Category Archives: Church (ecclesiology)

The new Council of Cardinals

Today, the Holy Father, Pope Francis formally instituted a group of cardinals he chose to forming what is now called the Council of Cardinals to assist him in the governance of the Church. One of the projects is to revise John Paul IIs Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus (28 June 1988), which gives the operating procedures for the Roman Curia. The Council of Cardinals is an innovation in Church governance, and a good one, I think; its purpose is to give the Pope a wider and clearer perspective on what needs to be done by his Office, the Curia and the local bishop’s office. Today, more than ever, the Church needs a method consultation that is vigorous and truthful.

A cardinal is appointed from each of the continents, one from the Curia; there’s a bishop secretary and it’s expected that another Prelate from one of the Eastern Churches will be appointed. The meetings have begun.

Council of Cardinals 2013“Among the suggestions that emerged from the General Congregations of Cardinals prior to the Conclave, mention was made of the expediency of instituting a limited group of Members of the Episcopate, from various parts of the world, with whom the Holy Father could consult, individually or collectively, on specific matters. Once elected to the See of Rome, I have had the opportunity to reflect on this issue on a number of occasions, and consider that such an initiative would be of significant use in fulfilling the pastoral ministry of Peter’s Successor entrusted to me by my brother cardinals.

“For this reason, on 13 April I announced the constitution of the aforementioned group, at the same time indicating the names of those who had been called to participate. Now, following reflection, I consider it opportune that such a group, by means of the present Chirograph, be instituted as a ‘Council of Cardinals’, with the task of assisting me in the governance of the universal Church and drawing up a project for the revision of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus on the Roman Curia. It will be composed of the same persons previously nominated, who may be called upon, both in Council and singly, on matters that I will from time to time consider worthy of attention. The aforementioned Council which, with regard to the number of members, I will compose in the most appropriate way, will constitute a further expression of Episcopal communion and of the aid to the munus petrinum that the Episcopate, disseminated throughout the world, may offer”.

28 September 2013, the first year of the Pontificate

Pope Francis programmatic AND paradigmatic essay: Pay attention

The Address of Pope Francis to the Coordinating Committee of CELAM
Sumare Study Center
28 July 2013

1. Introduction

Pope Francis and CELAMI thank the Lord for this opportunity to speak with you, my brother bishops, the leadership of CELAM for the four-year period from 2011 to 2015. For 57 years CELAM has served the 22 Episcopal Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean, working in a spirit of solidarity and subsidiarity to promote, encourage and improve collegiality among the bishops and communion between the region’s Churches and their pastors.

Like yourselves, I too witnessed the powerful working of the Spirit in the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate in Aparecida, in May 2007, which continues to inspire the efforts of CELAM for the desired renewal of the Particular Churches. In many of them, this renewal is clearly taking place. I would like to focus this conversation on the legacy of that fraternal encounter, which all of us have chosen to call a Continental Mission.

2. Particular characteristics of Aparecida

There are four hallmarks of the Fifth Conference. They are like four pillars for the implementation of Aparecida, and they are what make it distinctive.

1) Starting without a document

Medellín, Puebla and Santo Domingo began their work with a process of preparation which culminated in a sort of Instrumentum Laboris which then served as a basis for discussion, reflection and the approval of the final document. Aparecida, on the other hand, encouraged the participation of the Particular Churches as a process of preparation culminating in a document of synthesis. This document, while serving as a point of reference throughout the Fifth General Conference, was not taken as a starting point. The initial work consisted in pooling the concerns expressed by the bishops as they considered the new period of history we are living and the need to recover the life of discipleship and mission with which Christ founded the Church.

2) A setting of prayer with the people of God

It is important to remember the prayerful setting created by the daily sharing of the Eucharist and other liturgical moments, in which we were always accompanied by the People of God. On the other hand, since the deliberations took place in the undercroft of the Shrine, the music which accompanied them were the songs and the prayers of the faithful.

