Posts Tagged ‘Synod’

POPE FRANCIS, BEN ZOBRIST AND THE AMAZING NEW YORK METS

Sunday, October 25th, 2015
zobrist

Photo via Google Image search

The very title of this blog entry contains the name of two of my heroes and a baseball team that for years has tried the patience of many and disappointed more than a few. Ben Zobrist is my favorite baseball player in the major leagues for a myriad of reasons. I was broken-hearted when the Rays traded him, even more so when it was to the Oakland Athletics. Last week I delighted in seeing Ben  shining once again on the diamond like a diamond. From midseason with the Kansas City Royals, Ben proved his staying power and then hit the home run in the final game with the Blue Jays his first time at bat,  often coming through in the clutch. Throughout the playoffs, Ben Zobrist was the consummate utility player, capable of playing at almost any position on the field, save catcher, and doing it well. He has always been and remains a player for all fans.

He and his wife are deeply devoted and committed Christians. They believe in God, live each day by God’s law and embrace the person of Jesus Christ as their savior. They make no bones about their Christian faith but they never boast or brag about it. Rather they live it. While among us here in Tampa, Ben visited the classrooms of children in what we now refer to as  ” failing schools”, giving them encouragement and hope. He could be seen from time to time at All Children’s’ Hospital spreading his message of mercy, hope and happiness. His priorities were always in this order, his faith, his family and baseball. Now he is off to the Big Show, baseball’s equivalent of the Catholic Church’s just now completed Synod on the Family. Read the book written by he and his wife, Julianna, (Doubleplay) and you will immediately notice the comparisons. The Zobrists live a family life lived with an abundance of mercy and forgiveness.

He reminds me in some ways of Pope Francis who had the courage to call these last two synod meetings to discuss both the family and family life in our day. This Pope understands the challenges of living in the real world and the necessity of the Church moving to understand, embrace and support those most in need of our presence and help, precisely as Church. Six weeks of his time in the past thirteen months have been spent listening to bishops from around the world describe the challenges of marriage and the family, from Africa to Asia to the Americas and all points in between. He listened, spoke only rarely but when needed forcefully, and I believe the Pope received from the assembled exactly what he wanted: namely enough room to take on some of the more challenging aspects of marriage and family life in our day in the months ahead. He did not ask for, want and probably would not have countenanced doctrinal change. Rather, he asked those present to hang out the dirty laundry of living marriage in this age and increasingly secular society and instead of condemning it, give him room to apply his two fold commitments to the applications of mercy and forgiveness.

I wasn’t there and most of the world’s bishops were not there either. No one who was there from the United States, nor did our national episcopal conference, ask for my guidance or that of the body of bishops as to how we felt about the problems and their possible solutions, but the Holy Father did in 2013. Yet I believe the innermost longings of my heart for my Church were spoken and heard. I have been on a three-week high just because that reality was finally being discussed and dissected. Who could ask for anything more?

Mets

Photo via Google Image search.

Pope Francis is a utility infielder capable of playing any position which will help his church race across the three pastoral bases: mercy, forgiveness, healing which will ultimately end in a home run for God’s people. And the Church today, Sunday, October 25, 2016 is like the New York Mets. Good things do come to those who patiently watch, wait, renew, rebuild, change managers, and eventually make it to the previously unthought-of – in baseball, the World Series, and in ecclesiology adapting to the present without forsaking the past.

Photo via @newsva Instagram

Photo via @newsva Instagram

Here are some take-home words from our manager as he sent his team home this morning, leaving to himself how to take advantage of all the possibilities and openings the Synod has given him:

This is the temptation: a “spirituality of illusion:” we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of the people remains arid and, rather and oases, creates other deserts.

Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy!

Pope Francis is an incredible leader. He has the serenity of a man who does not worry about petty bickering but places great trust in the presence of the Spirit in all people, friend or foe. He got precisely what he wanted from these two gatherings – an opening to further his and our ministry of mercy, which is I believe, precisely what Jesus would want of his Church. I am in charge of the triage unit in these five counties and together with our priests, deacons, religious and laity, we shall step up our desire to stop the bleeding, heal the hurting, and show all that the Church is like the Mets, rising to the national championship of kindness, compassion, forgiveness and mercy. It is what the “emergency room” doctor, Pope Francis, asks of us at the end of the listening.

We are a family, sometimes dysfunctional but also desirous of welcoming more and more back, or for the first time to the family table of the Eucharist. The Synod was merely grace before meals for the Church family. Bless us O Lord for these your gifts, which we have received through your goodness and through Christ, our Lord.

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SUNDAY, SUNDAY

Monday, October 5th, 2015

IMG_1872I left Rome on Saturday to return to the diocese, mostly without interruption at least until the Christmas holidays. The “Roman Holiday” was not much of a holiday as I arrived in the Eternal City at 900 am on Wednesday and left at noon on Saturday – three days and three hours. The purpose of the trip was wonderful in that for the second year in a row one of our seminarians was ordained to the transitional diaconate, meaning that I will have the privilege of ordaining him to the priesthood this coming May. Alex Padilla, like Father Ryan Boyle who was ordained last year, has attended the Pontifical North American College for three years. During that time his studies have been at the Gregorian University (the Jesuits) and his formation at the North American College (NAC hereafter). He is among 270 seminarians enrolled this year at this seminary.

