Letters from the Synod: Volume 13 – 14 October
Reports and Commentary, from Rome and elsewhere, on the XIV Ordinary General assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
Edited by Xavier Rynne II
…from and about Synod 2015
What about the end-game?
Over the past 48 hours, a consensus has begun to emerge among Synod fathers that their work in this second week of Synod 2015 would be greatly facilitated if they were given concrete, specific answers to the question, “What are we working toward?” In other words, what is the end-game of this three-week synodal process?
This consensus ranges across the various fault-lines previously noted here; and of course the fathers’ concern makes eminent sense. The Synod discussion circles’ detailed examination of the working document, the Instrumentum Laboris, seems to be provoking thoughtful, serious debate. But to what end?
How will the amendments and alterations being proposed from the discussion groups be incorporated into the draft Synod final report? When will be final report be available for review, prior to the voting on it which Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Synod general secretary, has promised? In what languages besides Italian will the final report be available to the Synod fathers? Will the fathers vote on the draft final report paragraph-by-paragraph; part by part; as a whole; all of the above? Will a validating “majority” be simple or two-thirds?
And when will all of this be revealed, so to speak?
The Vatican press spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, indicated Monday that there might be some clarification of these matters on Friday or Saturday of this week. But Synod fathers (and others) wonder, why the delay? And this puzzlement is not because of alleged fears of manipulation being bruited in an overwrought Italian press with little else to write about. (Strike “overwrought” as redundant.) It’s because getting specific answers to these questions will help the bishops do their work better, in the spirit of openness, charity, and candor for which the Holy Father has repeatedly called.
So it may be hoped that the details of the end-game of Synod 2015 are forthcoming sooner rather than later, perhaps in response to inquiries from the discussion groups or in the free-discussion periods in the Synod general assembly. XR2
Thoughts from the Para-Synod
During the Second Vatican Council, two coffee bars set up in St Peter’s Basilica – quickly dubbed by wags as “Bar Jonah” and “Bar Mitzvah” – were the scene of important discussions that helped shape the debates on the floor of the Council. So were the evening seminars organised in various religious residences around Rome, where the conciliar periti or theological advisors (both formal and informal) gave the Council fathers crash courses in the theologies and methods of biblical exegesis that had evolved since the bishops had been seminarians, and the bishops got to exchange views in ways that were impossible in the formal Council sessions. One of the Council fathers, Karol Wojtyła of Kraków, paid an indirect but unmistakable compliment to the para-Council when he said that Vatican II had been, for him, a kind of second graduate school in theology.
Similar sessions are underway during Synod 2015, one of them convened by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York in cooperation with the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture. Its aim is simple: informal and open conversation of potential use to the Synod fathers in their deliberations, initiated by input from knowledgeable experts. On the evening of October 12, the group gathered by Cardinal Dolan heard from two men who have made significant contributions to the theology of marriage and the family, but who are not, alas, official advisers to Synod 2015: Monsignor Livio Melina, President of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, and Bishop Jean Laffitte, who has served as Secretary of the Pontifical Council on the Family since 2009.
Msgr. Melina’s opening remarks touched on what he regarded as three problematic points in the Synod’s working document, points he hoped would be corrected in the Synod’s debates.
The first involved the “law of graduality” in paragraphs 57ff. of the Instrumentum Laboris. The Church must always welcome sinners, he said; but precisely for reasons of sound pastoral care, the Church cannot avoid challenging those who are living in irregular situations (such as cohabitation) to recognise that these arrangements “lack the goods of marriage (such as the public bond, fidelity, openness to life)…but [operate] according a logic that negates these goods”. The call, while always compassionate, must always be to conversion.
