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December 20, 2013
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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.

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An image of a handshake superimposed upon a Gr...

A handshake superimposed upon a Greek cross.  Wikipedia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Courtesy :  CatholicCulture.org

Publisher & Date:Vatican, November 5, 2013

I.Synod: Family and Evangelization

 

The mission of preaching the Gospel to all creation, entrusted directly
by the Lord to his disciples, has continued in the Church throughout
history. The social and spiritual crisis, so evident in today’s world,
is becoming a pastoral challenge in the Church’s evangelizing mission
concerning the family, the vital building-block of society and the
ecclesial community. Never before has proclaiming the Gospel on the
Family in this context been more urgent and necessary. The importance of
the subject is reflected in the fact that the Holy Father has decided
to call for a Synod of Bishops, which is to have a two-staged itinerary:
firstly, an Extraordinary General Assembly in 2014, intended to define
the “status quaestionis” and to collect the bishops’
experiences and proposals in proclaiming and living the Gospel of the
Family in a credible manner; and secondly, an Ordinary General Assembly
in 2015 to seek working guidelines in the pastoral care of the person
and the family.

 

Concerns which were unheard of until a few years
ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the
widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage,
and sometimes even excludes the idea of it, to same-sex unions between
persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children. The
many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care
include: mixed or inter-religious marriages; the single-parent family;
polygamy; marriages with the consequent problem of a dowry, sometimes
understood as the purchase price of the woman; the caste system; a
culture of non-commitment and a presumption that the marriage bond can
be temporary; forms of feminism hostile to the Church; migration and the
reformulation of the very concept of the family; relativist pluralism
in the conception of marriage; the influence of the media on popular
culture in its understanding of marriage and family life; underlying
trends of thought in legislative proposals which devalue the idea of
permanence and faithfulness in the marriage covenant; an increase in the
practice of surrogate motherhood (wombs for hire); and new
interpretations of what is considered a human right. Within the Church,
faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power of the
Sacrament of Penance show signs of weakness or total abandonment.

 

Consequently, we can well understand the urgency with which the worldwide episcopate is called upon to gather cum et sub Petro
to address these challenges. For example, by simply calling to mind the
fact that, as a result of the current situation, many children and
young people will never see their parents receive the sacraments, then
we understand just how urgent are the challenges to evangelization
arising from the current situation, which can be seen in almost every
part of the “global village”. Corresponding in a particular manner to
this reality today is the wide acceptance of the teaching on divine
mercy and concern towards people who suffer on the periphery of
societies, globally and in existential situations. Consequently, vast
expectations exist concerning the decisions which are to be made
pastorally regarding the family. A reflection on these issues by the
Synod of Bishops, in addition to it being much needed and urgent, is a
dutiful expression of charity towards those entrusted to the Bishops’
care and the entire human family.

 

II. The Church and the Gospel on the Family

 

The good news of divine love is to be proclaimed to all those
personally living this basic human experience of couples and of a
communion open to the gift of children, which is the family community.
The teachings of the faith on marriage is to be presented in an
articulate and efficacious manner, so that it might reach hearts and
transform them in accordance with God’s will, made manifest in Jesus
Christ.

 

The citation of biblical sources on marriage and family
in this document are essential references only. The same is true for
documentation from the Magisterium which is limited to that of a
universal character, including some texts from the Pontifical Council
for the Family
. It will be left to the bishop-participants at the synod
to cite documents from their own episcopal assemblies.

 

In every
age, and in the many different cultures, the teaching of the Pastors has
been clear nor has there been lacking the concrete testimony of
believers – men and women – in very diverse circumstances who have lived
the Gospel of the family as an inestimable gift for their life and
their children. The commitment for the next Extraordinary Synod is
inspired and sustained by the desire to communicate this message with
greater incisiveness, in the hope that “the treasure of revelation,
entrusted to the Church, more and more fill the hearts of each person” (DV, 26).

 

The Plan of God, Creator and Redeemer

 

The
beauty of the biblical message on the family has its roots in the
creation of man and woman, both made in the image and likeness of God
(cf. Gen 1:24-31; 2:4-25). Bound together by an indissoluble
sacramental bond, those who are married experience the beauty of love,
fatherhood, motherhood, and the supreme dignity of participating in this
way in the creative work of God.

 

In the gift of the fruit of
their union, they assume the responsibility of raising and educating
other persons for the future of humankind. Through procreation, man and
woman fulfill in faith the vocation of being God’s collaborators in the
protection of creation and the growth of the human family.

 

Blessed Pope John Paul II commented on this aspect in Familiaris consortio: “God created man in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26, 27): calling him to existence through love, he called him at the same time for love. God is love (cf. 1 Jn
4:8) and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion.
Creating the human race in his own image and continually keeping it in
being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and
thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion (Gaudium et spes, 12). Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (FC, 11).

 

The plan of God the creator, which was disrupted by original sin (cf. Gen
3:1-24), has revealed itself throughout history in the events of the
chosen people up to the fullness of time, when, with the incarnation of
the Son of God, not only was the divine will for salvation confirmed,
but also the redemption offering the grace to follow this same will.

 

The Son of God, the Word made flesh (cf. Jn
1:14) in the womb of the Virgin Mother, lived and grew up in the family
of Nazareth and participated at the wedding at Cana, where he added
importance to the festivities with the first of his “signs” (cf. Jn 2:1-11). In joy, he welcomed his reception in the families of his disciples (cf. Mk 1:29-31; 2:13-17) and consoled the bereaved family of his friends in Bethany (cf. Lk 10:38- 42; Jn 11:1-44 ).

 

Jesus Christ restored the beauty of matrimony, proposing once again the
one plan of God which was abandoned because of the hardness of the
human heart, even within the tradition of the people of Israel (cf. Mt 5:31-32; 19:3-12; Mk 10:1-12; Lk
16:18). Returning to the beginning, Jesus taught the unity and
faithfulness of the husband and wife, refuting the practice of
repudiation and adultery.

 

Precisely through the extraordinary beauty of human love – already celebrated in a heightened manner inspired by the Song of Songs, and the bond of marriage called for and defended by the prophets like Hosea (cf. Hosea 1:2, 3.3) and Malachi (cf. Mal 2:13-16) – , Jesus affirmed the original dignity of the married love of man and woman.

 

The Church’s Teaching on the Family

 

Even in the early Christian community the family appeared as the “domestic church” (cf. CCC,
1655): In the so-called “family canons” of the Apostolic letters of the
New Testament, the great family of the ancient world is identified as
the place of a profound solidarity between husbands and wives, between
parents and children, and between the wealthy and the poor (cf. Eph 5:21-6:9; Col 3:18-4:1; 1 Tim 2:8-15; Titus 2:1-10; 1 Pt 2:13-3:7; cf. also the Letter to Philemon).
In particular, the Letter to the Ephesians recognized the nuptial love
between man and woman as “the great mystery”, making present in the
world the love of Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:31-32 ).

 

Over the centuries, especially in modern times to the present, the
Church has not failed to continually teach and develop her doctrine on
the family and marriage which founded her. One of its highest
expressions has been proposed by the Second Vatican Council in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes,
which, in treating certain pressing problems, dedicated an entire
chapter to the promotion of the dignity of marriage and the family, as
seen in the description of their value for the constitution of society:
“the family, in which the various generations come together and help one
another grow wiser and harmonize personal rights with the other
requirements of social life, is the very foundation of society” (GS,
52). Particularly striking is its appeal for a Christ-centered
spirituality in the spouses’ life of faith: “Let the spouses themselves,
made to the image of the living God and enjoying the authentic dignity
of persons, be joined to one another in equal affection, harmony of mind
and the work of mutual sanctification. Thus, following Christ who is
the principle of life, by the sacrifices and joys of their vocation and
through their faithful love, married people can become witnesses of the
mystery of love which the Lord revealed to the world by his dying and
his rising up to life again”(GS, 52 ).