Alex is one of two early vocations coming from the diocese’s newest high school, Bishop McLaughlin in Spring Hill (well, really Hudson for everyone except the Post Office). Rajeev Phillip is the second vocation and he also is studying in Rome but for the Syro-Malabar Rite whose origin and strength is to be found in Southern India. His diocesan headquarters is in Chicago and there are two Syro-Malabar parishes located in Tampa so perhaps good fortune will bring Rajeev back to minister in his home area. Both McLaughlin graduates are outstanding candidates for the priesthood.

Alex was ordained a deacon on Thursday morning at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica by Timothy Cardinal Dolan along with thirty-eight other men. Twelve of his classmates were ordained deacons during the summer months in their own dioceses and by their own bishops. While his mother and father and brother were able to be present, only one other cousin who lives in Germany, and one other classmate from his days as a college seminarian at St. John Vianney were able to be present as well.

His rector from his days at St. John Vianney in Miami, Monsignor Roberto Garza, vested him in his diaconal robes during the ceremony, and his coach and mentor from Bishop McLaughin, Michael Zelenka, now principal at Incarnation Elementary School in Tampa, and I were able to be present.

Cardinal Dolan gave one of the finest homilies prior to the actual ordination ceremony itself I have ever heard. The ordination was lovely and the opportunity  to spend time with an ordinand and his family was special for myself as well.

On Friday and Saturday, the nine U.S. bishops who will be participating in the Synod on the Family, which began with a prayer service on Saturday night, arrived for their three hard weeks of work on a church event which, save for the Second Vatican Council, has captured the attention of the Catholic world. You may recall that almost two years ago I invited all of my diocesan family to complete a questionnaire on marriage and family life in the Church and world today.

More than 9,000 of you responded with a large majority asking for some type of relief for the divorced and remarried while maintaining the essential teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. You also spoke your minds and hearts in that survey about same-sex marriage, welcoming gay and lesbian Catholics back into the family if they felt estranged, cohabitation and many other matters.

I shared the results of the survey with all of you, even though I think I was not supposed to do that. That survey and its findings were sent to the Synod Office in Rome which prepared the working structure for both last year’s extraordinary Synod which led up to what starts tonight with a prayer vigil with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square and a Mass tomorrow morning. Then the “rubber will hit the road”. My suspicion is that there is sufficient division among the attending Synod members to bring about major change, but the Holy Father might well. He listens carefully and intently to what he hears, both the majority opinions and the minority opinions. If the minority has a point, whereas in the past it would never see the light of day at the conclusion of the Synod, he has minority opinions noted publicly and occasionally as he sees pastorally fit, useful and or necessary he implements some of the things he hears.

This man is not afraid of conflict. He has asked the Synod Fathers to speak the truth of their hearts and minds in love and to bear in mind that there is always “Peter” to make the final decisions. It is going to be an interesting and invigorating three weeks as the Francis wind continues to breeze through the Church and it could get seemingly ugly but I ask you “be not afraid” as the Holy Spirit is guiding us now as we seek to speak to the modern world. Keep your eye on this space during these three weeks for thoughts.

Congratulations Deacon Alex. As wonderful as Thursday was, May 21, 2016 will be even more joyous as a grateful church of St. Petersburg welcomes you, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephanz, Kevin Yarnell, and Felipe Gonzalez to the sacred priesthood.

Also, please pray for all your priests who will be spending three days together this week in a special, mandatory convocation to reflect on what we have accomplished as a local church in the last two decades and what we would like to see shape a vision that we can share with the next shepherd of this great diocese.

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THE VIEW FROM OUTSIDE OF THE STADIUM

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

I often like to quote the late Cardinal Richard James Cushing of Boston who once publicly pronounced, “The Church may be difficult but it is never boring!” My two recent blogs on the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod have drawn a good number of comments and just a few that contain the very condemnatory language which makes people want to leave the Church. They have consistently come from people outside of the diocese who do not know what we do to reconcile people to the faith here.

I will admit that in using the image of an athletic contest, especially a football game, I took some literary license in order to help the average reader understand what I think took place during those amazing two weeks. It was a stretch, to be sure but it certainly wasn’t boring to a lot of people who read it, though some found it difficult. So, to place some of what I said in another context and to make good use of the wisdom of a man I deeply respect, let me share with you some words of wisdom from a Synod participant himself, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminister (that’s Catholic London) who in a pastoral letter said more clearly and perhaps more precisely what I meant in my analysis when dealing with two areas which my commentators found at a minimum neuralgic and at a maximum outrageous.