3) A document which continues in commitment, with the Continental Mission

This context of prayer and the life of faith gave rise to a desire for a new Pentecost for the Church and the commitment to undertake a Continental Mission. Aparecida did not end with a document; it continues in the Continental Mission.

4) The presence of Our Lady, Mother of America

It was the first conference of the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean to be held in a Marian shrine.

3. Dimensions of the Continental Mission

The Continental Mission is planned along two lines: the programmatic and the paradigmatic. The programmatic mission, as its name indicates, consists in a series of missionary activities. The paradigmatic mission, on the other hand, involves setting in a missionary key all the day-to-day activities of the Particular Churches. Clearly this entails a whole process of reforming ecclesial structures. The “change of structures” (from obsolete ones to new ones) will not be the result of reviewing an organizational flow chart, which would lead to a static reorganization; rather it will result from the very dynamics of mission. What makes obsolete structures pass away, what leads to a change of heart in Christians, is precisely missionary spirit. Hence the importance of the paradigmatic mission.

The Continental Mission, both programmatic and paradigmatic, calls for creating a sense of a Church which is organized to serve all the baptized, and men and women of goodwill. Christ’s followers are not individuals caught up in a privatized spirituality, but persons in community, devoting themselves to others. The Continental Mission thus implies membership in the Church.

An approach like this, which begins with missionary discipleship and involves understanding Christian identity as membership in the Church, demands that we clearly articulate the real challenges facing missionary discipleship. Here I will mention only two: the Church’s inner renewal and dialogue with the world around us.

The Church’s inner renewal

Aparecida considered Pastoral Conversion to be a necessity. This conversion involves believing in the Good News, believing in Jesus Christ as the bearer of God’s Kingdom as it breaks into the world and in his victorious presence over evil, believing in the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, believing in the Church, the Body of Christ and the prolonging of the dynamism of the incarnation.

Consequently, we, as pastors, need to ask questions about the actual state of the Churches which we lead. These questions can serve as a guide in examining where the dioceses stand in taking up the spirit of Aparecida; they are questions which we need to keep asking as an examination of conscience.

1. Do we see to it that our work, and that of our priests, is more pastoral than administrative? Who primarily benefits from our efforts, the Church as an organization or the People of God as a whole?

2. Do we fight the temptation simply to react to complex problems as they arise? Are we creating a proactive mindset? Do we promote opportunities and possibilities to manifest God’s mercy? Are we conscious of our responsibility for refocusing pastoral approaches and the functioning of Church structures for the benefit of the faithful and society?

3. In practice, do we make the lay faithful sharers in the Mission? Do we offer them the word of God and the sacraments with a clear awareness and conviction that the Holy Spirit makes himself manifest in them?

4. Is pastoral discernment a habitual criterion, through the use of Diocesan Councils? Do such Councils and Parish Councils, whether pastoral or financial, provide real opportunities for lay people to participate in pastoral consultation, organization and planning? The good functioning of these Councils is critical. I believe that on this score, we are far behind.

5. As pastors, bishops and priests, are we conscious and convinced of the mission of the lay faithful and do we give them the freedom to continue discerning, in a way befitting their growth as disciples, the mission which the Lord has entrusted to them? Do we support them and accompany them, overcoming the temptation to manipulate them or infantilize them? Are we constantly open to letting ourselves be challenged in our efforts to advance the good of the Church and her mission in the world?

6. Do pastoral agents and the faithful in general feel part of the Church, do they identify with her and bring her closer to the baptized who are distant and alienated?

As can be appreciated, what is at stake here are attitudes. Pastoral Conversion is chiefly concerned with attitudes and reforming our lives. A change of attitudes is necessarily something ongoing: “it is a process”, and it can only be kept on track with the help of guidance and discernment. It is important always to keep in mind that the compass preventing us from going astray is that of Catholic identity, understood as membership in the Church.

Dialogue with the world around us

We do well to recall the words of the Second Vatican Council: “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well” (Gaudium et Spes, 1). Here we find the basis for our dialogue with the contemporary world.

