++++++++++++++++++++God's timing is not our timing, but He is never late.++++++++++++++++++++

Layers - in the knowledge of God and the path to holiness

Learning about God is like unwrapping a head of lettuce, pealing back one leaf at a time. Always there is another leaf below. We will eventually reach the center of the head of lettuce; but we will never unwrap everthing there is to know about God.

The path to holiness is like pealing an onion. God shows us what is sinful and convicts us that we have sinned. No matter how sweet the onion, there are always tears in the peeling. No matter how sweet the grace of repentence, there are always the pain of letting go of the sin. As the peeling of the onion reveals another layer, so God shows us what we lack in holiness, drawing us ever closer to "be(ing) perfect even just as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48




What I Believe

Why I am and always will be a Catholic. "So Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. Tthe living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever." John 6:53-58 The words and actions of man cannot sanctify. Only the priest, empowered by his ordination, can invoke the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into Jesus so we can receive Him - Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity into our bodies and souls. This is the core of the Catholic Church; without this there is no purpose or meaning to the Catholic Church. There are other ways to holiness, to grow in grace; there is no better way than union with Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Visitation Catholic Church

Visitation Catholic Church

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis speech to Bishops

Meeting with the United States Bishops, Cathedral of Saint Matthew, Washington, September 23, 2015

Dear Brother Bishops,

            I am pleased that we can meet at this point in the apostolic mission which has brought me to your country.  I thank Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Kurtz for their kind words in your name.  I am very appreciative of your welcome and the generous efforts made to help plan and organize my stay.

            As I look out with affection at you, their pastors, I would like to embrace all the local Churches over which you exercise loving responsibility.  I would ask you to share my affection and spiritual closeness with the People of God throughout this vast land.

            The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone.  To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind.  May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace.  Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken, may the Pope’s voice also be heard to affirm that: “He is the Savior”!  From your great coastal cities to the plains of the Midwest, from the deep South to the far reaches of the West, wherever your people gather in the Eucharistic assembly, may the Pope be not simply a name but a felt presence, sustaining the fervent plea of the Bride: “Come, Lord!”

            Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God…  know that the Pope is at your side and supports you.  He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage.

            My first word to you is one of thanksgiving to God for the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in these lands and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world.  I thank you most heartily for your generous solidarity with the Apostolic See and the support you give to the spread of the Gospel in many suffering areas of our world.  I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit. I am well aware of the immense efforts you have made to welcome and integrate those immigrants who continue to look to America, like so many others before them, in the hope of enjoying its blessings of freedom and prosperity.  I also appreciate the efforts which you are making to fulfill the Church’s mission of education in schools at every level and in the charitable services offered by your numerous institutions.  These works are often carried out without appreciation or support, often with heroic sacrifice, out of obedience to a divine mandate which we may not disobey.

            I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice.  Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful.  I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.

            I speak to you as the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ.  Reading over your names, looking at your faces, knowing the extent of your churchmanship and conscious of the devotion which you have always shown for the Successor of Peter, I must tell you that I do not feel a stranger in your midst.  I am a native of a land which is also vast, with great open ranges, a land which, like your own, received the faith from itinerant missionaries.  I too know how hard it is to sow the Gospel among people from different worlds, with hearts often hardened by the trials of a lengthy journey.  Nor am I unaware of the efforts made over the years to build up the Church amid the prairies, mountains, cities and suburbs of a frequently inhospitable land, where frontiers are always provisional and easy answers do not always work.  What does work is the combination of the epic struggle of the pioneers and the homely wisdom and endurance of the settlers.  As one of your poets has put it, “strong and tireless wings” combined with the wisdom of one who “knows the mountains”.

            I do not speak to you with my voice alone, but in continuity with the words of my predecessors.  From the birth of this nation, when, following the American Revolution, the first diocese was erected in Baltimore, the Church of Rome has always been close to you; you have never lacked its constant assistance and encouragement.  In recent decades, three Popes have visited you and left behind a remarkable legacy of teaching.  Their words remain timely and have helped to inspire the long-term goals which you have set for the Church in this country.

            It is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy.  I have not come to judge you or to lecture you.  I trust completely in the voice of the One who “teaches all things” (Jn 14:26).  Allow me only, in the freedom of love, to speak to you as a brother among brothers.  I have no wish to tell you what to do, because we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us.  Instead, I would turn once again to the demanding task – ancient yet never new – of seeking out the paths we need to take and the spirit with which we need to work.  Without claiming to be exhaustive, I would share with you some reflections which I consider helpful for our mission.

            We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock.  Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion.  We need to preserve this joy and never let ourselves be robbed of it.  The evil one roars like a lion, anxious to devour it, wearing us down in our resolve to be all that we are called to be, not for ourselves but in gift and service to the “Shepherd of our souls” (1 Pet 2:25).

            The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching (Acts 6:4) and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care (Jn 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-31).

