A Statement on Gender from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales

Plenary-Statement-1024-1_mediumToday there is intense public debate about gender. It highlights not only the suffering and discomfort of some, but also raises profound questions about human nature, how we understand ourselves, relate to one another and our capacity for self-determination.

We recognise that there are people who do not accept their biological sex. We are concerned about and committed to their pastoral care. Through listening to them we seek to understand their experience more deeply and want to accompany them with compassion, emphasising that they are loved by God and valued in their inherent God-given dignity. There is a place of welcome for everyone in the Catholic Church.

Our teaching is that God creates human beings male and female: “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). This sexual difference and complementarity is within every person, for we all belong to families and draw our very existence from this complementarity. It is within the family that our lives first take shape and our identity is nurtured. These are important factors in the architecture of human relationships, orientated towards the goods of marriage, the mutual building up of each person and the flourishing of family life (CCC 2333). Indeed, the body is God’s gift. It is with and through our bodies that we make our earthly journey, with all its ambiguities, sufferings and joy. This understanding is vital for welcoming and accepting not only ourselves, and each other, but also the entire world as gifts of God. This understanding also gains greater clarity when we enter more deeply into the gift of faith and see in Jesus Christ the fullness of our human dignity and calling made clear. This is expressed in Vatican II: ‘It is only in the mystery of the Word incarnate that light is shed on the mystery of humankind’ (Gaudium et Spes 22 ). Only in the mystery of the cross of Jesus does our own suffering find new salvific depth and hope.

The idea that the individual is free to define himself or herself dominates discourse about gender. Yet our human instinct is otherwise. We know that there is so much about our lives that is foundational. Today we are faced with an ideology of gender which, in the words of Pope Francis:

denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual difference, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time”… It needs to be emphasised that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.” (Amoris laetitia 56)

We are deeply concerned that this ideology of gender is creating confusion.

As we continue to reflect on these issues, we hope for a renewed appreciation of the fundamental importance of sexual difference in our culture and the accompaniment of those who experience conflict in their sense of self and God-given identity. We all have a duty to protect the most vulnerable.

 

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Statement on the case of Alfie Evans from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

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Our hearts go out to the parents of Alfie Evans and our prayers are for him and with them as they try to do all they can to care for their son.

We affirm our conviction that all those who are and have been taking the agonising decisions regarding the care of Alfie Evans act with integrity and for Alfie’s good as they see it.

The professionalism and care for severely ill children shown at Alder Hey Hospital is to be recognised and affirmed.  We know that recently reported public criticism of their work is unfounded as our chaplaincy care for the staff, and indeed offered to the family, has been consistently provided.

We note the offer of the Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome to care for Alfie Evans.  It is for that Hospital to present to the British Courts, where crucial decisions in conflicts of opinion have to be taken, the medical reasons for an exception to be made in this tragic case.

With the Holy Father, we pray that, with love and realism, everything will be done to accompany Alfie and his parents in their deep suffering.

Wednesday 18th April 2018

A report of the meeting of the father of Alfie Evans with the Pope can be found here.

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Gaudete et Exsultate: A help for our conversion and fulfilment, not an instrument for ideological wars

[Christopher Morgan]

The day the Papal Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, was released a tweet was posted noting it was probably best not to read the document trying to find lines to disagree with or delighting in how the Pope called out one’s ideological enemies. It concluded “simply read and ask the Holy Spirit to help us become holier!”

Pope Francis document, known as an apostolic exhortation, entitled Gaudete et exsultate (Rejoice and be glad), is seen in this picture illustration taken at the Vatican

These are wise words because there is a real danger of the Exhortation being turned into a battleground. On the one hand some are quick to criticise what Pope Francis says and where he places the emphasis; on the other hand others are keen to extract quotes from the document to attack people whose views they disagree with. The outcome may be that rather than discussion about the document being on how we can become holier in our daily lives, it gets side-tracked into polemics.

But the central message of the Exhortation – the call to holiness – is something that should interest us all. Right at the start the Pope reminds us that “The Lord asks everything of us” and he immediately goes on “and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created.” We may have thought that holiness sounds unattractive – but we all look for happiness!

The document is full of suggestions and examples of how we can progress along this path of holiness, of true life, of happiness. There are references to the lives of the saints but also the witness of ordinary people around us – maybe our mother or grandmother or the next neighbour. The Pope is clear that to be holy one does not have to hold a particular position in the church – it can come through being a husband or wife, a parent, a worker. When we feel the temptation to dwell on our own weaknesses we can raise our “eyes to Christ crucified and say: “Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better.”” So we can grow in holiness, and happiness, through little steps.