 

After the Second Vatican Council, the successors of St. Peter enriched this teaching on marriage and the family, especially Pope Paul VI with the Enyclical Humanae vitae, which offers specific principles and guidelines. Subsequently, in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, Pope John Paul II
insisted on proposing the divine plan in the basic truths of married
love and the family: “The only ‘place’ in which this self-giving in its
whole truth is made possible is marriage, the covenant of conjugal love
freely and consciously chosen, whereby man and woman accept the intimate
community of life and love willed by God himself (cf. Gaudium et spes,
48) which only in this light manifests its true meaning. The
institution of marriage is not an undue interference by society or
authority, nor the extrinsic imposition of a form. Rather it is an
interior requirement of the covenant of conjugal love which is publicly
affirmed as unique and exclusive, in order to live in complete fidelity
to the plan of God, the Creator. A person’s freedom, far from being
restricted by this fidelity, is secured against every form of
subjectivism or relativism and is made a sharer in creative Wisdom” (FC, 11).

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church
gathers together the fundamental aspects of this teaching: “The
marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an
intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with
its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to
the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of
children. Christ the Lord raised marriage between the baptized to the
dignity of a sacrament [cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Gaudium et spes, 48; Code of Canon Law, 1055, 1]”(CCC 1660).

 

The doctrine presented in the Catechism touches on both theological principles and moral behaviours, developed under two separate headings: The Sacrament of Matrimony (nos. 1601-1658) and The Sixth Commandment
(nos. 2331-2391). An attentive reading of these sections of the
Catechism provides an updated understanding of the doctrine of faith,
which supports the Church’s work in the face of modern-day challenges.
The Church’s pastoral ministry finds inspiration in the truth of
marriage viewed as part of the plan of God, who created man and woman
and, in the fullness of time, revealed in Jesus the completeness of
spousal love elevated to the level of sacrament. Christian marriage
founded on consensus is also endowed with its own effects such as the
goods and duties of the spouses. At the same time, marriage is not
immune from the effects of sin (cf. Gen 3:1-24), which can cause deep
wounds and even abuses to the dignity of the sacrament.

 

The recent encyclical of Pope Francis, Lumen fidei,
speaks of the family in the context of a reflection on how faith
reveals “just how firm the bonds between people can be when God is
present in their midst” (LF,
50). “The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the
family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman
in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence
of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the
goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh
(cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a
manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan.
Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual
love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many
features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a
plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains
us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love” (LF,
52). “Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which
enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the
vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth
embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than
our every weakness” ( LF, 53).

 

III. Questions

 

The following series of questions allows the particular Churches to
participate actively in the preparation of the Extraordinary Synod,
whose purpose is to proclaim the Gospel in the context of the pastoral
challenges facing the family today.

 

1. The Diffusion of the Teachings on the Family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Magisterium

 

a) Describe how the Catholic Church’s teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et spes, Familiaris consortio
and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by
people today? What formation is given to our people on the Church’s
teaching on family life?

 

b) In those cases where the Church’s
teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in
putting it into practice? If so, what are they?

 

c) How widespread
is the Church’s teaching in pastoral programmes at the national,
diocesan and parish levels? What catechesis is done on the family?

 

d
) To what extent – and what aspects in particular – is this teaching
actually known, accepted, rejected and/or criticized in areas outside
the Church? What are the cultural factors which hinder the full
reception of the Church’s teaching on the family?

 

2. Marriage according to the Natural Law

 

a)
What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas
of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the
people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on
the natural basis of the family?

 

b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?

 

c)
How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man
and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it
proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?

 

d) In
cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request
the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is
dealt with?

 

3. The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization

 

a)
What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage
preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of
evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of
the family as the “domestic Church” be promoted?

 

b) How
successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the
family which can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?

 

c)
In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been
able to fulfill their vocation of transmitting the faith?

 

d) In
what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality
been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?

 

e) What
specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a
credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?

 

f) What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?

 

4. Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations

 

a) Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?

 

b) Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?

 

c)
Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral
reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How
do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programmes?

 

d)
In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular
situation? Are they aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they
feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the
sacraments?

 

e) What questions do divorced and remarried people
pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of
Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these
situations, how many ask for these sacraments?

 

f ) Could a
simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of
nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving
the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?

 

g)
Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral
ministry? Do such programmes exist on the national and diocesan levels?
How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced
and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for
them in their journey of faith?

 

5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex

 

a) Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?

 

b)
What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both
the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same
sex and the people involved in this type of union?

 

c) What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?

 

d)
In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted
children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the
faith?

 

6. The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages

 

a)
What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these
cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly
constituted families?

 

b) How do parents in these situations
approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments
only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of
religion?

 

c) How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the
needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian
education?

 

d) What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament and the accompaniment?

 

7. The Openness of the Married Couple to Life

 

a) What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae vitae
on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate
the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be
suggested in this regard pastorally?

 

b) Is this moral teaching
accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of
couple’s accepting this teaching?

 

c) What natural methods are promoted by the particular Churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae vitae?

 

d) What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?

 

e) What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and civic education?

 

f) How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?

 

8. The Relationship Between the Family and the Person

 

a)
Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the human person. How
can the family be a privileged place for this to happen?

 

b) What critical situations in the family today can obstruct a person’s encounter with Christ?

 

c) To what extent do the many crises of faith which people can experience affect family life?

 

9. Other Challenges and Proposals

 

What other challenges or proposals related to the topics in the above questions do you consider urgent and useful to treat?

 

© Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013

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By Dr. Jeff Mirus  | October 23, 2013 4:00 PM

 

 

In his famous interview with the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro in August, Pope Francis initiated what has become a spirited discussion about the image and the reality of the Catholic Church, and about the relationship between the Church’s mission to evangelize and her necessary opposition to the predominant moral evils of our age. The Pope suggested that the Church is too often viewed almost exclusively negatively, in terms of this moral opposition, and that a renewed emphasis on evangelization will be necessary for substantial progress to be made.

 

This message confused those in the pews who have heard very little about moral evils like abortion and contraception from their pastors. But the Pope was focusing on the image of the Church in the secular world, where her public opposition to abortion, contraception, sterilization, gay marriage, divorce (and so on) is the first thing that comes to mind. It is just here that, in spite of the faint-heartedness of too many Catholics, the Church is rightly seen as an enormous sign of contradiction.

 

The Pope’s concern, clearly, is that there must be another face of the Church—a consistent effort to present the full message of Christ, a message of hope and redemption that is not only preached but lived in daily service to others. It is this face which outsiders will find attractive, and which (if it were omnipresent) would dramatically alter the image most people have of the Church. Only when they are attracted to this face of Christ in the heart of the Church, will people begin to respond to His light and love through moral change. This is Pope Francis’ central message.