Responding to the existential issues of people today, especially the young, listening to the language they speak, can lead to a fruitful change, which must take place with the help of the Gospel, the magisterium, and the Church’s social doctrine. The scenarios and the areopagi involved are quite varied. For example, a single city can contain various collective imaginations which create “different cities”. If we remain within the parameters of our “traditional culture”, which was essentially rural, we will end up nullifying the power of the Holy Spirit. God is everywhere: we have to know how to find him in order to be able to proclaim him in the language of each and every culture; every reality, every language, has its own rhythm.

4. Some temptations against missionary discipleship

The decision for missionary discipleship will encounter temptation. It is important to know where the evil spirit is afoot in order to aid our discernment. It is not a matter of chasing after demons, but simply one of clear-sightedness and evangelical astuteness. I will mention only a few attitudes which are evidence of a Church which is “tempted”. It has to do with recognizing certain contemporary proposals which can parody the process of missionary discipleship and hold back, even bring to a halt, the process of Pastoral Conversion.

1. Making the Gospel message an ideology. This is a temptation which has been present in the Church from the beginning: the attempt to interpret the Gospel apart from the Gospel itself and apart from the Church. An example: Aparecida, at one particular moment, felt this temptation. It employed, and rightly so, the method of “see, judge and act” (cf. No. 19). The temptation, though, was to opt for a way of “seeing” which was completely “antiseptic”, detached and unengaged, which is impossible. The way we “see” is always affected by the way we direct our gaze. There is no such thing as an “antiseptic” hermeneutics. The question was, rather: How are we going to look at reality in order to see it? Aparecida replied: With the eyes of discipleship. This is the way Nos. 20-32 are to be understood. There are other ways of making the message an ideology, and at present proposals of this sort are appearing in Latin America and the Caribbean. I mention only a few:

a) Sociological reductionism. This is the most readily available means of making the message an ideology. At certain times it has proved extremely influential. It involves an interpretative claim based on a hermeneutics drawn from the social sciences. It extends to the most varied fields, from market liberalism to Marxist categorization.

b) Psychologizing. Here we have to do with an elitist hermeneutics which ultimately reduces the “encounter with Jesus Christ” and its development to a process of growing self- awareness. It is ordinarily to be found in spirituality courses, spiritual retreats, etc. It ends up being an immanent, self-centred approach. It has nothing to do with transcendence and consequently, with missionary spirit.

c) The Gnostic solution. Closely linked to the previous temptation, it is ordinarily found in elite groups offering a higher spirituality, generally disembodied, which ends up in a preoccupation with certain pastoral “quaestiones disputatae”. It was the first deviation in the early community and it reappears throughout the Church’s history in ever new and revised versions. Generally its adherents are known as “enlightened Catholics” (since they are in fact rooted in the culture of the Enlightenment).

d) The Pelagian solution. This basically appears as a form of restorationism. In dealing with the Church’s problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought, through the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful. In Latin America it is usually to be found in small groups, in some new religious congregations, in tendencies to doctrinal or disciplinary “safety”. Basically it is static, although it is capable of inversion, in a process of regression. It seeks to “recover” the lost past.

2. Functionalism. Its effect on the Church is paralyzing. More than being interested in the road itself, it is concerned with fixing holes in the road. A functionalist approach has no room for mystery; it aims at efficiency. It reduces the reality of the Church to the structure of an NGO. What counts are quantifiable results and statistics. The Church ends up being run like any other business organization. It applies a sort of “theology of prosperity” to the organization of pastoral work.

3. Clericalism is also a temptation very present in Latin America. Curiously, in the majority of cases, it has to do with a sinful complicity: the priest clericalizes the lay person and the lay person kindly asks to be clericalized, because deep down it is easier. The phenomenon of clericalism explains, in great part, the lack of maturity and Christian freedom in a good part of the Latin American laity. Either they simply do not grow (the majority), or else they take refuge in forms of ideology like those we have just seen, or in partial and limited ways of belonging. Yet in our countries there does exist a form of freedom of the laity which finds expression in communal experiences: Catholic as community. Here one sees a greater autonomy, which on the whole is a healthy thing, basically expressed through popular piety. The chapter of the Aparecida document on popular piety describes this dimension in detail. The spread of bible study groups, of ecclesial basic communities and of Pastoral Councils is in fact helping to overcome clericalism and to increase lay responsibility.

