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The Synod Begins

Rocco Palmo has posted the full text of Cardinal Donald Wuerls opening address to the Synod on the New Evangelization. Like much of what Cardinal Wuerl writes, it is thoughtful, well-organized. and covers the terrain well. Any summary is unlikely to do it justice. But let me just highlight a few points.I was particularly interested in Wuerls discussion of the theological foundations of the New Evangelization, where he highlights four important elements. The first is the need for a reassertion of a Christian anthropology, an understanding that human beings are oriented to the transcendent and it is in Jesus Christ that this orientation is fulfilled. The second is a stronger insistence that the Jesus the Church proclaims is the Jesus rooted in the tradition of the Church, not in sociological or historical reconstruction. The third is the need for a reassertion of the necessity of the Church for salvation. Wuerl understands the difficulty of this in light of recent developments in doctrine and argues that the New Evangelization must speak about Gods universal salvific will and at the same time recognize that Jesus has provided a clear and unique path to redemption and salvation. Finally, the fourth element Wuerl highlights is Jesus proclamation of the Kingdom of God.A second--and related--theme in Wuerls address is the qualities of the new evangelists. He identifies four: boldness in their proclamation of the Gospel; connectedness to the Church; a sense of urgency, and joy. Whatever our circumstances, Wuerl writes, our witness should radiate the fruits of the Holy Spirit including love, peace and joy.If I had to summarize this in a sentence, I would say that Wuerl is calling for both clarity and boldness in our preaching of the Gospel. Be clear about what we believe let that clarity be reflected in both our confidence and our joy.There is much in Wuerls address that I agree with. There are a couple of things, however, that I wish he had addressed in a deeper way. I found his discussion of the reasons for the decline in religious practice superficial. Wuerl repeats a widely held view among the bishops that the catechetical crisis of the 60s and 70s played a major role here. I would argue that the decline has much deeper roots in the increasing affluence and mobility of individuals in the West and the decline in the kind of stable, inter-generational communities that played a critical role in passing on the faith.While I agree that a baseline degree of confidence in Church teaching is a prerequisite to effective evangelization, I think we have to be careful that confidence does not slide over into arrogance. Many of the people that the New Evangelization targets tend to be skeptical of institutions. Particularly in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal, the credibility of the bishops and the institutional structures they command is arguably at its lowest level since the 16th century. While the bishops remain the successors to the Apostles, their ability to be effective evangelizers has been seriously compromised for theforeseeablefuture.If clarity and boldness are part of the answer, they need to be expressed first and foremost in the lives of ordinary Catholics. If I were a bishop, I would do everything possible to get myself off the front pages of both my local and diocesan papers and instead hold up the examples of the everyday saints whose lives are the best argument for the truths of our faith.



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Peter, this is a wonderful post.I've probably commented on this before, but I just want to agree strongly with your insight: "I would argue that the decline has much deeper roots in the increasing affluence and mobility of individuals in the West and the decline in the kind of stable, inter-generational communities that played a critical role in passing on the faith."

I found his discussion of the reasons for the decline in religious practice superficial. Wuerl repeats a widely held view among the bishops that the catechetical crisis of the 60s and 70s played a major role here. I would argue that the decline has much deeper roots in the increasing affluence and mobility of individuals in the West and the decline in the kind of stable, inter-generational communities that played a critical role in passing on the faith.---------Imho, the decline in religious practice is the result of education. People who read mythology begin to understand that their myths are like other myths, and their gods are like other gods. People who read history and anthropology begin to understand the origins of religion and the reasons for the development of religion. At the beginning -- and even in the middle -- of the century, high school diplomas were rare, indeed. Back in 1900, for instance, only 6 percent of 17-year-olds graduated from high school. By 1940, 25 percent of people age 25 and over had at least a high school diploma. Today, a diploma is the rule rather than the exception: 83 percent of people age 25 and over had at least a high school diploma in 1998. The number of degrees conferred by the nation's colleges and universities now is more than 70 times higher than it was at the century's start: fewer than 30,000 were awarded in the 1899-1900 school year, compared with 2.2 mil. in 1995-1996. (Should Catholics vote for pro-education candidates or for those opposed to education?)

