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Pope Francis blesses a rosary for a pilgrim in St. Peter's Square during the Wednesday general audience on Dec. 4, 2013. Credit: Kyle Burkhart / CNA.

Pope Francis blesses a rosary for a pilgrim in St. Peter’s Square during the Wednesday general audience on Dec. 4, 2013. Credit: Kyle Burkhart / CNA.

.- In his Wednesday general audience this morning, Pope Francis stressed the importance of humility and service in the Christian life.

“It is an ugly thing when one sees a Christian who does not want to lower himself, who does not want to serve, a Christian who parades around everywhere. It’s terrible, no? That person isn’t a Christian: he is a pagan! The Christian serves (and) lowers himself,” said the Pope on Dec. 18 in St. Peter’s Square.

With Christmas approaching, Pope Francis focused on the great ‘gift’ of God in sending his son, who came humbly as a baby in Bethlehem.

“In Christmas, God reveals himself not as one who stands above and who dominates the universe, but as He who lowers himself,” explained the Pontiff.

“God lowers himself, coming down to earth as little and poor, showing that in order to be similar to him we must not place ourselves above others, but rather lower ourselves, place ourselves in service, make ourselves small with the small, poor with the poor.”

The incarnation of God made man, encouraged Pope Francis, should be a model for every Christian.

“We must make it so that our brothers and sisters never feel alone. Our presence in solidarity to their side expresses not only with words but with the eloquence of gestures that God is close to all.”

Moreover, God did not expect or demand perfection. “The presence of God in the midst of humanity is not carried out in an ideal, idyllic world, but in this real world, marked by many good and bad things, marked by division, cruelty, poverty, abuse, and war,” noted the Pope.

Still, “he chose to live our history as it is, with all the weight of its limitations and dramas. In so doing, he demonstrated in an unparalleled way his merciful inclinations and overflowing love toward his human creatures.”

Jesus is God with us,” emphasized the Pontiff, making the crowds repeat with him, “Jesus is God with us.”

During this time of Advent, Pope Francis urged the faithful to prepare their hearts for the birth of Jesus as a “celebration of faithfulness and of hope that overcomes uncertainty and pessimism.”

“This is the reason for our hope,” he explained, “God is with us and God is still faithful to us!”

“Think carefully about this: God comes to live with men, he chooses the earth as his dwelling in order to stay together with find where man passes his days in joy and or in sorrow. Therefore the earth is above all not a ‘valley of tears’ but a place where God himself has pitched his tent.  It is the place of meeting for God with man, of solidarity of God with men.”
Tags: Christmas, Advent, Wednesday Audience, Pope Francis, Humility

Courtest CatholicCulture.Org

December 18, 2013  byPope Francis

 

 

 

Birth of Jesus Matthew 2:1

Birth of Jesus Matthew 2:1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning,

Our meeting is taking place in the spiritual climate of Advent, made even more
intense by the Holy Christmas Novena, which we are living in these days
and which leads us to the Christmas celebrations. Because of this I
would like to reflect with you today on the day of the birth of Jesus,
feast of trust and hope, which overcomes uncertainty and pessimism. And
the reason for our hope is this: God is with us and God has confidence
in us again! But think well on this: God is with us and God has
confidence in us again. This God Father is generous! He comes to dwell
with men, chooses the earth as his dwelling to be together with man and
have himself found where man spends his days in joy and sorrow.
Therefore, the earth is no longer only a “vale of tears,” but a place
where God himself has pitched his tent; it is the place of God’s
encounter with man, of God’s solidarity with men.

 

 

 

God willed to share our human condition to the point of becoming one with us in the
person of Jesus, who is true man and true God. However, there is something that is even more surprising. The presence of God in the midst of humanity was not acted in an ideal, idyllic world, but in this real world, marked by so many good and evil things, marked by divisions, wickedness, poverty, arrogance and wars. He has chosen to inhabit our history as it is, with all the weight of its limitations and dramas. By doing so, He has demonstrated in an unsurpassable way his merciful inclination filled with love for human creatures. He is the God-with-us; Jesus is God-with-us. Do you believe this? Let us make this professiontogether: Jesus is God-with-us! Jesus is God-with-us always and forever in the sufferings and griefs of history. Jesus’ Birth is the manifestation that God has “aligned” himself once and for all on the side of man, to save us, to raise us from the dust of our miseries, of our difficulties, of our sins.

