in the text. I myself must prepare something on the impact of the internet on family life. A little bit of homework to finish before heading to bed.

So on that note, I wish you all a good night. 

P.S.: A little mistake in yesterday's blog. I should have spoken of Paul VI's beatification, not his canonization. Thanks to all the friends who made me aware of this slip.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Synod - Day 6

Those who follow my blog assiduously (I think there are three or four of you) will have noticed that I skipped Day 5 of the Synod. Not that it wasn't interesting. But I came down with a real man's cold. (You know how much worse that is than a woman's cold. A woman gets a cold and keeps on working and caring for the household; but a man gets a cold and everything stops!) Poor me: coughing, sneezing, blowing my nose, burning throat... and all during a humid heat wave which is causing even the Romans to complain. This Roman October feels like the worst summer days in Gatineau. So I just didn't have the energy to get my ideas together for my blog over the weekend--- all the more so since I had to work a bit on the Synod message. As I remarked in an earlier post, I was named to the committee which must prepare a message for all the families of the world on behalf of the bishops gathered here in Rome. We are well led by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, man of great culture, specialist of the Bible and noted author. With him, the work is easy. We spent time together Friday and Today polishing the draft he prepared for us. The text will be published at the end of the Synod. I think it will be quite beautiful.

Meanwhile, we finished the undending 4-minute talks that each bishop was allowed to give (there were nearly 200!) I must admit, after having lived through this twice (the first time being in 2005 when I participated in the Synod on the Eucharist), I would like to see this procedure seriously reviewed. I am sure there are other processes that would be more efficient, interesting and fruitful. I hope they'll make a thorough evaluation of this process after the Synod.

This morning, we received the «relatio post-disceptationem», that is, the synopsis of our discussions of last week. I admire Cardinal Erdo and his team: in two days, they were able to present a synthesis which holds well together, written with an open and engaging style. A serious problem has arisen, however. This text, which is but a working instrument helping us to identify the questions which now need to be clarified, has been made public. Unfortunately, the media have interpreted it as the Synod's position, while it is only a sampling of options that have been presented to date. We now have to work to find a common language, a vision that will be acceptable to the great majority of bishops. This involves mutual listening where individual positions are adjusted in light of the wisdom we hear from others. I believe the final text  will be quite different -- at least on some points -- from the 'relatio' we have received today. We risk seeing an unplesant media spin in the days that will follow. I must say I'm starting to better understand the experience which must have been lived during the sessions of the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago! 

Let me end on a positive note. This eveing, I went to a 'spiritual concert' put on my a friend of mine, Father Pierre Paul, the director of music at Saint Peter's Basilica. This concert was made of various works by Bach and Haendel, interspersed with texts that presented the spiritual journey of Pope Paul VI whose beatification we will celebrate next Sunday to conclude the Synod. This concert was a beautiful moment of prayer for me that allowed me to discover the great spirit of this good Pope who not appreciated enough in our world. On this Canadian feast of thanksgiving, I say Thank you, Lord for music, an undeniable sign for me of the existence of the soul and of the transcendance of the human being. Good night to all!