            Ours must not be just any kind of prayer, but familiar union with Christ, in which we daily encounter his gaze and sense that he is asking us the question: “Who is my mother?  Who are my brothers?”  (Mk 3:31-34).  One in which we can calmly reply: “Lord, here is your mother, here are your brothers!  I hand them over to you; they are the ones whom you entrusted to me”.  Such trusting union with Christ is what nourishes the life of a pastor.

            It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake.  The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us”.  May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them them long once again for the Father’s embrace.  Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that “taste of eternity” which they seek in vain in the things of this world.  May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds.  At the same time, may you never lack the serene courage to proclaim that “we must work not for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life” (Jn  6:27).

            Shepherds who do not pasture themselves but are able to step back, away from the center, to “decrease”, in order to feed God’s family with Christ.  Who keep constant watch, standing on the heights to look out with God’s eyes on the flock which is his alone.  Who ascend to the height of the cross of God’s Son, the sole standpoint which opens to the shepherd the heart of his flock.

            Shepherds who do not lower our gaze, concerned only with our concerns, but raise it constantly toward the horizons which God opens before us and which surpass all that we ourselves can foresee or plan.  Who also watch over ourselves, so as to flee the temptation of narcissism, which blinds the eyes of the shepherd, makes his voice unrecognizable and his actions fruitless.  In the countless paths which lie open to your pastoral concern, remember to keep focused on the core which unifies everything: “You did it unto me” (Mt 25:31-45).

            Certainly it is helpful for a bishop to have the farsightedness of a leader and the shrewdness of an administrator, but we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us.  Bishops need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world.  Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed (Phil 2:1-11).

            We all know the anguish felt by the first Eleven, huddled together, assailed and overwhelmed by the fear of sheep scattered because the shepherd had been struck.  But we also know that we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity.  So we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear.

            I know that you face many challenges, that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that there is always the temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition.

            And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter.  We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty.  We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response.

            Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).

            The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society.  I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly.  The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it.  Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue.  Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain.  Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.

            We need to let the Lord’s words echo constantly in our hearts: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, who am meek and humble of heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls” (Mt 11:28-30).  Jesus’ yoke is a yoke of love and thus a pledge of refreshment.  At times in our work we can be burdened by a sense of loneliness, and so feel the heaviness of the yoke that we forget that we have received it from the Lord.  It seems to be ours alone, and so we drag it like weary oxen working a dry field, troubled by the thought that we are laboring in vain.  We can forget the profound refreshment which is indissolubly linked to the One who has made us the promise.

            We need to learn from Jesus, or better to learn Jesus, meek and humble; to enter into his meekness and his humility by contemplating his way of acting; to lead our Churches and our people – not infrequently burdened by the stress of everyday life – to the ease of the Lord’s yoke.  And to remember that Jesus’ Church is kept whole not by “consuming fire from heaven” (Lk 9:54), but by the secret warmth of the Spirit, who “heals what is wounded, bends what is rigid, straightens what is crooked”.

            The great mission which the Lord gives us is one which we carry out in communion, collegially.  The world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere.  Consequently, the Church, “the seamless garment of the Lord” cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over.

            Our mission as bishops is first and foremost to solidify unity, a unity whose content is defined by the Word of God and the one Bread of Heaven.  With these two realities each of the Churches entrusted to us remains Catholic, because open to, and in communion with, all the particular Churches and with the Church of Rome which “presides in charity”.  It is imperative, therefore, to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it as a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations.

            May the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy, by drawing us into the fathomless depths of God’s heart in which no division dwells, be for all of you a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that your light may shine forth like “a city built on a hill” (Mt 5:14).

            This service to unity is particularly important for this nation, whose vast material and spiritual, cultural and political, historical and human, scientific and technological resources impose significant moral responsibilities in a world which is seeking, confusedly and laboriously, new balances of peace, prosperity and integration.  It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion.  May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the “sacrament of unity” (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion.

            This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves.  I encourage you, then, to confront the challenging issues of our time.  Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility.  The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges.

            The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters.  It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent.  No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.

            These essential aspects of the Church’s mission belong to the core of what we have received from the Lord.  It is our duty to preserve and communicate them, even when the tenor of the times becomes resistent and even hostile to that message (Evangelii Gaudium, 34-39).  I urge you to offer this witness, with the means and creativity born of love, and with the humility of truth.  It needs to be preached and proclaimed to those without, but also to find room in people’s hearts and in the conscience of society.

            To this end, it is important that the Church in the United States also be a humble home, a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love.  As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth.  We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.

            Consequently, only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others.  And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn.  The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?”  We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12).  It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out.  Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32).

            Before concluding these reflections, allow me to offer two recommendations which are close to my heart.  The first refers to your fatherhood as bishops.  Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants.  Let this closeness be expressed in a special way towards your priests.  Support them, so that they can continue to serve Christ with an undivided heart, for this alone can bring fulfillment to ministers of Christ.  I urge you, then, not to let them be content with half-measures.  Find ways to encourage their spiritual growth, lest they yield to the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats, but instead reflect the motherhood of the Church, which gives birth to and raises her sons and daughters.  Be vigilant lest they tire of getting up to answer those who knock on their door by night, just when they feel entitled to rest (Lk 11:5-8).  Train them to be ready to stop, care for, soothe, lift up and assist those who, “by chance” find themselves stripped of all they thought they had (Lk 10:29-37).