The vision of holiness Pope Francis offers is practical with his explanation of the Beatitudes and the reference to the parable of the sheep and goats (“I was hungry and you gave me food… “). But he is also clear that holiness comes from and is sustained by prayer, invoking the Holy Spirit, and moments of silence before God.

Some comments on social media imply that the Pope is not saying anything new or very challenging. But is this because we take things too much for granted? For example, he says that a Christian’s mission “has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. It consists in uniting ourselves to the Lord’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way, constantly dying and rising anew with him. But it can also entail reproducing in our own lives various aspect of Jesus’s earthly life: his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways in which he showed his self-sacrificing love.”   These words, the challenge and the promise they contain, will always be new. As we read them over and over again, maybe they will start to change us.

The Pope also regrets “ideologies that lead us at times to two harmful errors”. “On the one hand, there is the error of those Christians who separate [the] Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, from the interior union with him, from openness to his grace. Christianity thus becomes a sort of NGO stripped of the luminous mysticism so evident in the lives of [the saints]”. The other is found “in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.” In this passage he seems to identify the age-old argument within Christianity – whether a person is saved by deed alone or solely by faith. The tradition of the Church however teaches that we need both faith andgood works.

Much of the controversy on social media has come from the above passages and the subsequent comments referring to the defence of the unborn. Some have said the Pope is undermining the pro-life witness by placing equal emphasis on other issues of human dignity such as the plight of migrants.  Others have used this passage to criticise the pro-life movement. One thing the Pope is very clear on, at the end of the Exhortation, is that the devil is a being not a metaphor for evil. How this “evil one” must be laughing up his sleeve at the sight of committed Catholics arguing between themselves about a hierarchy of life issues rather than celebrating the fact that some commit their time to defending the unborn while others go out to address the needs of refugees and migrants!

The Pope finishes: “Let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort. In this way, we will share a happiness that the world will not be able to take from us.” Let us encourage one another, even when our sensibilities are different. Let us use this Exhortation to seek for greater holiness and so a fuller life and greater happiness.

 

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Pope Francis writes to each one of us about striving for holiness in today’s world

Below are some questions and answers on the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate.

Why did the Pope write this Exhortation, and why now?

Helping people to be holy is one of the Church’s main tasks, in every era. The Second Vatican Council spoke of the “universal call to holiness”. Pope Francis has written not an academic or doctrinal text, but an apostolic exhortation whose goal is “to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time.” It is an invitation to a journey that takes place in the concrete here and now of our daily lives, in small gestures and little things, in which we are led more and more by God’s grace.

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis spoke of the call to all the faithful to be missionary disciples; Gaudete et Exsultate is about the mission at the heart of that call, which is to be in relationship with Jesus Christ, who stirs our desire for holiness and enables us, by his power rather than ours, to get there. Holiness is for all of us, not a select few. He wants us to know that it is our destiny; it’s what God has planned for us; and yet there is nothing intimidating or overpowering about it; rather it is a liberation, a way of becoming who we really are.

What is new about Gaudete et Exsultate?

St John Paul II and Benedict XVI spoke often about the universal call to holiness, with the former in Novo Millennio Ineunte, 30-31 inviting the Church’s pastoral planning to include a “training in holiness”, above all in the art of prayer.

Gaudete et Exsultate is addressed personally to each and every one of us, whatever our state in life or level of education or development. Pope Francis often uses the informal singular expression tu (in Latin languages), which is how we speak one at a time to friends and family. So Francis is extending a personal invitation to follow Christ.

Second, it is deliberately lay in its language and invitation, aimed at people who live in the world, who have jobs and families and busy lives with many different pressures. Pope Francis wants people to know that they need no special education or qualifications, nor to take religious vows: just an open heart and a desire to spend some time with the Lord in prayer and by reading the Gospel. He also wants people to know that the Church has everything they need to become holy, and it is all available to them.

Third, the pope shows us, in very practical ways, how the journey to holiness is undertaken, and how it makes us more alive and more human.

How does he suggest people will become holy?