 

Still, some pro-life Catholics are extremely leery of any emphasis on living and preaching the Faith which reduces the priority given to pro-life work, and particularly to pro-life political action. In extreme cases, this anxiety has led a few to blame those who advocate a broader and more positive approach for the “death of babies”. I have received more than one email here at CatholicCulture.org sarcastically asserting that it is a shame that so many babies must die because of the Pope’s remarks.

 

There are several ways of responding to this concern. One is to emphasize that the Christian fight against abortion is not primarily an effort to save the individual lives of persons we know, but a strategic struggle against a grave moral evil which, once defeated, will reduce the incidence of murder enormously in the long run. As in any war, one cannot achieve every desirable outcome. One must develop and pursue the strategy which is most likely to bring victory in the end, recognizing that lives are going to be lost along the way, lives that simply cannot be saved. Thus, for example, if we conclude that the chances of restricting abortion significantly through political action are now extraordinarily slim, precisely because our society must first be transformed in more fundamental ways, then even from a pro-life strategic perspective, an emphasis on evangelization is perfectly justified.

 

But there is also another way of addressing this anxiety, and that is to insist that we Catholics recognize not only natural but supernatural evils. It is possible to become so focused on the natural horror of abortion that we lose sight of the even graver spiritual issues which it entails. Our Lord Himself instructed us: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). Even in pro-life work we need to keep this in mind.

 

The Adult is Exposed to the More Serious Danger

 

The Church has been left in considerable ignorance concerning “how salvation works” for those who cannot take advantage of her sacramental system. Nonetheless, she knows that those without personal sin cannot be consigned Hell, and so her theologians have long affirmed that infants who die unbaptized will enjoy happiness eternally to the full measure of their capacity. There is some question whether this capacity can be anything more than natural, that is, whether it entails only the happiness natural to the unregenerate human soul, or whether it entails the vision of God Himself. In any case, the Church’s emphasis is best summarized in this statement of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

 

As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. [#1261]

 

Note that the word “hope” here is intended theologically, not as a sort of worldly wish, but as a supernatural confidence in the love of Christ. But the case of the women who abort their children (and those who pressure them or collaborate with them) is very different. What of them? In addition to opening themselves to a life of deep psychological regret, they also open themselves to grave sin, a critical step in a life lived apart from God. Odd as it may sound to some of us, committing this sin and falling into a life of estrangement from God are both graver by far than suffering bodily death. It is, after all, the death of the soul that is paramount, as Our Lord says.

 

From this reality, the most important question arises: What approach is calculated to minimize the incidence of spiritual death? Or to put the matter positively, what must we do to help people to inherit eternal life (Mt 19:16; Mk 10:17; Lk 10:25;Lk 18:18)? In the temporal arena, I think it is hard to argue that an unrelenting emphasis on political action ought to be the preferred strategy. In the spiritual arena, it is equally hard to argue that a dominant emphasis on the evils to be avoided ought to be the preferred strategy. There is little reason to avoid evil without a vision of the Good, and especially without a relationship with the One who alone is Good (Mt 19:17; Mk 10:18; Lk 18:19).

Pope Francis, it seems, is calling us to recollect ourselves precisely as Catholics. Sometimes, just when we are convinced we have made the deepest and most vigorous of Catholic commitments, we find that we have not. Life does not end with the death of the body. Insofar as we act as if it does, none of our strategies can possibly work. Everything that matters most comes through a relationship—by which I mean an eternal union—with Jesus Christ.

 

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Reblog ; CatholicCulture.org

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller

Vatican, October 23, 2013

English: Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter ...

English: Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (1481-82) Fresco, 335 x 550 cm Cappella Sistina, Vatican. Ελληνικά: Λεπτομέρεια από την νωπογραφία του Πιέτρο Περουτζίνο, Ο Χριστός Παραδίδει τα Κλειδιά στον Πέτρο, 335 x 600 cm, Καπέλα Σιξτίνα, Πόλη του Βατικανού. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The problem concerning members of the faithful who have

entered into a new civil union after a divorce is not new. The Church

has always taken this question very seriously and with a view to helping

the people who find themselves in this situation. Marriage is a

sacrament that affects people particularly deeply in their personal,

social and historical circumstances. Given the increasing number of

persons affected in countries of ancient Christian tradition, this

pastoral problem has taken on significant dimensions. Today even firm

believers are seriously wondering: can the Church not admit the divorced

and remarried to the sacraments under certain conditions? Are her hands

permanently tied on this matter? Have theologians really explored all

the implications and consequences?

These questions must be

explored in a manner that is consistent with Catholic doctrine on

marriage. A responsible pastoral approach presupposes a theology that

offers “the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals,

freely assenting to the truth revealed by him” (Dei Verbum 5).

In order to make the Church’s authentic doctrine intelligible, we must

begin with the word of God that is found in sacred Scripture, expounded

in the Church’s Tradition and interpreted by the Magisterium in a

binding way.

The Testimony of Sacred Scripture

Looking

directly to the Old Testament for answers to our question is not

without its difficulties, because at that time marriage was not yet

regarded as a sacrament. Yet the word of God in the Old Covenant is

significant for us to the extent that Jesus belongs within this

tradition and argues on the basis of it. In the Decalogue, we find the

commandment “thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14), but elsewhere divorce is presented as a possibility. According to Dt

24:1-4, Moses lays down that a man may present his wife with a

certificate of dismissal and send her away from his house, if she no

longer finds favour with him. Thereafter, both husband and wife may

embark upon a new marriage. In addition to this acceptance of divorce,

the Old Testament also expresses certain reservations in its regard. The

comparison drawn by the prophets between God’s covenant with Israel and

the marriage bond includes not only the ideal of monogamy, but also

that of indissolubility. The prophet Malachi expresses this clearly: “Do

not be faithless to the wife of your youth … with whom you have made a

covenant” (Mal 2:14-15).

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Above all, it was his

controversies with the Pharisees that gave Jesus occasion to address

this theme. He distanced himself explicitly from the Old Testament

practice of divorce, which Moses had permitted because men were “so hard

of heart”, and he pointed to God’s original will: “from the beginning

of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall

leave his father and mother and … the two shall become one flesh. What

therefore God has joined together let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:5-9; cf. Mt 19:4-9; Lk

16:18). The Catholic Church has always based its doctrine and practice

upon these sayings of Jesus concerning the indissolubility of marriage.

The inner bond that joins the spouses to one another was forged by God

himself. It designates a reality that comes from God and is therefore no

longer at man’s disposal.

Today some exegetes take the viewthat even in the Apostolic era these dominical sayings were applied witha degree of flexibility: notably in the case of porneia/unchastity (cf. Mt 5:32; 19:9) and in the case of a separation between a Christian and a non-Christian partner (cf. 1 Cor7:12-15). The unchastity clauses have been the object of fierce debateamong exegetes from the beginning. Many take the view that they refernot to exceptions to the indissolubility of marriage, but to invalid marital unions. Clearly, however, the Church cannot build its doctrine and practice on controversial exegetical hypotheses. She must adhere to the clear teaching of Christ.

Saint Paul presents the

prohibition on divorce as the express will of Christ: “To the married I

give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from

her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be

reconciled to her husband) and that the husband should not divorce his

wife” (1 Cor 7:10-11). At the same time he permits, on his own

authority, that a non-Christian may separate from a partner who has

become Christian. In this case, the Christian is “not bound” to remain

unmarried (1 Cor 7:12-16). On the basis of this passage, the

Church has come to recognize that only a marriage between a baptized man

and a baptized woman is a sacrament in the true sense, and only in this

instance does unconditional indissolubility apply. The marriage of the

unbaptized is indeed ordered to indissolubility, but can under certain

circumstances – for the sake of a higher good – be dissolved (privilegium Paulinum).