            My second recommendation has to do with immigrants.  I ask you to excuse me if in some way I am pleading my own case.  The Church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these “pilgrims”.  From the beginning you have learned their languages, promoted their cause, made their contributions your own, defended their rights, helped them to prosper, and kept alive the flame of their faith.  Even today, no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities.  Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses.  Not only as the Bishop of Rome, but also as a pastor from the South, I feel the need to thank and encourage you.  Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity.  But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared.  So do not be afraid to welcome them.  Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart.  I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church.

            May God bless you and Our Lady watch over you!
(from Vatican Radio)

No One Sees God, by Matthew Becklo (Word on Fire)

No One Sees God
by Matthew Becklo, September 24, 2015
 


 
 
Your brightness is my darkness.
I know nothing of You and, by myself,
I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You.
If I imagine You, I am mistaken.
If I understand You, I am deluded.
If I am conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy.
The darkness is enough.

- Thomas Merton
 
If God exists, why doesn't he make it more obvious? Why doesn't he stop more evil, answer more prayers, or perform a steady stream of miracles - or better yet, all of the above? Why all the darkness and silence, especially in a world in such desperate need of clarity and hope?

For atheists and agnostics this is a common enough sentiment; what is striking though is how often holy people have dwelt on these very same questions. In fact, the Bible itself is saturated with a piercing sense of God's obscurity. How do we make sense of this parallel between belief and unbelief?

First, a quote:
"But if I go east, he is not there; or west, I cannot perceive him; The north enfolds him, and I cannot catch sight of him; The south hides him, and I cannot see him. Yet he knows my way; if he tested me, I should come forth like gold. My foot has always walked in his steps; I have kept his way and not turned aside...Therefore I am terrified before him; when I take thought, I dread him...Yes, would that I had vanished in darkness, hidden by the thick gloom before me."
With all the terror, dread, and gloom, this seems like something out of a chain-smoking existentialist’s novella. But it is in fact Biblical - the book of Job.