We could continue by describing other temptations against missionary discipleship, but I consider these to be the most important and influential at present for Latin America and the Caribbean.

5. Some ecclesiological guidelines

1. The missionary discipleship which Aparecida proposed to the Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean is the journey which God desires for the present “today”. Every utopian (future-oriented) or restorationist (past-oriented) impulse is spiritually unhealthy. God is real and he shows himself in the “today”. With regard to the past, his presence is given to us as “memory” of his saving work, both in his people and in each of us as individuals; with regard to the future, he gives himself to us as “promise” and hope. In the past God was present and left his mark: memory helps us to encounter him; in the future is promise alone… he is not in the thousand and one “futuribles”. The “today” is closest to eternity; even more: the “today” is a flash of eternity. In the “today”, eternal life is in play.

Missionary discipleship is a vocation: a call and an invitation. It is given in the “today”, but also “in tension”. There is no such thing as static missionary discipleship. A missionary disciple cannot be his own master, his immanence is in tension towards the transcendence of discipleship and towards the transcendence of mission. It does not allow for self-absorption: either it points to Jesus Christ or it points to the people to whom he must be proclaimed. The missionary disciple is a self-transcending subject, a subject projected towards encounter: an encounter with the Master (who anoints us as his disciples) and an encounter with men and women who await the message.

That is why I like saying that the position of missionary disciples is not in the centre but at the periphery: they live poised towards the peripheries… including the peripheries of eternity, in the encounter with Jesus Christ. In the preaching of the Gospel, to speak of “existential peripheries” decentralizes things; as a rule, we are afraid to leave the centre. The missionary disciple is someone “off centre”: the centre is Jesus Christ, who calls us and sends us forth. The disciple is sent to the existential peripheries.

2. The Church is an institution, but when she makes herself a “centre”, she becomes merely functional, and slowly but surely turns into a kind of NGO. The Church then claims to have a light of her own, and she stops being that “mysterium lunae” of which the Church Fathers spoke. She becomes increasingly self-referential and loses her need to be missionary. From an “institution” she becomes a “enterprise”. She stops being a bride and ends up being an administrator; from being a servant, she becomes an “inspector”. Aparecida wanted a Church which is bride, mother and servant, a facilitator of faith and not an inspector of faith.

3. In Aparecida, two pastoral categories stand out; they arise from the uniqueness of the Gospel, and we can employ them as guidelines for assessing how we are living missionary discipleship in the Church: nearness and encounter. Neither of these two categories is new; rather, they are the way God has revealed himself to us in history. He is the “God who is near” to his people, a nearness which culminates in the incarnation. He is the God who goes forth to meet his people. In Latin America and the Caribbean there are pastoral plans which are “distant”, disciplinary pastoral plans which give priority to principles, forms of conduct, organizational procedures… and clearly lack nearness, tenderness, a warm touch. They do not take into account the “revolution of tenderness” brought by the incarnation of the Word. There are pastoral plans designed with such a dose of distance that they are incapable of sparking an encounter: an encounter with Jesus Christ, an encounter with our brothers and sisters. Such pastoral plans can at best provide a dimension of proselytism, but they can never inspire people to feel part of or belong to the Church. Nearness creates communion and belonging; it makes room for encounter. Nearness takes the form of dialogue and creates a culture of encounter. One touchstone for measuring whether a pastoral plan embodies nearness and a capacity for encounter is the homily. What are our homilies like? Do we imitate the example of our Lord, who spoke “as one with authority”, or are they simply moralizing, detached, abstract?

