God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Synod impressions

As expected the lines are drawn in the sand between hardliners and those giving space to the spirit, but there are also some voices not expected to be heard during the first days of the synod. In his opening statement as a the synod’s general relator, Cardinal Péter Erdő, the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest told the assembly that it was impossible to allow divorced remarried to receive communion. Referring to Pope John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, Erdő said “integration of divorced and remarried persons in the life of the ecclesial community can be realized in various ways, apart from admission to the Eucharist…In the search for pastoral solutions for the difficulties of certain civilly divorced and remarried persons, it is presently held that the fidelity to the indissolubility of marriage cannot be joined to the practical recognizing of the goodness of concrete situations that stand opposed and are therefore incompatible,” he said further and continued: “Indeed, between true and false, between good and evil, there is not a graduality, Even if some forms of living together bring in themselves certain positive aspects, this does not mean that they can be presented as good things.”
This opening statement triggered two interventions, one from the pope himself almost rebuking this opening remarks in stating that nobody is trying the change the dogmatic teaching of the church and that this synod is a pastoral gathering following the first such meeting and from Cardinal Marx. He pointed out that saying in the beginning that nothing can change would mean that the synod starts again where they have been two years ago.
So there is a clear indication that this Synod not starts from scratch again but is a continuation of the meeting two years ago. There is also a clear expectation of the majority that pastoral approaches and languages have to be developed and changed to be able to proclaim the gospel in our times.
Now it remains to be seen how the synod fathers go about it – there is a great variation of opinions from the so-called far right with Cardinals Sarah, Mueller or Napier trying to stop any possible development and those on the so-called left like Cardinal Marx and Kasper.
It remains a question how much the Synod acknowledges the advance in the last 100 years of knowledge of the human sexuality and incorporates it into the pastoral approaches. Especially when it comes to homosexuality and the fixation of the sexual act within the marriage there should be some movement if the church wants to remain relevant. Here we can also see the divide between Europe and Africa, where there is a clear line of disagreement visible how to approach the aforesaid topics. While there are differences in realities like polygamy or concepts like ubuntu the global village is growing closer together. Instead of  trying to keep the lid on teaching versus realities it would be great if the African bishops would contribute in making the teaching and pastoral work of the church more diverse from their own real traditions. The African church has more to offer than defending the old Platonist shaped Roman-European teaching.

I also noted the Canadian Archbishops Paul-Andre Durocher remarks to the Synod, where he proposed three courses of action for this Synod. He asked “that this Synod considers the possibility of granting to married men and women, well-trained and accompanied, permission to speak in homilies at Mass in order to show the link between the Word proclaimed and the lives of spouses and parents. That in order to recognize the equal capacity of women to assume decision-making positions in the Church, the Synod recommends the appointment of women to positions they are able to occupy in the Roman Curia and in our diocesan curia’s. Finally, concerning the permanent diaconate, that this Synod recommends the establishment of a process that could eventually open to women access to this order, which, as tradition says, is directed non ad sacerdotium, sed ad ministerium  which means not to priesthood, but to ministry.

Even if many say that the topics discussed at the Synod are not really relevant for the daily life of people including Catholics – as they have made up their minds already long ago – it is amazing to see the interest in the Synod’s discussion. I interpret this as a yearning of the people of God for spiritual guidance, for meaning in life but in a way touching the lives instead of judging the lives all the time – with one word: mercy and the encouragement to live a life to the fullest. Add acknowledgement of modern sciences and their results and we will develop into a church which arrives finally in the 21st century making God’s love and commitment towards his creation touchable and to be experienced for the people of today.

