Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Synod: Fasten Your Seatbelts

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The Words Of Jesus Christ (Mark 2:17)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The Words of Jesus Christ, (Matthew 11:28-30)

Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care, restoring trust and hope to them like the light of a beacon in a port, or a torch carried among the people to light the way for those who are lost or find themselves in the midst of the storm.
Relatio post disceptationem (working document from the Synod on the Family) Paragraph 23
As I suspected would happen, this past week the Catholic blogosphere has been apoplectic about the Synod on the Family in Rome. The Synod is an opportunity for bishops and others to meet in Rome and express their opinions and views about the current state of the family which, any way you look at it, is pretty sad. The Extraordinary Synod taking place in Rome is basically a gabfest.  The Pope is giving people from all sides of the various issues concerning the family the opportunity to air their views.  However, it is vital to note that there will be no decisions made this year. 

This fact makes no difference to the Catholic blogosphere.  The consensus among the blogosphere seem to be that Church hierarchy has fallen completely off the rails and is no longer under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Many of those viewing the Synod have become hysterical and worse.

Pope Francis, in his opening remarks at the Synod, did his best to tell us what the purpose of these meetings is.  The meetings taking place in Rome are not about redefining doctrine or dogma.  The Extraordinary Synod is not about changing the direction the Church has taken for 2000 years.  It is about defining the problems that the family faces in the 21st Century and how the Church should address these problems.

In St. Peter's Square on the eve before the beginning of the Synod, Pope Francis said:
"Let us invoke openness to a sincere, open and fraternal exchange of views, that it might lead us to take pastoral responsibility for the questions that this changing time brings with it, Let them fill our heart, without ever losing peace, but with serene trust that in his time the Lord will not fail to lead us back to unity."
Notice the words of the Holy Father which imply that the Church is not walking in unity on many of these issues right now, but as His Holiness says, we should never lose peace but have "serene trust that in his time the Lord will not fail to lead us back to unity."

"Doesn't the history of the church perhaps tell us of so many analogous situations, that our fathers knew how to overcome with stubborn patience and creativity?" 
We must lend an ear to the rhythm of our time and perceive the odor of people today, that we might be imbued with their joys and hopes, their sadness and anxiety: at that point we will be able credibly to propose the good news on the family.
Pope Francis wants everyone to have their say, even and maybe most especially those whose views do not conform to Church teaching.  He admonished those who do stand by Church teaching to listen with "humility."

Pope Francis continued this theme on the first day of the Extraordinary Synod in his opening message.  From a portion of his opening remarks [HERE]:
A basic general condition is this: to speak clearly. No one must say: “This can’t be said; he will think of me this way or that …” It is necessary to say everything that is felt with parrhesia [to speak boldly]. After the last Consistory (February 2014), in which there was talk of the family, a Cardinal wrote to me saying: too bad that some Cardinals didn’t have the courage to say some things out of respect for the Pope, thinking, perhaps, that the Pope thought something different. This is not good; this is not synodality, because it is necessary to say everything that in the Lord one feels should be said, with human respect, without fear. And, at the same time, one must listen with humility and receive with an open heart what the brothers say. Synodality will be exercised with these two attitudes. 
Therefore, I ask you, please, for these attitudes of brothers in the Lord: to speak with parrhesia and to listen with humility.
And do so with much tranquillity and peace, because the Synod always unfolds cum Petro et sub Petro, and the Pope’s presence is the guarantee for all and protection of the faith.
With that last statement, Pope Francis is reminding the Church that no matter what may be said, we should not allow this to distress us in any way because through the Pope, the Holy Spirit will still be there guiding and leading the Church, "and the Pope’s presence is the guarantee for all and protection of the faith."  The approach that Pope Francis is taking seems to me to be that of a doctor who wants his patient to describe all of his symptoms, not holding anything back.  Like a good doctor, Pope Francis realizes that the Church cannot help people heal if she does not understand exactly what is causing their illness.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the Catholic blogosphere seem not to believe this.  They feel that if everything is not going just as they feel it should, then the Pope is as far off the rails as the rest of Church hierarchy, and we don't even have to listen to the Holy Father.

The blogosphere has now concentrated their criticism of the Synod on the working document that was released, the "Relatio" as it is being called. You may read the entire document HERE, and I would suggest you do so. Yes, there are some very controversial statements in it, which Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa has said, "The message has gone out that this is what the synod is saying, this is what the Catholic Church is saying. It's not what we're saying at all."[HERE]   However, along with these controversial statements are also some very profound statements, such as that quoted above.

How can there be such disparity in this document? Because this document is essentially a very broad summary of the different topics discussed so far at the Synod and the views and opinions of those involved in the discussion. It is in not in any sense an official document of the Church. Yes, the secular media is running with it, but that still does not give the document any true authority. This document is essentially talking points, the basis for discussion, just as requested by Pope Francis. 

One of those leading the charge against the bishops at the Synod is, as could easily be predicted, Michael Voris. In his reports so far concerning the Synod, he has described the bishops there as "assorted wicked bishops, bishops who wear the robes but are, as Our Blessed Lord said, 'ravenous wolves.'" He is telling us that there is a "Holy War in Rome", with bishop against bishop.  He slandered specific bishops, such as Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., who Voris says "is no friend of the Church’s teachings regarding the reception of Holy Communion by Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried without having their previous marriage annulled."  