Here, then, we are not dealing with an exception to our Lord’s

teaching. The indissolubility of sacramental marriage, that is to say,

marriage that takes place within the mystery of Christ, remains assured.

Of greater significance for the biblical basis of the

sacramental view of marriage is the Letter to the Ephesians, where we

read: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave

himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). And shortly afterwards, the

Apostle adds: “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother

and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This

mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and

the Church” (Eph 5:31-32). Christian marriage is an effective

sign of the covenant between Christ and the Church. Because it

designates and communicates the grace of this covenant, marriage between

the baptized is a sacrament.

The Testimony of the Church’s Tradition

The

Church Fathers and Councils provide important testimony regarding the

way the Church’s position evolved. For the Fathers, the biblical

precepts on the subject are binding. They reject the State’s divorce

laws as incompatible with the teaching of Jesus. The Church of the

Fathers rejected divorce and remarriage, and did so out of obedience to

the Gospel. On this question, the Fathers’ testimony is unanimous.

In patristic times, divorced members of the faithful who had civilly

remarried could not even be readmitted to the sacraments after a period

of penance. Some patristic texts, however, seem to imply that abuses

were not always rigorously corrected and that from time to time pastoral

solutions were sought for very rare borderline cases.

In manyregions, greater compromises emerged later, particularly as a result of

the increasing interdependence of Church and State. In the East this

development continued to evolve, and especially after the separation

from the See of Peter, it moved towards an increasingly liberal praxis.

In the Orthodox Churches today, there are a great many grounds for

divorce, which are mostly justified in terms of oikonomia, or

pastoral leniency in difficult individual cases, and they open the path

to a second or third marriage marked by a penitential character. This

practice cannot be reconciled with God’s will, as expressed

unambiguously in Jesus’ sayings about the indissolubility of marriage.

But it represents an ecumenical problem that is not to be

underestimated.

In the West, the Gregorian reform countered

these liberalizing tendencies and gave fresh impetus to the original

understanding of Scripture and the Fathers. The Catholic Church defended

the absolute indissolubility of marriage even at the cost of great

sacrifice and suffering. The schism of a “Church of England” detached

from the Successor of Peter came about not because of doctrinal

differences, but because the Pope, out of obedience to the sayings of

Jesus, could not accommodate the demands of King Henry VIII for the

dissolution of his marriage.

The Council of Trent confirmed the

doctrine of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage and explained

that this corresponded to the teaching of the Gospel (cf. DH 1807).

Sometimes it is maintained that the Church de facto tolerated

the Eastern practice. But this is not correct. The canonists constantly

referred to it as an abuse. And there is evidence that groups of

Orthodox Christians on becoming Catholic had to subscribe to an express

acknowledgment of the impossibility of second or third marriages.

The Second Vatican Council, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes

on “The Church in the Modern World”, presents a theologically and

spiritually profound doctrine of marriage. It upholds the

indissolubility of marriage clearly and distinctly. Marriage is

understood as an all-embracing communion of life and love, body and

spirit, between a man and a woman who mutually give themselves and

receive one another as persons. Through the personally free act of their

reciprocal consent, an enduring, divinely ordered institution is

brought into being, which is directed to the good of the spouses and of

their offspring and is no longer dependent on human caprice: “As a

mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the

children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an

unbreakable oneness between them” (no. 48). Through the sacrament God

bestows a special grace upon the spouses: “For as God of old made

himself present to his people through a covenant of love and fidelity,

so now the Saviour of men and the Spouse of the Church comes into the

lives of married Christians through the sacrament of matrimony. He

abides with them thereafter so that just as he loved the Church and

handed himself over on her behalf, the spouses may love each other with

perpetual fidelity through mutual self-bestowal.” Through the sacrament

the indissolubility of marriage acquires a new and deeper sense: it

becomes the image of God’s enduring love for his people and of Christ’s

irrevocable fidelity to his Church.

Marriage can be understood

and lived as a sacrament only in the context of the mystery of Christ.

If marriage is secularized or regarded as a purely natural reality, its

sacramental character is obscured. Sacramental marriage belongs to the

order of grace, it is taken up into the definitive communion of love

between Christ and his Church. Christians are called to live their

marriage within the eschatological horizon of the coming of God’s

kingdom in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God.

The Testimony of the Magisterium in the Present Day

The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio

– issued by John Paul II on 22 November 1981 in the wake of the Synod

of Bishops on the Christian family in the modern world, and of

fundamental importance ever since – emphatically confirms the Church’s

dogmatic teaching on marriage. But it shows pastoral concern for the

civilly remarried faithful who are still bound by an ecclesially valid

marriage. The Pope shows a high degree of concern and understanding.

Paragraph 84 on “divorced persons who have remarried” contains the

following key statements: 1. Pastors are obliged, by love for the truth,

“to exercise careful discernment of situations”. Not everything and

everyone are to be assessed in an identical way. 2. Pastors and parish

communities are bound to stand by the faithful who find themselves in

this situation, with “attentive love”. They too belong to the Church,

they are entitled to pastoral care and they should take part in the

Church’s life. 3. And yet they cannot be admitted to the Eucharist. Two

reasons are given for this: a) “their state and condition of life

objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church

which is signified and effected by the Eucharist” b) “if these people

were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and

confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of

marriage”. Reconciliation through sacramental confession, which opens

the way to reception of the Eucharist, can only be granted in the case

of repentance over what has happened and a “readiness to undertake a way

of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of

marriage.” Concretely this means that if for serious reasons, such as

the children’s upbringing, the new union cannot be dissolved, then the

two partners must “bind themselves to live in complete continence”. 4.

Clergy are expressly forbidden, for intrinsically sacramental and

theological reasons and not through legalistic pressures, to “perform

ceremonies of any kind” for divorced people who remarry civilly, as long

as the first sacramentally valid marriage still exists.

The

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s statement of 14 September

1994 on reception of holy communion by divorced and remarried members of

the faithful emphasizes that the Church’s practice in this question

“cannot be modified because of different situations” (no. 5). It also

makes clear that the faithful concerned may not present themselves for

holy communion on the basis of their own conscience: “Should they judge

it possible to do so, pastors and confessors … have the serious duty

to admonish them that such a judgment of conscience openly contradicts

the Church’s teaching” (no. 6). If doubts remain over the validity of a

failed marriage, these must be examined by the competent marriage

tribunals (cf. no. 9). It remains of the utmost importance, “with

solicitous charity to do everything that can be done to strengthen in

the love of Christ and the Church those faithful in irregular marriage

situations. Only thus will it be possible for them fully to receive the

message of Christian marriage and endure in faith the distress of their

situation. In pastoral action one must do everything possible to ensure

that this is understood not to be a matter of discrimination but only of

absolute fidelity to the will of Christ who has restored and entrusted

to us anew the indissolubility of marriage as a gift of the Creator”

(no. 10).

In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis

of 22 February 2007, Benedict XVI summarizes the work of the Synod of

Bishops on the theme of the Eucharist and he develops it further. In No.

