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January 25, 2015

What Junipero Serra's canonization means -
The Christian challenge after terrorist attacks in France -
Viewing the parts of seminary theology as a single whole

In this edition:
1. The parts and whole of seminary theology.
2. Learning from families about communicating.
3. Current quotes to ponder:
a) An untold story about immigration.
b) Reconciliation and readiness to forgive.
c) Synods 2014 and 2015: the difference.
4. Junipero Serra's coming canonization.
5. After the terrorism in France: a challenge.

1. The Parts and Whole of Seminary Theology

Future priests must discover the relationship among the various parts of their theological studies and reach the point of viewing everything as a whole, according to Cardinal Gerhard Muller, who addressed seminarians in Washington Nov. 4. Cardinal Muller, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told them that "a mechanistic approach to intellectual formation does not lead to wisdom." He added:

"What is needed is a point of integration -- a hermeneutical lens through which we can view the various courses and experiences not as isolated parts but as facets of the same beautiful gemstone."

The challenge for seminarians is that "priestly formation is spread over a period of years" and "there are many, many courses in philosophy and theology, Scripture and canon law" that must be taken. There are, moreover, seminars in which to participate and formation conferences to attend. "Some seminarians find this a bit overwhelming," he said, and many "at one time or another lose a sense of 'the whole.'"

When that happens "the formation process can be reduced to an experience of completing requirements and checking off courses." The cardinal said, "I believe, in English, you call it 'jumping through hoops!'"

He insisted that "a good priest preaches well, teaches well and counsels well not because he attended this or that class in the seminary but because he was attentive to developing a theological synthesis that informs his pastoral life almost naturally."

Whether this point of seeing all the elements of one's theological studies as a whole is called "a unitive vision, hermeneutical lens or point of integration," Cardinal Muller thinks that the way of arriving at this vision of a whole is through the Eucharist. "All of the major themes you will study in your years of formation come together beautifully in the celebration of the Eucharist," he told his audience.

It is "the Eucharist, the sacrament of sacraments at the heart of the church," that "provides the context and structure for the intellectual formation of priests," he said. "The Eucharist ties together the various threads of theological reflection."

Here, for example, "the reality of the church is expressed in the signs and actions of our worship, even as sacramental worship transcends these signs and actions," he explained. Also, "the entire eucharistic liturgy is charged with Trinitarian language and themes." From the sign of the cross at the start of the Eucharist "to the final blessing," the celebration "is thoroughly Trinitarian in structure and language."

Thus, both the theology of the church and Trinitarian theology are in view in the Eucharist, as are other aspects of the future priest's theological studies.

"The central content of Christian revelation cannot be reduced to abstract theories or elusive treatises detached from the lived faith of the church," Cardinal Muller said. He urged seminarians to allow their studies to change the way they "participate in the Mass" and to "allow the celebration of the Eucharist to 'mature' the way" they approach their studies.

He counseled seminarians to "move beyond 'jumping through hoops' to the articulation and integration of the theological vision that will sustain" them throughout their priesthood. (The text of the cardinal's speech appears in the Jan. 22 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

2. What Families Know Best About Communicating

The great communications challenge of our times "is to learn once again how to talk to one another, not simply how to generate and consume information," Pope Francis states in his message for the 2015 World Day of Social Communications, celebrated in most areas May 17. His message accents the role of the family as the environment in which people first learn to communicate and to appreciate the power of communication to reduce the distance between human beings.

The contemporary communications technologies will be employed wisely when they are viewed as means of "encountering others," the pope proposes. And it is in the family that people learn what an encounter with others involves. "The family is where we daily experience our own limits and those of others, the problems great and small entailed in living peacefully with others," says the pope. He explains:

"In the family we learn to embrace and support one another, to discern the meaning of facial expressions and moments of silence, to laugh and cry together with people who did not choose one another yet are so important to each other. This greatly helps us to understand the meaning of communication as recognizing and creating closeness."

Pope Francis calls the family a "communicating community" - a place where "we learn to communicate in an experience of closeness." He adds that focusing on communication in the context of the family "can help to make our communication more authentic and humane."

The child who learns "in the family to listen to others, to speak respectfully and to express his or her view without negating that of others, will be a force for dialogue and reconciliation in society," Pope Francis asserts.

The pope wants the larger society to learn from the family that communication is "a blessing." A message the family can deliver, he suggests, is that "it is only by blessing rather than cursing, by visiting rather than repelling and by accepting rather than fighting that we can break the spiral of evil" and demonstrate "that goodness is always possible."

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

An Untold Story of Immigration: "Some immigrants have experienced violence in their countries. And why? Because of gangs. And why gangs? Because of drugs. Who's giving them the money for the drugs and the guns? We are. I'm really surprised that religious and civil leaders have not spoken more strongly to condemn recreational drug users, who are in fact funding the violence that people who come to this country are trying to escape. That's a story that has not been told. We have a responsibility to raise our voices about that." (From an interview with Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago conducted by Grant Gallicho; excerpts from the interview were published online Jan. 21 by Commonweal magazine.)

Sacrament of Reconciliation and Readiness to Forgive: "[A priest, a bishop] must always think: Am I ready to forgive all? . . . Am I ready to rejoice and celebrate? Am I ready to forget that person's sins? . . . If you aren't ready, it's better that you don't enter the confessional that day -- that someone else go, because you don't have the heart of God to forgive. . . . In confession, it's true, there's a judgment, because the priest judges. . . . [But] it is more than a judgment. It's an encounter, an encounter with the good God who always forgives, who forgives all, who knows how to celebrate when he forgives and who forgets your sins when he forgives you. . . . So often confessions seem to be a practice, a formality. . . . [Where is] the encounter with the Lord who reconciles, embraces you and celebrates? . . . Going to confession isn't like going to a dry cleaner to have a stain removed. . . [It] is going to encounter the Father who reconciles, who forgives and who celebrates." (From Pope Francis' homily Jan. 23 during the morning Mass at his Vatican residence.)