Much of what Pope Francis suggests is well known in Catholic life: to make time for prayer, to frequent the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession, to do a daily examination of conscience, and to read the Gospel regularly, so that Christ’s life and ours become ever more closely identified. But he makes a very strong connection between these “spiritual” activities and actions rooted in mercy. In fact, he says they cannot be separated, and the authenticity of our prayer will be shown in how we become and act more humbly and more mercifully. This is rooted in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus offers a very clear path to holiness in the Beatitudes in Chapter 5. Then in Chapter 25 we find the “one clear criterion on which we will be judged” at the end of time, namely how we have responded to the concrete needs of others, especially the poor. There is no holiness without this. It involves believing, praying and doing in ways that can’t be separated.

The document has an entire chapter about two ancient heresies. Why does Pope Francis seem so preoccupied with them?

Pope Francis has referred frequently to the dangers of the modern-day versions of Gnosticism and Pelagianism, and a February document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called Placuit Deo explains them in detail. They are temptations, false paths to salvation that might look superficially like Christianity but  are ways of seeking salvation not through the power of Christ but through the power of ideas or human effort. Pope Francis explains this in everyday language so that everyone can be aware of these dangers. In effect, he’s telling us how to spot and therefore avoid these “false forms of holiness”, which try to make human beings, not Christ, the agent of our salvation. Because these false forms appear to be very Catholic, they can take us in.

He tells us, for example, to be aware of beautiful ideas that seem to explain everything in a complex logical system, or of an excessive emphasis on rules and methods. He warns us about a “punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige”, for example. Reason, liturgy, laws – these are all good, but means to an end, to open us to Grace, not ends in themselves.

The key point is that we are saved – we become holy – not by our own sophisticated ideas or strong efforts but by being constantly open to the assistance God offers us, in our weakness. This help, or Grace, is not a reward for the righteous, but a way of assisting those who turn to God in need. Equally, the most important thing, says Pope Francis, is the way we respond to the least of our brothers and sisters. We are justified not by our works and efforts but by the grace of God, who always takes the initiative. Grace is God’s free gift to us – including our own desire to be holy. So becoming holy is about a progressive transformation in response to God’s free gift freely accepted and received by us.

No. 58 warns against the Church becoming “a museum piece or the possession of a select few”. Who is he talking about?

The “new Pelagians” in the Church: he does not name particular groups, but warns against “groups of Christians” who “give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting”. This “may well be a subtle form of Pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures”. This explains, he says, why certain groups or movements start with an intense life in the Spirit but end up “fossilized … or corrupt.”

Why does the Pope insist so much on the dangers of gossip? (No. 87)

The pope has often talked before about gossip, and has referred to it as a form of violence that destroys communities, sowing division and suspicion. Early in the document (no. 16) he gives an example of “everyday” holiness when a person meets someone out shopping and decides to refrain from engaging in gossip.  Speaking about the Beatitudes in no. 87 he gives the opposite example of hearing something about someone, repeating it and embellishing it, “and the more harm it does, the more satisfaction I seem to derive from it.  The world of gossip, inhabited by negative and destructive people, does not bring peace.  Such people are really the enemies of peace; in no way are they ‘blessed’.”

He sees the destructive power of gossip amplified by social media. In no. 115  he warns that Christians “can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication” and that “even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned.”  He says it is striking how, at times Catholics who claim to uphold the other commandments completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others.

In No. 98, Pope Francis gives the example of encountering a homeless person on a cold night. Does he mean to suggest that I am obliged to help that person there and then?

He is not offering a precept, but illustrating how holiness changes the way we view the world, and especially our fellow human beings. If I see this person not as a problem but as a brother or sister in need, then I am seeing them, as it were, through the eyes of Christ. What action flows from this will rightly depend on various factors. In the following paragraph he mentions the way we suffer “a constant and unhealthy unease” when we look at the world this way. It’s a sign of our growth in holiness.

Without using the word abortion, the Pope seems to argue in No. 101 that there is a moral equivalency between abortion and a number of other practices that destroy human dignity. Is this the case?

Pope Francis is here criticising an unholy attitude which separates off one area of ethical concern from all the rest and absolutizes it. And he offers the very common example of a Catholic who believes passionately in the pro-life cause while dismissing the social engagement of other Catholics as in some way ‘political’. The call to holiness requires a larger view, so that loving your neighbour means being concerned for anyone whose human dignity is under threat. Two of many examples are a family forced to flee their home because of bloodshed, or someone who has been trafficked into prostitution. Because we can’t be equally concerned all the time with every threat to human dignity, we should be grateful that others are responding where we cannot. He’s not getting it into the relative weight these issues have in moral theology but talking about the attitudes that holiness brings.