Count me cynical.I agree that folks are oriented to the transcendent, but the current and last papacies with their regressive direction --- not to mention my own appreciation of the sociological and historical facets of Christianity --- make me hiccup (to say the least) at the view that Jesus is rooted in the "tradition of the Church". I have trouble reconciling the belief of God's universal salvific will, a doctrine I fully embrace, with the idea of the Church being necessary for salvation. I think the Church can be --- but isn't always --- an aid toward one's salvation. While on the subject of "Church", I don't equate it with the Church of Rome. I think the Church is much wider. Given today's climate in the Vatican and in too many chanceries, I am suspect about the notion of "boldness" in proclaiming the gospel: Triumphalism and institutional arrogance come to mind. A "sense of urgency"? Why? Is the world coming to an end tomorrow? Will a God of unconditional love not embrace all of God's creation at the end?Credibility of the Church of Rome's institutional leadership suffers not only because of the sexual abuse crisis but also because of the regressive behaviors of JPII, B16, and their lackey bishops. Kowtowing. Careerism. Papal and episcopal arrogance and paternalism. Pompous displays. Threats (a la "your immortal soul" kind). Lack of transparency and accountability. Promotion --- or lack of official opposition to --- "creeping infallibility". Clergy on pedestals. Ad nauseum.I agree with Gerelyn's suggestion that a better educated and informed laity will not accept a lot of incredible teaching simply because "Father says so".To repeat what I've stated on other threads here and elsewhere: I think this synod of crony hierarchs is a farce.

I'd love to hear something about modeling the humility of Christ. Wanna break through my scepticism, that's the route.

In pushing the fundamental concern of the Faith with the transcendent, I think Cardinal Wuerl is right on the mark. But these days It is not easy to make anyone aware that there is a *real* transcendent dimension to human life, that the "other dimensions" written about so enthusiastically in science fiction might not be so unlikely at all. Most often, I'd say, it has been the presence of saints who, who through their obvious charity, have shown forth the religious dimension which is possible in human life. But they are rare. Next, I'd say, that it is in the arts, especially in music, as in much of Bach and some of Mozart, that our minds and hearts are opened at least to the *real possibility* of the transcendent. But, again, Bach and Mozart are not met every day (and those little ear buttons are hardly the way to present them in their fullness and power!).Sometimes in literature, e.g., Hopkins, Bernanos, above all Dante in his paradoxical materiality, the message comes across, but these days the transcendent is not a popular theme among writers. On the contrary, they too are infected by the materialism of the last 400 years. In the plastic arts, for me, Rothko is most powerful in suggesting the transcendent, but you need some spare millions to have your own. It it has been in Church support of the artists in the past that the Church efforts have paid off in immeasurable spiritual dividends. Unfortunately, the languages of the earlier plastic arts have been pretty much lost, I think, though those medieval stained glasses still show many people that maybe, just maybe, the Transcendent might be real.And then there's the contemporary movement to the transcendent found in the contemplative practices encouraged by Merton and Frs. Thomas Keating and John Main, but I think there is still a lot of prejudice against even thinking of these practices -- they're too New Age, even for most Catholics. This is a very promising avenue, I think, and the new evangelists could help people get over their prejudices. However, as I wrote in Fr. Komonchak's recent thread, the prejudice against the purely spiritual is largely due to the idea foisted on the culture by scientism that matter is all there is and can be. Many people need to be shown intellectually that that is a wrong conception before they'll even start to entertain the *possibility* of the transcendent/the spiritual/the religious.But perhaps there are some contemporary artists who would qualify in helping to make the transcendent at least a bit comprehensible. It would be good for the evangelists to make those artists known. I'd like to hear about them myself :-)

Poor Cardinal Wuerl and his fellow bishops. The Beatitudes are the heart of evangelization. Ever new. Ever powerful. Ever redeeming. Yet Wuerl and Co revert to the Empire church.

Even if their ability to be effective evangelizers is compromised as you say, it is still their duty as bishops. They could take the bold, urgent step of repentance for the sexual and social sins that seem so entrenched in their lives. If Finn, convicted of managerial crimes, does not resign and retire to a life of penitence, he should adopt a visible sign of his shame. Perhaps all the current bishops should adopt a common sign of their humiliation.This could be the first step toward communities that can replace the family structures that have been weakened by the isolation of affluence and mobility. Or of teaching solidarity to whoever was taught badly (though I think the bad catechesis was in the 40s and 50s...). It must be bold, it must be honest, but above all it must be loving.

