The Chiapas Decision: About More than Mayan Deacons

Chiapas DeaconsA few days ago, Deacon Greg Kandra posted an item on the restoration of diaconate ordinations in the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in the State of Chiapas in Mexico. Read it here.  This is, of course, great news for the people of that diocese.  However, it is a decision which has far greater ramifications than the diaconate itself.  At issue is a renewed sense of ecclesial identity.  While some describe this as a “win” for a rehabilitated Liberation Theology, I believe it goes even farther than that.

Chiapas2First, we need to get our bearings.  Chiapas is the southernmost state in Mexico; it shares its eastern border with Guatemala. Chiapas is home, not simply to Mayan descendants, but twelve recognized ethnic populations.  Poverty is extreme, the terrain is rugged, and the people for centuries isolated from other parts of the region.  The history of the area is one of suppression of the indigenous peoples.

Second, we meet a young bishop named Samuel Ruiz Garcia.  Born in 1924, Samuel Ruiz was ordained a priest at 24 and was named bishop of Chiapas at age 35.  He went to seminary in Mexico and in Rome, completing a doctorate in Sacred Scripture after his ordination.  He was appointed bishop in November, 1959, and ordained and installed in January, 1960.  He remained bishop of that diocese for forty years, retiring as required at age 75, in 2000; he died in 2011.

Samuel Ruiz2Moving to Chiapas, and following a tour the diocese which was accomplished largely by mule in order to reach some of the remote areas of the diocese, the bishop was greatly affected by the way the indigenous peoples were being treated.  Not unlike Bishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, he was moved to do all he could to secure their rights and freedom.  Within two years he was attending the Second Vatican Council with its own renewal of ecclesiology, especially its ideas of collegiality, subsidiarity, co-responsibility, and human dignity.  Following the Council he was one of the guiding lights behind the Medellin Conference (1968) with its own focus on regional social justice.  His efforts involved adopting and adapting principles of what became known as liberation theology, which drew the ire of Mexican political leaders as well as Church officials.  He expanded efforts of inculturation, small base communities, and new catechetical methods.  And, after Pope Paul VI renewed a permanent diaconate in 1967, he looked into the diaconate as a way of encouraging and providing for indigenous religious leadership throughout the diocese.

I am not competent to discuss the civil and political aspects of Bishop Ruiz’ tenure, but from an ecclesiological standpoint, his forty years as diocesan bishop became a model for what is rightly termed “autochthonous” leadership.  Autochthonous has been defined as “indigenous” or “native”: specifically, “indigenous rather than descended from migrants or colonists”.  Bishop Ruiz’ obituary in the New York Times observed:

During his 40 years of presiding over a Roman Catholic diocese in Chiapas State, Bishop Ruiz cast light on abuses suffered by the Indians and sought to bring them into the church as equals with other Mexicans, challenging the rigidly stratified social order. . . .

Bishop Ruiz attracted a fervent following among Indians in Chiapas, who called him “Tatic,” which means “father” in a Mayan language. On Tuesday, Indian parishioners filled the cathedral in San Cristóbal de las Casas, a colonial town in the Chiapas highlands, for a memorial Mass that also commemorated the 51st anniversary of Bishop Ruiz’s ordination there. . . .

Bishop Ruiz was influenced by the Second Vatican Council, which in the 1960s called for bringing the Catholic faith to people in a way that reflected their own cultures. . . .

Starting in 1970, Bishop Ruiz ordered translations of the Bible and other religious texts in the indigenous languages of Chiapas. He trained Indian catechists, or instructors, to organize village assemblies throughout the mountains and jungles of the diocese. By the end of his tenure, there were more than 20,000 Indian catechists in Chiapas, said Pablo Romo, a former Dominican priest who worked with the bishop.

“He made the word of God accessible to the people,” Mr. Romo said.

chiapas-samuel-ruiz-funeral-3In addition to those 20,000 catechists, Bishop Ruiz ordained hundreds of deacons: by the time of his retirement in 2000, there were 341 deacons in his diocese, out of a total in all of Mexico of only 800!  Several news sources have reported that this number is the largest number of deacons in any Catholic diocese in the world, this is not accurate; several dioceses in the United States exceeded that number, even in 2000.  Regardless, it is a significant indication of Bishop Ruiz’ commitment to indigenous religious leadership.  It also got him into difficulties with the Holy See.