The Difference Between Synods 2014 and 2015: "Archbishop [Diarmuid] Martin [of Dublin, Ireland] said there is an important distinction between purposes of the two synods which should be reflected in the discussion process [before the October 2015 synod]. He said the aim of the extraordinary synod, held [in October 2014], was to gather factual information about the situation of marriage and the family in our times. The aim of the ordinary synod of [October] 2015 is to take up the conclusions of the extraordinary synod and begin to reflect on how church pastoral services to support marriage and family life should be strengthened and renewed." (From a Jan. 20 press release issued by the Archdiocese of Dublin.)

4. Junipero Serra's Coming Canonization

Blessed Junipero Serra, who is to be canonized next September when Pope Francis visits the United States, "is one of my spiritual heroes and a giant figure in the evangelization of the new world," Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said.

The 18th century Father Serra is "the man who evangelized California" and is associated with the origins of Los Angeles, the archbishop noted. "It's wonderful to think," he remarked, "that this new saint once walked the road that is now the Hollywood Freeway and called it El Camino Real, The King's Highway.

Pope Francis said Jan. 19 that he expects the canonization to take place in Washington at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The canonization offers "a time to reflect on the close spiritual ties that bind Mexico, the Hispanic people and the United States," Archbishop Gomez commented. But, he added, "the pope's announcement has also revived difficult and bitter memories about the treatment of Native Americans during the colonial and missionary period of California's history."

The archbishop said that "the church has acknowledged and asked pardon for the cruelty and abuses of colonial leaders and even some missionaries. The church has also recognized with deep regret that the colonial project disturbed and in some cases destroyed traditional ways of life."

Sadly, "in bringing the Gospel to the Americas," there were church members who did not live up "to their Christian responsibilities," said the archbishop. In fact, he continued, some Christians, "instead of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the values of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counterwitness and scandal."

However, he insisted, "this was not the case with Padre Serra. Even critical historians admit that he and his fellow missionaries were protectors and defenders of the native peoples against colonial exploitation and violence."

Father Serra "knew the writings and experience of the Dominican missionary Bartolome de Las Casas in Central America," Archbishop Gomez explained. He said, "Like Las Casas, Padre Serra was bold and articulate in fighting against the civil authorities to defend the humanity and rights of indigenous peoples."

In his own "study and reflection" he has "come to the conclusion," Archbishop Gomez added, "that Padre Serra should be remembered alongside Las Casas as one of the pioneers of human rights and human development in the Americas."

5. Challenges After the Terrorism in France

"We need to build up a culture of dialogue and respect. We must do it honestly and with the courage to tackle what is wrong in our own hearts, in our own cultures, in our own religious traditions," Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said in a homily during a Jan. 13 Mass celebrated in solidarity with the people of France after the terrorist attacks in Paris Jan. 7-9.

His homily underscored the need to combat all violence, not just this particular violence. He suggested that to condone violence gives rise to more violence. And he insisted that "the challenge of belief in a God of life and love is to challenge the destructive passions of humankind wherever they raise their ugly head."

"If we fix our hearts on doing what is right, we can still today master the effects of evil. That is our sentiment this afternoon as we gather in solidarity with the people of France and those anywhere in our world who suffer the effects of violence and evil," Archbishop Martin said during the Mass in Dublin attended by civic officials and leaders of other Christian churches.

The archbishop prayed "for all those who were the victims" of the terrorism in France: "those killed and wounded and traumatized and their families." He said also, "We pray for the perpetrators -- those who fell victim to destructive instincts exploited by false and disparaging visions of faith and life."

Archbishop Martin began by citing an article by Rabbi Abraham Skorka in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a friend of Pope Francis, reflecting on the events in France. The rabbi "wrote a striking article as a broad reflection on the significance of the events of the past week in France and on the challenge it brings to all of us, whatever our faith or belief or culture, wherever in this world we live."

Rabbi Skorka's article "began with the words of God to Cain in the fourth chapter of the Book of Genesis, a text which is honored by all three Abrahamic faiths," Archbishop Martin noted. According to the biblical text: "Cain was very angry and downcast. God asked Cain, 'Why are you angry and downcast? If you are doing right, surely you ought to hold your head high! But if you are not doing right, sin is crouching at the door hungry to get you.'"

The rabbi, Archbishop Martin reported, called upon "religious leaders of every creed and those whose lives are inspired by science, by the arts and by all other forms of human creativity to commit themselves together, explicitly and unequivocally, 'to take up the challenge which God posed to Cain and overcome every instinct toward destruction with the strength of our spiritual forces.'"

"That," said the archbishop, "is the challenge which, as believers and nonbelievers alike, we face as a human family" after the violence in France.

It is essential to "condemn violence wherever it takes place," said the archbishop. He was clear that "we must condemn with equal strength every form of violence. We must condemn violence not just because it strikes us with shock and horror on one particular day. Every single act of violence has within it the seeds of spreading and destroying."

Violence, he continued, "is not less serious or of lesser concern to us when it happens in places and contexts which are distant from us, as in the violence in the Middle East or the horrendous violence in northern Nigeria. When we allow violence to flourish anywhere, we are breaking down those factors which curb the capacity for destruction which always lurks deep in human hearts."