 

 

 

From whence comes the great “gift” of the Babe of Bethlehem: He brings us spiritual energy, an energy thathelps us not to sink in our toils, in our despairs, in our sadnesses
because it is an energy that warms and transforms the heart. Jesus’ birth, in fact, brings us the good news that we are loved immensely and individually by God, and not only does He make this love known to us,but he gives it to us and communicates it to us!

 

 

 

From the joyful contemplation of the mystery of the Son of God born for us, we can draw two considerations.

 

 

 

The first is that if at Christmas God revels himself not as one who is on
High and who controls the universe, but as one who abases himself, who
descends on earth small and poor, it means that to be like him we must
not put ourselves above others, but rather lower ourselves, putting
ourselves at the service making ourselves little with the little and
poor with the poor. But it is not nice to see a Christian who does not
want to lower himself, who does not want to serve. A Christian who shows
off everywhere is nasty: he is not a Christian, he is a pagan. A
Christian serves, lowers himself. Let us work so that these brothers and
sisters of ours will not feel alone!

 

 

 

The second consequence: if God, through Jesus, involved himself with man to the point of becomingnlike one of us, it means that whatever we have done to a brother or a sister we have done it to Him. Jesus himself reminded us of this: he who fed, welcomed, visited, loved one of the littlest and poorest among men, did it to the Son of God.

 

 

 

Let us entrust ourselves to the maternal intercession of Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, so that she will help us this Holy Christmas, now near, to recognize in the face
of our neighbor, especially of the weakest and most marginalized persons, the image of the Son of God made man.

 

Related articles

 

O Key of David

Re Blogged
December 20, 2013
by
Advent • Tags: , , , ,

O Key of David and scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Keys and Scepters are symbols of power and authority: Christ IS the Power; Christ IS the Authority.

As Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah:

“I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open” Isaiah 22:22

This verse also hearkens to Christ’s handing over his authority to his Church through St Peter (Matthew 16:19) and the Apostles (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 10-16, 22; John 20:23). Our Lord’s presence continues in the world through his Church to this day, therefore, so does his power and authority.

Yet, the Almighty Father handed all power over to Christ; not all power and authority was handed on to the Apostles. Christ alone has power and authority over Death and Hell.

"...To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." Isaiah 42:7.

“…To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” Isaiah 42:7.

Thus, today’s antiphon also hearkens to Christ’s Second Coming.

It is important for us to recall during this season, we reflect and pray about Christ’s coming to be with us, and he is with us, as he promised, always until the end of time.

Advent is also a season for cherishing the ways in which Christ remains with us: through his Church, in the his Holy Word, in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. These special antiphons we pray as Advent draws to a close are key reminders of those ways in which Christ – Emmanuel – is always with us.

Advent is also a time to watch and pray as we exercise our faith and hope for when he comes again to bring us with him to the Father and rest in his presence forever in his everlasting Kingdom.

“His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore.” Isaiah 9:7

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

Rome NCR Today

 

 

Pope Francis is celebrating his 77th birthday in relatively quiet fashion, which isn’t stopping others from marking the occasion — including, improbably enough, the pro-gay magazine The Advocate, which named him its Person of the Year.

 

In truth, however, Francis had already given himself a major birthday present 24 hours before by shaking up the membership of the Congregation for Bishops in order to lay the groundwork for a new generation of “Francis bishops.”

 

In the United States, attention was understandably focused on the nomination of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and the effective removal of Cardinal Raymond Burke, president of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s supreme court. Putting in the moderate Wuerl and taking the strongly conservative Burke off couldn’t help but seem a signal of the kind of bishop Francis intends to elevate in the United States.

 

As pope, however, Francis is responsible not just for the 6 percent of the world’s Catholic population that lives in the United States, but the whole shooting match, 1.2 billion faithful all over the planet.

 

In that regard, it’s worth looking at the other appointments Francis made Monday to the Congregation for Bishops — 30 in all, including 12 new members and confirmations for 18 prelates who already sat on the body.

