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!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Synod - Day 4

Synod - Day 4

Starting yesterday afternoon, we discussed situations that do not correspond to the figure of the Christian family as presented by Jesus himself. In a special way, we discussed the accompaniment of people who have divorced and remarried, as well as those living in polygamy (which, in Africa, is culturally accepted). The discussion focused on the issue of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.

Some answer NO: for them, the objective reality of non-correspondence to the Law of Christ, either at the moral or sacramental level, impedes access to these sacraments. According to them, we should rather consider spiritual communion as a way forward.

Other say YES: for them, this would be a sign of mercy in response to a sincere need to feel close to Christ. One of them cited the prophet Isaiah: « You who are hungry, come and eat, without paying any price. »

Third option: SOMETIMES - all would depend on the concrete situation of the individual, of his or her attachment to Christ, of his personal journey. This calls for discernment in each case

Nearly all the delegates feel we need to make it easier for the first marriage to be judged and, when appropriate, declared null. Thus, some suggest: i. that the judicial process of nullity be simplified; ii. that an administrative be process be set in place; iii. that a broader understanding and generous use of the pauline privilege in dissolving certain marriages by the Pope be developed; iv. that the process be made free for those using it.

People ask me what my own position is. At this moment, I think we need to study this issue in the context of a more global approach to the pastoral care of those whose marriage has failed. We need to recognaize that in some of these cases such people are undergoing a deeply spiritual journey. Could bishops not then have the liberty to include access to the sacraments as an element of this pastoral care?

One thing is certain: ALL the bishops at the Synod are FOR the indissolubility of marriage and FOR merciful pastoral care of those who experience failure. It's not so much a case of choosing between the two, but of knowing how to articulate them concretely in the various situations that present themselves to us.

One last remark for today: I am particularly struck by the place that personal stories are taking in our discussions. Bishops are telling stories; observers are telling THEIR stories; and I feel that there are very concrete stories behind some of the more abstract interventions. It seems to me that the Synod is passing from a purely deductive theology (which starts from principles and applies them to concrete situations) to a more inductive theology (which starts from concrete situations to draw out the principles).

Obviously, such a distinction should not be held in an absolute way, but rather in equilibrium, in a healthy and fruitful tension. It reminds us that the concrete experience of Christians is also a 'locus theologicus', a theological space, a source for understanding the ways of God

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Synod - Day 3

I thought that I would simply share with you a few quotes from the approximately 60 4-minute talks we listened to on this Wednesday. The themes that were addressed were: the challenges families face in today's world; particular situations that require the Church's pastoral care. I've noted the continents or regions in order to help set the context for these quotes.

(North America) Two great challenge in pastoral care of the faithful: i. to form active, faithful families (marriage prep, catechetical tools, movements that support families, new media); and ii. to reach out to broken families.

(Europe) We need to renew our engagement in proclaiming the beauty of the family. The ministry of the couple is not limited to the exchange of vows, but to the whole of family life. This ministry is broken when one of the parents is absent. We need to reach out to these situations. And greater care must be given to marriage preparation, where mentor couples can witness to stable, faithful relationships in a world where many young people do not experience this.

(Europe) The importance of lay movements in this area of Church life, of social life: they are part of the Spirit's response to the crisis of the family in the world. We need to reconfirm the faith of the Church in the youth of today as new evangelizers of the world.

(Asia) Families are being eroded, especially in urban areas. There are four problems: Finances - both parents need to work, creating great stress; Migration of one parent for work - prolonged separations; Media - they present a glamorous but unreal, making real family life unappetizing; Globalization - materialism becomes the normal value. Four remedies: Spirituality and Prayer - ex. Family masses; Media - Guiding the youth in their use; Devotional practices - Marian feasts are popular: occasions to be used in evangelization of families; Youth apostolate - the grounding of our future families.

(Africa) In our country, only 27 percent of children grow up with both biological parents present (in most cases, the father is absent). i. We need to simplify the annulment process. Can we not provide for an oral contentious process? ii. Could there be a presumption of validity of a second marriage if it is fruitful and permanent? This could be a way to open to communion of the divorced and civilly remarried. iii. Greater effort is needed to prepare young people for Christian marriage, and the parish community has to take this up. We need to provide good role models for youth. We need to provide good ministry of men to and for men.

(Europe) The exclusion of divorced and remarried Catholics from communion should NOT be interpreted as a judment on the moral value of their lives. We hurt them deeply when we say that they cannot receive communion because they are in a state of mortal sin. This is not why communion is incompatible with a second marriage: rather, it is because communion is an expression of the nuptial relationship between Christ and his Church. Marriage is also an expression of this love, and a person who has broken his marriage and taken up a second relationship finds himself or herself in a situation which is symbolically incompatible with the meaning of communion.