29 he addresses the situation of divorced and remarried faithful. For

Benedict XVI too, this is a “complex and troubling pastoral problem”. He

confirms “the Church’s practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk

10:2- 12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the

sacraments”, but he urges pastors at the same time, to devote “special

concern” to those affected: in the wish that they “live as fully as

possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass,

albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God,

eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the

community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director,

dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to

the education of their children”. If there are doubts concerning the

validity of the failed marriage, these are to be carefully examined by

the competent marriage tribunals. Today’s mentality is largely opposed

to the Christian understanding of marriage, with regard to its

indissolubility and its openness to children. Because many Christians

are influenced by this, marriages nowadays are probably invalid more

often than they were previously, because there is a lack of desire for

marriage in accordance with Catholic teaching, and there is too little

socialization within an environment of faith. Therefore assessment of

the validity of marriage is important and can help to solve problems.

Where nullity of marriage cannot be demonstrated, the requirement for

absolution and reception of communion, according to the Church’s

established and approved practice, is that the couple live “as friends,

as brother and sister”. Blessings of irregular unions are to be avoided,

“lest confusion arise among the faithful concerning the value of

marriage”. A blessing (bene-dictio: divine sanctioning) of a relationship that contradicts the will of God is a contradiction in terms.

During

his homily at the Seventh World Meeting of Families in Milan on 3 June

2012, Benedict XVI once again had occasion to speak of this painful

problem: “I should also like to address a word to the faithful who, even

though they agree with the Church’s teachings on the family, have had

painful experiences of breakdown and separation. I want you to know that

the Pope and the Church support you in your struggle. I encourage you

to remain united to your communities, and I earnestly hope that your

dioceses are developing suitable initiatives to welcome and accompany

you.”

The most recent Synod of Bishops on the theme “New

evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith” (7-28

October 2012) addressed once again the situation of the faithful who

after the failure of a marital relationship (not the failure of a

marriage, which being a sacrament still remains) have entered a new

union and live together without a sacramental marriage bond. In the

concluding Message, the Synod Fathers addressed those concerned as

follows: “To all of them we want to say that God’s love does not abandon

anyone, that the Church loves them, too, that the Church is a house

that welcomes all, that they remain members of the Church even if they

cannot receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist. May our

Catholic communities welcome all who live in such situations and support

those who are in the path of conversion and reconciliation.”

Observations based on Anthropology and Sacramental Theology

The

doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage is often met with

incomprehension in a secularized environment. Where the fundamental

insights of Christian faith have been lost, church affiliation of a

purely conventional kind can no longer sustain major life decisions or

provide a firm foothold in the midst of marital crises – as well as

crises in priestly and religious life. Many people ask: how can I bind

myself to one woman or one man for an entire lifetime? Who can tell me

what my marriage will be like in ten, twenty, thirty, forty years? Is a

definitive bond to one person possible at all? The many marital

relationships that founder today reinforce the scepticism of young

people regarding definitive life choices.

On the other hand, the

ideal – built into the order of creation – of faithfulness between one

man and one woman has lost none of its fascination, as is apparent from

recent opinion surveys among young people. Most of them long for a

stable, lasting relationship, in keeping with the spiritual and moral

nature of the human person. Moreover, one must not forget the

anthropological value of indissoluble marriage: it withdraws the

partners from caprice and from the tyranny of feelings and moods. It

helps them to survive personal difficulties and to overcome painful

experiences. Above all it protects the children, who have most to suffer

from marital breakdown.

Love is more than a feeling or an

instinct. Of its nature it is self-giving. In marital love, two people

say consciously and intentionally to one another: only you – and you for

ever. The word of the Lord: “What God has joined together” corresponds

to the promise of the spouses: “I take you as my husband … I take you

as my wife … I will love, esteem and honour you, as long as I live,

till death us do part.” The priest blesses the covenant that the spouses

have sealed with one another before God. If anyone should doubt whether

the marriage bond is ontological, let him learn from the word of God:

“He who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and

said: for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be

joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no

longer two but one flesh” (Mt 19:4-6).

For Christians,

the marriage of baptized persons incorporated into the Body of Christ

has sacramental character and therefore represents a supernatural

reality. A serious pastoral problem arises from the fact that many

people today judge Christian marriage exclusively by worldly and

pragmatic criteria. Those who think according to the “spirit of the

world” (1 Cor 2:12) cannot understand the sacramentality of

marriage. The Church cannot respond to the growing incomprehension of

the sanctity of marriage by pragmatically accommodating the supposedly

inevitable, but only by trusting in “the Spirit which is from God, that

we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor

2:12). Sacramental marriage is a testimony to the power of grace, which

changes man and prepares the whole Church for the holy city, the new

Jerusalem, the Church, which is prepared “as a bride adorned for her

husband” (Rev 21:2). The Gospel of the sanctity of marriage is

to be proclaimed with prophetic candour. By adapting to the spirit of

the age, a weary prophet seeks his own salvation but not the salvation

of the world in Jesus Christ. Faithfulness to marital consent is a

prophetic sign of the salvation that God bestows upon the world. “He who

is able to receive this, let him receive it” (Mt 19:12).

Through sacramental grace, married love is purified, strengthened and

ennobled. “Sealed by mutual faithfulness and hallowed above all by

Christ’s sacrament, this love remains steadfastly true in body and in

mind, in bright days or dark. It will never be profaned by adultery or

divorce” (Gaudium et Spes, 49). In the strength of the

sacrament of marriage, the spouses participate in God’s definitive,

irrevocable love. They can therefore be witnesses of God’s faithful

love, but they must nourish their love constantly through living by

faith and love.

Admittedly there are situations – as every

pastor knows – in which marital cohabitation becomes for all intents and

purposes impossible for compelling reasons, such as physical or

psychological violence. In such hard cases, the Church has always

permitted the spouses to separate and no longer live together. It must

be remembered, though, that the marriage bond of a valid union remains

intact in the sight of God, and the individual parties are not free to

contract a new marriage, as long as the spouse is alive. Pastors and

Christian communities must therefore take pains to promote paths of

reconciliation in these cases too, or, should that not be possible, to

help the people concerned to confront their difficult situation in

faith.

Observations based on Moral Theology

It

is frequently suggested that remarried divorcees should be allowed to

decide for themselves, according to their conscience, whether or not to

present themselves for holy communion. This argument, based on a

problematical concept of “conscience”, was rejected by a document of the

CDF in 1994. Naturally, the faithful must consider every time they

attend Mass whether it is possible to receive communion, and a grave

unconfessed sin would always be an impediment. At the same time they

have the duty to form their conscience and to align it with the truth.

In so doing they listen also to the Church’s Magisterium, which helps

them “not to swerve from the truth about the good of man, but rather,

especially in more difficult questions, to attain the truth with

certainty and to abide in it” (Veritatis Splendor, 64). If

remarried divorcees are subjectively convinced in their conscience that a

previous marriage was invalid, this must be proven objectively by the

competent marriage tribunals. Marriage is not simply about the

relationship of two people to God, it is also a reality of the Church, a

sacrament, and it is not for the individuals concerned to decide on its

validity, but rather for the Church, into which the individuals are

incorporated by faith and baptism. “If the prior marriage of two

divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no

circumstances can their new union be considered lawful, and therefore

reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible. The conscience

of the individual is bound to this norm without exception” (Cardinal

Joseph Ratzinger, “The Pastoral approach to marriage must be founded on

truth” L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 7 December 2011, p. 4)

The teaching on epikeia,

too – according to which a law may be generally valid, but does not

always apply to concrete human situations – may not be invoked here,

because in the case of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage we

are dealing with a divine norm that is not at the disposal of the

Church. Nevertheless – as we see from the privilegium Paulinum

the Church does have the authority to clarify the conditions that must

be fulfilled for an indissoluble marriage, as taught by Jesus, to come

about. On this basis, the Church has established impediments to

marriage, she has recognized grounds for annulment, and she has

developed a detailed process for examining these.