Speaking of co-habitating couples and the divorced and remarried, Cardinal Nichols noted that in these people there is often “real goodness” to be found. He noted that the Synod called on all of us “to walk alongside people in difficult or exceptional situations [and] to see clearly and with humility all the good aspects of their lives.” “This is especially true with regard to individuals who, for example, have decided to live together without marriage, or for Catholics in second marriages. . . .These realities are part of their journey in life and while not in keeping with the pattern the Lord asks of us, their lives are often marked by real goodness. . . .This is the basis for our care of them, for our approach to them, our invitation to them, to come closer to the church and deepen their faith and attend carefully to its call.” One would think that in this fourteenth year of this millennium no one would argue with such language or pastoral plan.

Speaking then of another neuralgic issue for many people, the Cardinal addressed those with same-sex attraction. He asked his Church to accept them “with compassion and sensitivity.” As I attempted to do in my two blogs but perhaps with greater brevity and clarity, Cardinal Nichols noted that in the Synod, there was “no suggestion that the teaching of the church might somehow give approval to the notion of ‘same-sex marriage” or that its teaching on sexual morality is to change.” He is also quoted as saying, I think what is important is that we keep the focus on the person and we keep recognizing and respecting and valuing and welcoming the goodness of every person whatever their sexuality, whether they are co-habitating or in a second marriage. Their lives continue to carry the hallmark of the Holy Spirit.”

This is precisely what I see as the challenge to myself as a bishop, to my priests, deacons, religious and laity which emanates from Pope Francis. Go seek the lost. Tell them they are loved by their God. Invite them to listen to Christ as did the woman caught in adultery and the woman at Jacob’s well, The same love and warmth of invitation needs to be offered to those women who have had abortions, prisoners on death row, God’s people who are hurting, feeling lonely and abandoned.

Many would love to enter the stadium but can’t get through the protesters outside blocking entrances and hurling epithets. Cardinal Nichols offers his ministry as an usher willing to deliver some one from the outside to a place of some type inside the stadium of God’s love. That is what I hope I can do as well.

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ps. I now have the benefit, thanks to the mother of all ecclesial blogs, of reading the entire pastoral letter of Cardinal Nichols and I think it is worth your time so you can access it by clicking here. My blog was written based on parts reported by Catholic News Service to which I am also grateful. I think with this third in a series, it is time for me to move on to other topics, for the moment.

 

 

VIEW FROM THE LOCKER ROOM

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

A week ago in this space, I blogged about my reaction to the interim report of the Extraordinary Synod which had been working for a week in Rome. That blog, in case, you have not read it is available and entitled “The View from the Sidelines.” As you can tell, I enthusiastically welcomed the discussions which were taking place, the style and substance of the meeting format, and the marked changes in tone which were captured in that interim report. Now that the exercise is finished, at least for the moment, I want to take you inside the locker room and share with you what I consider the post-game highlights. Fortunately you and I can read the coach’s assessment (in this case, Pope Francis) and then continue to ponder the amazing two weeks. I remain as enthusiastic about the conclusion of the exercise as I was at half-time.

There clearly were two teams on the field for this encounter which I would characterize as Team A and Team B. Team A was enthralled by and anxious to play for and with Pope Francis primarily in helping the Church of the future seek out and return the “lost sheep.” Their game plan was aggressive, embracing and encompassing the lived experiences of the people from whom they came, and desirous of opening up a possible new  game plan for the Church they love and serve.

Team B was also made up of those who love the Church but wish to play a more cautious game plan, conceding as little precious yardage as possible and defensively holding the line against what they viewed as an aggressive offense pulled together by Team A. The difference that I saw during “play” and after the “game” was that Team B said they seemed not to understand clearly enough the coach’s (read that the Pope’s) game plan so they chose to play it “safe” or cautiously.

Just about two-thirds of those engaged in the Synod were on Team A and perhaps Team B felt so outnumbered that they saw a need to engage certain sectors of the media to help them play the game. How do I know this? Take a look at the votes on the three contentious issues (gay and lesbian Catholics, the divorced and remarried, and engaged couples living together) and you will find a majority in favor of stronger engagement in issues relating to these groups but short, and in one case only by the Holy See’s version of Florida’s “hanging chads”) enough to keep the majority from getting the two-thirds necessary to include an even more pastoral solution into the “game plan.” On those three issues, for the moment, Team B’s strategy won the day, but for how long?

The long final message is a very respectable and responsible work product and it should been seen as provisional, just like the previous week’s summary of what was seen and heard in the Synod Hall was provisional. I personally very much appreciated the Synod’s strong affirmation of married life and its words of comfort and support to married couples and I think the over-reaction of everyone, perhaps even myself, could have drowned out the support for marriage and those who are engaged in it which happily is in the final document.

Now “the game plan” goes to teams (aka (arch) dioceses) throughout the world for reflection, prayer, and possible revision prior to “the Super Bowl” on marriage and family life which begins in Rome on October 4th, 2015. If those who will be attending the next Synod are listening to the voice of the Church throughout the world, the final report next year will look an awful lot like the playbook for Team A. I know for certain that my diocese wants to see some form of relief to those who have divorced and remarried and that would be true of priests, deacons, religious sisters and laity. They and I want the principal of the indissolubility of marriage to be retained and upheld, but there are ways in which the Church can reach out to great people who erred in their first choice of spouse and now find themselves in a loving, caring, mutually trusting and  giving relationship.