There were only 60 priests in the diocese, and Rome became concerned that there were so many deacons in relationship to the priests.  There were rumors, later found to be completely false, that Bishop Ruiz was ordaining women as deacons, as well as encouraging his deacons to join with rebel factions against the government. However, the Holy See’s interest was not only with Bishop Ruiz: In a pattern to be repeated elsewhere in Latin America, it is reported that St. John Paul II replaced as many as 86 of 100 Mexican bishops in two years alone, between 1997-1998. In 1997, two seminaries were closed.  The fear that Marxist applications of liberation theology were overshadowing its positive aspects, created great concern, and liberation theology as a whole came under considerable negative scrutiny.  John Paul II and Benedict XVI were both critical in their negative assessment of liberation theology, with Benedict XVI at one point apparently referring to it as “deceitful.”  (I’m still looking for the precise quote, however.)  Although Bishop Ruiz had been asked by the Holy See to suspend ordinations of any more permanent deacons, he continued.  Finally, his successor reluctantly agreed to a suspension, which the Holy See made permanent in 2001.

Felipe Arizmendi of ChiapasBishop Felipe Arizmendi, who has continued Bishop Ruiz’ pastoral plan for autochthony, has been in constant dialogue with the Holy See for the last fourteen years, attempting to explain his position, including his need to ordain as many as 200 new permanent deacons.  Until now, that has seemed an impossible task.  Many people confuse “autochthonous” with “autonomous” and they are two very different things.  No one wishing to maintain communion with the See of Peter would propose an “autonomous” church, and Bishop Arizmedi makes that position quite clear: that is NOT what they are doing.  An “autochthonous” structure, however, focuses on indigenous leadership, strongly enculturated by the people themselves.  It is this that Bishop Ruiz, and now Bishop Arizmendi, has sought.

But things seem to be changing.  Last year, Pope Francis welcomed Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez to the Vatican and honored a “founding father” of liberation theology.  In isolation, that may have been little more than a long-overdue sign of respect for Fr. Gutierrez and his ministry over many decades.  However, with this lifting of the ban on ordaining deacons in the diocese, perhaps more is at work here.

As I have long maintained in my own research and writing on the diaconate, we can never consider the diaconate out of the context of the entire Church.  Bishop Ruiz, and now Bishop Arizmendi, did not simply ordain deacons to have deacons.  They see the diaconate as it should be seen: as a sign of the servant-Church itself.  These deacons are serving as part of the larger pastoral plan to have an autochthonous church structure, much like those still in place in our Eastern Catholic churches, and which were the common polity of the ancient Church.  To read more about that, the wonderful work of another bishop, John R. Quinn, archbishop-emeritus of San Francisco, is most informative and helpful.  Find his books here.

Could this be part of a gradual movement in this direction, under the leadership of our first Latin American Pope?

In a June 12 letter following announcement of his intention to ordain 100 new deacons, Bishop Arizmendi lamented that 50 years after Vatican II revived the permanent diaconate, “in many parts its importance is still not understood.” I echo that sentiment, and pray for those about to be ordained to the service of the Chiapas vineyard of the Lord!

SanChristobal Cathedral

 

 

Priest to Deacon: “Being a deacon is not a REAL vocation.”

laying on of handsFrom the inbox comes a note from a very concerned brother deacon.  A priest recently told him that there was no real sacramental significance to being a deacon, unlike the ordinations of presbyters or bishops, which change a person at the very core of their being.  As another deacon once remarked to me after a Conference, a priest once told him that “being a deacon is not a REAL vocation, like being a priest or a religious.”  I have heard both of these observations before, and want to reassure my brother deacons that, contrary to the mistaken opinions of some of the priests involved (and others, of course): being a deacon IS a real vocation, and our ordination is just as “sacramentally effective and significant” as any other ordination to the other orders that make up the Sacrament of Holy Orders!

What’s going on here?  Why is there such confusion about this?  Let me suggest a few answers.  Perhaps this could be part of a conversation and ongoing formation offered to our seminarians and priests (and it wouldn’t hurt for deacons and lay folks to remember it, too!).