The pope appears to suggest that to be a Christian you have to care about migrants and receive anyone in need who comes to your border.

The Pope has never said that all migrants have to be received or welcomed. He has encouraged wealthier countries to be generous, and to see that immigrants can be integrated into the societies into which they come. He has always talked about building bridges, and against walls to keep people out. He has spoken of the importance of seeing migrants not as statistics but as people. Here he makes the point that the plight of migrants is not a ‘secondary’ or lesser ethical issue, and criticizes Catholics who “consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions”. The call to holiness is a call to put the Gospel into action, and that also means welcoming the foreigner (Mt 25:35).

“We may think that we give glory to God only by our worship and prayer, or simply by following certain ethical norms”, he says  in no. 104, but while “it is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God” we cannot forget that “the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others.” Our worship becomes pleasing to God “when we devote ourselves to living generously, and allow God’s gift, granted in prayer, to be shown in our concern for our brothers and sisters.” Similarly, “the best way to discern if our prayer is authentic is to judge to what extent our life is being transformed in the light of mercy” (no. 105).

In Nos. 160 and 161, the Pope pays a lot of attention to the devil. Given that, he presumably believes in hell as well?

Pope Francis has regularly referred elsewhere to hell, and reports that he in some way questions its existence were untrue. In his Lent message for 2016, for example, he described hell as the opposite destiny to the holiness he describes here – and for the same reason: “Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell.” In March 2014 he warned mafia bosses to stop their lives of violence and extortion, telling them:  “There is still time to avoid ending up in hell. That is what is waiting for you if you continue on this path.”

Here he does not mention hell but the devil, warning that any journey to holiness will involve being assailed by the enemy of holiness. This is a constant struggle, not just a one-off event, and knowing this is key: Holiness is a series of victories over the devil’s temptations.

He warns that if we think of the devil as merely a symbol or an idea, we will let down our guard. But in the Church the Lord has given us many powerful weapons against the devil’s efforts, particularly the gift of discernment, which is particularly necessary today when there is much to distract us that seems superficially good.

* * *

Pope Francis notes that while the Lord speaks to us “in a variety of ways, at work, through others and at every moment”,  we cannot do without the silence of prolonged prayer, which allows us “to see the whole of our existence afresh in his own light” and allows “the birth of a new synthesis that springs from a life inspired by the Spirit.”

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Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation on holiness: a summary

This summary of the Apostolic Exhortation GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE of the Holy Father Pope Francis on the call to holiness in today’s world has been distributed to journalists today by the Holy See.

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This is not an academic or doctrinal text. Its goal is “to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time.”

CHAPTER 1: THE CALL TO HOLINESS

There are many kinds of saints. Besides the Church’s officially recognized saints, many more ordinary people have been hidden from history books yet have been decisive in changing the world. They include many Christian witnesses whose martyrdom is a feature of our time. “Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.” Holiness is experiencing the mysteries of Christ’s life, “constantly dying and rising anew with him”, and reproducing aspects of his earthly life: his closeness to the outcast, his poverty, his self-sacrificing love. “Allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world”, in a mission to build the kingdom of love, justice and universal peace.

Holiness is as diverse as humanity; the Lord has in mind a particular path for each believer, not just the clergy, the consecrated, or those who live a contemplative life. We are all called to holiness, whatever our role, “by living our lives with love and bearing witness”, and in the everyday turning to God. Among ways of bearing witness are “feminine styles of holiness”, of famous women saints and the “unknown and forgotten” women who daily transform their communities. As well as through big challenges, holiness grows through small gestures: refusing to gossip, listening with patience and love, saying a kind word to a poor person.

Holiness keeps you faithful to your deepest self, free from every form of enslavement, and bearing fruit for our world. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace. But we need moments of solitude and silence before God, to face our true selves and let the Lord enter.

CHAPTER 2: TWO SUBTLE ENEMIES OF HOLINESS

Gnosticism and Pelagianism, two “false forms of holiness” from early Church history, still lead us astray. These heresies propose “an anthropocentric immanentism disguised as Catholic truth” by exaggerating human perfection without grace.