4. Those who direct pastoral work, the Continental Mission (both programmatic and paradigmatic) are the bishops. Bishops must lead, which is not the same thing as being authoritarian. As well as pointing to the great figures of the Latin American episcopate, which we all know, I would like to add a few things about the profile of the bishop, which I already presented to the Nuncios at our meeting in Rome. Bishops must be pastors, close to people, fathers and brothers, and gentle, patient and merciful. Men who love poverty, both interior poverty, as freedom before the Lord, and exterior poverty, as simplicity and austerity of life. Men who do not think and behave like “princes”. Men who are not ambitious, who are married to one church without having their eyes on another. Men capable of watching over the flock entrusted to them and protecting everything that keeps it together: guarding their people out of concern for the dangers which could threaten them, but above all instilling hope: so that light will shine in people’s hearts. Men capable of supporting with love and patience God’s dealings with his people. The Bishop has to be among his people in three ways: in front of them, pointing the way; among them, keeping them together and preventing them from being scattered; and behind them, ensuring that no one is left behind, but also, and primarily, so that the flock itself can sniff out new paths.

I do not wish to go into further detail about the person of the Bishop, but simply to add, including myself in this statement, that we are lagging somewhat as far as Pastoral Conversion is concerned. We need to help one another a bit more in taking the steps that the Lord asks of us in the “today” of Latin America and the Caribbean. And this is a good place to start.

I thank you for your patience in listening to me. Pardon me if my remarks have been somewhat disjointed and please, I beg that we take seriously our calling as servants of the holy and faithful people of God, for this is where authority is exercised and demonstrated: in the ability to serve. Many thanks.

Jesus is not an isolated missionary, nor are we

missionary 101.jpg

“Go and make Christ known to all nations.” The missionary spirit is once again coming to the table. As Christians, we are baptized to come into communion with God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to live as adopted children of God faithful to the life of the Church. The sacrament of Baptism makes us disciples of the Lord. We can’t forget, nor can we neglect, to make the Lord known to all people by the witness of our lives. Our call is the same as the Prophet Isaiah’s, “Here am I; send me” (Is 6:8). The preaching of the Lord’s Kingdom is not reserved to few; no, the mission to proclaim the presence of the Kingdom is given to all the baptized in all places. Hence, we work doing the new evangelization. Catholics as missionaries in this country needs renewal. We Catholics can’t leave the missionary work to the Mormons, the Jehovah Witnesses, the Evangelicals or the Muslims. If we truly believe that the Lord has given us Himself as the way, the truth and the life, then we ought to share this experience. Moreover, in living the Gospel, following the teaching of the Church, the reception of the sacraments, we care for those live on the margins (think of the corporal works of mercy).

I see in Pope Francis calling us to be attentive to the missionary impulse again as fundamental to our faith and life in the Church. The Pope comes as this missionary notion from his own spiritual formation received as a member of the Society of Jesus. No doubt he thinks of the early founders of the Jesuits, and he likely recalls the Jesuit saint Francis Borgia, the third Jesuit Superior General who spent much energy on missionary vocation of the Jesuits, of translating the faith and the Exercises of Loyola into a more concrete expression. We can say that Pope, like Borgia, knows that the missionary work we are called to perform is a ministry that takes on a variety of aspects: preaching, teaching, sanctifying, interceding, healing, guiding others in the spiritual life, administering and governance.

Pope Francis’ Sunday Angelus address needs to be studied and prayed about. Think about the points highlighted.

This Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 10:1-12.17-20) speaks to us precisely of this: of the fact that Jesus is not an isolated missionary, does not want to fulfill his mission alone, but involves his disciples. Today we see that, in addition to the Twelve Apostles, He calls seventy-two others, and sends them into the villages, two by two, to announce that the Kingdom of God is near. This is very beautiful! Jesus does not want to act alone, He has come to bring to the world the love of God and wants to spread that love with a style of communion and fraternity. For this reason, he forms immediately a community of disciples, which is a missionary community. Iright from the start, He trains them for the mission, to go [on the mission].

Beware, however: the purpose is not to socialize, to spend time together – no, the purpose is to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and this is urgent! There is no time to waste in small talk, no need to wait for the consent of all – there is need only of going out and proclaiming. The peace of Christ is to be brought to everyone, and if some do not receive it, then you go on. To the sick is to be brought healing, because God wants to heal man from all evil. How many missionaries do this! They sow life, health, comfort to the peripheries of the world.

