Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Selection of Bishops

People often ask me how bishops are chosen in the Roman Catholic Church. The simple answer is that the Pope names them. However, that begs the question: how does the Pope know the person he is choosing? The answer to this second question is more complicated.

The Pope has a network of ambassadors across the world, called “nuncios”. Presently, the nuncio in Canada is Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana. Nuncios are priests who have received intense training in diplomacy at a specialized academy in Rome. They usually spend all their lives working in the Vatican’s diplomatic and administrative services. And they usually change postings every six to eight years. In countries such as Canada which maintain diplomatic relations with the Vatican, the nuncio acts as the Vatican’s ambassador to that country.

Among their responsibilities, the nuncios across the world must get to know the bishops of their assigned country and the dioceses that they lead and govern. It is the nuncios who will forward to the Vatican the names of possible candidates – always three – to replace a bishop who has retired or been transferred. The preparation of this list of three names, called the “terna”, is among the most important tasks entrusted to nuncios.

Every second year, bishops of a given area will gather to discuss the names of priests they know who could potentially be good bishops. They share their knowledge of these candidates and send a report to the nuncio containing these names and their evaluations. This list will be the starting point for the nuncio as he develops each “terna”. Then nuncio will also consult directly on individual candidates by sending questionnaires to people who might know them personally. All of this is done in absolute confidentiality, so that a candidate will never know that he is being considered for this position.

After having established his “terna”, the nuncio might send his list to leading members of the diocese concerned in order to receive their comments on each of the candidates in view of the particular needs of the diocese. The nuncio will then set an order of preference among the three candidates as he sends the “terna” to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.

The Congregation for Bishops is presently led by Cardinal Marc Ouellette, former Archbishop of Quebec City. Cardinal Ouellette receives the “ternas” from across the world, studies them, and then submits them for discussion to a select group of consultors that gather regularly in his office. After this final consultation, Cardinal Ouellette meets with the Pope to present the “ternas” as well as the nuncio’s report, his consultors’ thoughts and his own advice. That is when the Pope names the new bishop.

The Pope’s choice is transmitted to the nuncio’s office by Cardinal Ouellette’s staff. The nuncio contacts the priest who has just been appointed, informs him that the Pope has named him bishop of a certain diocese, and asks if he accepts the nomination. If the priest does, he commits himself to secrecy about the nomination until it is announced a few days or weeks later in Rome. And that is how a bishop is (usually) selected in the Roman Catholic Church.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Catholic Education Symposium

Last weekend, I had the great fortune of participating in a historic event in our province: the first provincial conference gathering representatives from all the Catholic school boards of Ontario, both French and English. Actually, two conferences were held simultaneously in nearby hotels in Toronto, one in each of our official languages. However, the two groups did come together to celebrate Mass, to share in a banquet and to listen to a bilingual keynote talk given by yours truly.

Parents and teachers, students and priests, trustees and administrators: there were over 800 of us assembled to reflect on the enduring of gift of Catholic education in our province, to consider present challenges and to imagine ways of moving forward. The theme of the English symposium was: “Living our Legacy, Forging our Future”, while the French symposium was entitled: “Enfants de Dieu, citoyens du monde: toute une différence!”

My own contribution was to propose a reflection on Catholic schools at the crossroads of faith and culture. I started by defining what I meant by culture: not a narrow view which limits culture to opera and museums, but a broader view where culture can be defined as “the habits of the heart”. Indeed, our culture is found in the air we breathe and shapes our attitudes, our tastes and our convictions in subtle ways that we don’t even recognize. Some of the characteristics of our present Western culture include a focus on individualism, on consumerism, on rationalism and on pleasure. Our culture is secular, in the sense that it excludes the idea of God as a integral part of its worldview. In our culture, religion is seen as a personal, private matter only.

If all schools are meant to impart culture, to help students assimilate their culture, how can Catholic schools do so without betraying their religious heritage? This truly is a major challenge. I suggested that Catholic schools can respond to that challenge by focusing on two broad issues: identifying how our Catholic tradition can enrich our present culture; and forging new ways of presenting our tradition so that it resonates in the present culture.

All of this is intimately bound to the broader Church’s struggle with what Blessed John Paul II called the “New Evangelization”. He claimed that we need to find new ways, new languages and new energies to proclaim the unchanging Gospel because of the changes in our culture. Benedict XVI has taken up this same focus, establishing a Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, and calling for the next international Bishops’ Synod to focus on this issue.

As Catholics, we do not turn away from our culture, nor despise it. We recognize it for what it is, with all its beauties and weaknesses, and we want to contribute to it. Culture can be life-giving or life-crushing; it can enhance human dignity or disparage it; it can help people become all they are meant to be, or stop people from truly realizing themselves. Jesus proclaimed a Kingdom of justice, peace and joy. Certainly, these are gifts that all Christians can bring to whatever culture they inhabit. The challenge is for Catholic schools to bring these gifts to our students and to our province alike.

Participants in last week’s symposium have shared with me their renewed enthusiasm and commitment for Catholic education. I pray that the seeds planted by this event will blossom in every corner of our province.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A New Mass Translation

Next fall, Catholics will start using a new English translation of the Mass, replacing the version that has been in use for the past forty years. A bit of history is required to understand why this is happening and what it means.