1) A “theology of the diaconate” is only just now being developed.  This may seem surprising, but when you think about it, it makes sense.  For about a millennium or so, “being ordained” was usually summed up in (reduced to?)  reflections on “being a priest.”  That was the order that mattered the most, since this was the order (of presbyters) who “confected the Eucharist”, and all other orders were preliminary to, and led to, the presbyterate.  For quite a while, even being a bishop was understood primarily through the lens of the priesthood, with the responsibilities of being a bishop understood primarily as a matter of jurisdiction, not sacramental significance.  This point of view was overturned at the Second Vatican Council, which restored a more ancient understanding of Orders, first by reclaiming the more ancient theological understandings of the episcopate (see Lumen gentium, ##18-27), returning the diaconate to an order to be exercised permanently, and by authorizing the restructuring of the entire Sacrament of Holy Orders; Pope Paul VI implemented those decisions between 1967 (when he adjusted canon law to permit the ordination of “permanent” deacons) and 1972 (when he suppressed, in the Latin Church, first tonsure, the minor orders of porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte, and the subdiaconate; he concurrently authorized LAY ministries of lector and acolyte, no longer to be ordinations, but lay institutions).  This means, vis-a-vis the diaconate, that for the first time in more than a millennium, a person could be ordained to a major and permanent order of the ministry (the diaconate) without eventually seeking ordination to the presbyterate.  Therefore, given the large scale absence of “permanent” deacons for so long, there was no proper theology of the diaconate-qua-diaconate.

The Holy See recognized this in a 1998 document from the Congregation for Catholic Education (#3):Ratio et Directorium

The almost total disappearance of the permanent diaconate from the Church of the West for more than a millennium has certainly made it more difficult to understand the profound reality of this ministry. However, it cannot be said for that reason that the theology of the diaconate has no authoritative points of reference, completely at the mercy of different theological opinions. There are points of reference, and they are very clear, even if they need to be developed and deepened.

So, what are these “points of reference” offered by the Holy See?

A.  First of all we must consider the diaconate, like every other Christian identity, from within the Church which is understood as a mystery of Trinitarian communion in missionary tension. This is a necessary, even if not the first, reference in the definition of the identity of every ordained minister insofar as its full truth consists in being a specific participation in and representation of the ministry of Christ. This is why the deacon receives the laying on of hands and is sustained by a specific sacramental grace which inserts him into the sacrament of Orders.

B. The diaconate is conferred through a special outpouring of the Spirit (ordination), which brings about in the one who receives it a specific conformation to Christ, Lord and servant of all. Quoting a text of the Constitutiones Ecclesiae Aegypticae, Lumen gentium (n. 29) defines the laying on of hands on the deacon as being not “ad sacerdotium sed ad ministerium”,(6) that is, not for the celebration of the eucharist, but for service. This indication, together with the admonition of Saint Polycarp, also taken up again by Lumen gentium, n. 29,(7) outlines the specific theological identity of the deacon: as a participation in the one ecclesiastical ministry, he is a specific sacramental sign, in the Church, of Christ the servant. His role is to “express the needs and desires of the Christian communities” and to be “a driving force for service, or diakonia”, which is an essential part of the mission of the Church.

C.  The matter of diaconal ordination is the laying on of the hands of the Bishop; the form is constituted by the words of the prayer of ordination, which is expressed in the three moments of anamnesis, epiclesis and intercession. . . .  [NOTE: The matter and form of the diaconate, presbyterate and episcopate were clarified and promulgated by Pope Pius XII in his 1947 Sacramentum Ordinis.   One would hope that by now this document would have found its way into seminary curricula! ]

holyorders2D. Insofar as it is a grade of holy orders, the diaconate imprints a character and communicates a specific sacramental grace. The diaconal character is the configurative and distinguishing sign indelibly impressed in the soul, which configures the one ordained to Christ, who made himself the deacon or servant of all. It brings with it a specific sacramental grace, which is strength, vigor specialis, a gift for living the new reality wrought by the sacrament. “With regard to deacons, ‘strengthened by sacramental grace they are dedicated to the People of God, in conjunction with the bishop and his body of priests, in the service (diakonia) of the liturgy, of the Gospel and of works of charity’”.  Just as in all sacraments which imprint character, grace has a permanent virtuality [The Latin original has: Sicut in omnibus sacramentis characterem imprimentibus, gratia permanentem virtualem vim continet]. It flowers again and again in the same measure in which it is received and accepted again and again in faith.

E. In the exercise of their power, deacons, since they share in a lower grade of ecclesiastical ministry, necessarily depend on the Bishops, who have the fullness of the sacrament of orders. In addition, they are placed in a special relationship with the priests, in communion with whom they are called to serve the People of God.