 

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, General, Networking, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Virgil on the eve of the Synod

Pope Francis delivered a homily on the eve of commencing the Synod of the Family which you can read here in full. The Synod of the family is not only purely about family values. It is a Synod dealing with the open questions of how to see divorced-remarried couples, how to deal with same-sex marriages and partnerships, with polygamy, sexuality as such, birth control and so much more. It is the second meeting of the Synod – unprecedented in the Roman-Catholic Church with 1.2 billion members.It has indeed an impact also on how to deal with HIV and AIDS as all this is interconnected. The fight between those wanting to keep all as it is and those who are willing to develop the teaching and acknowledging that the church is not standing still but is in a dynamic relationship with God and his people has reached unprecedented highs. So called right-winger are almost threatening to destroy the unity of the church in stating that any change would be against God’s will and Jesus teaching. A pivotal moment in the history of the church and to be compared with 1968 and the encyclical writing “Humane Vitae”. The disappointment and lack of sensus fidelium regarding this papal writing is felt in the church until today.One can only hope that 2015 will be a year of renewal and the renewed discovery of unconditional love and mercy for the church. Here the pope’s homily providing a framework for the following weeks of discernment.

Dear Families,
Good evening! What good is it to light a little candle in the darkness? Isn’t there a better way to dispel the darkness? Can the darkness even be overcome?
At some points in life – this life so full of amazing resources – such questions have to be asked. When life proves difficult and demanding, we can be tempted to step back, turn away and withdraw, perhaps even in the name of prudence and realism, and thus flee the responsibility of doing our part as best we can.
Do you remember what happened to Elijah? From a human point of view, the prophet was afraid and tried to run away. “Elijah was afraid; he got up and fled for his life… He walked for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. At that place he came to a cave and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1 Kg 19:3,8-9). On Horeb, he would get his answer not in the great wind which shatters the rocks, nor in the earthquake nor even in the fire. God’s grace does not shout out; it is a whisper which reaches all those who are ready to hear its still, small voice. It urges them to go forth, to return to the world, to be witnesses to God’s love for mankind, so that the world may believe.
In this vein, just a year ago, in this same Square, we invoked the Holy Spirit and asked that – in discussing the theme of the family – the Synod Fathers might listen attentively to one another, with their gaze fixed on Jesus, the definitive Word of the Father and the criterion by which everything is to be measured.
This evening, our prayer cannot be otherwise. For as Patriarch Athenagoras reminded us, without the Holy Spirit God is far off, Christ remains in the past, the Church becomes a mere organization, authority becomes domination, mission becomes propaganda, worship becomes mystique, Christian life the morality of slaves.
So let us pray that the Synod which opens tomorrow will show how the experience of marriage and family is rich and humanly fulfilling. May the Synod acknowledge, esteem, and proclaim all that is beautiful, good and holy about that experience. May it embrace situations of vulnerability and hardship: war, illness, grief, wounded relationships and brokenness, which create distress, resentment and separation. May it remind these families, and every family, that the Gospel is always “good news” which enables us to start over. From the treasury of the Church’s living tradition may the Fathers draw words of comfort and hope for families called in our own day to build the future of the ecclesial community and the city of man.
Every family is always a light, however faint, amid the darkness of this world.
Jesus’ own human experience took shape in the heart of a family, where he lived for thirty years. His family was like any number of others, living in an obscure village on the outskirts of the Empire.
Charles de Foucauld, perhaps like few others, grasped the import of the spirituality which radiates from Nazareth. This great explorer hastily abandoned his military career, attracted by the mystery of the Holy Family, the mystery of Jesus’ daily relationship with his parents and neighbors, his quiet labor, his humble prayer. Contemplating the Family of Nazareth, Brother Charles realized how empty the desire for wealth and power really is. Through his apostolate of charity, he became everything to everyone. Attracted by the life of a hermit, he came to understand that we do not grow in the love of God by avoiding the entanglement of human relations. For in loving others, we learn to love God, in stooping down to help our neighbor, we are lifted up to God. Through his fraternal closeness and his solidarity with the poor and the abandoned, he came to understand that it is they who evangelize us, they who help us to grow in humanity.
To understand the family today, we too need to enter – like Charles de Foucauld – into the mystery of the family of Nazareth, into its quiet daily life, not unlike that of most families, with their problems and their simple joys, a life marked by serene patience amid adversity, respect for others, a humility which is freeing and which flowers in service, a life of fraternity rooted in the sense that we are all members of one body.
The family is a place where evangelical holiness is lived out in the most ordinary conditions. There we are formed by the memory of past generations and we put down roots which enable us to go far. The family is a place of discernment, where we learn to recognize God’s plan for our lives and to embrace it with trust. It is a place of gratuitousness. Of discreet fraternal presence and solidarity, a place where we learn to step out of ourselves and accept others, to forgive and to be forgiven.
Let us set out once more from Nazareth for a Synod which, more than speaking about the family, can learn from the family, readily acknowledging its dignity, its strength and its value, despite all its problems and difficulties.
In the “Galilee of the nations” of our own time, we will rediscover the richness and strength of a Church which is a mother, ever capable of giving and nourishing life, accompanying it with devotion, tenderness, and moral strength. For unless we can unite compassion with justice, we will end up being needlessly severe and deeply unjust.
A Church which is family is also able to show the closeness and love of a father, a responsible guardian who protects without confining, who corrects without demeaning, who trains by example and patience, sometimes simply by a silence which bespeaks prayerful and trusting expectation.
Above all, a Church of children who see themselves as brothers and sisters, will never end up considering anyone simply as a burden, a problem, an expense, a concern or a risk. Other persons are essentially a gift, and always remain so, even when they walk different paths.
The Church is an open house, far from outward pomp, hospitable in the simplicity of her members. That is why she can appeal to the longing for peace present in every man and woman, including those who – amid life’s trials – have wounded and suffering hearts.
This Church can indeed light up the darkness felt by so many men and women. She can credibly point them towards the goal and walk at their side, precisely because she herself first experienced what it is to be endlessly reborn in the merciful heart of the Father.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Synod on the family