This sense of divine hiddenness is central in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms. In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, God himself declares from a cloudy throne: "It's like those miserable Psalms. They're so depressing!" Maybe the comedic crew wrote this line with Psalm 10 in mind:
"Why, Lord, do you stand afar
and pay no heed in times of trouble?
Arrogant scoundrels pursue the poor;
they trap them by their cunning schemes.
The wicked even boast of their greed;
these robbers curse and scorn the Lord.
In their insolence the wicked boast:
"God does not care; there is no God.""
Or Psalm 88:
"But I cry out to you, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why do you reject my soul, Lord,
and hide your face from me?
...My only friend is darkness."
There's countless other examples (Psalm 30, Psalm 44, Psalm 63), and not only in those "depressing" Psalms. In 1 Kings we read a striking passage about God approaching Elijah not in a strong wind, earthquake, or fire, but a kind of "silent sound." The prophet Isaiah contemplated God's darkness in contradistinction to more meddlesome deities: "Truly you are a hidden God." Even the Hebrew word for God (YHWH) signified the unutterable.
In the New Testament, one might suspect that this would all change - and it does, but it also doesn't, not even for God incarnate. In a truly mind-bending episode, Christ, hanging from the cross, quotes Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" The Psalm continues:
"Why so far from my call for help,
from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;
by night, but I have no relief."
This passage is a strange thing for a Christian; it appears, as GK Chesterton put it, that God himself is abandoned by God. "Let the atheists themselves choose a god," Chesterton mused. "They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed himself for an instant to be an atheist."
The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar describes this mission of God into godforsakenness with great insight:
"Active faith means following Jesus; but Jesus' mission leads him on a course from heaven deeper and deeper into the world of sinners, until finally on the Cross he assumes, in their stead, their experience of distance from God, even of abandonment by God, and thus of the very loss of that lucid security promised to the "proven" faithful. This paradox must be borne..."
And we see that "loss of that lucid security" not only in Biblical passages and theological works, but in the lives of countless believers. Saint Anselm, an 11th century archbishop and originator of the ontological argument, wrote:
"I have never seen thee, O Lord my God; I do not know thy form. What, O most high Lord, shall this man do, an exile far from thee? What shall thy servant do, anxious in his love of thee, and cast out afar from thy face? He pants to see thee, and thy face is too far from him. He longs to come to thee, and thy dwelling place is inaccessible. He is eager to find thee, and knows not thy place. He desires to seek thee, and does not know thy face. Lord, thou art my God, and thou art my Lord, yet never have I seen thee...Why did he shut us away from the light, and cover us over with darkness?..."
We see a more profound case in notable mystics of the Church: in Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross' "dark night of the soul" in the 16th century; in the last days of Therese of Lisieux in the 19th century ("If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into," she told her fellow nuns); and even in Mother Teresa in the 20th century (who described forty-five years of inner emptiness, feeling "neither joy, nor love, nor light...").
Some of the greatest theological art is also focused exactly on this tortuous journey through darkness. Dostoevsky, Graham Greene, and Flannery O'Connor all wrote with a profound sense of both God's action and absence; the work of Polish painter Jerzy Nowosielski revolves around "an immense metaphysical black hole" and the darker aspects of human experience; and Shusaku Endo, a Catholic novelist, wrote the book Silence (slated for film development by Martin Scorsese) about 17th century Portuguese missionaries who wrestle with God's silence in the midst of great suffering:
"I cannot bear the monotonous sound of the dark sea gnawing at the shore. Behind the depressing silence of this sea, the silence of God...the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish God remains with folded arms, silent."
Even popular songs expressing the darkness and silence of God are so much more interesting (and popular) than sanguine worship songs meant to pacify. In a song of the same name and theme as Endo's book, the Jewish singer Matisyahu sings:
"Bring my broken heart to an invisible king
With a hope one day you might answer me
So I pray don't you abandon me.
Your silence kills me;
I wouldn't have it any other way.
Is it wrong to think you might speak to me?
You might speak, would it be words and what would you say?
It's so heavy, a heavy price to pay
Your silence"
"Testin' Me" by Stones Throw artist Dudley Perkins, Tom Waits' "God's Away on Business," and The Roots' "Dear God 2.0," all capture a similar lament:
"Dear God, I’m trying hard to reach you
Dear God, I see your face in all I do
Sometimes, it’s so hard to believe it...
If your love's still around, why do we suffer?"
The atheist might respond that this plethora of modern cases shows that this is a modern phenomenon. Maybe the "God of darkness" is just the fallout of a post-Christian God evanescing under closing gaps of scientific knowledge - that he appears to be a distant shell of his former glory because science has explained so much of what was once attributed to the divine.
But remember, our investigation began millennia ago. This obscurity of the God of Abraham has been with us from the beginning, and not just on the periphery, but right there on center stage. When we read tweets from someone like Matisyahu in a Jacob-like grapple with God ("I have never stopped asking this question. Are you real? Are you listening? Who are you?"..."I am not impressed with answers. A question that comes from deepest depths is worth more then a mountain of answers"), we're not seeing a gap-less God of the gaps or an artsy affectation, but a supreme truth of faith: that it's a long day's journey into night.
Is this something rotten at the core of faith itself, then, whatever the century? Is the darkness and silence not a drawing forward from beyond the veil of the world, but just what it is - darkness and silence?
Nietzsche thought so. In Dawn, he wrote:
"A god who is all-knowing and all-powerful and who does not even make sure his creatures understand his intentions —could that be a god of goodness? Who allows countless doubts and dubieties to persist, for thousands of years, as though the salvation of mankind were unaffected by them, and who on the other hand holds out frightful consequences if any mistake is made as to the nature of truth? Would he not be a cruel god if he possessed the truth and could behold mankind miserably tormenting itself over the truth?... they as yet know nothing of a Duty of God to be truthful towards mankind and clear in the manner of his communications."
Bertrand Russell is said to have put the matter much more pithily. Below, philosopher Peter Kreeft recounts the famous story about Russell's deathbed quip, and introduces some of the classical responses to the problem of divine hiddenness:

https://youtu.be/6v-tcaIZ02I

Michael Novak, in his book No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers, is wise enough to move beyond these answers, good as they are. Novak focuses instead on the plain fact that this darkness and silence is common ground for us all - whatever it amounts to, whatever it means, we all share it. (He confesses early in the preface: "It was crystal clear to me even at age twelve that life is far more horrible than anybody had heretofore suggested. Unbelief, atheism, and cursing the darkness might for me and for all turn out to be the more honest way.")

"Serious and devout believers from the time of Elijah and Job have known about the darkness in which the true God necessarily dwells," Novak writes. "Darkness is the normal mode of Jewish and Christian belief."

For Novak, as for Kreeft, this darkness fosters "the true relation between the Creator and the creature," which is more hide-and-seek than lost-and-found, in both directions:
"God hates to be too obvious about things. He writes pretty darn good mysteries into almost everything He does. Our fun lies in the detection. Who would be attracted to God if He didn't drop a hint, or plainly plant a clue? And then cover it up again? We have to work for it. Use our brains a little. Keep pursuing the hidden God. God is pursuing us...but we keep running from Him. There is a little verse that presents God as "The Hound of Heaven":
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind.
That poem nails the reality."
But Novak's final point, the point of the book, is that "the line of belief and unbelief is not drawn between one person and another, normally, but rather down the inner souls of all of us." We aren't so different after all:
"Both the atheist and the believer stand in similar darkness. The atheist does not see God - but neither does the believer...we all stand in darkness concerning our deepest questionings...withal, a certain modesty should descend upon us. Believers in God well know, in the night, that what the atheist holds may be true. At least some atheists seem willing to concede that those who believe in God might be correct. Sheer modesty compels us to listen carefully, in the hopes that we might learn."
This is an especially good caveat for the faithful. Pope Francis wrote in his first encyclical Lumen Fidei (or "The Light of Faith"): "One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey..."

