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November 19, 2013

Bishop calls broad consultation for 2014 special Synod of Bishops "a major historic development" -
Special synod: collegial, pastoral -
Creating parishes where the poor are -
Reflections on spirituality for Advent

In this edition:
1. Spirituality reflections: Advent arrives.
2. Christian spirituality.
3. Spirituality dynamics.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Religious liberty around the world.
b) Creating parishes where the poor are.
c) Poverty and a living wage.
d) What simplicity means.
5. 2014 synod: collegial, pastoral.
6. Upcoming synod's pastoral slant.
7. Catholics reply to synod questions.

1. Spirituality Reflections: Advent Arrives

The subject of spirituality is "as vast as the ocean and as deep as the earth," British Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster said in a speech October 22.

He spoke to the Muslim Council of Wales in the Welsh city of Cardiff. We live in times that are "demanding," and "the challenges before us are difficult," he said. Those are reasons "the need for spirituality has never been clearer or more urgent."

People today, the archbishop believes, need "to help each other to live reflective lives, lives that are more than the rapid succession of achievement or failure, of satisfaction or frustration, of highs of great energy and restless sleep."

Everything Christians and Muslims can do "to promote and sustain" the "spiritual quest is indeed a service to the common good from which no one should be excluded," the archbishop said to the council.

Because "the spiritual quest involves a relationship between myself and God," it is a quest in which "I am grappling with two interconnected mysteries: the depth of my own being and the depth of the mystery of God," Archbishop Nichols pointed out.

These two realities, he added, represent "the true dimensions of spirituality:

"Our human openness to the depth of our being, and

"God's openness to us."

The archbishop cautioned that a spirituality consisting "only in the exploration of the depth of our own being and which is closed to the call of God" will "sooner or later become purely self-regarding and self-preoccupied."

In spirituality, "deep calls on deep," Archbishop Nichols said. He explained:

"The depth of our being calls out for the presence of God. The depth of the mystery of God reaches out toward us, his beloved creation. . . . This is the dynamic of spirituality, with its two essential aspects: entering the depth of both our humanity and the depth of God."

The archbishop observed that in the "search for the stillness of our inner selves," one strives "to appreciate the 'wonder of my being,' the uniqueness of the gift of life I have received and the depth of the mystery to which my very being is open."

But does that mean that "my" spirituality essentially is all about "me"? Archbishop Nichols clarified that he was "not equating or identifying our human depth with the depth of God for, strange as it might seem, to travel the pathway of true spirituality means stepping out into the utter otherness of God, into the totally transcendent nature of the divine Being."

Lacking "a true spirituality," we will "end up believing that we are the center and high point of all that exists," the archbishop stressed. "That," he said, "is a faith which, in the end, crumbles before the harshness of reality, the reality of both life and death."

2. Christian Spirituality

In Christian spirituality, believers "look to the man of Nazareth to see in his words, his deeds, his life and his death the very actions of God," Archbishop Vincent Nichols said in his October 22 speech to the Muslim Council of Wales.

What Christians see in looking to Jesus are "actions of endless mercy and compassion for those in need, the healing of the sick, the comfort of the destitute," the archbishop noted. In him Christians see "a passion for justice coupled with the gift of forgiveness, the giving of hope in times of desperation and the opening up of the promise of eternal life beyond the portal of death."

"The purpose of Christian spirituality" is "that Christ is born in me each day," Archbishop Nichols explained. This is "the Christ who comes from the deepest mystery of God, from all eternity; the Christ who is the fullness of humanity, who alone knows the secret of my being and who can satisfy the longings of my spirit."

The "ambition" of this spirituality, then, "is that the Word takes flesh in me and that in my life that Word continues to bear its fruit."

The "true architecture of our human relationships" also is discovered in the spiritual quest, according to the archbishop. He said that "within the heart of the spiritual quest" we discover "how we are to see one another, relate to one another, build our communities and care for the needy."

He added, "In the light of faith as lived in this spiritual journey we are taught always to view one another as creatures of the living God, endowed by the Creator with a dignity that should be respected from the first beginnings of life to their natural end."