Peter, you note that you find Cardinal Wuerl's interpretation of the decline in religious practice superficial, since he attributes it so thoroughly to shortcomings in catechesis after the Council. Unfortunately I don't think this is an incidental shortcoming on the Cardinal's part: this assumption underlies almost everything I've read about the New Evangelization. This interpretation of history means that what we need above all is confidence and boldness in asserting the truth of what the church teaches on every front, to overcome that era of decline, and the dangerous hermenuetic of discontinuity that was rampant for so long. (A phrase Wuerl repeats several times -- I guess "h of d" is now official Roman code for all that craziness and disorder the Council provoked.)If this is the way our bishops see the history of the past 50 years, then it's no wonder this New Evangelization doesn't need to be so new after all -- they can just preach the truth of the Catechism with the boldness their recent predecessors have lacked. Wuerl: "....We need to overcome the syndrome of embarrassment as some have identified the lack of confidence in the truth of the faith and in the wisdom of the Magisterium that characterizes our age." I also found the focus of Benedict's opening remarks a striking contrast with Wuerl's. I am usually not a big fan of the pope's prose style, but his passionate focus on proclaiming Christ and spreading the "flame of charity" made Wuerl's hints at reasserting the church's triumph seem more pedestrian.

the Jesus the Church proclaims is the Jesus rooted in the tradition of the Church, not in sociological or historical reconstruction.To separate the historical Jesus from the Jesus we pray to makes no sense to me. The Catholic church is all about love, peace and joy? When I look at the news, I see bishops attacking nuns, bishops gathering money to doom same-sex marraige, bishops threatening hell for those who vote democratic, German bishops charging people $ for sacraments, the pope's butler going to prison for leaking a corruption that's itself never addressed, and then there's the sex abuse problem and its cover-up.In the news today, a study (PBS) on why people don't want to belong to a church ...The majority of the religiously unaffiliated are Democrats or lean Democratic, and 67 percent of them believe churches and other religious institutions are too involved with politics.Large majorities of the unaffiliated say religious institutions are too concerned with money and power (70 percent) and focus too much on rules (67 percent). The best evangelism is being a good example to others. The problem isn't with the people who are turning away, it's with what they're turning away from.

Well, I just went through Cdl Wuerl's speech, and here's my brief summary.1. Christian life is defined by an encounter with Jesus. (The central role of Christ is repeated many times throughout the speech.) The joy we experience compels us to share it with others. The Church is the enduring presence of Christ in the world. 2. Resources: Catechism. 3. Current circumstances: Secularization. Religious ignorance. Poor catechesis. Lack of practice of the faith. Loss of sense of mystery. Materialism. Individualism. On the positive side: people realize that they need more than what the secular world has to offer. Catechism now instructs parents at the same time as the kids. Note: Family is The Model. 4. Element of the New Evangelization: deepen our own faith, gain confidence that it's true, be more willing to share it. Do not apologize for what we believe, do not be embarrassed. Be clear, confident in the truth of the Magisterium. Communicate our joy of being capable of loving. Invite, do not scold. 5. Theological foundations. Obstacles: secularism, atheism, rationalism, ideology subjugating faith to reason, egoism. Temptation to avoid confrontation by focusing on sociological priorities. Instead, must speak with conviction about marriage, family, the natural moral order, an objective right and wrong. On the positive, all desire communion with the transcendent. We must emphasize the necessity of the Church as the unique path for salvation. 6. Qualities of the new evangelizers. Boldness, courage, sense of urgency, joy, connectedness with the Church so that we are sure that they are authentic and that the truth of their statements is verified. Catholic colleges, hospitals, social services, should also bear testimony to God's Word. 7. Charisms to assist in the new evangelization. Social justice: for many young people the church teaching on social justice is a revelation and an invitation to a fuller life in the Church. New communities such as Communion and Liberation, Opus Dei, and the Neocatechumenical Way. I can find some pieces here and there that resonate with me, but I reject the overall tone, emphasis, and perspective of this program. I hope you will soon have more inspiring speeches to blog about.

Yes we need the smoothness, mediocrity and hypocrisy of the Empire Church. The Beatitudes are too complex and inspiring. We need the authority and juridicism of the Catechism. Paul of Tarsus would have never made it with bishops. He preached an ardor of love. He did not have the order of Canon Law. At the same time he was a hundred times more effective.