Fifty years ago, Catholic bishops from around the world gathered in Rome to discuss various issues concerning the Church’s life. The first decisions to come out of this gathering, known as the Second Vatican Council, concerned the liturgy. The bishops wanted to renew the worship of the Church by returning to the first centuries of Christianity. Rituals were simplified, prayers were revised, and the radical decision was taken to allow the liturgy to be celebrated in the language of the people. Before then, and going back to the fifth century, the Roman Catholic liturgy had been celebrated only in Latin.

Guidelines were produced for the work of translation. The basic principal adopted was known as dynamic translation, where more attention is paid to the meaning of sentences than to the individual words. According to this principle, translators focus on meaning rather than on expressions. For example, a greeting often used in the liturgy is “Dominus vobiscum”, the response being “et cum spiritu tuo”. Word by word, this translates as “Lord with-you”, answered by “and with spirit yours”. Following the principle of dynamic translation, the approved English text became “The Lord be with you; and also with you”.

During the ensuing decades, translators debated the value of such dynamic translations. The conviction grew that by straying from the words themselves, nuances in the original meaning were being lost as well as echoes from the Bible itself. For example, in writing to his friend Timothy, Saint Paul used the greeting: “The Lord be with your spirit” (2 Tim 4:22). By avoiding the word “spirit” in the English translation of the Mass, the connection between the liturgical greeting and Scripture was lost.

For such reasons, the Vatican issued a new set of guidelines for translation in 2001. The principle of dynamic translation was abandoned in favour of an approach that pays greater attention to the individual words and expressions. The hope expressed in these guidelines is that new the translations “should be characterized by a kind of language which is easily understandable, yet which at the same time preserves these texts’ dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision”.

The bishops of those countries where English is a principal language entrusted the development of these new translations to an international committee. Each draft was sent to each Anglophone bishop for his comments and eventual approval. The ultimate version has been recognized by Rome. The implementation date for the new translation has been set for the first Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2011, both in Canada and in the United States.

The first of many changes people will notice is that now, when the priest greets them with the words “The Lord be with you”, they will answer “And with your spirit”. It will be noted that, as a rule, care has been taken to maintain continuity in the people’s responses and prayers. However, the priest’s prayers have been radically overhauled. Next week, I’ll explain a bit more what these changes entail.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Today is Easter Sunday.

This is the day when the mute finality of death was transformed into a life-promising passage.

This is the day when fear-begetting religion was changed into grace-filled faith.

This is the day when time-bound humanity was freed from its limitations to taste eternity.

This day is truly the day when everything changed. On this day was born the Church, for without the resurrection, there would be no Church. The whole of the Christian faith hangs on this one fact: that Jesus of Nazareth, who had been tortured, crucified, killed and buried, revealed himself a few days after his death as fully alive, alive with a life beyond all human imagining. Without this belief, the whole story of Jesus makes no sense. Without this belief, the whole history of the Church is one terrible mistake. As Saint Paul puts it bluntly: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Cor 15:19).

Doubters will say that this is only fantasy, the product of humanity’s unwillingness to face the stark reality of its own mortality. For them, life ends with the body’s final breath and everything else is but wishful thinking. They ask for proof that Christ rose from the dead. They say that the Apostles made it all up.

I agree: there is no proof. May I suggest, however, that there are many questions? To start with, why would the Apostles have made up such a story? There was nothing in the Jewish tradition to suggest the Messiah would die and be brought back to life. As a matter of fact, the death of Jesus on the cross could only mean one thing to the Jewish mind: that Jesus was not the Messiah, that God had spurned him, rejected him, revealed him to be a fraud.

The Apostles’ own lives were in danger. None had stayed to witness Jesus’ death, except for young John who stayed with Mary. Judas had taken his own life. Peter had run away crying. When, after Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples dared to gather, it was in fear that they also would be hunted down to be tortured and killed. Some, like the disciples from Emmaus, headed straight back home, their hearts full of sadness and despair. Others, like the women, thought only of completing the burial rituals that had been hurried on the eve of the Sabbath.

What happened to change them so radically? What transformed them from this fear-filled, hope-dashed, dispirited collection of frail humanity into a faith-filled, hope-inspiring, courageous community of believers? What gave them the ability to leave Jerusalem, no longer to hide from the authorities but to preach a Good News to the world? What gave them the courage to face persecution, torture and death with a prayer in their hearts and a smile on their lips?

Something unexpected happened to them that first Easter Sunday morning. Something that would give meaning to their lives, purpose to their journey and strength to their hearts.

They say they met the living Lord Jesus.

And isn’t it extraordinary that many who, throughout the centuries, have listened to their testimony and opened their hearts and minds to the possibility that it is true have found the same meaning, purpose and strength in their own lives.

We gather every Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. We gather this Easter Sunday with particular joy and solemnity to emphasize what is true of every Sunday: this first day of the week is also the first day of a new world, a world of faith, hope and love. Christ is risen! Indeed, he is truly risen! Alleluia!