Finally, Archbishop Nichols said, "through the spiritual quest we also reach for those sources of new life and new encouragement which we need if we are to sustain ourselves in the cause of good, in the service of others, in the work of compassion."

3. Spirituality Dynamics

"Spirituality" is a hard word to define. "I can have my spirituality, and you can have yours. I can design my own spirituality, and you have no right to try to define it otherwise," Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, stated in a homily Nov. 14.

His homily, given in Dublin, explored some dynamics of Christian spirituality, particularly its way of looking at the same time inward and outward to a world of great need.

"Within each of our hearts we need to develop . . . a space of silence and inspiration, a space for prayer and contemplation, a place of communion with God and with his creation," said the archbishop. However, he commented, "true spirituality is not something just to bolster up our own sense of wellness. Following Jesus Christ is a calling to a robust engagement with the challenges of our society."

Christian spirituality, according to Archbishop Martin, "is not self-focused." Instead, it is "focused on self-giving," with Jesus as its model.

Moreover, "Christian spirituality is not a spirituality just of our own making. It is a gift of Jesus Christ who loves us." Even so, it is not "a fixed, ready-made spirituality; it is a challenge," the archbishop observed.

"Christian spirituality never leaves us comfortable, but leaves us always uneasy and restless in seeking what is true and what is good, and what is caring and uniting. Christian spirituality is a response in love to the love that Jesus showed us," according to Archbishop Martin.

He said that "a Christian spirituality of unity is one which does not exclude." But he stressed that to take seriously "a Christian concept of inclusion" requires "noticing and embracing" others; "it involves welcoming and sharing."

In a society that basically is wealthy, there always is the risk "of not seeing or of not fully grasping the shadows and the inequities around us," he said. "We can so easily get caught up in our own concerns, placing them first, that we do not notice that our sight has become blurred toward poverty and suffering."

Poor people "rarely clamor," Archbishop Martin said. "They just try to survive. When they cry out, the ears of the mainstream may well be too distracted to hear them."

He suggested it is basic in Christian spirituality to attempt to "live out the word of God and serve our brothers and sisters through a life of integrity and coherence with the Gospel."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Religious Liberty Here and Around the World: "Our legitimate and ongoing struggles to protect our 'first and most cherished freedom' in the United States pale in comparison to the 'via crucis' currently being walked by so many of our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, who are experiencing lethal persecution on a scale that defies belief. If our common membership in the mystical body of Christ is to mean anything, then their suffering must be ours as well. . . . The Pew Research Center reports that 75 percent of the world's population 'lives in countries where governments, social groups or individuals restrict people's ability to freely practice their faith.' . . . Protecting religious freedom will be a central social and political concern of our time, and we American bishops already have made very important contributions to carrying it forward. Now we are being beckoned -- by history, by Pope Francis, by the force of our own logic and the ecclesiology of communion -- to extend those efforts to the dramatic front lines of this battle where Christians are paying for their fidelity with their lives." (From the Nov. 11 presidential address by New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan to the U.S. bishops' national meeting in Baltimore. The cardinal completed his term as conference president during the meeting. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., was elected to succeed him.)

Creating Parishes Where the Poor Are: "I am convinced that the church should be established with more strength precisely where the people reside. Additionally, taking the step toward the establishment of a new parish implies that the formation of the community, as a community, has reached a certain level of maturity. . . . In some ways, [certain] new communities lack the material resources for their new role as a parish; but I am confident that the most valuable resource of the church are the faithful themselves, and by working together they can do wonders for the Lord. The church needs to be fully present in the poorest communities, precisely because it is there where we would find Jesus Christ if he were preaching in his own flesh today." (From an Oct. 23 entry to his blog on the diocesan website by Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas. He wrote about visits to parishes in the Rio Grande Valley.)