Should we be concerned that there are (though I didn't count them) far more references to Roman documents (catechism, papal documents) in the cardinal's speech than references to Scripture? Should we be concerned that "we" (meaning, I take it, the institutional church with its Roman center) have learned of the problems of the world and its lapses of faith from the world's bishops? Are those bishops really the best observers and reporters on such questions? Should we be concerned that nowhere (unless I missed it) is there a willingness to listen to and to learn from those who have left the Church (or have never been in it) why they take so little interest? Above all, should we be concerned that there is little or no mention of the ways in which Rome (and for that matter, some other Churches as well) should take responsibility for their own actions in helping to drive people away from the church, or at least in discouraging them from taking the Christian message seriously? An examination of conscience is good for all of us, and for institutions like churches and their leaders, as well as for individuals. "Tragically, the sins of a few have encouraged a distrust in some of the very structures of the Church herself. (cf Instrumentum laboris n. 69, n. 95, n. 104)" Might it be that those "very structures" have shown themselves unwilling or unable to del with I am afraid I find little new or hopeful here, and I hope I'm wrong.

sorry, that document got away with me, hence the unfinished para. 2. Should beTragically, the sins of a few have encouraged a distrust in some of the very structures of the Church herself. (cf Instrumentum laboris n. 69, n. 95, n. 104) Might it be that those very structures have shown themselves unwilling or unable to deal with "the sins of the few?"

As the synod discusses bishops' perceptions of their environment, an interesting coincidence struck me. While not among the aspects mentioned above, it deserves attention in characterizing the environment in which any evangelizing would take place, especially in the Christian West identified as the area for primary emphasis. This year, the environment is addressing its perceptions of the Church via government activities explicitly addressing the place, privileges, and components of the Church and its activities in society. - In Italy, property taxes on long-exempt Church property are now in a complex process of being imposed. - In the German church-tax dispute, the distinction between spiritual church and institutional corporate church which levies and receives the church tax is a central issue. The recent German bishops' General Decree declared them absolutely inseparable and one court decision agreed. Others continue to disagree. - In the US, the regulatory definition of religious organizations for purposes of the healthcare insurance mandate is a major bone of contention. The formal, codified defining involved in the above adds complications at least and, potentially, operational constraints the Church has done better without in the past.

"To separate the historical Jesus from the Jesus we pray to makes no sense to me."We can't, and shouldn't, separate the historical Jesus from the other aspects of Jesus. But note that the historical Jesus, considered apart from the church's claims, omits virtually everything that is important about him: that he is the Son of God; that he is the Word made flesh; that his passion, crucifixion and death are of cosmic significance; that he rose from the dead; that he ascended into heaven; and so on. These are the matters that the church should be preaching, both to its own members and to the world at large. Furthermore, they color our interpretation and understanding of what historians are able to tell us about Jesus.

I agree with Thomas Baker that Pope' Benedict's unscripted ("a braccio") remarks spoke far more compellingly to the purpose of the Synod than Cardinal Wuerl's laborious discourse (in Latin).I agree too with Nicholas Clifford and Claire, two of my constant guides on dotC.A little dream. At the end of the Second Vatican Council Pope Paul VI gave each bishop participant a ring. It was far more modest than the large jeweled rings that had been standard for bishops up till then. Many bishops since the Council have had rings made in the same style. During this Synod the Pope could give to each bishop present a simple wooden cross on a cord, the "Year of Faith" cross to be worn in place of the now at times simpler but still fairly elaborate pectoral crosses. AND, for the remaining time of the Synod the three ranks of prelates could be advised by the Synod secretariat to wear a black or grey suit instead of the precisely color-trimmed cassocks (and skull cap) known in the trade as the "abito filettato." A show of simplicity would, I think, go a long way towards making the event more credible.

John Page --I have had the exact same dream. Then, every one of the countless pictures and videos around the world would instantly identify to everyone, including them, the century they are in and are planning for.

Sure, let's agree that the bishops could be more contrite about their sins and failings. Then, let's all of us - i.e., the church - take more seriously our responsibility to evangelize. It's hard to find the joy around here sometimes. It's worth thinking about.

Jim,If Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, then the historical Jesus doesn't leave out all of the important stuff about him. I agree that an only human Jesus would not be worth worshipping, and I do see Jesus as God, but for me, the fact that he existed as a real person in history makes it even easier for me to believe in him as God too. It's exciting to know that I don't know everything there is to know about him, that more might be revealed. Whe Wuerl says "the Jesus the Church proclaims is the Jesus rooted in the tradition of the Church, not in sociological or historical reconstruction." then to me that says that the church wants Jesus nailed down for all time to a definition they've approved ... he might as well be a well constructed myth. But the living God is one that can surprise us, I think.