(Africa) We need to take a new look at polygamy. It is considered a normal state of affairs in many places. People have difficulty understanding why this condition is closed to God's saving love in Jesus-Christ. If divorced and remarried couples are admitted to communion, we could not refuse communion to those who are living polygamy. I think we have to find an approach which focuses on each individual situation, rather than an absolute or general yes or no.

... So there you have a few voices from the synod hall. I hope it helps you understand the great diversity of realities that are faced by families and by the Church throughout the world. Finding a common way forward is a great challenge. It's a good thing we'll have a year to reflect on and discuss these issues before gathering again to propose solutions!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Synod - Day 1

Today, we started the work of the Synod. To give you a sense of the rhythm of such days, let me share with you my schedule : 6 a.m.: rise, individual morning prayer and office of readings; 7 a.m.: Mass, followed by breakfast; 8:15: departure for the Vatican, where the morning session started at 9:30. Coffee break at 11:00 and continuation of morning session until 12:30. Return to the residence for lunch and rest. At 4:00 p.m., departure for the Vatican, where the evening session ran from 4:30 to 7:00 without a break. Return to the house for the supper at 7:30. Here I am in my room at 8:30 p.m., answering my e-mails of the day and preparing the text you are now reading. I think I'll sleep well today.

I've already mentioned that this is my second Synod. This morning, I witnessed a first difference: Pope Francis arrived twenty minutes before the beginning of the session to welcome the participants with a warm handshake. He came down to the bar to share the coffee break with us, speaking with all those who approached him. What a breath of fresh air!

The Synod's procedure is friendlier. The presidents speak their own language, rather than Latin. Moments of humour lighten the process. There's a feeling of true fraternity in the hall.

This morning, the Pope spoke out to invite us all to speak openly and frankly; and to listen attentively, with humility. These are the two qualities necessary for the true synodality, a word which litterally means 'walking together'. My feeling is that the bishops are taking this invitation seriously.

Two long speeches followed: the first, by the secretary of the Synod, outligned the work of the secretariate since the last assembly three years ago; the second, of a theological slant, presented some of the questions that we will be discussing during the next two weeks.

The afternoon sessions saw the beginning of the interventions of the delegates. Each can speak for four minutes on one point or another of the Working Document. (which you can find at

One improvement during this synod: the interventions must follow the order of the Working Document. Since the topic I wanted to speak about is found in the first paragraphs of the Working Document, I was one of the first to speak. I presented a few thoughts connected to number 15 of the document: Some reasons for the difficulty in receiving the teaching of the Church in today's world.

What I expecially wanted to say was that we should not only focus on what is negative in the world which is ours. True, there are many broken families, abandoned children, deeply wounded individuals. It is true that sexuality is often lived more as a leisure activity than as a true loving language of deep self-giving to another. It is also true that less and less couples are choosing marriage today. However, there are also positive realities in our world today. I named the commitment to equality between men and women in marriage, the refusal of all violence to children and women, the growing role of fathers in the affective life of their children, the place given to communication, mutual respect and healthy relationsihops. All of this is good and should be recognized and celebrated by Church leaders, creating openings for dialogue with society where the Church can proclais its humanizing teaching on family, marriage and sexuality.

I also expressed my conviction that the Church herself can be enriched in its theological reflection on marriage by such a dialogue with the modern world. Bishops made such a move fifty years ago at the Second Vatican Council. We should imitate them in encountering others, as Pope Francis invites us to do.

And thus did I finish my four minutes of great nervousness (my hands were shaking) and adrenaline rush. Many of my brother bishops shared words of encouragement with me. However, let's remember that this was only one of sixteen interventions this afternoon. There followed an hour of free discussion where each speaker was allowed three minutes.

This is how one bishop summarized the afternoons talks:

1. We have a lot of work to do in renewing the Church's language about sexuality, marriage and family life. We need to move from a theological and moralizing language to one which is more biblical and more inspiring, which will raise up spirits and hearts and invite us all to the our better natures.

2. We need to appreciate the gradualness of the Christian experience as it grows in time, often very slowly; whence the importance of welcome, pastoral accompaniment and patience.

3. We need to look at today's world with friendship as we seek those openings (my words!) which will allow a true dialogue between Church leaders and those who experience the challenges of family life.

And so ends the first day, intense, rich, tiring. I think it's time for bed!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Synod - Day 0

Last night I took up my residence for the next two weeks in the International Center for Missionary Animation, located on the campus of the University Urbaniana on the summit of the hill known as the Janiculum, overlooking St. Peter's Basilica. Indeed, this rather modest residence has a most remarkable view of St. Peter's Square. Go to this site - - to see various photographs that will help you discover my new, temporary residence. Click on 'camera' to see my simple room... and on 'vista del terrazzo' to enjoy the view.