Poverty and a Living Wage: "Many families and individuals in our society face a continuing struggle with real poverty and the challenge this brings of living with human dignity. . . . The divisive nature of poverty threatens the fabric of our society. Widening economic inequality corrodes the common good, and further steps are needed both to curb unjustifiably high pay and to promote a living wage for all in work." (From a statement issued during its November meeting by the bishops' conference of England and Wales)

What "Simplicity" Means: "If we could simplify our lives, maybe we could finally see that we don't need most of our 'trappings.' I'm certainly guilty of trappings. I have a mania for pens. At any given time, like right now, I am carrying a dozen pens in my purse. Surely I don't need a dozen pens, but some of them just have the 'right' feel as they glide across the paper. We do that with all kinds of things. Some people do it with electronics, making sure they have the latest gadgets on the market; some folks do it with clothes or shoes. . . . I know a priest who said he couldn't wait to buy his first new car after he was ordained. And he did. However, after making that purchase, he volunteered to serve in Central America and spent six years as a pastor there. After his experiences there, he decided he would never buy another new car. He decided it wasn't necessary, and a good used car would be fine. Over the past 50 years, he has kept his promise to himself and shared the money he saved with the poor. Living simply doesn't mean 'living without,' although that might not be a bad idea. It means living wisely, realizing so many people have so little of what we have that it would be in our best spiritual interest to dispense with some of the truly unnecessary baggage that we continue to accumulate." (From an article on simplicity by Liz Quirin in the November "Viewpoints" package published for Catholic newspapers by Catholic News Service. Quirin is editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.)

5. 2014 Special Synod: Collegial, Pastoral

There is a hope on the part of Pope Francis that the October 2014 special assembly of the world Synod of Bishops will function in a genuinely collegial manner, according to comments made during a Vatican press conference Nov. 5 at which the upcoming synod's preparatory document officially was released.

"Pastoral Challenges for the Family in the Context of Evangelization" is the special synod's theme.

During the press conference, synod officials affirmed Pope Francis' intent to strengthen the synod as an instrument of collegiality in the church. While the press conference briefly highlighted many questions related to marriage and family life today, some quite interesting remarks were made at one point about the need to allow "betrothed Catholics" who rarely enter a church to nonetheless marry in a church.

The Nov. 3 edition of this jknirp.com newsletter pointed out that the pastoral care of married couples and the family is on the agenda for the October 2014 extraordinary assembly. In addition, the preparatory document shows that the synod will address specific issues such as divorced-remarried Catholics, cohabitation and same-sex couples. The question of whether and to what extent the church's annulment process ought to be streamlined or simplified also will be examined.

Over the years the Synod of Bishops frequently has been criticized on grounds that its procedures downplay important demands of true collegiality. Pope Francis often calls attention to the value of collegiality and the consultation essential to it. He had collegiality in mind when he named a council of eight cardinals from around the world to advise him.

So it is not surprising that the new general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, suggested during the Nov. 5 Vatican press conference that there is a desire at this time to transform the synod "into a real and effective tool for communion, through which the collegiality hoped for by Vatican Council II is expressed and achieved."

Collegiality also was highlighted during the press conference by Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, special secretary for the 2014 special synod assembly. "Pope Francis has shown many times and in various forms his intention to make greater use of episcopal collegiality," he said.

"With Pope Francis," Archbishop Forte said, "we are called to walk the paths laid out by the council and its teachings with regard to the church as communion."

6. The Synod's "Pastoral Slant"

During the Nov. 5 Vatican press conference on the 2014 special synod assembly, Archbishop Bruno Forte, its special secretary, emphasized the "pastoral slant" of its theme, which focuses on "the value of the family and the challenges it faces today." The synod will need to address ways "to effectively proclaim the Gospel of the family" in times "characterized by a clear social and spiritual crisis," he said.

That means, he added, that the church needs "to listen to the problems and expectations of many families," while also "manifesting her closeness and credibly proposing God's mercy and the beauty of responding to his call."

Archbishop Forte said that "attention, welcome and mercy constitute the style to which Pope Francis bears witness and requests us to have toward all, including broken families and those who live in irregular situations from a moral and canonical point of view." The pope, he said, "insists on 'divine mercy and tenderness toward injured persons.'"

