Pope’s Apostolic Letter ‘Misericordia et Misera’ – full text

[The full text follows of Pope Francis’s apostolic letter concluding the Year of Mercy, released today in which he extends priests’ faculty to forgive sins of abortion as well as the Society of Pius X to give sacramental absolution, and institutes a new World Day of the Poor on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time. For summary and reports, see Crux here, and here.]

Misericordia et misera

Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis 

at the Conclusion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy

FRANCIS

TO ALL WHO READ THIS APOSTOLIC LETTER MERCY AND PEACE

Misericordia et misera is a phrase used by Saint Augustine in recounting the story of Jesus’ meeting with the woman taken in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11). It would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful or apt way of expressing the mystery of God’s love when it touches the sinner: “the two of them alone remained: mercy with misery”.1 What great mercy and divine justice shine forth in this narrative! Its teaching serves not only to throw light on the conclusion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, but also to point out the path that we are called to follow in the future.

This page of the Gospel could easily serve as an icon of what we have celebrated during the Holy Year, a time rich in mercy, which must continue to be celebrated and lived out in our communities. Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church; it constitutes her very existence, through which the profound truths of the Gospel are made manifest and tangible. Everything is revealed in mercy; everything is resolved in the merciful love of the Father.

1. A woman and Jesus meet. She is an adulteress and, in the eyes of the Law, liable to be stoned. Jesus, through his preaching and the total gift of himself that would lead him to the Cross, returned the Mosaic Law to its true and original intent. Here what is central is not the law or legal justice, but the love of God, which is capable of looking into the heart of each person and seeing the deepest desire hidden there; God’s love must take primacy over all else. This Gospel account, however, is not an encounter of sin and judgement in the abstract, but of a sinner and her Saviour. Jesus looked that woman in the eye and read in her heart a desire to be understood, forgiven and set free. The misery of sin was clothed with the mercy of love. Jesus’ only judgement is one filled with mercy and compassion for the condition of this sinner. To those who wished to judge and condemn her to death, Jesus replies with a lengthy silence. His purpose was to let God’s voice be heard in the conscience not only of the woman, but also in those of her accusers, who drop their stones and one by one leave the scene (cf. Jn 8:9). Jesus then says: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?… Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on do not sin again” (vv. 10-11). Jesus helps the woman to look to the future with hope and to make a new start in life. Henceforth, if she so desires, she can “walk in charity” (Eph 5:2). Once clothed in mercy, even if the inclination to sin remains, it is overcome by the love that makes it possible for her to look ahead and to live her life differently.

2. Jesus had taught this clearly on another occasion, when he had been invited to dine at the home of a Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:36-50) and a woman, known by everyone to be a sinner, approached him. She poured perfume over his feet, bathed them with her tears and dried them with her hair (cf. vv. 37-38). To the scandalized reaction of the Pharisee, Jesus replied: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (v. 47). Forgiveness is the most visible sign of the Father’s love, which Jesus sought to reveal by his entire life. Every page of the Gospel is marked by this imperative of a love that loves to the point of forgiveness. Even at the last moment of his earthly life, as he was being nailed to the cross, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”(Lk 23:34).

Nothing of what a repentant sinner places before God’s mercy can be excluded from the embrace of his forgiveness. For this reason, none of us has the right to make forgiveness conditional. Mercy is always a gratuitous act of our heavenly Father, an unconditional and unmerited act of love. Consequently, we cannot risk opposing the full freedom of the love with which God enters into the life of every person.

Mercy is this concrete action of love that, by forgiving, transforms and changes our lives. In this way, the divine mystery of mercy is made manifest. God is merciful (cf. Ex 34:6); his mercy lasts forever (cf. Ps 136). From generation to generation, it embraces all those who trust in him and it changes them, by bestowing a share in his very life.

3. What great joy welled up in the heart of these two women. Forgiveness made them feel free at last and happy as never before. Their tears of shame and pain turned into the smile of a person who knows that he or she is loved. Mercy gives rise to joy, because our hearts are opened to the hope of a new life. The joy of forgiveness is inexpressible, yet it radiates all around us whenever we experience forgiveness. Its source is in the love with which God comes to meet us, breaking through walls of selfishness that surround us, in order to make us in turn instruments of mercy.