A further case

for the admission of remarried divorcees to the sacraments is argued in

terms of mercy. Given that Jesus himself showed solidarity with the

suffering and poured out his merciful love upon them, mercy is said to

be a distinctive quality of true discipleship. This is correct, but it

misses the mark when adopted as an argument in the field of sacramental

theology. The entire sacramental economy is a work of divine mercy and

it cannot simply be swept aside by an appeal to the same. An objectively

false appeal to mercy also runs the risk of trivializing the image of

God, by implying that God cannot do other than forgive. The mystery of

God includes not only his mercy but also his holiness and his justice.

If one were to suppress these characteristics of God and refuse to take

sin seriously, ultimately it would not even be possible to bring God’s

mercy to man. Jesus encountered the adulteress with great compassion,

but he said to her “Go and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). God’s

mercy does not dispense us from following his commandments or the rules

of the Church. Rather it supplies us with the grace and strength needed

to fulfil them, to pick ourselves up after a fall, and to live life in

its fullness according to the image of our heavenly Father.

Pastoral care

Even

if there is no possibility of admitting remarried divorcees to the

sacraments, in view of their intrinsic nature, it is all the more

imperative to show pastoral concern for these members of the faithful,

so as to point them clearly towards what the theology of revelation and

the Magisterium have to say. The path indicated by the Church is not

easy for those concerned. Yet they should know and sense that the Church

as a community of salvation accompanies them on their journey. Insofar

as the parties make an effort to understand the Church’s practice and to

abstain from communion, they provide their own testimony to the

indissolubility of marriage.

Clearly, the care of remarried

divorcees must not be reduced to the question of receiving the

Eucharist. It involves a much more wide-ranging pastoral approach, which

seeks to do justice to to the different situations. It is important to

realize that there are other ways, apart from sacramental communion, of

being in fellowship with God. One can draw close to God by turning to

him in faith, hope and charity, in repentance and prayer. God can grant

his closeness and his salvation to people on different paths, even if

they find themselves in a contradictory life situation. As recent

documents of the Magisterium have emphasized, pastors and Christian

communities are called to welcome people in irregular situations openly

and sincerely, to stand by them sympathetically and helpfully, and to

make them aware of the love of the Good Shepherd. If pastoral care is

rooted in truth and love, it will discover the right paths and

approaches in constantly new ways.

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller

© L’Osservatore Romano 2013

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English: Jesus Christ - detail from Deesis mos...

English: Jesus Christ – detail from Deesis mosaic, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

by Pope Francis

Publisher & Date:Vatican,

September 27, 2013

Dear Catechists, Good evening!

I am pleased that this meeting was organized for the Year of Faith.
Catechesis is a pillar of faith education and we need good catechists!
Thank you for your service to the Church and in the Church. Even if at
times it may be difficult and require a great deal of work, and although
the results are not always what we hope for, teaching the faith is
something beautiful! It is perhaps the best legacy we can pass on: the
faith! To educate in the faith, to make it grow. To help children, young
people and adults to know and love the Lord more and more is one of the
most exciting aspects of education. It builds up the Church! To “be”
catechists! Not to “work” as catechists: this will not do. I work as a
catechist because I like to teach… But unless you “are” a catechist, it
is no good! You will not be successful … you will not bear fruit!
Catechesis is a vocation: “being a catechist”, this is the vocation, not
working as a catechist. So keep this in mind: I didn’t say to do the
“work” of catechists, but to “be” catechists, because this is something
that embraces our whole life. It means leading people to encounter
Christ by our words and our lives, by giving witness. Remember what Benedict XVI
said: “The Church does not grow by proselytizing; she grows by
attracting others”. And what attracts is our witness. Being a catechist
means witnessing to the faith, being consistent in our personal life.
This is not easy! We help, we lead others to Jesus with our words and
our lives, with our witness. I like to recall what Saint Francis of
Assisi
used to say to his friars: “Preach the Gospel at all times; if
necessary, use words”. Words come… but witness comes first: people
should see the Gospel, read the Gospel, in our lives. To “be” a
catechist requires love, an ever stronger love for Christ, a love for
his holy people. And this love can’t be bought in stores, even in Rome.
This love comes from Christ! It is Christ’s gift! And if it comes from
Christ, it also starts with Christ, and we too need to start anew with
Christ, from the love he gives us. What does this starting anew from Christ mean for a catechist? For you, but also for me, since I am a catechist too? What does it mean?

I am going to speak about three things: one, two, three, the way the old-fashioned Jesuits did… one, two, three!

1. First of all, to start anew from Christ means being close to him,
being close to Jesus Jesus stresses the importance of this with the
disciples at the Last Supper, as he prepared to give us his own greatest
gift of love, his sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus uses the image of the
vine and the branches and says: Abide in my love, remain attached to me,
as the branch is attached to the vine. If we are joined to him, then we
are able to bear fruit. This is what it means to be close to Christ.
Abide in Jesus! This means remaining attached to him, in him, with him,
talking to him. Abide in Jesus!

The first thing for a disciple is
to be with the Master, to listen to him and to learn from him. This is
always true, and it is true at every moment of our lives. I remember, in
the diocese, the other diocese I had first, how I would often see
catechists finish their training courses and say: “I have the title of
catechist!” This means nothing, you have nothing, you took a little
journey. What good will it do you? But one thing is true. Being a
catechist is not a title, it is an attitude: abiding with him, and it
lasts for a lifetime! It means abiding in the Lord’s presence and
letting ourselves be led by him. I ask you: How do you abide in the
presence of the Lord? When you visit the Lord, when you look at the
tabernacle, what do you do? Without speaking… “But I speak, I talk, I
think, I meditate, I listen…” Very good! But do you let yourself be
looked at by the Lord? Letting ourselves be gazed upon by the Lord. He
looks at us and this is itself a way of praying. Do you yourselves be
gazed upon by the Lord? But how do you do this? You look at the
tabernacle and you let yourselves be looked at… it is simple! “It is a
bit boring, I fall asleep”. Fall asleep then, sleep! He is still looking
at you. But know for sure that he is looking at you! This is much more
important than having the title of catechist. It is part of “being” a
catechist. This warms the heart, igniting the fire of friendship with
the Lord, making you feel that he truly sees you, that he is close to
you and loves you. In one of my visits here in Rome, at a Mass, a fairly
young man came up to me and said: “Father, it is nice to meet you, but I
don’t believe in anything! I don’t have the gift of faith!” He
understood that faith is a gift. “I don’t have the gift of faith! What
do you have to say to me?” “Don’t be discouraged. God loves you. Let
yourself be gazed upon by him! Nothing else”. And this is the same thing
I would say to you: Let yourselves be gazed at by the Lord! I
understand that for you it is not so easy; especially for those who are
married and have children, it is difficult to find a long period of
quiet time. Yet, thanks be to God, it is not necessary for everyone to
do this in the same way. In the Church, there are a variety of vocations
and a variety of spiritualities. What is important is to find the way
best suited for you to be with the Lord, and this everyone can do; it is
possible for every state of life. Now each one of you could ask: how am
I experiencing “being” with Jesus? This is a question I leave you: “How
do I experience this remaining with Jesus, abiding in Jesus? Do I find
time to remain in his presence, in silence, to be looked upon by him? Do
I let his fire warm my heart? If the warmth of God, of his love, of his
tenderness is not in our own hearts, then how can we, who are poor
sinners, warm the heart of others? Think about it!