It's the Secretariat of the Synod that assigned the various residences to the participating bishops. I'm discovering this one for the first time. It's part of a university complex that the Vatican has built up over the centuries to ensure the specific formation of priests from what we used to call 'missionary countries'. In fact, the majority of the twenty bishops residing here come from these countries. At lunch, I conversed with Benjamin Ndiaye, bishop of Kaolack in Senegal, where the Christians make up barely one percent of the total population, a few drops in a Muslim ocean; with Samuel Kleda, archbishop of Douala in Cameroun, who worries about the corruption and avariciousness of the leading classes of his region; and with Ignatius Kaigama, archbishop of Jos in Nigeria, caught in the struggle with the terrorist group Boko Haran. I'm quickly growing in my awareness of the universality of our Catholic Church; of the diversity of cultural, political and economic experiences that mark us; of the very particular - and minority - viewpoint that I bring, coming from North America with its wealth, secularism and liberal mindedness. I believe we'll be living a truly international encounter during the coming weeks, in the fullest sense of the word.

The event that gathered us on this festive day, a kind of forward to the Synod, was Mass with Pope Francis. In the short and poignant homily he gave - the kind he specializes in! - he drew a parallel between the Gospel of the day and our own synodal journey. In this Gospel passage, Jesus presents the parable of the vine, whose managers seek to control the profit in spite of the master's plan. Following the old tradition of the Psalms and of the prophets, Jesus reminds his audience that the vine is God's people. The master is God's very self, who tends his People 'with a love which is patient and faithful, so that they might become a holy people, a people that will bear many fruits of justice'. Who are the managers? Today, we could say it's the bishops. But here's the key question: are we like the managers of the parable, betraying the master's dream because of our own cupidity or pride, in order to make of it what we want? The Pope continues: 'We can 'disappoint' God's dream if we do not allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. May the Spirit give us that wisdom, which is so much beyond knowledge, to work generously with true freedom and humble creativity.'

Love of the people, wisdom, freedom and creativity: these are the kew-words to remember as we enter into the synodal process proper. I hope with all my heart that these words will indeed be characteristic of our work in the days to come.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Synod - Day -1

Saturday morning, Franfurt airport, en route for Rome

Tomorrow sees the beginning of the third extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops. I will be participating as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, one of 114 presidents of  national conferences called to this assembly. With us will be the heads of Oriental Catholic Churches, leaders of the dicasteries that form the Roman Curia, delegates personally named by Pope Francis, observers, experts and oecumenical delegates: more than 200 participants, if I'm not mistaken.

You already know the theme: 'The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization'. There's been a lot of talk about it since last November when the Secretariat of the Synod sent a questionnaire about these challenges to the episcopal conferences of the world, inviting the bishops to proceed with a broad consultation. Need I remind you that this Synod will only be preparing the material for the general Synod which will be held next year on the same theme?

I had the honour of participating in a Synod once before in 2005. This was the Synod on the Eucharist as source and summit of the life and mission of the Church. It had been called by John Paul II, but was presided by Benedict XVI. I must admit I was not bombarded then as I have been these past weeks with letters, emails, books and articles, request for interviews and more advice than I could imagine. This is obviously a sign of the interest that has been raised by the theme as well as the expectations that seem to attend anything to do with Pope Francis. It also reflects the seriousness of the issues that will be discussed. I think this is healthy for our Church. Such an exchange of views can only deepen our reflection and better guide our action as we accompany today's families.  

As I sit in front of this large window gazing at the reflections of the rising sun in the the portholes of the many planes that grace the airport here in Frankfurt, I'm trying to articulate what I'm feeling in the present moment. To be quite honest, I feel a bit overwhelmed. First of all, by the responsibility which is mine as a diocesan bishop, a responsibility I try my best to fulfill in a diocese that, like so many others, is seeking to find the way of the Gospel in the modernity that surrounds us. This past week, I found myself trying to extinguish many small fires: a discouragement here,  a disappointment there, one's frustrations, another's misunderstandings. I can't seem to keep up with my correspondence or my emails. And to top it all off, I friend of mine is close to death. She's too young, much too young... 
I'm reading many very serous studies, theological and pastoral reflections concerning the subjects we'll be discussing at the Synod, and I feel like I'd need a sabbatical year just to get a better grasp of the theology of marriage, of the ministry of reconciliation, of ecclesiastical procedural law and of spirituality. There's so much to learn.

Yes, I feel overwhelmed... and quite small. Who am I to speak on behalf of the Bishops of Canada in this august assembly, when we've had so little time to listen to each other on these most important topics? My own experience is so limited, my point of view so partial...