How meaningful in this regard are the words of encouragement found in an early Christian text: “Clothe yourselves in joy, which always is agreeable and acceptable to God, and rejoice in it. For all who are joyful do what is good, think what is good, and despise sadness… All who put aside sadness and put on joy will live in God”.2 The experience of mercy brings joy. May we never allow this joy to be robbed from us by our troubles and concerns. May it remain rooted in our hearts and enable us to approach with serenity the events of our daily lives.

In a culture often dominated by technology, sadness and loneliness appear to be on the rise, not least among young people. The future seems prey to an uncertainty that does not make for stability. This often gives rise to depression, sadness and boredom, which can gradually lead to despair. We need witnesses to hope and true joy if we are to dispel the illusions that promise quick and easy happiness through artificial paradises. The profound sense of emptiness felt by so many people can be overcome by the hope we bear in our hearts and by the joy that it gives. We need to acknowledge the joy that rises up in a heart touched by mercy. Let us keep in mind, then, the words of the Apostle: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4; cf. 1 Thess 5:16).

4. We have celebrated an intense Jubilee Year in which we have received the grace of mercy in abundance. Like a gusting but wholesome wind, the Lord’s goodness and mercy have swept through the entire world. Because each of us has experienced at length this loving gaze of God, we cannot remain unaffected, for it changes our lives.

We feel the need above all to thank the Lord and to tell him: “Lord, you have been favourable to your land… You have forgiven the iniquity of your people” (Ps 85:1-2). So it is. God has subdued our iniquities and cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (cf. Mic 7:19). He no longer remembers them, since he has cast them behind his back (cf. Is 38:17). As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (cf. Ps 103:12).

In this Holy Year, the Church listened attentively and experienced intensely the presence and closeness of the Father, who with the Holy Spirit has enabled her to see with greater clarity the gift and mandate of Jesus Christ regarding forgiveness. It has truly been like a new visitation of the Lord among us. We have felt his life-giving breath poured out upon the Church and, once again, his words have pointed out our mission: “Receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).

5. Now, at the conclusion of this Jubilee, it is time to look to the future and to understand how best to continue, with joy, fidelity and enthusiasm, experiencing the richness of God’s mercy. Our communities can remain alive and active in the work of the new evangelization in the measure that the “pastoral conversion” to which we are called3 will be shaped daily by the renewing force of mercy. Let us not limit its action; let us not sadden the Spirit, who constantly points out new paths to take in bringing to everyone the Gospel of salvation.

First, we are called to celebrate mercy. What great richness is present in the Church’s prayer when she invokes God as the Father of mercies! In the liturgy, mercy is not only repeatedly implored, but is truly received and experienced. From the beginning to the end of the Eucharistic celebration, mercy constantly appears in the dialogue between the assembly at prayer and the heart of the Father, who rejoices to bestow his merciful love. After first pleading for forgiveness with the invocation “Lord have mercy”, we are immediately reassured: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and lead us to everlasting life”. With this confidence, the community gathers in the presence of the Lord, particularly on the holy day of the resurrection. Many of the Collect prayers are meant to remind us of the great gift of mercy. In Lent, for example, we pray: “O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving have shown us a remedy for sin, look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy”.4 We are immersed in the great Eucharistic Prayer with the Preface that proclaims: “You so loved the world that in your mercy you sent us the Redeemer, to live like us in all things but sin.5 The Fourth Eucharistic Prayer is a hymn to God’s mercy: “For you came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find you”. “Have mercy on us all”6 is the insistent plea made by the priest in the Eucharistic Prayer to implore a share in eternal life. After the Our Father, the priest continues by invoking peace and liberation from sin by the “aid of your mercy”. And before the sign of peace, exchanged as an expression of fraternity and mutual love in the light of forgiveness received, the priest prays: “Look not upon on our sins but on the faith of your Church”.7 In these words, with humble trust we beseech the gift of unity and peace for Holy Mother Church. The celebration of divine mercy culminates in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the memorial of Christ’s paschal mystery, the source of salvation for every human being, for history and for the whole world. In a word, each moment of the Eucharistic celebration refers to God’s mercy.

In the sacramental life, mercy is granted us in abundance. It is not without significance that the Church mentions mercy explicitly in the formulae of the two ‘sacraments of healing’, namely, the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. In the first, the formula of absolution reads: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace”.8

In the second, the formula of anointing reads: “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit”.9 In the Church’s prayer, then, references to mercy, far from being merely exhortative, are highly performative, which is to say that as we invoke mercy with faith, it is granted to us, and as we confess it to be vital and real, it transforms us. This is a fundamental element of our faith, and we must keep it constantly in mind. Even before the revelation of sin, there is the revelation of the love by which God created the world and human beings. Love is the first act whereby God reveals himself and turns towards us. So let us open our hearts and trust in God’s love for us. His love always precedes us, accompanies us and remains with us, despite our sin.