As somebody being involved in the portfolio HIV and AIDS since a longer time obviously I am observing the synod on the family starting today with utmost interest. The last days have shown clear lines between those wanting to move on with the people of God and those wanting to remain with the ” old restrictive ways” which have alienated so many Catholics and those otherwise sympathetic to the core values of our faith.
For me interesting is the latter ones always stress that there can be no change in the substance of faith. It shows clearly that either they don’t understand that nobody wants to change the teaching of the church or they try to sabotage a pastoral way which puts into account the realities of our century plus the neglected unconditional love of God. Listening to Cardinal Mueller or Burke I feel the ice of an academically preached unconditional love of God – a frozen faith towards a God who seemingly is not walking with his people. Too long, we had this climate of ‘you shall not…” – a very negative theology which killed the faith of so many of those touched by the gospel of Jesus.

The kingdom of God starts here, but is never in full present here and now and so the church has to listen to the signs of the times, the church has to listen to the academic research about sexuality as sciences is another way of knowing God. The church should listen to the voices of those, who are like the old prophets have been persecuted because the elite of a religion was not able to repent and see the new dawn God is providing. And not to forget the old and ancient and proven traditions of Africa which for example put sexuality time-wise before marriage but in an orderly way after lobola is paid.

Maybe it is too much asked to overcome the part of Humanae Vitae which was the downfall of Catholic moral theology; never accepted by the sensus fidelium. But it might be not too much asked that those synod participants, guided by the Holy Spirit may acknowledge that next to the form of the traditional family, there are other forms of love, of commitment and that failure of human love never means failure of God’s love towards them. And that sacraments never can be used to punish people but that they are especially needed in the times of the trauma of a love being destroyed for so many reasons. Let’s look at our sister church: Her ancient tradition of oikonomia is surely the key for changing our pastoral approach.
And let’s also recognize: where there is love between two people there is definitely God present. LGBTI people deserve the same love and respect – there is nothing intrinsic evil at all. To recognize this does not mean to change the theology of the sacraments. Let’s avoid these broad brushes which do not justice to different situations. Looking at each and everybody with the loving eye of God will help and being open to God’s good spirit and his guidance will do the rest so that justice prevail.

I hope and pray that the Synod on the family this year and next year will have appropriate answers to the questions of our times and that there will be no winner or loser but all feel guided by the God’s good spirit embracing and including all those who struggle and fail. We remain a church of saints and sinners – and God’s unconditional love shines over all of them in the same way.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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