Gnostics fail to realize that our perfection is measured by the depth of our charity, not by information or knowledge. Separating intellect from the flesh, they reduce Jesus’s teaching to a cold and harsh logic that seeks to dominate everything. But doctrine “is not a closed system, devoid of the dynamic capacity to pose questions, doubts, inquiries”. Christian experience is not a set of intellectual exercises; true Christian wisdom can never be separated from mercy towards our neighbour.

The same power that Gnosticism attributed to the intellect, Pelagianism attributed to the human will, to personal effort. Though modern Pelagians speak warmly of God’s grace, they suggest that human will is something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added. They fail to realize that in this life human weaknesses are not healed completely and once for all by grace.

Grace builds on nature. It does not make us superhuman but takes hold of us and transforms us progressively. If we reject this historical and progressive reality, we can actually refuse and block the grace of the Lord. His friendship infinitely transcends us: we cannot buy it with our works, it can only be a gift born of his loving initiative. Only this permits us to cooperate by our own efforts in our progressive transformation.

Whenthey overvalue human will and their own abilities, some Christians can tend towards obsession with the law; an absorption with social and political advantages; punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige; vanity about the ability to manage practical matters; and an excessive concern with programmes of self-help and personal fulfilment as well as certain rules, customs or ways of acting. The life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few.  This deprives the Gospel of its simplicity, allure and savour, and reduces it to a blueprint that leaves few openings for the working of grace.

CHAPTER 3: IN THE LIGHT OF THE MASTER

The Beatitudes are Jesus’s portrayal of what it means to be holy in our daily lives. Here “happy” and “blessed” become synonymous with “holy”. We gain true happiness by faithful practice of the Beatitudes. We can only practice them if the Holy Spirit fills us with his power and frees us from our weakness, selfishness, complacency and pride.

Pope Francis describes each of the Beatitudes and their invitation, concluding each section

  • “Being poor of heart: that is holiness.”
  • “Reacting with meekness and humility: that is holiness.”
  • “Knowing how to mourn with others: that is holiness.”
  • “Hungering and thirsting for righteousness: that is holiness.”
  • “Seeing and acting with mercy: that is holiness.”
  • “Keeping a heart free of all that tarnishes love: that is holiness.”
  • “Sowing peace all around us: that is holiness.”
  • “Accepting daily the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems: that is holiness.”

In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (vv. 31-46), Jesus expands on the Beatitude about mercy. “If we seek the holiness pleasing to God’s eyes, this text offers us one clear criterion on which we will be judged.” When we recognize Christ in the poor and the suffering, we see into the very heart of Christ, his deepest feelings and choices. “Our Lord made it very clear that holiness cannot be understood or lived apart from these demands”.

Misleading ideologies can lead us on the one hand to separate these Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, so that Christianity becomes a sort of NGO stripped of the luminous mysticism so evident in the lives of saints. On the other hand, there are those who dismiss the social engagement of others as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist; their own particular ethical preoccupation outweighs all others.

Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.  But “equally sacred” are the lives of the poor, the destitute, the abandoned and underprivileged; the infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia; victims of human trafficking and new forms of slavery. Nor should the situation of migrants be a lesser issue compared to “grave” bioethical questions. For a Christian “the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children.”

CHAPTER 4: SIGNS OF HOLINESS IN TODAY’S WORLD

The Pope speaks next about “certain aspects of the call to holiness that I hope will prove especially meaningful”, in the form of “five great expressions of love for God and neighbour that I consider of particular importance in the light of certain dangers and limitations present in today’s culture.”

1) Perseverance, patience and meekness.

This describes the inner strength, grounded in God, that makes it possible to give a witness of constancy in doing good. We need to recognize and combat our aggressive and selfish inclinations. Christians “can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication.” Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace. “It is striking that at times, in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others.”

It is not good when we look down on others like heartless judges, lording it over them and always trying to teach them lessons. That is itself a subtle form of violence.

Being on the path to holiness means enduring “daily humiliations”, e.g. “those who keep silent to save their families, who prefer to praise others rather than boast about themselves, or who choose the less welcome tasks, at times even choosing to bear an injustice so as to offer it to the Lord.” To act in this way “presumes a heart set at peace by Christ, freed from the aggressiveness born of overweening egotism.”

2) Joy and a sense of humour

The saints are joyful and full of good humour.  They radiate a positive and hopeful spirit, even in hard times. Ill humour is no sign of holiness.  Sadness can be a sign of ingratitude for God’s gifts. Today’s individualistic and consumerist culture does not dispense real joy; consumerism only bloats the heart.