The Italian theologian was also concerned that the Instrumentum Laboris (at, inter alia, #122) described the Eucharist as if it were “primarily….a social gathering, which is why…everyone should be invited”. But the Eucharist “…is the treasure of the Church. It is the sacrament of the true body and blood of Christ, the sign of the spousal union of Christ and his Church, intrinsically related to the sacrament of the nuptial covenant between a man and a woman”. Thus to admit to Eucharistic fellowship “those who live in a union that is different from sacramental marriage” contradicts the meaning of the sacrament. Moreover, he suggested, leaving decisions in this matter to “national or local communities”, on the incorrect notion that this is a matter “of purely disciplinary character”, would “open the doors to relativism and would destroy the sacramental unity of the Catholic Church”.
Msgr. Melina then suggested, as others have done, that the working document’s description of conscience at #137 is individualistic and subjectivistic in a way that seems to contradict the teaching of the encyclical Veritatis Splendor. He also compared mercy detached from truth to bad medicine proffered by an incompetent physician. And in conclusion, he urged the Synod to treat the family “as good news and not a problem” – which means beginning “with the light of faith and not with sociology”.
Bishop Laffitte noted that, while we used to speak in the Church of the mission “ad extra” – meaning the mission to those who had never heard the Gospel – the mission “ad extra” had now become the mission “ad intra” in situations like his that of own country, France, where 4per cent of self-identified Catholics regularly attend Sunday Mass, or in Belgium, where the number is 3per cent. In reaching out to those who have fallen away from any regular practice of the faith in this matter of marriage and the family, we must begin, the bishop suggested, with Revelation, and God’s “design for holiness”, which is revealed in the very first chapters of Genesis.
Bishop Laffitte also suggested that, in pastoral care, the Church often aims too low, treating Catholics in difficult situations like “second-class citizens”, when in fact the summons to holiness and heroic virtue is far more compelling than a lame confirmation of current cultural standards. Why, he asked, are we able to ask our people to live heroically in matters involving other commandments, but not in respect of the Sixth and Ninth Commandments? What’s the reticence here, he wondered – especially when what is at stake is a “design” that is both divine in origin and conducive to human happiness? XR2
…being thoughts on Synod 2015 from various observers
Doubts About Devolution – II
During Synod 2015, I’ve been reading a biography of Pope Pius VII’s secretary of state, Ercole Consalvi, one of the diplomatic stars of the Congress of Vienna, which refashioned 19th-century Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. The book’s author, John Martin Robinson, wrote Cardinal Consalvi: 1757-1824 in what might be called “high English recusant” style: one of the young Consalvi’s patrons, Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart, younger brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie and second son of Prince James Edward Stuart, the “Old Pretender” to the throne of Great Britain, is typically referred to as “the de jure King of England:” a charmingly anachronistic demurral from the glories of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In any case, really stuck me about Consalvi’s life, times, and work were some suggestive parallels to Synod 2015.
In Cardinal Consalvi’s day, the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, Catholicism and political modernity had a very rocky relationship in Europe; thus no small part of Consalvi’s remarkable career involved efforts to liberate the Church and the Holy See from the suffocating embrace of state power. Napoleon, after his self-coronation (auto-emperorisation?), wanted to restore the practice of Catholicism in France; but he wanted a Church on his own, nationalistic terms. Consalvi had to work very hard to keep the Catholic Church from being a mere department of the French state, and to maintain the pope’s ability to communicate freely with his bishops and people – issues that arose with Napoleon in part because of who he was, and in part because of the history of the national-Catholicism known as Gallicanism in France.
Similar problems challenged Consalvi’s diplomatic ingenuity as he sought emancipation for Catholics in the United Kingdom: would the Church, its members’ civil rights restored after centuries of penal laws, be free to be itself, and free to be in full communion (and unfettered communication) with the center of its unity, the papacy? Would Pius VII and his successors be able to address their British, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish flocks without censorship from the British Foreign Office?
Then there were the Austrians, still under the sway of the Emperor Joseph’s determination to turn the Church into a sub-division of the police (as he once put it), and the Prussians, equally determined to bring the Catholic Church under state control.