However, someone had to be here, someone has to speak up and engage the conversation. As it did for Saint Matthias, the lot fell upon me. So I have to seriously set myself to seeking God's will for me, in prayer, in humility and in listening. And for this, I'm counting on you, dear readers: please accompany me, accompany all of us in your daily prayers during the next two weeks. Let us pray for one another so that the whole People of God might take up this moment to reflect on our families, on the families that surround us, on all the families of the world. May we be able to take up together the challenges that are ours 'in the context of evangelisation'.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Two Movements of the Christian Life

Read Timothy 1:8-10

“For God has saved us, and given us a holy vocation.” Thus does Saint Paul present Christian life.

First, we are saved. That is to say we discover God’s love for us. Such a discovery sets us free from fear, liberates us from all those needs that lead us to choose evil. In salvation, we discover life not as a trial to be endured but as a gift to be opened.

Then, we are sent. That is to say we discover God’s mission for us, our vocation. God invites us to collaborate in the realisation of his loving plan for humanity. It is not enough that we should be the passive subjects of his love, God wants us to be active players, involved with God in bringing about the Kingdom of justice, peace and joy.

We must not forget this: vocation flows out of salvations, not vice versa. We are not saved because we follow Christ; rather, we follow Christ because we are saved. For example, I do not attend Mass on Sundays “so that” God will love me; rather, I attend Mass on Sundays “because” God loves me. In this slight change of perspective lies all the beauty of Christian life. All of its challenge, too.

In the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches, we find three sacraments of initiation : baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.

Baptism is the sacrament of salvation. It is the sacred ritual through which we are plunged into the death of Christ in order to live with him forever. We become brothers and sisters of Jesus, children of the one Father. Our hearts are opened to his love.

Confirmation is the sacrament of vocation. It is the sacred ritual through which we are anointed by the Spirit, sent with Christ to bring the Good News to others by what we do, by what we say, by what we are.

The Eucharist – Mass – continually takes up these two movements: we taste God’s love and then are sent to share that love in the world. That is why we say the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission.

One must breathe to stay alive. Breathing means not only taking air into our lungs, but also blowing that air back out into space. Both movements are essential. It is the same with Christian life: we must welcome God’s love in our hearts and then send it back into the world.

Every seven days, Sunday Mass gives us the time to breathe deeply and to rediscover that, indeed, “God has saved us” and “has given us a holy vocation.”

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Cosmic Struggle

Read Romans 5 : 12-19

This first Sunday of Lent presents us with one of the central texts in all of Paul’s writings. In this passage of his letter to the Romans, Paul describes the cosmic battle between good and evil, Jesus representing the forces of good and Adam, those of evil.

It reminds me a bit of Star Wars, that famous series of films where the universe is represented as being sustained by a “force” which itself is composed of a luminous aspect and a “dark side.” Luke Skywalker, the hero of these films, must avoid giving in to the dark side of this “force” the way his father did. He must choose between these two aspects of the “force.”

This can be compared to the Christian understanding of God. Like the “force” in the movie, the God of Jesus-Christ sustains the universe with power. The cosmos is born out of the almighty will of God. But there are at least two major differences between the “force” of these fictitious films and the reality of God. First, God is not an impersonal “force,” but a loving strength, a compassionate presence. The “force” doesn’t care. God does. And – what is equally important to remember – there is no “dark side” to God. As Paul teaches us, God is nothing but light, mercy, love. It is in turning away from God, in rejecting his loving power, that we plunge ourselves into darkness and death.

This is what Adam did, according to the story that opens the Bible. By turning away from God, he plunged himself into darkness with all his descendants. He inaugurated a cycle of violence that, since that beginning, has characterized human history, a history in which we are all involved from the moment of our births. Adam’s refusal of God encompasses and represents all the refusals that will follow, including our own.

Yet, in the face of these refusals, the inexhaustible love and mercy of the One who holds the whole world in his hands endures. God sent his Son to reverse the cycle of violence inaugurated by Adam. This violence, this evil that weaves its dark veil over human history, cannot stand before the luminous presence of Christ. As Saint Paul says, “there is no comparison between the free gift of God and the fault.” Indeed, the gift of God overtakes the fault, forgives it, erases it, overcomes its deathly effect.

It remains for us to choose with whom we shall stand : with Adam, our proud, rebellious, sinful grand-father? Or with Jesus, our obedient, faithful, loving big brother? Unlike Luke Skywalker, we are not abandoned to ourselves in making this choice. God himself reaches out to us, giving us his Spirit, the power we need to choose life. During these fourty days, let us open our hearts to the Spirit, let us choose to live with Christ. This is my prayer for us all as we start Lent.