3) Boldness and passion

Holiness is also parrhesía: boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world. “Boldness and apostolic courage are an essential part of mission.” If we dare to go to the fringes, we will find Jesus already there, in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, in their wounded flesh, their troubles and their profound desolation.

More than bureaucrats and functionaries, the Church needs passionate missionaries, enthusiastic about sharing true life. The saints surprise us, they confound us, because by their lives they urge us to abandon a dull and dreary mediocrity. The Holy Spirit allows us to contemplate history in the light of the risen Jesus.  In this way, the Church will not stand still, but constantly welcome the Lord’s surprises.

4) In community

Growth in holiness is a journey of living and working in community with others. Sharing the word and celebrating the Eucharist together fosters fraternity and makes us a holy and missionary community.  It also gives rise to authentic and shared mystical experiences.

Such experiences, however, are less frequent and important than small everyday things. Jesus asked his disciples to pay attention to small details: wine running out at a party, a missing sheep, a widow’s two small coins. Sometimes we are granted, amid these little details, consoling experiences of God.

5) In constant prayer

Trust-filled prayer of any length is a response of a heart open to encountering God face to face, where the quiet voice of the Lord can be heard. In that silence, we can discern the paths of holiness to which the Lord is calling us. For each disciple, it is essential to spend time with the Master, to listen to his words, and to learn from him always.

God enters our history, and so our prayer is interwoven with memories. Think of your own history when you pray, and there you will find much mercy.

Prayer of supplicationis an expression of a heart that trusts in God and realizes that it can do nothing of itself. Prayer of petitionoften calms our hearts and helps us persevere in hope.  Prayer of intercessionis an act of trust in God and, at the same time, an expression of love for our neighbour.

In the Eucharist, the written word attains its greatest efficacy, for there the living Word is truly present.

CHAPTER 5: SPIRITUAL COMBAT, VIGILANCE AND DISCERNMENT

Evil is present from the very first pages of the Scriptures. We should not dismiss the devil as a myth, a figure of speech or an idea, lest we let down our guard and end up more vulnerable.

Our path towards holiness is a constant battle for which the Lord equips us with prayer, the word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation, works of charity, etc.

The path of holiness is a source of peace and joy, given to us by the Spirit. How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit, not from the spirit of the world or the devil? By discernment, which differs from intelligence and common sense. The gift of discernment is all the more necessary today because contemporary life proclaims so many distractions as equally valid and good.

Discernment is a grace. It is not only for the more intelligent or better educated. It requires no special abilities, but it does require listening: to the Lord and to others, and to reality itself, which always challenges us in new ways.  Listening frees us to set aside our own partial or insufficient ideas, our usual ways of seeing things. We need to discern God’s timetable, lest we disregard his invitation to grow. For this reason, I ask all Christians to examine their conscience daily in sincere dialogue with the Lord.

We need the silence of prolonged prayer to better perceive God’s language, interpret the real meaning of the inspirations we believe we have received, calm our anxieties and see the whole of our existence afresh in God’s own light.

Our attentive discernment entails obedience to the Gospel as the ultimate standard, but also to the Magisterium that guards it, as we seek in the treasury of the Church for whatever is most fruitful for the “today” of salvation; for rigidity has no place before the perennial “today” of the risen Lord.

God asks everything of us, yet he also gives everything to us.  He does not want to enter our lives to diminish them but to bring them to fulfilment. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort. In this way, we will share a happiness that the world will not be able to take from us.

Rome, 19 March 2018

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The Same Truths, New Methods: capturing the conversation at the Pre-Synod Meeting of Young People

[Isaac Withers]

If I can impress upon you one thing about the pre-Synod meeting of young people, it would be that the organisers of this event entirely trusted the young people present to lead it. It was my joy to be there representing England and Wales. The three hundred of us at the meeting were divided into language groups of about a dozen members that produced amazing international conversations. My group had representatives from everywhere from Austria to Iran, and from Sierra Leone to Thailand and every relevant topic you can imagine was discussed. As the Pope had invited atheists and members of other faiths, it meant that outside perspectives on the Church were also present.

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After discussion the time came to create something to represent that dialogue, a document. I was fortunate to be selected to be on the writing team. We hunkered down in a library, surrounded ourselves with the minutes from these meetings, and tried to write something that represented everybody. You can read the resulting document here.