2. The second – two! – element is this: starting anew with Christ means imitating him by leaving ourselves behind and going out to encounter others.
This is a beautiful experience, and yet a paradox. Why? Because when we
put Christ at the centre of our life, we ourselves don’t become the
centre! The more that you unite yourself to Christ and he becomes the
centre of your life, the more he leads you out of yourself, leads you
from making yourself the centre and opens you to others. This is the
true dynamism of love, this is the movement of God himself! God is the
centre, but he is always self-gift, relationship, love that gives itself
away . . . and this is what we will become if we remain united to
Christ. He will draw us into this dynamism of love. Where there is true
life in Christ, there follows an openness to others, and so a going out
from oneself to encounter others in the name of Christ. And this is the
job of the catechist: constantly to go forth to others out of love, to
bear witness to Jesus and to talk about Jesus, to proclaim Jesus. This
is important because the Lord does it: it is the Lord himself who impels
us to go forth.

The heart of a catechist always beats with this
systolic and diastolic movement: union with Christ – encounter with
others. Both of these: I am one with Jesus and I go forth to encounter
others. If one of these movements is missing, the heart no longer beats,
it can no longer live. The heart of the catechist receives the gift of
the kerygma, and in turn offers it to others as a gift. What a little
word: “gift”! The catechist is conscious of having received a gift, the
gift of faith, and he or she then gives that gift in turn to others.
This is something beautiful. We don’t keep a percentage for ourselves!
Whatever we receive, we give! This is not commerce! It is not a
business! It is pure gift: a gift received and a gift given. And the
catechist is right there, at the centre of this exchange of gifts. That
is the nature itself of the kerygma: it is a gift that generates
mission, that compels us to go beyond ourselves. Saint Paul says that
“the love of Christ compels us”, but this “compels us” can also be
translated as “possesses us”. And so it is: love attracts us and sends
us; it draws us in and gives us to others. This tension marks the
beating of the heart of the Christian, especially the heart of the
catechist. Let us all ask ourselves: Is this what causes my heart to
beat as a catechist, union with Christ and encounter with others? With
this movement of “systole and diastole”? Are we being fed by our
relationship with the Lord, so that we can bring him to others, and not
to keep it for ourselves? I’ll tell you, I don’t understand how a
catechist can remain stationary, without this movement. I don’t
understand!

3. The third element – three! – is along these lines: starting anew with Christ means not being afraid to go with him to the outskirts.
Here I think of the story of Jonah, a really interesting figure,
especially for these times of great change and uncertainty. Jonah is a
devout man, with a tranquil and ordered life, which causes him to have a
clear-cut way of seeing things and to judge everything and everyone
accordingly. He has it all figured out: this is the truth! He is rigid!
So, when the Lord called him and told him to go and preach to Nineveh,
the great pagan city, Jonah doesn’t like it. “Go there? But I have the
whole truth here!” He doesn’t like it. Nineveh is outside his comfort
zone; it is on the outskirts of his world. So he escapes, he sets off
for Spain; he runs away and boards a ship that will take him there. Go
and re-read the Book of Jonah! It is short, but it is a very instructive
parable, especially for those of us in the Church.

What does
all this teach us? It teaches us not to be afraid to pass beyond our
comfort zone and to follow God, because God is always pushing, pressing
forward. But do you know something? God is not afraid! Do you realize
this? He isn’t afraid. He is always bigger than our little way of seeing
things! God is not afraid of the outskirts. If you go to the outskirts,
you will find him there. God is always faithful and creative. But,
really, is there such a thing as a catechist who is not creative?
Creativity is what sustains us as catechists. God is creative, he is not
closed, and so he is never inflexible. God is not rigid! He welcomes
us; he meets us; he understands us. To be faithful, to be creative; we
need to be able to change. To change! And why must I change? So that I
can adapt to the situations in which I must proclaim the Gospel. To stay
close to God, we need to know how to set out, we must not be afraid to
set out. If a catechist gives in to fear, then he or she is a coward. If
a catechist has an easy time of it, he or she will end up being a
statue in a museum. We have a lot of these! Please, no more statues in
the museum! If a catechist is rigid, he or she will dry up and wither. I
ask you: does any of you want to be a coward, a statue in a museum,
dried up and withered? Is that what you want to be? [the catechists
reply: No!] No? Are you sure? Good! I am now going to say something I
have already said many times before, but it comes from the heart.
Whenever we Christians are enclosed in our groups, our movements, our
parishes, in our little worlds, we remain closed, and the same thing
happens to us that happens to anything closed: when a room is closed, it
begins to get dank. If a person is closed up in that room, he or she
becomes ill! Whenever Christians are enclosed in their groups, parishes,
movements, they take ill. If a Christian goes to the streets, or to the
outskirts, he or she may risk the same thing that can happen to anyone
out there: an accident. How often have we seen accidents on the road!
But I am telling you: I would prefer a thousand times over a bruised
Church than an ill Church! A Church, a catechist, with the courage to
risk going out, and not a catechist who is studious, knows everything,
but is always closed: such a person is not well. And sometimes he is not
well in the head….

But careful! Jesus does not say: Go off and
do things on your own. No! That is not what he is saying. Jesus says:
Go, for I am with you! This is what is so beautiful for us; it is what
guides us. If we go out to bring his Gospel with love, with a true
apostolic spirit, with parrhesia, he walks with us, he goes ahead of us, he gets there first. As we say in Spanish, primerea.
By now you know what I mean by this. It is the same thing that the
Bible tells us. In the Bible, the Lord says: I am like the flower of the
almond. Why? Because that is the first flower to blossom in the spring.
He is always the first! This is fundamental for us: God is always ahead
of us! When we think about going far away, to an extreme outskirt, we
may be a bit afraid, but in fact God is already there. Jesus is waiting
for us in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, in their wounded
bodies, in their hardships, in their lack of faith. But can I tell you
about one of the “outskirts” which breaks my heart? I saw it in my first
diocese. It is children who don’t even know how to make the sign of the
cross. In Buenos Aires there are many children who can’t make the sign
of the cross. This is one of the “outskirts”! And Jesus is there,
waiting for you to help that child to make the sign of the cross. He’s
always there first.

Dear catechists, I have made my three points.
Always start anew from Christ! I thank you for everything that you do,
but above all, because you are part of the Church, the pilgrim People of
God, and you accompany God’s People on that pilgrimage. Let us remain
with Christ – abiding in Christ – and let us always try to be one with
him. Let us follow him, let us imitate him in his movement of love, in
his going forth to meet humanity. Let us go forth and open doors. Let us
have the audacity to mark out new paths for proclaiming the Gospel.

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Cover of "The Path to Holiness"

The Path to Holiness

 

 

 

Vatican City, 2 October 2013
(VIS) – The holiness of the Church was the theme chosen by Francis for
his catechesis during today’s general audience, which took place in St.
Peter’s Square
and was attended by more than 50,000 people.

 

In the Creed, after professing that the Church is “one”,
the Pope said, “we also confess that she is ‘holy’; we thus affirm the
holiness of the Church, and this is a characteristic that has been
present ever since the beginning in the conscience of the first
Christians, who called themselves simply ‘the holy’, as they were
certain of the action of God, of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the
Church”.