F. From the point of view of discipline, with diaconal ordination, the deacon is incardinated into a particular Church or personal prelature to whose service he has been admitted, or else, as a cleric, into a religious institute of consecrated life or a clerical society of apostolic life.(13) Incardination does not represent something which is more or less accidental, but is characteristically a constant bond of service to a concrete portion of the People of God. This entails ecclesial membership at the juridical, affective and spiritual level and the obligation of ministerial service.

jpii2.  If this were not enough to demonstrate the proper character of a vocation to the diaconate, consider the words of soon-to-be Saint John Paul II, who offered a series of catecheses on the diaconate in 1993.  He observed with great clarity a theme he would make several times during his papacy:

The exercise of the diaconal ministry—like that of other ministries in the Church—requires per se of all deacons, celibate or married, a spiritual attitude of total dedication.  Although in certain cases it is necessary to make the ministry of the diaconate compatible with other obligations, to think of oneself and to act in practice as a ‘part-time deacon’ would make no sense. The deacon is not a part-time employee or ecclesiastical official, but a minister of the Church. His is not a profession, but a mission!  

So, why does any confusion persist on this matter?  Let me offer a couple of suggestions.

3.  The sacramental question of HOW the deacon participates in the one Sacrament of Holy Orders has developed since the release of the documents on the diaconate in 1998.  Following some initial changes to the Latin editio typica of the Catechism of the Catholic Church back in 1994, Pope Benedict in 2009 issued motu proprio Omnium et Mentem.  In this document, canon law (specifically cc. 1008 and 1009) was changed to reflect that only presbyters and bishops act in persona Christi Capitis (“in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church”), while deacons serve in a ministry of word, sacrament and charity.  This distinction, however, does not — and should not — be taken to suggest that deacons are no less ORDAINED into sacred ministry (which is the point of the canons on this point!) or that our ordination is no less sacramentally significant.  The canons simply reflect a theological position that there are two modalities of participation in the ONE Sacrament of Holy Orders. [Here’s an interesting side note: the change to canon law only affected the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church; the Code of Canons for the Eastern Catholic Churches does not use the language of in persona Christi Capitis, so the distinction did not need to be made there.]

4.  I think that, since the Council, there has been legitimate concern on the part of many presbyters that the specific nature of the presbyterate has been under assault.  One bishop who participated in all four sessions of the Council as a young bishop, once remarked to me that he considered it a great shortcoming of the Council that they did not spend more time on the nature of the priesthood itself.  “After all,” this bishop said, “We spent considerable time talking about the sacramental nature of the episcopate, and we developed wonderful texts on the nature and role of the laity.  We even renewed the diaconate!  But we did not take into proper account the profound impact all of that would have on the presbyterate itself.”  As a result, many of the functions which had become part of the presbyterate prior to the Council now began to be disbursed to other ministers, both lay and, now, deacons.  This means that there is a certain concern that the presbyterate itself is being somehow “eroded” as others assume their own rightful and legitimate places in ministry, both within the Church and in the world.

But the bottom line remains:vocation

Deacons are ordained, and are permanently changed in the core of our being by that ordination (what we used to call in days gone by as “ontologically changed”).  We are always and everywhere full-time ministers, as St. John Paul II so passionately proclaimed, even when that ministry occurs outside the normal institutional structures of the Church.  During those same catecheses in 1993, John Paul II also reminded people that “a deeply felt need in the decision to re-establish the permanent diaconate was and is that of greater and more direct presence of Church ministers in the various spheres of the family, work, school, etc., in addition to existing pastoral structures.”  The diaconate is a sacrament and a proper vocation.  It is perhaps also a useful reminder to many of our sisters and brothers that we are all gifted with many “proper vocations” — calls from God! — in our lifetimes.  Our baptisms themselves constitute our primal vocation, before all others, for example!  Some of us are called to religious life, some are called to matrimony, some are called to Orders, and some of us are called to several of these at the same time!  Our God is a most generous God, and attempts to characterize one vocation over against another is to deny that divine generosity and to misunderstand the nature of vocation in the first place.

Now,  let us all go out and serve one another!

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“That All May be One”: International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

banners_semana-oracion-unidad1-EN largeThis week (18-25 January) we observe the annual International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  You can read the message from Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Cardinal-President of The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity here.  There are many resources available for our use throughout this week, including these from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This initial reflection on the Week is just that: a starting point.  Much more remains to be developed.  For now, let’s start at the beginning, which is quite simple yet profound: We Christians are already united — in a common baptism!  Before getting into our differences, let’s start at our point of unity.