In other words, faith does not mean knowing God through and through and tapping a stockpile of straightforward answers. Instead, it's an ontological light burning in the same existential darkness that scandalizes the atheist. "Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness," Francis reminds us, "but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey."

The believer can and should be struck by the same darkness and the same profound questions that trip up the atheist. The atheist, on the other hand, can be struck by the lightning of grace and the thunder of desire, given the assurance of things hoped for. But even then, the darkness remains; the soul will still see by a mirror, at night; the eye will not see, nor mind visualize, what God has prepared; she will continue to journey and climb, a child of the light but still a child. But on the wings of grace, that "deep but dazzling darkness" is enough, and her cup overflows.

http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/no-one-sees-god/4929/

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Jesus - The Good Shepherd

A frequent image of Jesus is that of the Good Shepherd. Herding was a basic part of life from the beginning. Sheep are dumb. They get lost or get in bad spots that they don’t know how to get out of. They need to be rescued. People are dumb too. When we sin, we lost sight of God. When we sin, we put ourselves into situations that we don’t know how to get out of. But, like the sheep, we have a Shepherd. Jesus knows where we are. He is ready to get us out of those sinful situations, rescue us; and bring us home. We can try to hide from Him, but He will never stop trying to rescue us.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Relationship with God

If you knew someone, a friend you thought, who avoided talking to you, calling you, not even waving at you on the street, then one day showed up at your place with a friendly ‘hi, I’m here, entertain me and make me dinner.’; what would you think of that person?  If you busted your butt and did what that person wanted, would it make any difference in you relationship?  Just what am I getting at?  How about God, Church, confession, Mass, Jesus in Holy Communion.  Just think about it, ok?  That ‘friend’ wouldn’t enjoy your meal as much as if you were really friends.  Yes, God is merciful, and He will forgive us for neglecting our relationship with Him.  However, on our part, it is harder for us to feel close to someone who we don’t spend time with in some way.  So, when we really need to feel closer to God, it may seem as if He isn’t there for us, because we, on our part, are just acquaintances.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Returning

It is my thinking, without any scripture or theology to argue about, that when one dies it is one’s disposition towards God which determines judgment.  This thinking relies entirely upon God’s mercy.  I keep thinking of the story of the prodigal son (Luke 125:11-32).  He was for most of his life a recipient of his father’s love and his father’s gifts/possessions.  But, he rebelled, wanting to live his life his way, out from under his father’s love and roof/discipline/expectations.  Once away, all that he had received from his father wasted away.  Living life his way, away from his father’s love and guidance, the son ended up with nothing.  The son thought that if he went back as a servant at least he could have the benefits of living under his father’s roof, like food.  The father would have none of that, welcoming his son back completely. 

We have been baptized into God’s family.  We have all of the love and benefits of being in God’s family.  Yet, we still must try to live our lives our way - in rebellion to God’s will for our lives.  When we turn away from God, what happens to the love and other gifts God has given us?  They waste away in our sin.  We can become spiritually bankrupt; and like the prodigal son, we can realize that anything with God is better.  We may be sincere in our repentance of acts against God’s love and goodness; or, we may be sorry because of the bad consequence of our actions.  God in His mercy will meet us where we are at.  The parable does not say where the father met up with the son, only that he saw the son “a long way off” and ran to him.

What if we don’t make it back to God before we die?  What would have happened if the prodigal son didn’t make it home?  The son made the choice to return.  The father did the rest.  So, what if on our faith journey we die before we are home yet?  Are we crying out in our hearts, our souls, “Abba”?  I think that that soul will continue towards God and that God in His mercy will embrace the soul.

But, why wait?  Why continue to live outside the Father’s house, just because we have the freedom to live “our way”?  The father said to the son who never left, “Everything I have is yours.”  Why squander our lives living away from our Father when He has so much to give us?  The Father is waiting for us to cry, “Abba.”   It is so simple - take the first step and allow God to do the rest.

From Campus Bullies to Empty Churches

empty_church
This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of the Intercollegiate Review. Check out the rest of the issue here.
The question of secularization—or how it is that societies once markedly religious become less so, particularly the societies of what’s known as Western civilization—has been much studied in modern times. Urbanization, rationalism, higher education, industrialization, feminism: these are just some of the possible causal agents debated by sociologists when they try to figure out why some people stop going to church.
Yet one highly significant social fact that rather obviously bears on the question of secularization has gone unnoticed. That is the relationship between the well-documented decline in Western churchgoing, especially among Millennials, and the simultaneous rise of a toxic public force on campuses across the Western world: the new intolerance.

“The new intolerance” is shorthand for the chilled public atmosphere in which religious believers now operate. Many people of faith face unique burdens that would have been unthinkable even a couple of decades ago: burdens of ostracism, of losing the good opinion of their neighbors, of being trash-talked in the public square. Some even face the loss of livelihood or the constant threat and reality of litigation; for a primer, see the hounding last spring of Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich for his donation years earlier on behalf of traditional marriage.