These seventy-two disciples, whom Jesus sent ahead of him, who are they? Whom do they represent? If the Twelve are the Apostles, and therefore also represent the Bishops, their successors, these may represent seventy-two other ordained ministers – priests and deacons – but in a wider sense we can think of other ministries in the Church, catechists and lay faithful who engage in parish missions, those who work with the sick, with the various forms of discomfort and alienation, but always as missionaries of the Gospel, with the urgency of the Kingdom that is at hand.

The Gospel says that those seventy-two returned from their mission full of joy, because they had experienced the power of the Name of Christ against evil. Jesus confirms this: to these disciples He gives the strength to defeat the evil one. He adds, though: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:20)” We should not boast as if we were the protagonists: the protagonist is the Lord [and] His grace. Our joy is only this: [in] being His disciples, His friends. 

May Our Lady help us to be good servants of the Gospel.

Pope Francis

Sunday Angelus Address

8 July 20013

A new bishop for Oakland: Jesuit Michael Barber

Michael C. Barber arms.jpgFather Michael Charles Barber, SJ, was ordained a bishop today for service in the Diocese of Oakland. Last eve he professed his Catholic faith and took the oath of fidelity. The Sacrifice of the Mass with the Rites of Episcopal Ordination were offered at 11am pacific time.

With prayer to the Holy Spirit and the laying on of hands by Metropolitan Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, Jesuit Bishop Carlos Sevilla (emeritus bishop of Yakima) and Bishop Thomas Daly. Sevilla is also a member of the California Province of Jesuits. For trivial purposes only, Bishop Gordan Bennett, SJ, bishop emeritus of Mandeville, former auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, is also a California Jesuit.
Father Barber is the first member of the Society of Jesus to be elected a bishop by his fellow Jesuit and Pope, Francis. The appointment was made on May 3. Barber is the first Jesuit to be a bishop who will serve in the USA since Bishop George Vance Murry (Youngstown, OH). 

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When the Church is closed off, it gets sick…we need many witnesses


A Saturday May 19th Q&A session with the various members of ecclesial movements and Pope Francis was inspiring to me. More than 120 thousand attended the events. The pope said much; much of it not available in print but what is available is here due the translations of the Vatican Information Service. It is hard to nail the pope down on all the things he said because a fair of amount of talks are off-the-cuff. This 3 minute video presentation by Rome Reports gives a good sense as to what we are supposed to be about. Nevertheless, there is enough to reflect on and to see where we find ourselves viz-a-viz Francis’ response.

Q: “How were you able to achieve certainty of faith in your life, and what path can you indicate to us so that each one of us can overcome our fragility of faith?”

A: “I have had the good fortune to grow up in a family where the faith was lived in a simple and concrete manner … The first proclamation is in the home, within the family, right? And this makes me think of the love of so many mothers and so many grandmothers in the transmission of the faith. … We do not find our faith in the abstract, no! It is always a person who preaches it to us, who tells us who Jesus is, who gives us the faith, who gives us the first announcement. … But there is a very important day for me: September 21, 1953. I was almost 17. It was the ‘Students’ Day’…. Before going to the festival, I went to my parish and met a priest I did not know, but I felt the need to confess. … After confession I felt that something had changed. I was not the same. I felt a voice call me: I was convinced that I had to become a priest. This experience of faith is important. We say that we must seek God, go to him to ask for forgiveness … but when we go, He is already waiting for us. He is the first one there! … And this creates wonder in the hearts of those who do not believe, and this is how faith grows! With an encounter with a Person, with an encounter with the Lord.”

Regarding fragility: “Fragility’s biggest enemy curiously enough, is fear. But do not be afraid! We are weak, we know it but He is stronger! If you are with him, then there is no problem! A child is fragile–I see many today–but they are with their fathers and their mothers so they are safe! We too are safe with the Lord; we are secure. Faith grows with the Lord, out of the very hands of the Lord.”

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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