It’s true that these challenges arose in part because of tensions between the pope’s spiritual leadership of the Catholic Church and the fact that the popes of the first half of the nineteenth century were temporal sovereigns claiming a considerable swath of the Italian peninsula – territory that was eagerly sought by other European powers, for both strategic and financial reasons. But even after the Papal States faded into history after the Italian Risorgimento conquered Rome in 1870, attempts by the modern state to control the Church and, if necessary, sever ties between local churches and Rome, continued. When Leo XIII came to the Chair of Peter in 1878, for example, the great majority of Germany’s Catholic bishops were in prison or in exile, thanks to Bismarck’s Kulturkampf. (The anti-clerical temper of those times was pointed out to me this past Sunday afternoon by an Italian friend, a distinguished historian, who noted that Rome’s elegant Prati district had been deliberately constructed so that none of its broad avenues afforded a vista of St Peter’s basilica.)
Attempts to wrestle the Catholic Church into submission in the course of advancing nationalistic or ideological agendas did not end with the nineteenth century; they intensified. Whenever communists took over a country, they tried to create “national” churches detached from Rome (creating, in the process, great martyr-confessors like Cardinals Stepinac of Croatia, Beran of the Czech Republic, Mindszenty of Hungary, Wyszyński of Poland, and Slipyj of Ukraine). Hitler, some will remember, threatened to set up faux-popes in every land he conquered. Similar problems persist today in the People’s Republic of China, which explicitly recognises only a “national” Catholic community under regime control, the Patriotic Catholic Association, and, to a lesser extent, in Vietnam, where Rome’s ability to appoint bishops is not as free as it should be.
These examples typically involve Church-state relations. But the Gallican notion of a “national Church”, effectively autonomous from Rome and from the rest of the universal Church ()and embodied by the slithery figure of Talleyrand, was certainly a factor contributing to the difficulties Consalvi faced in dealing with Napoleon. Something similar to that once-thought-dead ecclesial sensibility has re-emerged today, in the proposal that national bodies of bishops (or, in a more expansive view, regional conferences of bishops) have genuine teaching authority and the capacity to make unique pastoral provisions for the life of the Church, irrespective of traditional and universal Catholic teaching and practice. This New Gallicanism was one of the issues-beneath-the-issues between Synod 2014 and Synod 2015, and it will come much more explicitly to the fore in Synod 2015 as the Synod heads into the second half of its second week, and then turns into its final week.
Which suggests that reflection on the career of Cardinal Ercole Consalvi is a useful exercise at Synod 2015, one hundred ninety-one years after Consalvi’s death. “National Churches” have always been deeply problematic for the Catholic Church, both in its internal life as a global communion and in the struggle of local churches to maintain their freedom of thought and action in the face of the expansive claims of the modern state. Cardinal Consalvi is buried in the Roman church of San Marcello on the Corso; a pilgrimage there, and a prayer for wisdom before the great San Marcello Cross, would not be misplaced, as the Synod considers proposals to devolve certain responsibilities to national or regional bodies of bishops.
George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Centre
…for the Synod and the Church to hear
Today, we complete our publication of the keynote address delivered by Bishop Robert Barron last month at the World Congress of Families in Philadelphia, “Imago Dei as Privilege and Mission”. Part One of the address may be found in Letters from the Synod #11 and was summarised in Letters from the Synod #12, which also included Part Two of the address, summarised here:
1) After the Fall, God, who wants to set things right, sends a “rescue operation:” the People of Israel, a family to be formed after God’s own mind and heart.
2) This family is led and shaped by priests, prophets, and kings: the priests instruct Israel in right praise; the prophets call Israel to think with the mind of God; the kings are to be exemplars of righteous governance, restoring lost order to Eden.
3) The failures of Israel’s kings, including the greatest among them, led to Israel’s longing for a Messiah – a new David, a new Moses – whose qualities can be discerned in the psalms and in the prophetic literature.