For the sake of analysis, two assumptions need to be stipulated:

 

·    The 12 new members best reflect Francis’ personal touch, given that most of the 18 confirmations were for Vatican personnel whose jobs generally entitle them to a seat at the table;

 

·    The kind of man Francis picks for the Congregation for Bishops is, in effect, a proxy for the kind of bishops he wants this panel to identify.

 

If those postulates are correct, we can draw some early conclusions about what a “Francis bishop” looks like — ideological moderates with the broad support of their fellow bishops and a real commitment to the social Gospel.

 

From Mexico, Francis turned not to Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, generally seen as a John Paul II protégé and a champion of the church’s conservative wing, but to Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, who comes from a working-class family in Jalisco and, though he’s never been part of the liberation theology movement, has good relationships with progressive sectors of the Mexican church.

 

Robles commands the respect of his brother bishops, having been elected in November 2012 to take over as president of the episcopal conference. He’s also drawn good marks for his candor and lack of defensiveness, among other things offering an apology in a recent homily for “the scandals of those who lead the church.”

 

From Colombia, Francis tapped Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez, who has occasionally come under fire for alleged waffling on the church’s moral teachings.

 

In 2011, he drew criticism for voicing qualified support for the de-penalization of drugs, and in 2012, he was compelled by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State to amend comments implying acceptance of the de-penalization of abortion in three cases anticipated by Colombian law, including rape, incest and threats to the life of the mother.

 

Despite those controversies, Salazar too has the support of his fellow bishops, having twice been elected president of the Colombian conference.

 

From Westminster in the United Kingdom, Francis elevated Archbishop Vincent Nichols, generally seen as a doctrinal and political moderate who has been criticized from the right in the U.K., among other things, for his allegedly lukewarm support for the old Latin Mass and for the new structure created under Benedict XVI to welcome former Anglicans into the Catholic church.

 

On the other hand, admirers say Nichols is a gifted administrator and builder of consensus who serves as the elected president of the bishop’s conference in England and Wales.

 

In terms of new Vatican personnel named to the Congregation for Bishops, Francis added several of his own nominations, including his new secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, and the new prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, Archbishop Beniamino Stella. Both are veteran Italian diplomats known for pragmatic and generally nonideological approaches.

 

Francis also tapped two Vatican officials he inherited from Benedict XVI, including one, Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Religious, who has occasionally come under fire for allegedly being too soft, including in the Vatican’s ongoing examination of American nuns.

 

His efforts to promote reconciliation with religious women began even before he got to Rome in an interview he gave to NCR the day his Vatican appointment was announced.

 

“I want to learn from them and walk with them,” he said of the sisters. “You have to see people up close, get to know them, what will help them overcome whatever problem there is.”
Certainly no one can accuse Bráz de Aviz of having lived a sheltered life, disconnected from the sufferings of ordinary people in the developing world.

 

As a young priest, Bráz de Aviz was once on his way to a village to say Mass when he stumbled upon an armored car robbery. He was shot during the crossfire, with bullets perforating his lungs and intestines and one eye. Although he survived and surgeons were able to save his eye, he still carries fragments of those bullets in his body.

 

To be sure, Francis did not exactly flush out the more conservative elements from the congregation. For instance, he confirmed Cardinal George Pell of Australia, who’s also a member of the pope’s Council of Cardinals, as well as Spanish Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and known around Rome as the “little Ratzinger” — not only because of his diminutive size, but also his affinity for Benedict’s doctrinal views.

 

No doubt, Francis thinks it’s important to maintain some balance, helping to ensure that bishops around the world are capable of understanding the concerns of all types of Catholics.

 

There’s equally no doubt, however, that as of Monday, Francis shifted the center of the gravity inside the body responsible for selecting bishops towards the middle — not just with the American members, as it turns out, but across the board.

 

December 11, 2013

 

Reflection for the Second Week of Advent, by Fr Martin Connor

 

To establish the Kingdom is to teach Christ by giving Christ.

 

To give Christ is to teach that love is a choice, the choice of making yourself a gift to the other rather than use another as a means for some pleasure or end, which is so very common in our world.

 

Ultimately, love is a choice for Good over evil.