 

“But”, he asked, “How can we say that the Church is holy,
if we see that the Church throughout history, during her long journey
through the centuries, has experienced many moments of darkness? How can
a Church be holy if she is made up of human beings, of sinners? Of men
who are sinners, women who are sinners, priests who are sinners, nuns
who are sinners, bishops who are sinners, cardinals who are sinners,
popes who are sinners? Everyone. How can a Church like this be holy?”

 

The Church is holy because “she comes from God Who is
holy, Who is faithful to her and never abandons her to the power of
death and evil. She is holy because Jesus Christ, Saint of God, is
indissolubly united to her; she is holy because she is guided by the
Holy Spirit which purifies, transforms, and renews. She is not holy by
our merits, but because God makes her holy”.

 

“You could say to me: but the Church is made up of
sinners, we see this every day. And this is true: we are a Church of
sinners, and we sinners are called to let ourselves be transformed … by
God. Throughout history there has been the temptation to say: the Church
is just the Church of the pure, of those who are entirely coherent, and
the rest are to be cast aside. No! It’s true! This is heresy… The
Church is holy, she does not refuse sinners; on the contrary, she
welcomes them, she is open even to those who are most distant, she calls
to all to allow themselves to be surrounded by the mercy, tenderness,
and forgiveness of the Father, Who offers to all the opportunity to
encounter Him and to walk the path to holiness. … Is there anyone here
who brings no sin with them? No, we all carry our sins with us.”

 

In the Church, the God we encounter “is not a ruthless
judge, but is like the Father in the Gospel parable. … The Lord wants us
to be part of a Church who knows how to extend her arms to welcome all,
who is not the house of few, but the home of all, where everyone can be
renewed, transformed and sanctified by His love; the strongest and the
weakest, sinners, the indifferent, the discouraged and the lost. The
Church offers to all the possibility of embarking on the road of
holiness, which is the road of the Christian”.

 

“Do not be afraid of holiness”, concluded Francis, “of
letting yourself be loved and purified by God. … Let us allow God’s
holiness be transmitted to us. Every Christian is called to holiness;
and holiness does not consist, first and foremost, in doing
extraordinary things, but rather in letting God act. It is the encounter
between our weakness and the strength of His grace”.

 

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Reblogged : JERICO TREE.

 

Filed in Catholic by on September 18, 2013 • 

ne2

I’ve just had a new booklet published by the Catholic Truth Society called The New Evangelisation: What it is and how to do it. They tapped into the World Youth Day Rio fervour by putting a photo of the Christ the Redeemer statue on the cover. You can order copies from the CTS website here.

Here is the back cover copy:

Why do we need a New Evangelisation? What is the history and theology of this idea? What does it look like in practice? How can we engage in the New Evangelisation in our parishes and communities? What are the key documents and resources we can turn to for inspiration?

These are some of the questions explored in this booklet, which also collects the most important writings about the New Evangelisation by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

The Introduction here gives you a taste of what it’s all about:

In 1983 Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke to the Catholic Bishops of Latin America in Haiti and called for a New Evangelisation: one that would be ‘new in its ardour, methods and expression’. More recently, in 2010, Pope Benedict established a Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation, to help the Church share ‘the inestimable gift’ that God has given us, the gift of being ‘sharers in his own life’. And when Pope Francis stepped onto the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica for the first time on the day of his election it was significant that he spoke about his hopes for ‘the evangelisation of this beautiful city’ – a city that many assumed had already been evangelised.

Evangelisation is not something new. Christians have been sharing their faith for two thousand years: giving witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ, and inviting others to share in that redeeming love through faith and the sacramental life of the Church.

Why, then, do we need a New Evangelisation? If the city of Rome has been a centre of Christian faith for many centuries, what does it mean for Pope Francis to say that it still needs evangelising?

First of all, we can make some straightforward distinctions. The word ‘evangelisation’ comes from a Greek verb that simply means ‘to bring good news to others’. Anything that involves sharing the Christian faith and bringing others to know Christ and his Church is part of the work of evangelisation.

Primary evangelisation is understood to be the task of reaching out to those people and cultures that have never known Christ and his Gospel. It is ‘missionary work’ in its traditional sense, sometimes called the mission ad gentes, meaning ‘to the (non-Christian) nations’. This is the first and in some senses the most important kind of evangelisation.

The New Evangelisation, according to Blessed John Paul II, concerns another situation. It involves the mission of the Church ‘particularly in countries with ancient Christian roots, and occasionally in the younger Churches as well, where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel’ (Redemptoris Missio, Para 33). The New Evangelisation, on this first definition, involves the re-evangelisation of former Christian cultures and of Christians who have become disconnected from their faith. Pope Benedict explains very simply that it is the need for a renewed missionary impulse in territories that have traditionally been Christian.

On the other hand, the distinctions between different kinds of evangelisation are not always so clean. The New Evangelisation is a cluster of ideas about mission and culture that are not easy to define. Greg Willets has written that defining the New Evangelization ‘is like herding squirrels: it can take you in a multitude of different directions, sometimes all at once’ (CatholicDigest.com). And even Pope Benedict, when he established the new Pontifical Council, admitted that this involves a variety of situations that demands careful discernment: ‘to speak of a “new evangelization” does not in fact mean that a single formula should be developed that would hold the same for all circumstances’.

This booklet recognises this variety and in Part 1 sets out five distinct but connected reasons why the Church needs to engage in an evangelisation that is truly new. In Part 2 it then presents a number of New Evangelisation ‘projects’ that have developed in the UK over the last few years. In Part 3 it draws out from these projects some consistent features of the New Evangelisation as it has been practiced effectively in the UK. Finally, in Part 4, the booklet collects together some of the most significant writings about the New Evangelisation from recent papal teaching and Church documents, as a resource for further reflection.

This booklet is not intended to be an introduction to the very idea of evangelisation: it takes for granted a basic understanding of why Christians want to share their faith and what this involves – theologically and pastorally; and it does not enter into the practical aspects of what individuals or parishes can do to evangelise. The intention here is very limited: to write about the distinctive features of the New Evangelisation, and to stimulate people to consider what this could mean for them and their communities.

And here is the Table of Contents so you can see exactly what I deal with:

PART 1: FIVE REASONS WHY WE NEED A NEW EVANGELISATION

(a) Living in a post-Christian society

(b) Christians disconnected from their faith

(c) New culture, new media

(d) Confusion about the need for evangelisation

(e) Questions about the nature of Christian witness

PART 2: FIVE EXAMPLES OF THE NEW EVANGELISATION

(a) St Patrick’s Evangelisation School

(b) Spirit in the City

(c) Youth 2000

(d) Catholic Voices

(e) Ten Ten Theatre

PART 3: FIVE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS OF THE NEW EVANGELISATION

(a) Personal conviction

(b) Community

(c) The Word of God and the teaching of the Church

(d) Liturgy and the sacraments

(e) Courage and creativity

PART 4: FIVE KEY DOCUMENTS ABOUT THE NEW EVANGELISATION

(a) Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975).

(b) Blessed Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio (1990)

(c) Blessed Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in Europa (2003)

(d) Lineamanta for the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation (2011)

(e) Pope Benedict XVI, Ubicumque et Semper (2010)

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About the Author ()

Fr Stephen Wang is a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Westminster. He is currently Senior University Chaplain for the Archdiocese. Some of his articles have previously been published on his personal blog, Bridges and Tangents. See: http://bridgesandtangents.wordpress.com/

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