4) Thus the earliest Christians referred to the Risen Lord Jesus as “Christ”, the Messiah (Maschiach), the one for whom Israel yearned.
5) Jesus – priest, prophet, and king – is not just the founder of a new community, but “the organic head of a new body”, the Church, which is to “Edenise” the world, to “restore creation to its integrity”.
6) All of the people incorporated into Christ’s body by baptism share in this mission.
We now present the conclusion of Bishop Barron’s address.
IMAGO DEI AS PRIVILEGE AND MISSION: PART THREE
by Bishop Robert Barron
The Imago Dei in the Life of the Church
So let us see how the priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices play themselves out in the life of the Church today. We will look first at the priestly dimension of the imago. If the Scriptures are right, the single greatest problem today is what it has always been throughout human history: lack of orthodoxy, a suspension of right praise. Like the woman at the well, most of us are looking for love in all of the wrong places. Like the priests of Ba’al, most of us hop around altars to gods that cannot, even in principle, satisfy us. Following the prompt of Thomas Aquinas, we might imagine that well and those altars to the Ba’als as symbolic of our quest for the four great substitutes for God, namely wealth, pleasure, power, and honor. The more we order our infinite longing for God toward one of these finite objects, the more addicted we become, even to the point of doing damage to ourselves, which is beautifully suggested by the priests of Ba’al slashing themselves as they supplicate their false gods. Those who have been grafted on to Christ are meant to fulfill the task of the new Adam, embodying the right worship that, in turn, sets the world aright. The elegant liturgical formula “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will” functions as a sort of prescription: in the measure that our worship is rightly directed, order obtains both in ourselves and in the wider society.
This is precisely why the great theologians of the Liturgical Movement and the fathers of Vatican II called for a revival of the Mass, including the full, conscious, and active participation of the laity. Awakening the people of God to a keener awareness of right worship would, they wagered, shape Catholics more fully for their work of mission and evangelisation. Henri de Lubac commented that, after the words of consecration, the most sacred words of the Mass are Ite, missa est (Go, the Mass is ended), for they signaled that those who had been shaped by the word of God and the Eucharist are now commissioned to go forth, like the life that flooded out of Noah’s Ark to renew the face of the earth. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, the co-founders of the Catholic Worker Movement, never tired of saying that cult (the liturgy and prayer) cultivates the culture. When he came to Gethsemani Abbey for a Holy Week retreat in 1941, the young Thomas Merton said, “I’ve discovered the still point around which the whole country revolves without knowing it.” Any remaking of the culture undertaken without reference to rightness of praise will founder.
But how have Catholics been doing in this regard since the Council? The statistics tell a disturbing story. In the United States, over 75per cent of baptised Catholics regularly stay away from what Vatican II called “the source and summit of the Christian life”, and the numbers in Australia and Europe are far worse. Moreover, the numbers of Catholics who are having their babies baptised or who seek out marriage in the Church are plummeting. If you had told Romano Guardini or Henri de Lubac or Yves Congar or Reynold Hillenbrand—all great leaders of the pre-conciliar liturgical movement—that in 2015, the overwhelming majority of Catholics in the West rarely attend Mass, they would have seen their work as a failure. Recently, I was interviewed on a local Chicago television program, and I was questioned about the crisis in the priesthood. I replied that the priesthood has indeed been passing through a dark period, but I insisted that, given the statistics just cited, there is a greater crisis of the laity. Vatican II wanted lay people to exercise their priestly office with greater enthusiasm and, consequently, to take up their responsibility to sanctify the world. As many have pointed out, what actually happened in the wake of the Council was a push to clericalise the laity and this in turn produced a struggle for power between a clerical establishment and those laity who wanted to join it. But this is not what the Vatican II fathers wanted! They wanted a revitalised liturgy to give rise to great Catholic lawyers, great Catholic physicians and nurses, great Catholic business leaders and investors, great Catholic writers and journalists, great Catholic parents, etc. One wonders whether one of the factors contributing to the emergence of a secularist ideology today is the withdrawal of so many Catholics from the sacraments and hence, as properly formed Catholics, from the secular arena.