Well, I guess I'll give Weurl a whirl ...The notion that a synod of the same hierarchs, the same old men, who have presided over the dismantling of Vatican2 and the mass alienation of millions upon millions of Catholics from the church of their birth have anything interesting to say about "the New Evangelization" is at best quaint, and at worst delusional.Don't Christians have an obligation to hold in tension both the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith?What does Wuerl and his brother hierarchs really fear from "sociological and historical reconstruction?" Are we suppose to suspend all our human ways of knowing and learning in service of the hierarchy's political hegemony?If as Wuerl contends the New Evangelization must speak about Gods universal salvific will and at the same time recognize that Jesus has provided a clear and unique path to redemption and salvation, shouldn't the hierarchs, and indeed Catholics, at least acknowledge [as my sainted sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Adelaide would say] that the "royal road of the Cross" has taken, and will take in the future, many turns and bends through time?When you think about all that has happened in the world, all that has transpired in the church, since J23rd first called for aggiornamento in the church, that by now these synods would include at least some token representation from women and married Catholics?The youth of the world is watching Rome, and they don't see or hear anything that is evangelizing them.

Jim, there is joy around here because Christ is risen. Sadly, the joy does not come from the bishops whose acts are mostly about power rather than service and the spirit. Their insistence on themselves as the source of the Sacraments is a power move rather than one of community. While I support their structure as necessary, even though they forget to seek the last place as Jesus commanded, they have to remember that they are not the center of the church.We have to talk more about our light shining before all, rather than the power bishops 24/7.

John Page:"At the end of the Second Vatican Council Pope Paul VI gave each bishop participant a ring." A bit of trivia which I am sure that you know: When word got out that the bishops were going to receive a commemorative ring from the Pope, some of the bishops worried about how the pope would know their sizes. Lo and behold, the rings were one size fits all and could be adjusted. Last spring one was sold on ebay.

Rocco gives this site for Rowan Williams' speech to the Synod this morning. He emphasized the necessity for contemplation if evangelization is to succeed. The Benedictine influence on Williams shows through. Remarkable man. Karl Rahner must have been pleased :-)

It just amazes me that the bishops and the right wing in the church keep referring to the 60's and 70's as destructive. As a matter of fact it was a great rebirth in the church. The faithful stopped being serfs and realized that it is their church and the bishops have damaged it. The peodphilia crisis did not creat the problem with bishops. It revealed it. The liturgy became more alive as a living proclamation and not as a sole performance of a "holy person" who performed magic. Notice that private masses are rare though stubborn leaders still try to keep them as a source of revenue which they always mainly were. There were certainly bumps in the road as change always is. But there was nothing like the malevolence of the hierarchy which sent fellow Christians to their death made canon law the faith rather than the scripture.

Bill, to pick up on your train of thought ---About a year ago, I scanned microfilm of our archdiocesan newspaper published during and after Vatican II. The contrast between then and now is readily apparent. It's in these old issues where the self-described "orthodox" or "trads" will find the Spirit of Vatican II.If any of you live near a public or school library with microfilm of the local church newspaper published "back in the day", you might want to check the headlines and lead paragraphs of news reports, editorials, and analyses relating to the council.

Joseph J. and all --The Conciliaria blog (of our own Eric Stoltz) offers interesting accounts from back then from all sorts of sources, including newspapers and documents and speeches from the Council. It occasionally recounts other events that were happening at the same time. Factoid: Johnny Carson's first appearance on the Tonight Show was almost simultaneous with the beginning of the Council. A long time ago.

John Page -- As you imagined, all synodal bishops and cardinals in plain black suits with modest wooden crosses would be extraordinarily eloquent in ways most bishops may not appreciate. Unfortunately, there is a legal precedent opposed: Prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signatura Cardinal Burke himself.

Crystal --As I was taught, Christ "lives in us", and when we act out of true charity we reveal Him. So all of saints and all the not so saintly who also sometimes do good all reveal different aspects of Jesus' life. That's why, I think, that supposedly naive question "What would Jesus do?" is in fact a very profound one.

Ann, thanks for the link. Definitely worth checking out! I've noted it.Jack, while Cardinal Burke may be the chief justice, he certainly dresses the part of a ceremonial court jester, Vatican kind.(i just wish this guy was officially no more than a court jester :-)

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