It is not easy to live "the Gospel of the family," Archbishop Forte commented. Today, ongoing efforts are needed both in civil society and the church in support of families, he said.

Another speaker at the Vatican Press conference was Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, who will serve as one of the top officials of the 2014 synod assembly. At one point in his remarks, the cardinal focused on the sacramentality of marriage and its implications.

The preparatory document states that "sacramental dignity is proper to marriage between Christians," he noted. This sacramentality, he added, is not dependent "on a special act of will by the contracted parties but comes from the fact that the two baptized partners sacramentally represent Christ and the church."

Thus, he said, "if a marriage between two Christians is valid, it is a sacrament, even if the parties do not know or do not have the particular desire to receive a sacrament." That means "it is impossible "to speak of a natural, nonsacramental marriage between two baptized persons."

That has "a noteworthy pastoral consequence," Cardinal Erdo noted. He said that "betrothed Catholics who want to celebrate their true marriage within the church cannot be refused solely because of their infrequent religiosity or for the scarcity or lack of religious faith."

7. Catholics Reply to Synod Questions

In what is nothing less than a major historic development," the Synod of Bishops "has written to the world's bishops on behalf of Pope Francis, calling for a wide consultation" as part of preparations for its special assembly in 2014, Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., wrote Nov. 21 in his diocesan newspaper.

(In the Nov. 3 edition of this jknirp.com newsletter, you will find a report on the kinds of questions the Synod Secretariat is asking the world's Catholics.)

"Given the nature of the topic" before the synod ("The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization"), Bishop Cupich said the pope "is asking for a wider consultation this time, one which involves parishes, in order to be in touch with the lived experience of people, to first identify what those challenges are."

Bishop Cupich said "Pope Francis wants bishops to take the pulse of their local churches on this important issue. The Spokane Diocese's website offered its visitors the opportunity to respond online to the questions raised in the Synod Secretariat's preparatory document.

Bishop Cupich asked "pastors to inform their parishioners" of the opportunity to participate in this presynod consultation process. He said he personally would reach out to other groups and organizations, "inviting them all to become involved."

The goal in this first stage of the synod process "is to identify challenges related to living out the Gospel in marriages and family life," Bishop Cupich explained. The goal, however, "is not about offering suggested solutions or criticizing present policies, and surely it is not about voting on what policies the church should keep or change."

Rather, Bishop Cupich said, the pope "wants us to provide the lived experience of people and the challenges they face. This is in keeping with his counsel to ordained leaders that they have to work so closely with those they shepherd that they 'know the smell of the sheep.'"

The time for this period of consultation is brief, Bishop Cupich said. It must be completed in December.

Other U.S. dioceses also moved quickly to take the Synod Secretariat's questions to their people. The Diocese of Dallas, like the Spokane Diocese, posted a questionnaire that people could complete and submit online.

The diocese said that "while not a survey of public opinion, [this] is the first time that a pope has asked bishops to widely share a survey with parish priests and for them to seek the views of their parishioners in preparation for such a meeting."

The dioceses of Tucson, Ariz., and Salt Lake City, Utah, were among others that encouraged Catholics to respond to the Synod Secretariat's questions. In Tucson, Bishop Gerald Kicanas said that "here in the United States, all of the dioceses are fast at work getting responses to the multiquestion survey the Vatican has developed to begin the information gathering process. Each bishop will determine how widely he will consult."

Bishop Kicanas' online "Monday Memo" to the people of the Tucson Diocese pointed readers to a questionnaire containing the synod questions that could be completed electronically.

It is "wonderful," Bishop Kicanas said, that Pope Francis "begins work on this much-needed study of challenges facing marriage and families by encouraging bishops and archbishops to seek wide input from both ministers and Catholics from their dioceses."

The bishop also said he looks forward to hearing "what my brother priests working on the 'front line' in our parishes have to say about the challenges of faith and family life, and about how our church responds, or needs to respond, in this area."