St John Paul II urged us to see the family as an ecclesiola (a little church), which is to say, a place where people learn to pray and to make God the absolute center of their lives. The rosary, morning and evening prayers, blessings of children as they go off to bed, regular attendance at Mass and participation in the other sacraments of course—through all these practices, families develop as schools of prayer. One cannot help but think in this context of the manner in which Karol Wojtyła’s father, by his quiet but consistent piety, shaped his son to be the saint who would, in time, transform the face of the earth.
The prophet Elijah was not content simply to worship the true God in the right way; rather, he actively challenged the false worship practiced by King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. When Ahab responded in anger, Elijah took on the 450 priests of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel. (As has been true from ancient times to the present day, the avatars of the false gods are always thick on the ground.) How deliciously Elijah mocked the advocates of errant worship: “When it was noon, Elijah taunted them, ‘Call louder for he is a god and may be meditating, or may have retired, or may be on a journey. Perhaps he is asleep and must be wakened’” (1 Kings 18:27). Recall John Paul II’s visit to Warsaw in June of 1979. In the capital city of one of the principal nations of the Soviet bloc, surrounded by officials of the communist government, hemmed in on all sides by spies and informers, the Pope spoke to the people of God, of human rights and dignity, of creation, salvation, and eternal life. And the hundreds of thousands took up a chant: “We want God! We want God!” On and on it went, “We want God!” for over fifteen minutes. Prescient political observers at the time realised that this was the beginning of the end of the Communist regime in Poland. Canny theological observers knew that they were witnessing a late 20th-century reiteration of Elijah and the priests of Ba’al.
The secularist ideology is telling especially our young people today that they can be perfectly happy through the worship of wealth, pleasure, honor, and power. Those who share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ cannot be content to exercise their worship in private; they must, in the manner of Elijah, publicly expose, even mock, the myriad forms of false worship that obtain in our society. This is precisely why the tendency in the West to reduce religious liberty to freedom of worship in private is unacceptable to serious Christians.
As we have seen, the New Israel of the Church is also called to be a prophetic people, which means a people who boldly witness to the truth of things. One of the dimensions of original sin of Adam and Eve is the skewing or setting aside of truth for the sake of protecting the ego. Once they grasp at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, making themselves thereby the criterion of truth, they will no longer “catalogue” reality, but rather name it according to their own whims and for the suiting of their needs. Many have commented how this tendency manifests itself today especially in regard to the body and sexuality. In the Gnostic mode, the body is seen as an infinitely malleable substance that can be twisted, stretched, and redefined according to our desire for self-creation. I call this impulse Gnostic because it is predicated upon a dualist anthropology according to which the spiritual dimension of the human being (mind and freedom) hovers sovereignly over the material and manipulates it. We find something similar in Nietzsche’s will to power philosophy as well as in Sartre’s insistence that existence precedes essence, meaning that arbitrary freedom determines the nature of reality. Should you think that this is all just abstractly philosophical, peruse the famous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the matter of Casey v. Planned Parenthood. Articulating what amounts to an existentialism more radical than anything proposed by Sartre, three justices declared that it belongs to the nature of liberty to determine the meaning of one’s own existence and indeed of the universe itself! But all of this is repugnant to a Biblical vision. On the Scriptural reading, the body has its own integrity and moral intelligibility, which constitutes an objective datum and which informs the mind and constrains arbitrary freedom. In a word, we can discern finalities and purposes within the structure of matter—and this provides the ground for a moral discourse that can be undertaken even by representatives of differing religious systems.