While some folks seem to get more than a little nervous about things like this, it is important to remember that our concern for unity goes all the way back to Christ himself:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,  I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  (John 17: 20-24)

paul-athenagorasThis year we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s landmark document on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, which gave added impetus to Catholic participation in the effort.  It is also the fiftieth anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras.  Pope John XXIII, from the beginning of his papacy in 1958, had made Christian unity a goal.  On 5 June 1960, during the early preparations for the Council, Pope John established a “Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity” as one of the preparatory commissions for the Council, and appointed Cardinal Augustin Bea as its first President. This was the first time that the Holy See had set up an office to deal uniquely with ecumenical affairs.

 [From the Vatican web site:]  At first, the main function of the Secretariat was to invite the other Churches and World Communions to send observers to the Second Vatican Council. Already, however, from the first session (1962), by a decision of Pope John XXIII, it was placed on the same level as the conciliar commissions. The Secretariat thus prepared and presented to the Council the documents on ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio), on non-Christian religions (Nostra aetate), on religious liberty (Dignitatis humanae) and, together with the doctrinal commission, the dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum).

As a kind of introduction to the week’s prayer, consider some insights from the Council itself.  From Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, we read the following:

baptisms-570x27915. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. . . .  We can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ’s disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. (17*) Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.

This week we stress that unceasing prayer for unity.  But it also serves to remind us that we believe in the very real power of our common baptism, and that we already are in communion, even if it is not yet a perfect communion, with other baptized Christians.  The Decree on Ecumenism builds on this idea:

AllSaints3. . . .  In subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church-for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church-whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church-do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. . . .  But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.  Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.

Sean and AnnePerhaps, during the coming week, we can begin our prayer by celebrating the common foundation we share. Our communion may be imperfect, but it is no less real. For example, a recent photo of Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley being blessed by Methodist pastor Rev. Anne Robinson during an ecumenical prayer service has created quite a stir around the internet.  Some people have been scandalized; others have questioned the Cardinal’s judgment, and still others have praised it.  Even canonist Edward Peters had to weigh in to clarify concerns and allay some fears.  Read his comments here.  As he points out: “No canon or liturgical law prohibits baptized non-Catholics from making the Sign of the Cross nor from using Holy Water in accord with its character. Thus, one Christian making the Sign of the Cross on another Christian’s forehead (in explicit commemoration of one’s baptism or not) is simply something to be explained to those not used to seeing it performed by a female Protestant minister on a Catholic cardinal. . . .”  In short, then, I think the image of this blessing of one Christian by another has really little to say about whether one is ordained or not; rather, it should be a powerful witness to all Christians of the common character of our shared baptism.

Certainly, many things still divide Christians.  But if we can start from a common foundation, future steps toward full communion seem far more achievable.

The Once and Future Pope Francis

It seems like Pope Francis is everywhere in the media these days.  Not only is he Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year”, he was named “Person of the Year” as well by the London Times, and even “The Advocate.”  Just today, I noticed today that Esquire Magazine has name him the Best-Dressed Man of 2013!  For a man who less than a year ago was a retired Archbishop in South America, this is quite a switch.

Over on Facebook, a friend noticed wryly that the media was now focused on Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi (“to the city and to the world”)message of world peace, as if this were a dramatic new statement launching the Church into hitherto unknown directions seeking peace and justice around the world.  Obviously, all prior popes, especially those of the past century or so, have focused on the same themes; there is nothing new in that.

But there IS something new going on, and I think we miss it at our peril: what’s new is not what the Pope is saying, but that people are hearing what he’s saying.  Rightly or wrongly, justifiably or not, many of our contemporaries had tuned out the messages and words of previous popes; now they’re inclined to tune back in.  It’s not that the message has changed one whit.  But the messenger has, and the way the messenger crafts his message has.  The classic words of the Second Vatican Council, echoing Pope St. John XXIII, told us that the Church

has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which people ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics (Gaudium et spes, #4).