 

Fr Martin Connor

Fr Martin Connor

 

To establish the Kingdom of Christ is to establish a consistency of choice in one’s life, the choice to reject sin and to do the good out of love, to imitate Jesus Christ who “went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38) To do this, we begin by repenting of anything that separates us from God. This is why perhaps Christ begins his mission with “the Kingdom of God is at hand” and then went on to say “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15).

 

Incarnate Love sees sin as the greatest evil in the world and the greatest obstacle to love.  “To the eyes of faith no evil is graver than sin and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world” (CCC 1488) Truthfully, however, much of the time we are reluctant to even try change our ways because we feel so helpless, so weak.  We shrink back because of shame and regret of past choices. We lose hope. Yet, with these words of Christ “repent and believe,” it was like he was saying:

 

“there is something new happening here, listen up, you don’t have to take the path that you are currently on, don’t be content with where you are if you are unhappy, there exists another way, a way that will lead to true fulfillment but you need to change your ways.”

 

In other words, you need to change your heart.

 

Later in the Gospel, Christ says the “Kingdom of God is upon you” (Matthew 12:28). Words uttered precisely in relation to evil, to the turning away from evil, in rejecting the power of Satan.  To receive true love we need to turn away from the enemy of love and receive forgiveness.

 

Christ links the Kingdom intimately to the forgiveness of sins: “repent and believe.” St. Paul iterates the same to the community of the Colossians: “Because what Christ has done: he has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves, and in him, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins” (Col 1:13-14).   With sin, we were cut off from God and cast into a spiritual darkness.  Through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, everyone is undeservedly offered the gift of redemption by God.  The paschal mystery, Christ’s dying and rising, is the definitive victory of the Kingdom of God over the kingdom of sin and death.

 

In a sense, when we speak of establishing the Kingdom, we refer to the announcing of God’s love and mercy, to the announcing of the true freedom that Jesus Christ desires for us, to allowing Him to break the bonds of sin in our lives and to cast out the darkness in our spirit.

 

In order for a person to be free to love, he or she must be free from internal constraint. This internal constraint involves the tendency we have to use another for our selfish desires. Only if a person is freed from this tendency is he or she really able to love another.  Just as the desire to love can be disordered and manifested as lust, the desire for freedom can be disordered and manifested in slavery.

 

St. Paul spoke of the danger of this slavery to the early Christians:

 

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians 5:13)

 

If you are not free to control your own desires, how can you be free to love?

 

Being free to love is only possible through the grace of God who gives us pure hearts.  Once we choose God and allow His grace to transform our desires, then the moral life becomes a life not about rules, but about love.

 

This is what the spirit of Christ’s love and mercy gives to each of us:

 

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

 

If establishing Christ’s Kingdom is exposing people to this freedom, then we should rightfully exclaim “Thy Kingdom Come!”

 

In a world so often consumed with false notions of freedom, this is truly the Gospel, the good news!

 

Freedom from the shackles and lies of sin is the unique life changing experience the Gospel offers.  It is truly the Good news!  When we cut ourselves off from God –the source of all human dignity—we deprive ourselves of any real possibility of the true freedom to love.

 

Man was created for love in order to love.  Yet, the principal results of sin are pride, fear of not being loved, and low self-worth, all of which are deeply rooted in us.  Accepting our broken selves is much more difficult than it seems. Only the experience of one who loves us in a different way, unconditionally — one who is capable of loving us without judging us and accepting us for who we are — only this love has the power of moving us and changing our hearts.

 

This is the particular grace of true reconciliation with God because we are reconciled also with ourselves.  It is an experience of mercyGod the Father looks upon us and says, “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4)

 

We can hear too the echo of the words of the Father in the parable of the prodigal son: “You are with me always and all I have is yours” (Luke 15, 31).  When we feel ourselves loved, despite our failings and our ugliness, then true freedom is experienced because love is the precondition to happiness and because freedom gives value to love.

 

Truly, the law of Christianity is the law of freedom. It is the new law that Christ gives us:  “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom” (James 2, 12).

 

Is not this the message the world so desperately needs to hear?  You were created to love, to freely love. But you cannot try to win it for yourself as it is a gift from above.  The way to win it is through Christ’s love. Christ’s love and mercy is the key to the lock which opens us up to this free gift.