The Gnostic anthropology that we have been criticising is in tight correlation to a typically modern construal of freedom. The Dominican moral theologian Servais Pinckaers famously distinguished between the freedom of indifference and freedom for excellence. The former, with its roots in the speculation of William of Occam, is freedom understood as choice and self-determination, an arbitrary hovering of the will above the yes and the no. The latter, on display in both classical philosophy and the Bible, is liberty as the disciplining of desire so as to make the achievement of the good first possible and finally effortless. Think of the manner in which a young man comes to play the piano freely or a young woman to master the intricacies of the game of golf. Each becomes free in the measure that he or she internalises the relevant objectivities that govern the disciplines in question. On this more classical interpretation, law is not the enemy of freedom, but rather the very condition for its possibility. One thinks of King David dancing ecstatically before the Ark of the Covenant that contained the Ten Commandments. It would be difficult indeed to imagine even the most passionate advocate of law in our society dancing before a municipal tax code! And this is precisely because freedom for excellence has been almost thoroughly trumped by the freedom of indifference, so that law is appreciated as, at best, a sort of necessary evil.
Based upon the objective truth grounded in the nature of things, the Church makes bold to speak of moral obligation. It knows that the purpose of an open mind is like that of an open mouth, namely, to close down on something solid and nourishing. Openness to all points of view and radical non-judgmentalism might be the cultural vogue of our time, but they are repugnant to the Gospel and to the mission of the Church. Moreover, the Church is in the business of making saints, not moral mediocrities. The culture might be satisfied with producing nice people, but the Church wants to make us holy: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” says the Lord. This is why the moral demand of the Church is strong, uncompromising, and abundantly clear. It does indeed recognise certain acts—abortion, racial discrimination, the sexual abuse of children, etc.—as intrinsically evil and warns that we can never do such things, for any reason. Especially when these convictions and principles are applied to the sexual arena, the Church comes in for massive criticism. It is characterised as unrealistic, harsh, overbearing, insensitive, and unmerciful. But we cannot abandon our fundamental mission.
At the same time, the extreme demand of the Church is coupled with an equally extreme mercy, and one ought not to drive a wedge between the two. To the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, the good thief, the woman caught in adultery, Mary Magdalene, etc., etc., Jesus demonstrates a mercy that can only be called extravagant. But in every one of those cases, he makes a concomitant moral demand. Following the example of the Lord, the Church, even as it calls her sons and daughters to spiritual heroism, lavishes upon them mercy upon mercy. If the very worst of sinners comes to confession in an attitude of true repentance, he receives forgiveness. Period. When someone falls, even to the very bottom, the Church picks her up and gives her a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance, etc. Chesterton commented that a mark of the Catholic Church is a holding together of opposing elements in creative tension: asceticism and sensualilty, divine immanence and divine transcendence, procreation and celibacy, etc. This characteristic style is grounded in the great paradox of the Incarnation, which is a coming together of divinity and humanity “without mixing, mingling, or confusion”. The Church likes, Chesterton concluded, “red and white, though it’s always had a healthy hatred of pink”. So it presents an extreme, even exaggerated, moral demand and an extreme, even exaggerated, mercy.
Finally, we sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we members of the mystical body of Jesus, are meant to be kings, which is to say, defenders of the garden and propagators of its good order. Human beings, the stewards of creation, are not meant to hunker down behind the walls of the garden; rather they are sent on mission to Edenise the world. One of the most significant challenges to this mission is a secularist ideology that would privatise religion and hence exclude religiously motivated people from the public conversation, allowing, perhaps, for freedom of worship but not a truly free exercise of religion. To be sure, Christians should never enter the public arena violently, aggressively, or in meanness of spirit, for such a move would undermine the very principles we are endeavoring to propagate. But we should do so boldly and confidently, for we are not announcing a private or personal spirituality, but rather declaring a new King under whose lordship everything must fall. If Jesus is truly Lord, then government, business, family life, the arts, sexuality, and entertainment all come properly under his headship.