Although this new intolerance has begun to attract attention and debate, the connection between that phenomenon and the rise in unbelief among twenty-somethings remains to be explored. And the scrutiny is overdue. It is well known, and well documented by social science, that many students, not only in America but all over, lose their religion in college. The interesting question is why.

Atheist and Christians Hold Opposing Signs at the Bele Chere FesThe New Intolerance

An atheist or other nonbeliever might say students lose religion because college is where they learn higher reasoning, and higher reasoning drives out the superstition of faith. That kind of answer might seem to make perfect sense—except that it’s refuted by the facts. In fact, social science points to the opposite conclusion: better-educated people are actually more likely than those with less education to be found in church. (See my book How the West Really Lost God for a roundup of the empirical evidence demonstrating this pattern across a range of societies, from Victorian England to the modern-day United States.) So the answer from sophistication just doesn’t hold up as an explanation for what happens to religious commitment during the college years.

No, something else is going on in the numbers about faith and people in their teens and twenties. For starters, we might focus in on this fact: the campus these days is ground zero of the new intolerance.

Exhibit A, to start with an example from across the pond, is what happened at Christ Church College, Oxford, in November 2014—or more precisely, what didn’t happen. A scheduled debate on the subject of whether “abortion culture” hurts Britain, between two journalists who write for the Telegraph, was canceled for reasons that seemed to be read aloud from a totalitarian playbook: because of last-minute “concerns” on the part of the college.

Translation: a feminist group incited protest via social media aimed at disrupting the event, and did so in terms vehement enough to frighten the authorities. That this travesty of the principle of free speech played out in the college once attended by none other than John Locke is beyond ironic.

The Oxford shout-down is no isolated example, as everyone within reach of a computer already knows. So much could be written about the new intolerance on campus that it would fill not one essay but several books. In the United States, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recently filed four free-speech lawsuits against four colleges in a single day. One suit defended the rights of a student whose university forbade him from wearing a T-shirt saying, “We get you off for free.” The shirt—­promoting a student group that provides free assistance to students accused of campus disciplinary offenses—was judged to run afoul of ever-­changing speech codes about women.

To mention just a few other examples of the punitive new code, columnist George Will—one of the most distinguished public intellectuals in the entire Anglosphere—was treated to protests in the fall upon speaking at Miami University, Ohio, again for the ostensible charge of violating what is allowed to be said of women. Last spring, a number of prominent speakers backed down from giving commencement addresses—or worse, had their invitations rescinded—when threatened with protests. (Ironically, several of them were female.)

It does not detract from the importance of free-speech cases in themselves to point out something new here: the same forces that are intimidating the intellectual expression of students can also be expected to intimidate their religious expression.

Rather obviously, it is not only the humanities, and not only intellectual life itself, that are threatened by the rise of Robespierrian speech codes. No, so too are actual students—in the sense that the intimidation of the new intolerance cannot help but envelope them in college, from that first good-bye at the hugging tree to that last party celebrating commencement.

The Gale Winds of Political Correctness

The intimidation varies from one campus to another, from one department to another, and from one protest to another. But while the decibels of ferocity may change, the negative posture toward religious believers ­themselves—or for that matter toward anyone who finds anything of value in the Judeo-Christian tradition and bothers to defend it—remains the same. And once more, Occam’s razor would suggest a causal connection here.
Students, like any other human beings, cannot help being sensitive to atmospherics. Let’s think again of the new force that drives a CEO out of his post for having donated to defend traditional marriage. If the new intolerance can penalize an “alpha” like him so dramatically, how much more menacing must it be to people just starting out, whose futures and livelihoods depend so heavily on the opinion of their peers?

 Sometimes, interestingly enough, the very incivility of the new intolerance backfires.

A friend with a son at an overwhelmingly progressive college said recently that the experience of sitting through one particular class had turned that student toward conservatism. Why? Because as a white male known also to be heterosexual, he was singled out repeatedly for second-class social treatment by the ­professor—no matter what his bona fides otherwise. He has become, in virtue of the new intolerance, what might be called a political counter-convert.

Other anecdotal cases like his come to mind. In a book I edited a few years ago called Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys, several authors traced their own conversions similarly, as reactions to the obnoxiousness of radicalism on campus. Another friend serves as inadvertent witness to the power of political correctness: he was so appalled by what he saw on his Ivy League campus that he abandoned his own secular background, converted to Catholicism, and eventually entered the priesthood.

Even so, contrarian-minded students like these, it seems safe to guess, are outliers possessed of unusual courage or cussedness (or both). Many others faced with the gale winds of political correctness, one guesses, succumb to the blast in one way or another, including by religious self-censorship.
It’s time to air the idea that college students do not stay out of church or synagogue because their education leads them to enlightened conclusions about the big questions. No, the more likely dynamic is that thanks to the new intolerance, the social and other costs of being a known believer in the public square mount by the year—and students take note. Hence intimidation on the quad, multiplied over many years and campuses, is an unseen engine of secularization.