 

[Fr Martin Connor is a priest of the Legionaries of Christ in Atlanta, Georgia. Since his ordination in 2001, he has dedicated his priesthood to the spiritual formation of Catholic men. The reflections on the Kingdom that we will be sharing this week are from a book he plans to publish, 10 Reflections on the Kingdom, which will be available as an ebook in early 2014, pending publication.]

 

 

Reblog : NCR


If ever there was a more eloquent description of the Messiah and
the reign of peace and justice he would establish for all the peoples of
the earth, I have not known it. With rich images and even richer prose,
Isaiah of Jerusalem (first reading) shares with us the same vision that
has filled hearts with hope and joy for almost three millennia (circa
2,800 years). All that anyone might wish for is there — a leader who is
endowed with God‘s own Spirit and with God-given gifts that will assure
good and wise and just leadership, a leader who champions the afflicted
and the poor, a leader whom all the nations of the earth will
acknowledge and accept, a leader during whose reign there shall be no
animosity, harm or ruin. Knowledge of the Lord, will prevail; everyone
will know God and be known by God in a relationship that knows no end.

CEL_Dec_08_2013.jpg

 

But before this leader and this reign would be
established, preparations had to be made. To that end, God sent
prophets. Nearer to the time of Jesus, John the Baptizer was sent as
herald, crying, “Repent!” (Gospel). There in the desert of Judea, John
called for a change of heart and mind and lifestyle that people would
need to undergo in order to welcome the One who baptized with the Holy
Spirit
and fire.

It is significant that John retreated to the desert. So much of
Israel’s relationship with God was set against a desert matrix. Called
out of Egypt, Israel was led by God through a desert where their
relationship was formed, broken and renewed. There in the desert, Israel
knew an intimacy with God they would remember and long for during later
periods of her history. Although the desert could be fraught with
untold dangers, for the Israelites it conjured up the joys of a
honeymoon. Each Advent, we follow Israel’s lead and John’s example and
withdraw to the desert, where we will find God and ourselves anew.

In her book The Forgotten Desert Mothers, Laura Swan describes
the desert as a place to explore God, and ourselves standing in truth
before God (Paulist Press, 2001). In the desert, we can work through the
lifelong process of integrating the faith we profess with our lips with
the faith we proclaim with our lives. In the desert, we find that the
images of God we had as a child no longer work, and we learn to relate
to and reflect ever-new images. The annual desert experience we call
Advent invites us to empty ourselves of every obstacle to God, and, in
that emptiness, examine and refine our values, beliefs and passions.

The desert is the place where we are forced to live with our questions
as well as the ambiguities and paradoxes of our life. In the emptiness
of the desert, the enormity of God becomes almost overwhelmingly clear,
and yet we need not be afraid. With each trip to the desert, it becomes
less a strange and alien place and more of a home where the hard work of
repentance and conversion can take place. Is it any wonder that John
the Baptizer chose the desert to begin his ministry of preparing the way
of the Lord?

As we look beyond the desert to the coming of the Promised One, the
late Henri Nouwen invites us to consider where we might find him. “Where
is God?” Nouwen wrote. “God is where we are weak, vulnerable, small and
dependent. God is where the poor are, the hungry, the handicapped, the
mentally ill, the elderly, the powerless. How can we come to know God
when our focus is elsewhere, on success, influence, and power? I
increasingly believe that our faithfulness will depend on our
willingness to go where there is brokenness, loneliness, and human need.
If the church has a future it is a future with the poor in whatever
form” (Sabbatical Journey, Crossroad Pub. Co., 1998).

If we look at Jesus’ beginnings in this world, we will not find him in a
royal palace or even in the home of a revered rabbi or Levite or
priest. From the moment of his incarnation, Jesus was surrounded by
poor, humble, simple people. During his ministry, he similarly welcomed
the poor. He recommended poverty of spirit and simplicity of life to
those who answered his call to follow him. The Gospels continue to
challenge those who await Jesus’ second appearance to seek him out in
those poor with whom he chose to identify and whose needs he made his
own agenda.

Advent Prayers

Advent Prayers (Photo credit: professor megan)

If our Advent desert experience results in nothing else, let it be a renewal of our own and of the church’s preferential option for the poor. Blessed are the poor; theirs is the kingdom.