Francis2selfieIt seems to me that the key to Pope Francis lies in that paragraph.  As a Church, we’ve been blessed with popes who could, since the Council, focus on certain “signs of the times” and their interpretation.  But that’s only the first part of what we need to do if we’re going to be proper evangelizers.  Many teachers are good at giving students the facts of things, but that doesn’t guarantee that simply knowing those facts will lead to life-changing wisdom.  We have to take the next steps in addition to a “just the facts, ma’am” approach.  So, in addition to reading the signs of the times in light of the Gospel, here’s the rest:

  1. We have to find “language intelligible to each generation,” and I would further interpret this to mean “language intelligible to each generation and culture”; the fact is, all people should be able to understand and comprehend what’s being said.
  2. The point of this understanding is to find what the Church proposes in response to the basic questions of life and the meaning of life.  If this connection is not made, then we are failing at the task!  But there’s still more.
  3. In order to make this connection for folks, we need to recognize and understand the world, and what it proposes to people.  But in addition, we need to understand what people in the world are longing for, and the way the world works.  I have frequently met deacons who, somewhat proudly, proclaim that they no longer have TVs in their homes, that they don’t watch the news or other secular programming, or that they only watch religious programming.  I submit that this is a huge misjudgment, especially for ministers of the Gospel in today’s world.

This is where Pope Francis is proving himself to be a master catechist an evangelist.  He clearly understands the the scriptures (beautifully so, I might add) and official church teachings.  However, what he is bringing to the task is a profound understanding of the rest of the mission: his words, his demeanor, his life style choices, his actions, all point to a messenger that is committed to the content and the context of the mission.  This is not in the least a criticism of previous popes.  No person can do everything.  However, those who assert that the pope’s change of style is unimportant because “the message” remains the same are missing the whole point.  The message is never just about the content  the message; the style and context of the message is equally important.

We call this evangelization.  If people who previously not “heard” the message are now able to “hear” it, God bless them, and God bless the messenger!

An Advent Remembrance: War and Peace

colour-smoke_2076773i7 December 1941.  Seventy-two years since that particular “Day of Infamy.”  World War II had, of course, begun years earlier.  By the time it ended, at least 70 million people were dead.  Pope John Paul II, in his 2004 Message for the World Day of Peace, referred to the Second World War as “an abyss of violence, destruction and death unlike anything previously known.”  How does a world recover from such madness?  For those of us who were born following the War, we have lived with its effects our whole lives, even though specific memories of the War continue to fade with the passing of the World War II generation.

For Catholics, I believe it is important to understand the Second Vatican Council as the Catholic Church’s response to World War II: the conditions that led to the War and the world that emerged after it.  Pope John XXIII announced his plans for the Council only fourteen years following the end of War.  Opening the Council, he observed:

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We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.  In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by men’s own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfillment of God’s superior and inscrutable designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.

How do we cooperate with Divine Providence in attaining this “new order of human relations”?  The bishops of the Council were not seeking simple superficial updating of the Church; they were setting out to create a new understanding of the Church in a world already gone mad and in need of the “soul and leaven” a renewed Church might provide.  Pope Paul VI, in his famous speech at the General Assembly of the United Stations in October 1965, famously proclaimed:

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Paul VI at the United Nations

And now We come to the high point of Our message: Negatively, first: the words which you expect from Us and which We cannot pronounce without full awareness of their gravity and solemnity: Never one against the other, never, never again.  Was it not principally for this purpose that the United Nations came into being: against war and for peace?  Listen to the clear words of a great man, the late John Kennedy [himself a veteran of World War II], who declared four years ago: “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.”  Long discourses are not necessary to proclaim the supreme goal of your institution.  It is enough to remember that the blood of millions of men, numberless and unprecedented sufferings, useless slaughter and frightful ruin are the sanction of the covenant which unites you, in a solemn pledge which must change the future history of the world No more war, war never again.  It is peace, peace which must guide the destinies of peoples and of all mankind.

What is particularly telling is the fact that when Pope Paul returned to Rome from this trip, he went immediately to the St. Peter’s and shared his insights with the assembled Council Fathers who, in their own turn, adopted the pope’s message as their own.  They were in the midst of their own work on their capstone document, Gaudium et spes, “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.  In particular, they began working on the section dealing with war and peace, incorporating the insights of Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris and Pope Paul’s speech to the UN.

No more war, war never again!

As we remember the personal, national and global tragedies of the Second World War, may we this Advent renew our commitment and preparation for the new order of human relations foreseen by Pope John.  May we, like Mary pregnant with the Christ, work to bring Christ and his Gospel to the world in the real, concrete terms envisioned by the Council and now renewed for us again by the words and deeds of Pope Francis.

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