Mary Eberstadt is a senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and author of several books, including, most recently, How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization.
http://www.intercollegiatereview.com/index.php/2015/02/09/from-campus-bullies-to-empty-churches/

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Dear Justice Kennedy: An Open Letter from the Child of a Loving Gay Parent

   

Take it from the adult child of a loving gay parent: redefining marriage promotes a family structure in which children suffer.
Dear Justice Kennedy,

June is nigh, and with it will come your ruling on the most contentious political issue of our time: marriage.

I write because I am one of many children with gay parents who believe we should protect marriage. I believe you were right when, during the Proposition 8 deliberations, you said “the voice of those children [of same-sex parents] is important.” I’d like to explain why I think redefining marriage would actually serve to strip these children of their most fundamental rights.

It’s very difficult to speak about this subject, because I love my mom. Most of us children with gay parents do. We also love their partner(s). You don’t hear much from us because, as far as the media are concerned, it’s impossible that we could both love our gay parent(s) and oppose gay marriage. Many are of the opinion I should not exist. But I do, and I’m not the only one.

This debate, at its core, is about one thing.
It’s about children.

The definition of marriage should have nothing to do with lessening emotional suffering within the homosexual community. If the Supreme Court were able to make rulings to affect feelings, racism would have ended fifty years ago. Nor is this issue primarily about the florist, the baker, or the candlestick-maker, though the very real impact on those private citizens is well-publicized. The Supreme Court has no business involving itself in romance or interpersonal relationships. I hope very much that your ruling in June will be devoid of any such consideration.

Government Should Promote the Well-being of Children

Children are the reason government has any stake in this discussion at all. Congress was spot on in 1996 when it passed the Defense of Marriage Act, stating:
At bottom, civil society has an interest in maintaining and protecting the institution of heterosexual marriage because it has a deep and abiding interest in encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing. Simply put, government has an interest in marriage because it has an interest in children.
There is no difference between the value and worth of heterosexual and homosexual persons. We all deserve equal protection and opportunity in academe, housing, employment, and medical care, because we are all humans created in the image of God.

However, when it comes to procreation and child-rearing, same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are wholly unequal and should be treated differently for the sake of the children.

When two adults who cannot procreate want to raise children together, where do those babies come from? Each child is conceived by a mother and a father to whom that child has a natural right. When a child is placed in a same-sex-headed household, she will miss out on at least one critical parental relationship and a vital dual-gender influence. The nature of the adults’ union guarantees this. Whether by adoption, divorce, or third-party reproduction, the adults in this scenario satisfy their heart’s desires, while the child bears the most significant cost: missing out on one or more of her biological parents.

Making policy that intentionally deprives children of their fundamental rights is something that we should not endorse, incentivize, or promote.

The Voices of the Children

When you emphasized how important the voices of children with gay parents are, you probably anticipated a different response. You might have expected that the children of same-sex unions would have nothing but glowing things to say about how their family is “just like everyone else’s.” Perhaps you expected them to tell you that the only scar on their otherwise idyllic life is that their two moms or two dads could not be legally married. If the children of these unions were all happy and well-adjusted, it would make it easier for you to deliver the feel-good ruling that would be so popular.

I identify with the instinct of those children to be protective of their gay parent. In fact, I’ve done it myself. I remember how many times I repeated my speech: “I’m so happy that my parents got divorced so that I could know all of you wonderful women.” I quaffed the praise and savored the accolades. The women in my mother’s circle swooned at my maturity, my worldliness. I said it over and over, and with every refrain my performance improved. It was what all the adults in my life wanted to hear. I could have been the public service announcement for gay parenting.

I cringe when I think of it now, because it was a lie. My parents’ divorce has been the most traumatic event in my thirty-eight years of life. While I did love my mother’s partner and friends, I would have traded every one of them to have my mom and my dad loving me under the same roof. This should come as no surprise to anyone who is willing to remove the politically correct lens that we all seem to have over our eyes.

Kids want their mother and father to love them, and to love each other. I have no bitterness toward either of my parents. On the contrary, I am grateful for a close relationship with them both and for the role they play in my children’s lives. But loving my parents and looking critically at the impact of family breakdown are not mutually exclusive.

Now that I am a parent, I see clearly the beautiful differences my husband and I bring to our family. I see the wholeness and health that my children receive because they have both of their parents living with and loving them. I see how important the role of their father is and how irreplaceable I am as their mother. We play complementary roles in their lives, and neither of us is disposable. In fact, we are both critical. It’s almost as if Mother Nature got this whole reproduction thing exactly right.

The Missing Parent

I am not saying that being same-sex attracted makes one incapable of parenting. My mother was an exceptional parent, and much of what I do well as a mother is a reflection of how she loved and nurtured me. This is about the missing parent.

Talk to any child with gay parents, especially those old enough to reflect on their experiences. If you ask a child raised by a lesbian couple if they love their two moms, you’ll probably get a resounding “yes!” Ask about their father, and you are in for either painful silence, a confession of gut-wrenching longing, or the recognition that they have a father that they wish they could see more often. The one thing that you will not hear is indifference.