[Patricia Sánchez holds a master’s degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]

Kind Courtesy : National Catholic Reporter.

 

A 19th century depiction of Galileo before the...

A 19th century depiction of Galileo before the Holy Office, by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

|

 

Church reform is forging ahead. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium,
Pope Francis not only intensifies his criticism of capitalism and the
fact that money rules the world, but speaks out clearly in favor of
church reform “at all levels.” He specifically advocates structural
reforms — namely, decentralization toward local dioceses and
communities, reform of the papal office, upgrading the laity and against
excessive clericalism, in favor of a more effective presence of women
in the church, above all in the decision-making bodies. And he comes out
equally clearly in favor of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue,
especially with Judaism and Islam.

 

All this will meet with wide approval far beyond the Catholic church.
His undifferentiated rejection of abortion and women’s ordination will,
however, probably provoke criticism. This is where the dogmatic limits
of this pope become apparent. Or is he perhaps under pressure from the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and its Prefect, Archbishop
Gerhard Ludwig Müller?

In a long guest contribution in Osservatore Romano
(Oct. 23), Müller demonstrated his ultra-conservative stance by
corroborating the exclusion of remarried divorcees from the sacraments
who, unless they live together as brother and sister (!), are ostensibly
in a state of mortal sin on account of the sexual character of their
relationship.

As Bishop of Regensburg, Müller, as a clerical hard-liner who
provoked numerous conflicts with parish priests and theologians, lay
bodies and the Central Committee of German Catholics, was as
controversial and unpopular as his brother bishop at Limburg. That
Müller, as a loyal supporter and publisher of his collected works, was
nevertheless appointed CDF prefect by Papa Ratzinger, surprised people
less than the fact that Francis confirmed him in office quite so soon.

And worried observers are already asking whether Pope Emeritus
Ratzinger is in fact operating as a kind of “shadow Pope” behind the
scenes through Müller and Georg Gänswein, [Benedict's] secretary and
Prefect of the Papal Household, whom he also promoted to archbishop. One
remembers how in 1993 Ratzinger as cardinal whistled back the
then-bishops of Freiburg (Oskar Saier), Rottenburg-Stuttgart (Walter
Kasper) and Mainz (Karl Lehmann) when they suggested a pragmatic
solution for the problem of remarried divorcees. It is revealing that
the present debate 20 years later was again triggered by the Archbishop
of Freiburg, namely Robert Zollitsch, the president of the German
bishops’ conference
. It was Zollitsch who ventured a fresh attempt to
rethink pastoral practice as far as remarried divorcees are concerned.
And Francis?

Give a Christmas gift that lasts all year. Give the gift of NCR!

For many the situation is self-contradictory: on the one side, church reform, and on the other, remarried divorcees.

The pope wants to move forward — the CDF prefect puts on the brakes.

The pope has actual people in mind — the prefect above all has traditional Catholic doctrine in mind.

The pope wants to practice mercy — the prefect appeals to God’s holiness and justice.

The pope wants the coming bishops’ synod on family matters in October
2014 to find practical solutions based on feedback from the laity –
the prefect draws on traditionalist dogmatic arguments in order to be
able to maintain the unmerciful status quo.

The pope wants the bishops’ synod to make new attempts at reform –
the prefect, a former neoscholastic professor of dogmatics, thinks his
statements can nip any such attempts in the bud.

Is the pope still in control of his Guardian of the Faith?

As to the subject itself, one must point out the following: Jesus
came out quite clearly against divorce: “What therefore God has joined
together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9). But he said that above
all for the benefit of women, who were legally and socially
disadvantaged in comparison to men in society at the time, because in
Judaism only husbands could have letters of divorce made out. And thus
in following Jesus, the Catholic church, even in a completely different
social situation, will emphatically champion the indissolubility of
marriage which guarantees the partners and their children a stable and
lasting relationship.

But Müller obviously ignores the fact that Jesus pronounced a
commandment based on an aim. As with other commandments, this one does
not exclude failure and forgiveness. Can one really imagine Jesus
sanctioning the present way we treat remarried divorcees? This Jesus who
protected the adulteress particularly against the scribes and Pharisees
(John 8:1-11), who especially devoted himself to sinners and those who
had failed in life, and even dared to declare that they were forgiven?
The pope rightly says “Jesus must be freed from the boring templates in
which we have wrapped him [translation from the Küng's German].”