What was key to the writing of the document was the ability to state that people disagreed on things. This gave us the freedom to give some nuance and be true to the dialogues that had taken place. Given that there are so many different approaches, including some from outside the faith, it was fascinating to attempt to give them all a voice, including the secular. I cannot properly convey the energy of that writing room, how suddenly this impossible task became possible to us as we watched young people from all over the world say the same things to us on the page.

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Here are a few key points that were repeated by many, and how they appear in the document.

  • Dissatisfaction at the parish level: Many expressed that the parish, and its potential lack of community or understanding, is a reason why some young people leave the Church. The document records that many young people ‘leave after experiencing indifference, judgment and rejection. One could attend, participate in, and leave Mass without experiencing a sense of community or family as the Body of Christ.’
  • Initiatives outside of the parish: Many also spoke of the life they had found outside of the Parish, which both engaged them in the faith and explained it to them. ‘We respond to initiatives that offer us an understanding of the Sacraments, prayer and the liturgy, in order to properly share and defend our faith in the secular world’ stating that many movements ‘have developed fruitful ways to not only evangelize young people, but also their peers.’ In my experience, and it seemed in the lives of others present, this energy often bursts out separate from the parish into these great lay initiatives.
  • Breakdown of the family: discussing the formation of the young person, the family came up a lot, all seemingly noting the modern struggles of family life. The document reports that ‘traditional family models in other places are in decline. This leads to young people suffering as well.’ It goes on to suggest that the Church can model ‘healing for our families’.
  • The role of women in the Church and the world: there was a big conversation around women during the Synod, with a general feeling that women were not being given enough substantive roles in the Church. The document speaks of women four times, partly because it was written in three sections by three separate writing teams, which shows how prevalent this issue is. The document states that there is, ‘a general problem in society in that women are still not given an equal place’but also that whilst there are, ‘great examples of women serving in consecrated religious communities and in lay leadership roles… for some young women, these examples are not always visible.’ The question, ‘what are the places where women can flourish within the Church and society?’ is posed, with the document asking for the Church to ‘deepen its understanding of the role of women’.
  • A humble Church: in regard to the Church’s manner, the scandals of the Church’s history were discussed a lot. ‘…Scandals attributed to the Church – both real and perceived – affect the confidence of young people’, ‘A credible Church is one which is not too afraid to allow itself to be seen as vulnerable.’
  • Engaging new ways of communicating: Surprisingly, it was not just western countries that spoke of struggling with ‘an increasingly secular society’, and there was a general feeling that the Church was not communicating well in this new context and with new media. The document represents this by saying ‘we desire that the Church spread this message through modern means of communication and expression’ especially through ‘social media as well as other digital spaces, to more easily and effectively offer information about the Church and its teachings’. Many recognised that social media can be dangerous in ways that manifest, ‘through isolation, laziness, desolation and boredom’ which can also create ‘a delusional parallel reality’ but there was consensus that ‘the internet offers the Church an unprecedented evangelical opportunity’.
  • A willingness to lead: the section first written about young leaders was barely edited over the drafts. It states that young people in the Church feel that they‘are ready to be leaders, who can grow and be taught by older members of the Church, by religious and lay women and men’ asking for this support in the form of ‘leadership programmes for the formation and continued development of young leaders.’ Creativity surfaced a lot too, with many feeling that the creative side of the Church was, ‘often dominated by older Church members.’

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What is common to these points is that young people want to know why the Church says what it does, and for it to express it in modern ways, accessible to young people of today.

My hope for the future of this Synod is that these concerns are taken seriously and are not dismissed either by the inaccurate idea that this event was stage-managed from above, or that our voices do not matter because we are young.

The document gives a picture of where young people are. If we hope to understand and evangelise young people, then talking to them is an obvious and yet ground-breaking thing for the Church to have done.

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US Catholic Bishops support March for Our Lives

[Christopher White]

Addressing the United States Congress in September 2015, Pope Francis asked: “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?”

He continued: “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.”

On Saturday, March 24, protest over innocent blood being spilt materialized in the first ever March for Our Lives — which drew over 200,000 young protestors to Washington, D.C., cities in all 50 states, and places such as London and Sydney — in response to the Parkland school massacre, where 17 students and teachers were killed in Florida this past February.

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Since 2010, there have been over 150 school shootings in the United States, and the March for Our Lives was a direct response, calling for stricter gun control legislation in the U.S. — a plea that has been echoed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

In a statement released in early March, the U.S. bishops called on Congress to find “concrete proposals” in response to the “crisis of gun violence.”