I also know for certain that this local Church wants to see us welcome members of the Gay and Lesbian community. I cannot, we cannot promise them that we will ever be likely to recognize the nature of their unions as sacramental but if they are willing to accept that reality, then they can be full participants in the life of the Church. I know that many of my pastors have shared with me that Gay and Lesbian parents who have adopted children are wonderful, loving and caring parents and neither my people and my priests nor the laity wish to see the children punished by being denied baptism or the sacraments or being excluded from Catholic schools and religious formation programs because they have two daddies or two mommies.

I also know many parents who, while feeling some pain that their sons and daughters are “living together” with someone likely some day to be their spouse, understand they those same children now find it absolutely financially necessary to live together just to stay alive in the work place.

After the game was over last Saturday night, the Coach addressed both Team A and Team B in a post-game evaluation or “pep talk.” He criticized the more extreme offences and defenses of both teams and asked that in charity they sharpen their game plan for the Super Bowl next year. He chose not to hide the different strategies and statistics by publishing the whole Synod report and the votes for each part, including the three which were rejected by not achieving the two-thirds vote necessary. He said that he felt that at times some of the “players” seemed to be calling plays in desperation and desirous of winning at any cost which the Pope then said should not be a worry because he who occupies the see of St. Peter will listen to all and then decide for the best of the Church. What he was actually conceding, I think, is that certain of his players played as if they had little to no confidence in the coach. He used the very same words which I used in my blog on the interim report about walking sub Petro and cum Petro.

Finally, it was a great start to the “marriage and family life season”. There was a new openness in the Church and transparency has never been more apparent. That the neuralgic issues which I outlined above were even spoken of in public marks a new day for a Church which until now has thought that the best form of governance is secret governance. A retired archbishop friend of mine whom I respect very much said to me prior to the opening of the Synod that the “Church would cross the Rubicon at this extraordinary synod.” I think he was right. I think Blessed Pope Paul VI who envisioned synods as a manner of governance at the service of both Pope and universal Church must have been smiling from his place in heaven. It was collegiality exercised in its most pristine form and the resulting statement going forth guarantees that the next time the teams gather to play again, they will have had more time to pray, ponder and reflect on the Church in the modern day.

I have employed the image of the concluded Extraordinary Synod in “football” language because I think more readers can understand what was really at play the last two weeks. But I do not consider the Synod to be a game at all, but an opportunity for the Spirit to guide and direct the Church under the watchful eye and mind of our chief shepherd, the Pope, for a more effective spread of the Gospel in our day. Next October, you and I dear reader, will not be watching from the sidelines or the locker room, but we will be playing and praying for the Spirit of Pentecost to come upon our Church.

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A VIEW FROM THE SIDELINES

Monday, October 13th, 2014

As one who was somewhat skeptical ever since Pope Francis unveiled his intention to call a synod to address the issue of marriage and family life in our day, I must say that the work product from the first week of Part I of the currently convened Extraordinary Synod exceeds my fondest hopes and prayers. And while it is still, as the song goes, “A Long Way to Tipperary”, I find my own skepticism giving way to genuine optimism that our beloved Church is turning a corner on pastoral sensitivity. My initial skepticism was based on two assumptions: first any real pastoral progress develops very slowly in the Church and advances at the same speed as a glacier. Second, no matter what wonderful pastoral ideas the world’s bishops may offer, when they pack up and leave Rome there remain behind in the curia many who usually manage to dilute, diffuse and dissemble the pastoral solutions agreed to. So what’s different this week and wherein do I find my new optimism.

The bishops and laity attending this synod are speaking the truth in love before a Pope who told them, “don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, but tell me what you think.” [from his opening words last Monday]. When Church leadership puts ambition aside and speaks from the heart and soul about everyday problems of humanity throughout the world, a different world view and ecclesial view results.

Today’s report on the first week of deliberations is the most open and honest and pastoral document I have ever seen or read. It really indicates a Church leadership which is seeking to reconcile, love and pastorally care for many who have felt mistreated, disowned or unwelcome: those divorced and remarried outside of canonical form (in civil second marriage, for example) can see in the document a genuine care and concern for them which has not previously been seen. Gay and Lesbian Catholics can find the beginning of a call to them: don’t leave us and give us a chance to find both the right and charitable vocabulary as well pastoral openness which makes the future better than the past. Young people preparing for marriage can find our Church leadership acknowledging the real challenges of living in this moment (cohabitation is an absolute economic reality for many, for example) and asking what can the Church do better to prepare them for marriage in their lived reality today? Perhaps it is with unholy glee that I found in Cardinal Erdo’s synthesis of the first week of the Synod almost a carbon copy of what the people of God of St. Petersburg said in the pre-Christmas and pre-Synod survey of local Catholic opinion on these and other matters. Our Church is listening the voice of the people! That’s why my skepticism gives way to optimism on my first point from the paragraph above.