Voris assails and condemns the bishops with the following:
There is no doubt about it—no denying it any longer, Church-of-Nice defenders—the homosexual agenda has arrived full throttle in Rome, carried in by various bishops under the guise of mercy, charity, welcoming, etc. in their modernist baggage.
And this also must be said very clearly: There are bishops and cardinals in this Synod who no longer believe the Catholic Faith. They don’t sound Catholic, they don’t speak Catholic, they don’t think Catholic.
What purpose does this rhetoric serve except to divide brethren and turn them against those appointed by the Holy Spirit to watch over their souls? It would seem that Michael Voris has no interest in listening to anything or anyone that might suggest that the Church is not in a death spiral. He picks and chooses his facts. He made the following comment:
There hasn’t been one word here of sin, the need to take up one’s cross, sacrifice, conversion, confession, or anything of the like.
First of all, Michael Voris has no idea what specifics have or have not been discussed in the Synod because the discussions have all been behind closed doors.

Secondly, the document release by the Synod, proves him wrong.

Paragraph 14 specifically mentions the Cross:
14. Jesus Himself, referring to the primordial plan for the human couple, reaffirms the indissoluble union between man and woman, while understanding that “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Mt 19,8). In this way, He shows how divine condescension always accompanies the path of humanity, directing it towards its new beginning, not without passing through the cross.
Paragraph 12 quotes Pope Francis about the great need to turn towards Christ:
12. In order to “walk among contemporary challenges, the decisive condition is to maintain a fixed gaze on Jesus Christ, to pause in contemplation and in adoration of His Face. ... Indeed, every time we return to the source of the Christian experience, new paths and undreamed of possibilities open up” (Pope Francis, Address of 4 October 2014). Jesus looked upon the women and the men he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps with patience and mercy, in proclaiming the demands of the Kingdom of God.
The need for conversion is mentioned in paragraph 28:
28. For this reason, what is required is a missionary conversion: it is necessary not to stop at an announcement that is merely theoretical and has nothing to do with people’s real problems. It must not be forgotten that the crisis of faith has led to a crisis in matrimony and the family and, as a result, the transmission of faith from parents to children has often been interrupted. Confronted by a strong faith, the imposition of certain cultural perspectives that weaken the family is of no importance.
Paragraph 35:
The importance of family spirituality and prayer needs to be underlined, encouraging couples to meet regularly to promote the growth of the spiritual life and solidarity in the concrete demands of life. Meaningful liturgies, devotional practices and the Eucharist celebrated for families, were mentioned as vital in favoring evangelization through the family.
The concluding paragraph puts everything in perspective.  This paragraph tells us that the points raised in the document were from discussions that "took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening."  These discussions were not about answering questions but just the opposite, "to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer..."
58. The reflections put forward, the fruit of the Synodal dialog that took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer by the reflection of the local Churches in the year that separates us from the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops planned for October 2015. These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view. All the same the collegial path of the bishops and the involvement of all God’s people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will lead us to find roads of truth and mercy for all. This is the wish that from the beginning of our work Pope Francis has extended to us, inviting us to the courage of the faith and the humble and honest welcome of the truth in charity.
Despite this, we have Michael Voris and others telling us that the Church is at war with herself and we will basically have to choose which side we are on.  As Voris says,
If there is anything good to come out of this event so far, it would be that the battle lines are being drawn clearly and that Satan is being exposed.
 And how does Voris know that "Satan is being exposed"?
You know the Enemy is present here, precisely because his name never comes up in anything told to the media, in any documents, speech summaries—anywhere. It’s as though to many of the Fathers of the Synod, he simply doesn’t exist.
Michael Voris is not privy to any of the numerous private meetings that are being held in the Synod. Yet he makes this horrendous accusation because "Satan" is never mentioned in any media documents or summaries. Hey Mikey, these are "summaries", not blow-by-blow descriptions.    Pope Francis told us that we can absolutely trust that the Holy Spirit is very active in Rome right now because "the Synod always unfolds cum Petro et sub Petro, and the Pope’s presence is the guarantee for all and protection of the faith."  I think I will believe the Vicar of Christ before I believe Voris or any of his cohorts.  

Voris tells us:
This isn’t Catholic by any stretch of the imagination. Heck, it doesn’t even rise to the level of bad Protestantism.
Again, Voris makes this horrific accusation based not on any actual knowledge but on reports and summaries, and as I have shown, he has misrepresented even those things which have been made public.  Voris completely discounts the words of Pope Francis and the promise that the Holy Spirit will not desert the Church.

Who is really doing the work of the devil?

Below is a wonderful video by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales of a press conference he did shortly before the Extraordinary Synod began.  He gives an excellent explanation of the process which we are watching:
Could I present you with an image to begin with? The first serious public discussion of the themes of this Synod took place last February at a meeting of the Consistory of Cardinals to which I was admitted as a newly nominated cardinal. I said after that the discussion there had been like an overture. It was something that signaled many of the themes that would be developed in due course. So it moved quickly from theme to theme.

This Extraordinary Synod, I would like to suggest to you, is a first movement of a piece of music. Only a first movement. What will happen after this Synod, there will be a second movement. And that will be the 12 months in between the two Synods of Bishops. Now those of you who know classical movement format, second movements are often more meditative, they're quieter. They're to be listened to perhaps more intently. And I think what goes on throughout the Church worldwide between these two Synods is a very important part of the overall composition.

The third movement, which as you know is often quite dramatic, will be the Ordinary Synod in October 2015. That will be attended by elected members of bishops' conferences.

And then in musical terms there will be a finale, which will be whatever the Holy Father concludes if this Synod follows the normal pattern. So in due course there will be an Apostolic Exhortation such a Evangelii Gaudium. And that will express the mind of the Church through the Pope on the matters that have been talked about.

So it's very important that we understand where this Extraordinary Synod sits in the whole process the Catholic Church worldwide is embarking on.

I would suggest watching the whole video.  It is very enlightening.

Interestingly, today is the feast of the great Saint Teresa of Avila.  One of her most famous quotes is:
Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.
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