The great biblical image for this right-ordering of the whole of life under the leadership of Jesus is found in the book of Revelation. The seer envisions the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven, and he notices that there is no temple in the holy city. This peculiar arrangement signals that the whole of the city has come so completely under the aegis of Christ that every aspect of its life is ordered to proper praise (orthodoxy). As such, no temple is necessary, for the entire city has become a temple. Kings operate in the time between the coming of Christ and the descent of the New Jerusalem, doing all that they can to make their world a place where God is consistently praised. The story of Elijah and the priests of Ba’al taught us that authentic priests are always thin on the ground compared to the avatars of the false gods; St Augustine, likening the City of God to a tiny Noah’s Ark bobbing up and down on the stormy waters of the sinful world, taught us that authentic kings are always dramatically outnumbered by the princes of the earthly city. This should not discourage us, but at the same time we oughtn’t be naïve about it.
Now what does this kingly mission look like concretely? It is a commonplace of Catholic Social Teaching that the family is the building block, the most fundamental unit, of civil society. This is meant in far more than an arithmetic or sociological sense. If the society as a whole is meant to be a new Eden or a new Jerusalem, then the family is meant to be the place where the virtues and practices required for that transfiguration are cultivated. Within the family, one learns, first, that every member of the family is to be cherished and respected for his or her own sake. Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative is apposite here: never treat another human being as a means merely but always as an end. In a healthy family, one learns that children, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters unborn—all are precious, none is expendable. Without that discipline, it is remarkably easy to fall into the conviction that the unborn, the elderly, the sick, the mentally ill, even the troublesome can be shunted aside, or put to death. If you doubt me, read the works of some of the leading ethicists in the academy today or witness the social practices of many countries in the so-called developed world. Furthermore, in the family, a child learns the disciplines of obedience, fraternal correction, mutual encouragement, goal-setting, self-control, appropriate punishment, and creative problem-solving. Take away the family or radically change its form, and these practices and virtues never adequately develop. To cite but one instance, many social theorists in recent years have drawn an undeniably clear correlation between the breakdown of the family—most notably the absence of fathers—in the African American community and a plethora of social maladies from unemployment and gang activity to violence and rampant substance abuse. Broken and dysfunctional families conduce to broken and dysfunctional neighborhoods and societies. Further, as an ethical relativism has come increasingly to hold sway in the West, the only values that remain for the determination of individual worth are power and wealth. Once we have consigned integrity, generosity, chastity, courage, justice, etc. to the realm of the subjective, people are compelled to measure themselves against the debased standards of dominance and money—and this has led to nothing but mischief both personally and societally. Once more, the family is the place where the objective virtues are taught and cultivated and from whence morally informed people go forth for the reworking of the culture. When this kingly responsibility is abdicated, other kings, one can be assured, will step into the breach.
Finally, I would like to emphasise how the family provides a training-ground in the practice of creative non-violence. In both the animal kingdom and among human beings, two standard responses to violence can be discerned: flight or fight. In the face of threats or injustices, we tend either to run away or to fight back using the very methods employed by those who are oppressing us. As many have pointed out, Jesus indicates, in the Sermon on the Mount, a third way, beyond fleeing or fighting, a way of engaging the wicked so as to move them to conversion. To turn the other cheek, accordingly, is not acquiescence or surrender; rather, it is a mirroring technique, which compels the aggressor to see his aggression. In the martial art form called Aikido, the warrior does not aggress his opponent, but rather uses his opponent’s weight and momentum against him. As one proponent of this method explained once to me, the purpose of the Aikido warrior is not to injure or kill his counterpart, but instead to leave him laughing on the floor. I would suggest that what Jesus proposes in the Sermon on the Mount is a kind of spiritual and moral Aikido, a creative and non-violent way to engage the violence of the world. There is, it seems to me, no better place for learning the ways of creative non-violence than the family. Though it is sadly the case that people sometimes use violence against family members or simply flee from tensions within the family, normally, brothers, sons, sisters, and parents realise that they have to find another way to resolve their conflicts. Consequently, they commence to explore non-violent means: forgiveness, loving confrontation, honest speech, prayer, etc. Outside of the family structure, it becomes remarkably easy, when faced with negativity, either to flee or to fight. One of the principal ways that we will fulfill our kingly mission to Edenise the world is to practice creative non-violence, and the privileged locus for training in that subtle art is the family.