But, given our history the last thirty-five years, what happens when this Synod concludes it work and goes home? What about those persons in the service of the Holy See who will remain? Some of them have been heard from prior to last Monday’s opening preaching the gospel of doom and gloom and a couple have been providing certain outlets a running commentary, what in my opinion, the late Vice President Spiro Agnew once described  as “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

First of all, I think they know that with Pope Francis, this Synod and those which may follow are providing him with some real opportunities for exercising the collegiality and subsidiarity envisioned at Vatican II. It is pretty clear that the previous methodology of “you discuss and I will decide” is giving way to a synodality model which suggests that moving sub Petro et cum Petro [“under Peter and with Peter”] means that we will walk together but ultimately “the buck will always stop with the Holy Father.” For those on his staff who don’t like it, there is an exit strategy. He  is slowly and patiently assembling a team which is attempting to do what we have tried to do (not always totally successfully in the diocese, I might add) of asking “how we can serve the universal Church” more than “how do we shape up the universal Church since we know best.” Here, it is indeed a “long way to Tipperary”, and we need to patiently give him time to implement the vision in the bodies and minds of individuals. Those who don’t like what is happening these days probably know their “shelf-life expectancy” is limited. More reasons for optimism and less skepticism.

So I begin this calendar week with genuine optimism that the Holy Spirit is guiding the majority of those attending the Synod to walk the path of reality and openness which Pope Francis issued forth on that first night the world saw him in March of 2013. They will chart a roadmap for next year’s regular assembly. For those of you old enough to remember the American Automobile Associations “TripTik” for taking trips by automobile in the U.S. this Synod is using a “highlighter” to map out the most direct and fastest way between two points, as well as to point out where construction of the roadway is taking place” and even warning where there might be “speed traps” to be encountered. The next Synod will have this triptik with perhaps even an alternate roadway or two, and they will make the final decision to leave home and journey to a new place. My God, what a great Church we can become!

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A “FAMILY” FEUD

Monday, October 6th, 2014

I write this from a Delta jet flying at 34,000 feet just west of the French coastline headed for Atlanta where I will surely miss my connection to St. Petersburg and an uncertain future on a Sunday night. This morning I awakened in Rome having spent a week there for the ordination to the diaconate of our Ryan Boyle, a resident of the North American College and a student this year at the Angelicum (last year he graduated from the first cycle of theology at the Gregorian University). My next blog, coming very soon, if not tomorrow, will give more details about my visits in the last ten days to three of the four seminaries where our men study. Even as Ryan’s ordination in St. Peter’s Basilica along with forty-two of his fellow classmates was a major moment, for him and for them, the major happening in Rome began last night with tens of thousands again gathering in St. Peter’s Square with St. Peter’s successor to pray for the Extraordinary Synod which began this morning, just as I was leaving.

On the “street” where I live on the fifth floor of the North American College were to be found Cardinals Wuerl, Dolan, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, our current President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, all members and participants in this papally called “Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family Life in our Day.” A great deal of print has been spilled in the secular and Catholic media in the last week about the event beginning today and being there among all these “heavy hitters” gave me pause to reflect and pray for this first exercise by Pope Francis in the “Synodality” envisioned by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council and for the gift of the same Spirit inspired wisdom in their deliberations.

In those reflective moments, I thought about what I might say, had I the opportunity to speak to the Holy Father and those gathered around him for the next two weeks. Slowly this thought came to me and I could not put it away. Our beloved Church is itself a family – a family of faith, of practice, of divine creation. And like most modern families, we have our share of disfunctionality at times, disagreements at other times, digression at times, and differences of opinion at times. The synod fathers are going to be talking about real challenges to marriage and family life in our time and culture. I would love to see at least an hour devoted to a dispute, which has taken far too much energy in our Church in this country than I think it deserves. While praying during the ordination of the 43 men in St. Peter’s last Thursday, I asked what Peter would have done and what Peter now might do with the current disagreement between certain Roman offices of our Church and the religious sisters of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (hereafter “LCWR”). The thought occurred to me that if Pope Francis could coax the leaders of Hamas and Israel to meet for prayer in the Vatican Gardens during which each side spoke respectfully of each other, could not the family of the Church try a little harder to settle something of a “border dispute” between the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (hereafter “CDF”) and the major branch of religious women in the US?