What is your experience with children who have divorced parents, or are the offspring of third-party reproduction, or the victims of abandonment? Do they not care about their missing parent? Do those children claim to have never had a sleepless night wondering why their parents left, what they look like, or if they love their child? Of course not. We are made to know, and be known by, both of our parents. When one is absent, that absence leaves a lifelong gaping wound.

The opposition will clamor on about studies where the researchers concluded that children in same-sex households allegedly fared “even better!” than those from intact biological homes. Leave aside the methodological problems with such studies and just think for a moment.
If it is undisputed social science that children suffer greatly when they are abandoned by their biological parents, when their parents divorce, when one parent dies, or when they are donor-conceived, then how can it be possible that they are miraculously turning out “even better!” when raised in same-sex-headed households? Every child raised by “two moms” or “two dads” came to that household via one of those four traumatic methods. Does being raised under the rainbow miraculously wipe away all the negative effects and pain surrounding the loss and daily deprivation of one or both parents? The more likely explanation is that researchers are feeling the same pressure as the rest of us feel to prove that they love their gay friends.

Children Have the Right to Be Loved by Their Mother and Father

Like most Americans, I am for adults having the freedom to live as they please. I unequivocally oppose criminalizing gay relationships. But defining marriage correctly criminalizes nothing. And the government’s interest in marriage is about the children that only male-female relationships can produce. Redefining marriage redefines parenthood. It moves us well beyond our “live and let live” philosophy into the land where our society promotes a family structure where children will always suffer loss. It will be our policy, stamped and sealed by the most powerful of governmental institutions, that these children will have their right to be known and loved by their mother and/or father stripped from them in every instance. In same-sex-headed households, the desires of the adults trump the rights of the child.

Have we really arrived at a time when we are considering institutionalizing the stripping of a child’s natural right to a mother and a father in order to validate the emotions of adults?

Justice Kennedy, I have long admired your consistency when ruling on the well-being of children, and I implore you to stay the course. I truly believe you are invested in the equal protection of all citizens, and it is your sworn duty to uphold that protection for the most vulnerable among us. The bonds with one’s natural parents deserve to be protected. Do not fall prey to the false narrative that adult feelings should trump children’s rights. The onus must be on adults to conform to the needs of children, not the other way around.

This is not about being against anyone. This is about what I am for. I am for children! I want all children to have the love of their mother and their father. Being for children also makes me for LGBT youth. They deserve all the physical, social, and emotional benefits of being raised by their mother and father as well. But I fear that, in the case before you, we are at the mercy of loud, organized, well-funded adults who have nearly everyone in this country running scared.

Six adult children of gay parents are willing to stand against the bluster of the gay lobby and submit amicus briefs for your consideration in this case. I ask that you please read them. We are just the tip of the iceberg of children currently being raised in gay households. When they come of age, many will wonder why the separation from one parent who desperately mattered to them was celebrated as a “triumph of civil rights,” and they will turn to this generation for an answer.

What should we tell them?

Katy Faust serves on the Academic and Testimonial Councils of the International Children’s Rights Institute and writes at asktheBigot.com. She is the mother of four, the youngest of whom was adopted from China. 

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/02/14370/
 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

FULL English text of Pope Francis' closing address to #Synod14

Dear Eminences, Beatitudes, Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,

With a heart full of appreciation and gratitude I want to thank, along with you, the Lord who has accompanied and guided us in the past days, with the light of the Holy Spirit....

From the heart I thank Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Bishop Fabio Fabene, under-secretary, and with them I thank the Relators, Cardinal Peter Erdo, who has worked so much in these days of family mourning, and the Special Secretary Bishop Bruno Forte, the three President delegates, the transcribers, the consultors, the translators and the unknown workers, all those who have worked with true fidelity and total dedication behind the scenes and without rest. Thank you so much from the heart.

I thank all of you as well, dear Synod fathers, Fraternal Delegates, Auditors, and Assessors, for your active and fruitful participation. I will keep you in prayer asking the Lord to reward you with the abundance of His gifts of grace!

I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of “Synod,” a path of solidarity, a “journey together.”

And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:

- One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.
- The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”
- The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).
- The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.
- The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…

Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.

Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).

And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.

Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

And, as I have dared to tell you, [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.

We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops [laughing]. So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.

His duty is to remind everyone that authority in the Church is a service, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly explained, with words I cite verbatim: “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ… through the Pastors of the Church, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter… to participate in his mission of taking care of God's People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community, or, as the Council puts it, ‘to see to it... that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with Gospel preaching, and to sincere and active charity’ and to exercise that liberty with which Christ has set us free (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6)… and it is through us,” Pope Benedict continues, “that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: ‘let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord’ (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).”

So, the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).

Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.

One year to work on the “Synodal Relatio” which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups. It is presented to the Episcopal Conferences as “lineamenta” [guidelines].

May the Lord accompany us, and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Joseph. And please, do not forget to pray for me! Thank you!