I hope that at least one thing has become clear in the course of this presentation: the imago Dei is not simply a privilege in which we delight; it is a mission we are called to undertake. Marked with the image of God, we are like viceroys or representatives of a king who carry documents embossed with the sovereign’s seal. We go forth, therefore, with God’s authority and empowered for his work. Accordingly, the imago Dei is something like the talents that the master entrusted to his servants before going on a long journey. They were not meant to be hoarded or protected, but rather risked on the open market, given away so that they might increase. When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, he will ask whether we have risked the imago Dei, whether we have taught the world how to praise, how to reverence the truth, how to go out vigorously on campaign.
…being other items of interest
Archbishop Gomez on Divine Pedagogy and Spiritual Childhood
The following intervention in the Synod general assembly was given by Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles on 9 October.
Holy Father, Synod Fathers, brothers and sisters,
The Word of God reveals our Creator’s plan for his creation and for human history. This divine Word is the authentic starting point for understanding the family’s vocation and mission.
As the Instrumentum Laboris (nos. 39, 44), recognises, we can discern a “divine pedagogy” in the history of salvation that unfolds in the Sacred Scriptures.
To strengthen marriage and the family in our time, I believe the Church must recover the divine pedagogy found in the Scriptures. Just a few weeks ago, when he was in the United States Pope Francis reminded us again — that God entrusted his loving plan for creation to the family.
And as I see it, the crisis of the family in our time is, to some extent, a crisis of anthropology. Our culture has lost its sense of the meaning of the human person and creation. This loss is rooted in the loss of God.
My perspective is shaped by my experience as the Archbishop of Los Angeles. The family of God in Los Angeles is made up of people from every continent and nationality.
Los Angeles is also the home of Hollywood — the place where the “virtual world” of movies, television programs, fantasy sports, and all kinds of media products are created. So Los Angeles has a great influence on the perception of the human person and the family in contemporary society.
I believe that the Church must present a new evangelical catechesis on creation, as an essential element of the new evangelisation. We must proclaim the beauty of God’s plan of love for creation, for the human person, and for the human family. Our new evangelisation must proclaim an integral human ecology that reveals the nature, vocation and teleology of the human person as created by God.
The Church needs to recover and reflect on the “family” images found in the Scriptures and most ancient Tradition, and in the universal Church’s liturgy and popular piety:
– the human person as the imago Dei;
– the Church as “family of God”;
– the family as the “domestic Church”;
– Divine filiation and the Christian life as spiritual childhood.
In the face of the widespread crisis of the family, I believe our society needs to hear once more the beautiful truth about the human person and God’s loving plan for creation and history, a plan that is centered in the family.
Counting on the intercession of the Holy Family we need to illuminate, by our pastoral priorities and practice, how the family is the crucial “way” for the Church and for God’s plan for human society
And in the words of our newest American saint, St Junipero Serra, we will go, siempre adelante!
The “Yes, We Can” Brigade and the “No, We Can’t” Battalion
An interesting parsing of Synod 2015 from our old friend John Allen can be found here.
The analysis might be amplified by noting that much of what Brother Allen terms the “Yes, We Can!” Brigade at the Synod comes from lively and vital local churches and/or renewal movements, while what we’ll call, mutatis mutandis, the “No, We Can’t” Battalion typically represents faltering or dying local churches. XR2
Letters from the Synod #12 incorrectly identified Fr Antonio Spadaro, SJ, the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, as a member of the drafting committee for Synod 2015’s final report. We regret the error, apologise for any confusion it may have caused, and send Fr Spadaro our good wishes – accompanied by our hope that his future Tweets will be less dismissive of the legitimate concerns of many Synod fathers. XR2