In popular Catholic opinion in the United States, I think clearly that the sisters in LCWR have conducted themselves quite admirably in avoiding the same heated rhetoric which came a couple of weeks ago from CDF. They are facing a mandate that they find very hard to swallow which is at its base, “Shape up or ship out.” In the late eighties the USCCB had a similar mandate come down from another Roman office and we politely ignored it and it went away. While the sisters have largely remained cool, calm and collected, the other side in what was perhaps a momentary (one might hope) peak of anger or frustration responded by saying “we are not misogynists” – a principle I would not wish to defend for the universal Church at large. Then there is the preposterous proposition that the LCWR does not represent American religious women. Had CDF said “all religious women” I would have had no qualms. But LCWR sure has a heck of a lot more religious sisters in its communities than any other body of religious women. As a local bishop, I love my sisters. Most could have retired to the motherhouse long ago but they long to help in many ways. And while I am at it, while my own USCCB was bound up for the last decade in liturgy and culture wars, those same members of our family, the sisters, kept the social justice agenda alive for which their leaders seem to now being blamed. These women are neither terrorists nor heretics and while some of the older sisters may not follow the drift or direction of some of the major speakers at the LCWR annual leadership assembly, they hang tough for their leadership and the most of the rest of the “Catholic” family supports them. Ask most of our priests about whether or not they support our sisters and the response will be positive. Ask the same group if this wing of the family ought to be taken to the woodshed for introducing topics of interest to them, and most of the rest of the family would likely say no. The Church at this moment in time does not need an internecine war between two respected bodies that love the same God, serve the same mission, as did our Lord.

I said at the time that the secret to success in getting this matter to go away was found by Pope Benedict XVI in the person of Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, a good, fair, nonideological man. Sadly, he is required to take his marching orders in this family feud from CDF. So if I had five minutes on the Synod Floor to talk about families and the Church in the next two weeks, I would ask the Holy Father when he has time to empower Archbishop Sartain to find a way to gain a truce on his own which the Pope could himself embrace which respects the interests of both but resolves disputes before they become, at least by one side, a soapbox gone too far. This seems in the political world to be a time of truce and peacemaking, why not also within our family. If the battle continues, there will be no winners, and I would opine that the Church may well lose more respectability and credibility.

Much of this extraordinary synod’s time is going to be devoted to best practices in keeping people within the family circle. How then about the good sisters who worked for decades at less than subsistence wages, taught us about God, bound up our hospital wounds, ran free clinics for the poor and homes for the aged. Let’s love them to death, not beat them to death. Please, Fathers of the Synod and Holy Father, take this contretemps for yourself and solve it for all. The Church as family would rejoice.

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BEING CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT WE HOPE FOR

Monday, September 15th, 2014

In just a few weeks now, the principal focus of Pope Francis’ vision will begin to take place in Rome. In Church language it is called an “Extraordinary Synod” and it in the Holy Father’s mind is a necessary preamble to an “Ordinary Synod” which will also be held in Rome in 2015. “Synods” are a consultative device used for centuries by our own Church and by many other churches as well. Dioceses hold synods to plan and prepare for the future of local churches. Implied in the word is “consultation” with priests, deacons, religious and especially laity and the process implies openness,honesty, collaboration and even “thinking outside of the non-definitive theological box.”

I wished to hold such a gathering in the Diocese of St. Petersburg about nine years ago and because everything at the time was focused on the clergy sexual abuse scandals, my priests and other consultive bodies I spoke to said, “this is not the time.” I firmly believe that my successor in office in a few years should and will likely call for a synod process to chart the path for the future of this local Church.

For the universal Church, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council envisioned an “Ordinary Synod Process” which would be convened in Rome by the Holy Father every three years and its membership would be elected bishops from each of the world’s national episcopal conferences, representative bishops from the Eastern Rites and a few other papal appointees. The ordinary synods were envisioned to focus on a particular topic of Church life in the modern world, meet for four weeks, hear endless five-minute speeches (often off-topic), vote for a final set of conclusions and then leave Rome and leave it to the curia to draft a response to the conclusions and then the Holy Father would in a year or two publish a “post-synodal exhortation” which often to those attending did not look an awful lot like their conclusions. Both Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI gave the plenary sessions a lot of their time, being present, listening, and in the case of Pope Benedict, occasionally offering a comment or two of his own to the discussion. No bishop of my acquaintance who was elected to an Ordinary Synod speaks too highly of the process as hopes were often dashed and dreams were often unrealized.

Now, however, not unlike everything else he attempts and does, Pope Francis has instilled new energy in the Synod process. Already he has taken the initiative to go back and revisit the disappointing theme of “Marriage and and Family Life” which was first addressed in the Ordinary Synod of 1980 (the second year of Pope John Paul’s pontificate). This time he gave all the local dioceses and eparchies (Eastern Rite dioceses) throughout the world an opportunity to “vet” the theme of Marriage and Family Life in our Day with everyone who wished to participate.

As you know, in this diocese over 7000 Catholics participated in and responded to the first ever online survey of questions raised by the Pope/Holy See for the coming synod. Very few dioceses in this state or in the nation gave their people this opportunity, often limiting the input to diocesan Pastoral Councils or Presbyteral Councils. The Synod office in Rome was inundated, flooded may be a better word, with advice apropos of the topic. Universal responses tended to focus in real-life and real-time challenges: the effect of the culture on the notion and institution of marriage, readmission of the divorced and remarried to the sacramental life of the Church, most especially the Eucharist, living with same-sex civil marriages, etc. My suspicion is that Pope Francis has been amused if not energized by the attention given to both the topic of the Extraordinary and Ordinary Synods as well as pushback the topic has given birth to.

