Saturday, December 5, 2015

This is what we celebrate at Christmas

Against the expectations of her family, a teenage girl finds herself pregnant. The laws of the State force her to follow her fiancé to another province, where she doesn’t know anyone. She gives birth to her child in the most abject poverty. Facing persecution, she is forced to exile herself to a foreign land, where she raises her son among refugees...

The media are full of stories like this one, day after day, to the point that we don’t notice them anymore. Except when the photo of a dead child who has just been washed up on a beach comes along to upset us. Then it’s no longer just a story. For here is a child just like mine. His family, too, is just like mine, even as they struggle through a terribly, cruel tragedy.

And the story of the pregnant teenager isn’t just a story, either. Her name was Myriam. Her fiancé was called Yosef. She named her son Yeshuwah. We know them better under their anglicized names: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Yes, Jesus was a real child with two flesh-and-blood parents, victims of the politics and the wars of his time, suffering exclusion, poverty and exile. Surrounding this family we find a few simple shepherds, some astrologers from foreign lands, two elderly people at the Temple.

In the lives of this couple and this child who resemble us so much, Christians from every age have recognized the Hand of God at work. God tracing a new path for our history. God opening up a future that promises, beyond all violence and war, a Reign of justice, peace, and joy

This is what we celebrate at Christmas. The memory of these people. The inauguration of a new era in our history. The arrival in our world of a God who, wonder of wonders, makes himself as small and as fragile as a newborn babe.

How can we celebrate Christmas, therefore, without thinking of the thousands of families who, even today, endure tragedies similar to those endured by that family from Nazareth? May Christmas open our hearts and our homes to lost teenagers, to desperate young couples, to refugees without hope, to exiles without friends, to all those who feel as small and as vulnerable as a newborn child. Just like Jesus.


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 :

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.