The Christians of the New Testament did not understand Jesus’ words
on divorce as a law but as an ethical directive. The failure of a
marriage obviously did not correspond to what men and women were created
for. Only dogmatic rigidity, however, cannot take seriously that
already in the days of the Apostles, Jesus’ words on divorce were
applied with a certain flexibility, namely in cases of
“porneia/unchastity” (cf. Matthew 5:32; 19:9) and when a Christian and a
nonbeliever separated (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:12-15). Already in the early
church, one was obviously aware that there were situations when a
further life together was unacceptable. However, to assume that
remarried divorcees in general just casually and light-heartedly gave up
their first marriages for trivial reasons is malicious. There is no
more bitter experience than the failure of a love relationship on which
one has set the hopes of a lifetime. In view of the millions of
Catholics the world over nowadays who, although they are members of the
church, cannot take part in its sacramental life, it is of little help
to keep quoting one Vatican document after the other without
convincingly answering the decisive question as to why there should be
no forgiveness just for this particular failure. Hasn’t the magisterium
already failed miserably as far as contraception is concerned and thus
been unable to assert itself in the church? A similar failure in the
question of divorce should be avoided at all costs.

It is at any rate no solution if one calls for fresh “pastoral
efforts” and wants to see annulments handled more generously, as the
archbishop has suggested. For many Catholics, divorce and remarriage are
not the real scandal but the shameless hypocrisy of many annulments,
even when the couple whose marriage is annulled have several children.

Given the actual number of divorces at the moment, which in Germany
alone in 2012 was about 46 percent in proportion to the number of
weddings in the same year, and if one adds to that the increasing number
of Catholic couples who only married in a registry office or are
cohabiting, then in all probability, in Germany alone, roughly 50
percent of Catholics are excluded from the sacraments. And we should not
forget the many children who are affected and suffer under their
parents’ disturbed relationship with the Church. We are thus concerned
with pastoral problems which have far-reaching consequences and which
today call the official church’s — but also the pope’s — credibility
into question. That is why, in the light of generally available findings
in the fields of the social sciences, sexology, the history of
theology, ethics, dogmatics and exegesis, bishops have repeatedly
cautioned that it is absolutely imperative to undertake a reappraisal of
pastoral practice.

It was precisely the reactionary strategy of the CDF which led to the
present church crisis and triggered the exit of millions of Catholics
from the church, particularly the remarried divorcees as they were
excluded from the sacraments. It would hugely damage the Catholic church
if, 50 years after the Second Vatican Council, a new “Cardinal
Ottaviani”, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith — or rather of the Holy Office or Inquisition, were able to
establish himself in the Vatican, and who feels called to impose his
conservative beliefs on the pope, the Council and indeed on the whole
church.

And it would immensely damage the credibility of Pope Francis if the
reactionaries in the Vatican were to prevent him from translating his
words and gestures, which are so permeated by mercy and a sense for
pastoral work, into action as soon as possible. The enormous capital of
credibility that the pope has accumulated in the first months of his
papacy must not be squandered by the curia. Innumerable Catholics hope:

  • That the pope will see through the Guardian of the Faith’s — that is
    Müller’s — questionable theological and pastoral stance;
  • That he will put the CDF in its place and make his theologically based pastoral line obligatory;
  • That the praiseworthy questioning of bishops and laity with regard to
    the coming Family Synod will lead to clear, biblically-founded and
    realistic decisions.

Pope Francis has the necessary qualities of a captain to steer
the ship of the church through the storms of our time and the trust of
the People of God will uphold him. In the face of strong curial
headwinds, he will probably often have to take a zigzag course. But we
hope he will steer his ship by the Gospel’s (and not canon law’s)
compass and maintain a clear course in the direction of renewal,
ecumenism and open-mindedness. Evangelii Gaudium is an important stage of that voyage but by far not the final goal.

[Fr. Hans Küng, Swiss citizen, is professor emeritus of ecumenical
theology at Tübingen University in Germany. He is the honorary president
of the Global Ethic Foundation (www.weltethos.org).]

 

 

 

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