First, the Extraordinary Synod will meet in three weeks for three weeks. A very good Archbishop friend of mine whose theological and ecclesial opinions I admire very much says that this Synod will mark a “crossing of the Rubicon” for the Church. I hope he is right. I hope that a vast majority of the bishops present will affirm that the topics, especially the more neuralgic ones, will be vetted and addressed in the Ordinary Synod to conform to this Pope’s ardent desire to become a Church of mercy, compassion and forgiveness.

I see hard lines developing against any effort to find a way to readmit divorced and remarried Catholics to Eucharistic communion. The punishment is more important to some cardinals than the moment. I recognize that changing the praxis of the Church on this means finding a way to reaffirm the indissolubility of marriage which has been and must always be true of our ecclesial communion but at least being open to those who have failed.

Think about it for a moment, I can absolve the most heinous of criminals who seeks God’s forgiveness for the sin of murder and give him or her the Eucharist, but let a twenty-one year old who made a mistake in choosing a spouse for a bevy of reasons return to the Eucharist – no way says the Church and I pray instead for some way. Pope Francis has instilled in my heart a desire for reconciliation of all, forgiveness, mercy and compassion for those who need it and seek it, and a Church which is itself a beacon of hope to those who walk in the darkness of this day and age.

So let’s pray that the Extraordinary Synod will be open to a full and active participation by the Church universal in not just repackaging the age-old method of dealing with modern day challenges but is open to that same spirit who gave us this extraordinary pope. But then again, we must always be mindful and careful of what we hope for as it has been tried before and has, in the minds of many, not worked. This one hangs in the balance of the hands of a man who subscribes to that part of the prayer of St. Francis which says, “give me the grace to accept those things which I can change”. Prayers for the Extraordinary Synod are welcome!

+RNL

WHAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD SAID

Friday, February 7th, 2014

2014_Vatican_Survey_Results_blogAt the beginning of December, I announced in these pages and in a letter sent to all of our parishes and missions that our diocese would welcome any input from the faithful as they might wish to the questions sent by the Holy See at the request of Pope Francis on marriage and family life in our day.

Over 6,800 people responded, taking time to fill out the survey, often taking significant additional time to add comments to the online version or by filling out the survey on paper and submitting it (written submissions were subsequently entered into the online survey). What Gallup, Pew or the other polling companies would give for nearly 7,000 participants in what was basically an opinion poll!

The timeline was short, too short, but all the responses were received, reviewed by members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, results shared with the Presbyteral Council and then in mid-January forwarded by me to the appropriate office in Rome which is planning for the two synods which will discuss marriage and family life in our day in October of this year and October of 2015.

At the time, I promised to share the responses with all who took the time to respond. That is what I will attempt to do here, though in something of “shorthand” since the print-out of everything exceeded 3,000 printed pages. Therefore, what is impossible to share in a medium such as this is all of the “free-form” comments which I would characterize as serious, lacking in polemics, sincere, and reflecting little of the polarity which exists in the Church today. I am very proud of what was said, how it was said and who said it.

Before you start looking at the numbers, there are several things which you need to keep in mind. The survey responses generally reflect the “choir,” those people who faithfully attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, if not daily. They do not represent the feelings of those who have fallen away from the practice of their faith, are angry or frustrated or feel alienated by the Church. How I wish I could have heard from them as well, but given the short time line mandated by the Holy See for input, the only vehicle for informing God’s people of the survey was through those in church or some others who take the time to read this blog, the diocesan Facebook or Twitter, or our diocesan website.

Having said that, I think the thoughts of those who no longer practice their Catholic faith – particularly those concerning our pastoral practice on marriage – were well-represented by the people who did respond. Overall, the Church which I am privileged to lead has some real concerns about precisely the matters which the Holy Father wished tested. Our overall score as institutional Church calls for something of an overhaul of our “common core teachings” (couldn’t resist – sorry!).

Also, please keep in mind that we had to take the sometimes very foreign language of the incoming survey and translate it best as we could into words, terminology and concepts which educated American Catholics could understand. I would give our instrument a B+ or an A- in clarity. Please also note that the overwhelming majority of respondents are older-generation Catholics, most of whom are married and are regular church-goers. Young singles and married couples numerically are not as well-represented.

If you wish to see the statistical results from the survey in the diocese, simply click here.

Summarizing the free-form comments and responses was a more challenging exercise but I think I can do them justice with the following comments:

1. There was very strong support for the notion that marriage (which I believe they understood as sacramental marriage) is between one man and one woman.

2. Having said that, it was also clear that the respondents felt that the Church needed to be better prepared to respond to the reality of same-sex marriage.  In addition, many respondents felt that the people involved in such relationships believe that the Church has turned its back on them.

3. The respondents generally tended to suggest that the Church needed to be kinder and gentler to those who identify themselves as gay and lesbian, be less judgmental and more welcoming.