The bishops also said that President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm teachers in the classroom “seems to raise more concerns than it addresses” and instead advocated for raising the age of gun ownership, banning bump stocks, and requiring universal background checks as solutions that offer “more promise.”

These petitions, among others, were among the proposals being supported by attendees at Saturday’s March for Our Lives, which included a number of U.S. Catholic student groups who participated in the historic event (see here and here for accounts).

While the March for Our Lives was student driven, much of the financial support came from gun safety organizations and celebrity donors. Although it did not have the official backing of the USCCB, many individual bishops offered their support for the event, often taking to social media to offer their endorsement and prayers.

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A wide range of U.S. prelates, spanning the ideological and geographical spectrum, chimed in:

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston spoke at a local Mass for Peace, Justice, and Healing where he praised the example of Parkland students who galvanized the nation into action.

“They have helped us to realize that these tragedies victimize people from all walks of life, from every class and ethnicity. We owe these students and those who will join them today our support and our gratitude,” he said.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island — a strong pro-life voice among the U.S. bishops, who has publicly announced that he switched his party registration from the Democratic Party to Republicans over the issue of abortion — also took to Twitter on Saturday to voice his support of gun regulations.

“It seems to me that private citizens shouldn’t be permitted to own assault rifles any more than then they can own chemical weapons of mass destruction. How about a little common sense in this public debate?,” he wrote.

Bishop Bill Wack of the diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in Florida also offered his support, making a direct connection to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. in protest of abortion, which regularly draws crowds of nearly half a million individuals and enjoys widespread Catholic backing.

“It’s good to see so many young people raising their voices against gun violence, just as it is inspiring to see them at the March For Life every year. We must be pro-life in all of life’s beautiful forms and stages. God, give us the gift of peace,” Wack wrote on Twitter.

(For a full summary of responses from U.S. bishops, see my Crux wrap-up here.)

A series of high-profile incidents of gun violence over the past year have led to increasingly vocal responses from the U.S. bishops.

Last October, a gunman killed over 50 individuals and injured over 800 others at a concert in Las Vegas and one month later, a gunman opened fire in a Texas church in Sutherland Springs, killing 26 individuals and injuring 20 more.

Following these events, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. bishops, issued a statement where he said the violence confirmed a “fundamental problem” in America.

“This incomprehensibly tragic event joins an ever-growing list of mass shootings, some of which were also at churches while people were worshipping and at prayer,” DiNardo said after the Texas shooting.

“A Culture of Life cannot tolerate, and must prevent, senseless gun violence in all its forms.  May the Lord, who Himself is Peace, send us His Spirit of charity and nonviolence to nurture His peace among us all,” he added.

The U.S. bishops have had a long-standing policy that supports tighter gun control legislation that balances support for the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms.

In 1994, when the U.S. Congress passed a ban on assault weapons, the U.S. bishops supported it. The ban, which was up for renewal in 2004, failed to pass — despite continued support from the bishops’ conference.

In a 2000, the U.S. bishops released a major document, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,” in which they held that “in the long run and with few exceptions (i.e., police officers, military use), handguns should be eliminated from our society.”

Among the general policies advanced by the U.S. bishops’ include: “Measures that control the sale and use of firearms, such as universal background checks for all gun purchases; Limitations on civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines; A federal law to criminalize gun trafficking; Improved access to and increased resources for mental health care and earlier interventions; Measures that make guns safer, such as locks that prevent children and anyone other than the owner from using the gun without permission and supervision; and an honest assessment of the toll of violent images and experiences which inundate people, particularly our youth.”

Following the Parkland school shooting, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who led the Denver archdiocese at the time of the 1997 Columbine High School massacre, lamented: “nothing seems to change, no matter how brutal the cost. Terrible things happen; pious statements are released and the nation goes back to its self-absorbed distractions.”

On the eve of the March for Our Lives, the Trump administration announced that it was moving to end the sale of bump stocks, devices that allow for automatic weapons to effectively function as a machine gun through continuous firing of ammunition.

Such a move is one that certainly falls within the parameters supported by the U.S. bishops, though it is largely viewed as only a first step toward pursuing more effective policies to reduce gun violence in a nation reeling from this “fundamental problem.”

Christopher White is the national correspondent for Crux. Follow him on Twitter @CWWhite212.

 

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