4. Very clearly stated was the opinion that an adopted child of same-sex parents should be treated in the Church exactly the same as a child born of a traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

5. The respondents felt very strongly that something needs to be done to reconcile and welcome back the divorced and remarried beyond the present annulment process, about which there seems to be confusion. The mistaken notions that an annulment renders children of the first marriage illegitimate and that simply being divorced excludes one from the sacramental life of the Church indicates that as a local Church we need to do something soon to educate our people better on these two points.

6. The media takes a hammering in the survey results, largely because it is seen as the force majeure for challenging traditional concepts about marriage and family life. They render alternate lifestyles legitimate in the eyes of our respondents and perhaps are so strong that they will effectively negate anything done to support traditional notions of marriage and family life.

7. The respondents strongly said that the Church needs “to wake up and smell the coffee” on cohabitation. It is commonplace and there are some reasons for it which can not be summarily dismissed, such as economic realities.

8. Finally, on the matter of artificial contraception the responses might be characterized by the saying, “that train left the station long ago”. Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium suggests the rejection of Church teaching on this subject.

So, a natural question is “What next?” The survey results raised issues that can only be resolved by the universal church and ultimately by the Holy Father himself. I gather from what I read that our results are not markedly different from those being reported elsewhere around the world. I hope that the effort to canvas the thoughts of the People of God in this diocese, which was unique in Florida, will be helpful to those who will soon gather in synod with the Holy Father.

But there are pastoral results from the survey which we can attend to and I hope we will. I have made it known that I will not tolerate any discrimination or anything which smacks of the punitive to children of same-sex couples. I think all representatives of the Church’s many ministries can be kinder, gentler, more welcoming and less judgmental of those who find our praxis and preaching on marriage and family life to be at odds with their experiences. We need to address clearly that divorce itself is not something which bans a person from reception of the sacraments and that annulments do not illegitimize children born of previous marriages. Working with our diocesan Marriage and Family Life Office and with our priests and deacons, we can either begin or strengthen the process of healing for many in the Church.

Finally, if the “choir” is singing this anthem, imagine what we might have heard had we had the time and access to those alienated, fallen-away, hurt or frustrated. Pope Francis’ call to hightail it to the trenches, to the difficult and smelly parts of the people of God to bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ is not only a call to serve the economically impoverished but the spiritually impoverished, so often of our own making. God bless you and our efforts.

+RNL

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Photo courtesy of L’Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis is very desirous of pursuing the vision of the Second Vatican Council to make our Church more collaborative, to hear the voices of a broader spectrum of membership than just clerics, and to employ the twin principles of collegiality and subsidiarity. To accomplish these goals in the quickest amount of time and to begin to address issues which do not require revisiting defined doctrine, the Holy Father wishes to dramatically change what is called the “synodal process.”

The Second Vatican Council called for a regular convening of the world’s bishops in an advisory capacity to the Supreme Pontiff. These convenings would not enact laws, issue directives, etc., but rather would make suggestions to the Holy Father. The Holy Father, with the help of the curia (his staff) would then issue an “exhortation” which contained his reflections on the work of the synod and his encouragement of any initiatives which might have proceeded from its deliberations. Voting members were always bishops, either elected by their national episcopal conferences or appointed by the Pope. Lay and religious women and men had representatives in the Synod Hall who could request time to address the synod but could not vote.

Pope Francis seeks to develop the present synodal process into a more effective tool of collaboration and of listening to the many voices of God’s people. Doctrines will not likely be touched. Disciplinary matters can be discussed, even when those disciplinary matters can be controverted. He wishes the Church universal in the first instance to take up the matter of “Marriage and Family Life in our Day” and he proposes a two-step process to accomplish this. First, he has announced an “extraordinary synod” for October 2014 which will be preceded by as broad a consultation among the various churches as possible.  Whereas there was in preparing for previous synods only consultation with bishops, the Pope is now asking bishops to consult with their priests, religious, deacons and lay faithful on what the present reality is regarding these two important facets of Christian living and to submit our listenings to the Holy See before January 31, 2014. This input will influence the working document for the extraordinary synod. Then in October 2015 there will be an ordinary session of the Synod to discuss with finality with the Pope recommendations for strengthening both marriage and family life in the Church. What is important now is that he and I wish to know your thoughts on some facets of these two important aspects of our life together as Catholic Christians.

To this end, we have taken the questions posed by the Synod office and attempted to put them into a survey format using ordinary language which all of us can understand. We have included the survey in both English and Spanish on our diocesan website, to find it, click here. I invite you to complete the survey in its entirety. At the conclusion of the process, I will share with you a summary of the survey. For those who are uncomfortable with the internet, all parishes will have the survey available in a paper format on the weekend of November 30/December 1. The paper version of the survey can be completed and must be returned to the parish no later than December 31, 2013. Those results will be summarized and shared as well. Everything that is received and heard will be forwarded to the synod office at the Vatican.

+RNL