6. In this context, hearing the word of God takes on particular significance. Each Sunday, God’s word is proclaimed in the Christian community so that the Lord’s Day may be illuminated by the paschal mystery.10 In the Eucharistic celebration, we seem to witness a true dialogue between God and his people. In the biblical readings, we retrace the history of our salvation through the proclamation of God’s tireless work of mercy. The Lord continues to speak to us today as to friends; he dwells in our midst,11 in order to accompany us and show us the path of life. His word gives a voice to our inmost needs and worries, and offers a fruitful response, so that we can concretely experience his closeness to us. Hence the importance of the homily, in which “truth goes hand in hand with beauty and goodness”12 so that the hearts of believers may thrill before the grandeur of mercy! I strongly encourage that great care be given to preparing the homily and to preaching in general. A priest’s preaching will be fruitful to the extent that he himself has experienced the merciful goodness of the Lord. Communicating the certainty that God loves us is not an exercise in rhetoric, but a condition for the credibility of one’s priesthood. The personal experience of mercy is the best way to make it a true message of consolation and conversion in the pastoral ministry. Both homiletics and catechesis need to be sustained by this pulsing heart of the Christian life.

7. The Bible is the great story of the marvels of God’s mercy. Every one of its pages is steeped in the love of the Father who from the moment of creation wished to impress the signs of his love on the universe. Through the words of the prophets and the wisdom writings, the Holy Spirit shaped the history of Israel as a recognition of God’s closeness and love, despite the people’s infidelity. Jesus’s life and preaching decisively marked the history of the Christian community, which has viewed its mission in terms of Christ’s command to be a permanent instrument of his mercy and forgiveness (cf. Jn 20:23). Through Sacred Scripture, kept alive by the faith of the Church, the Lord continues to speak to his Bride, showing her the path she must take to enable the Gospel of salvation to reach all mankind. I greatly desire that God’s word be increasingly celebrated, known and disseminated, so that the mystery of love streaming from this font of mercy may be ever better understood. As the Apostle tells us clearly: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).

It would be beneficial if every Christian community, on one Sunday of the liturgical year, could renew its efforts to make the Sacred Scriptures better known and more widely diffused. It would be a Sunday given over entirely to the word of God, so as to appreciate the inexhaustible riches contained in that constant dialogue between the Lord and his people. Creative initiatives can help make this an opportunity for the faithful to become living vessels for the transmission of God’s word. Initiatives of this sort would certainly include the practice of lectio divina, so that the prayerful reading of the sacred text will help support and strengthen the spiritual life. Such a reading, centred on themes relating to mercy, will enable a personal experience of the great fruitfulness of the biblical text – read in the light of the Church’s spiritual tradition – and thus give rise to concrete gestures and works of charity.13

8. The celebration of mercy takes place in a very particular way in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Here we feel the embrace of the Father, who comes forth to meet us and grant us the grace of being once more his sons and daughters. We are sinners and we bear the burden of contradiction between what we wish to do and what we do in fact (cf. Rom 7:14-21). Yet grace always precedes us and takes on the face of the mercy that effects our reconciliation and pardon. God makes us understand his great love for us precisely when we recognize that we are sinners. Grace is stronger than sin: it overcomes resistance, because love conquers all (cf. 1 Cor 13:7).

In the sacrament of Forgiveness God shows us the way to turn back to him and invites us to experience his closeness anew. This pardon can be obtained by beginning, first of all, to live in charity. The Apostle Peter tells us this when he writes that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8). Only God forgives sins, but he asks that we be ready to forgive others even as he has forgiven us: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt 6:12). How sad it is when our hearts are closed and unable to forgive! Resentment, anger and revenge gain the upper hand, making our lives miserable and blocking a joyful commitment to mercy.

9. An experience of grace lived out by the Church with great effectiveness in the Jubilee Year has certainly been the service of the Missionaries of Mercy. Their pastoral activity sought to emphasize that God places no roadblocks in the way of those who seek him with a contrite heart, because he goes out to meet everyone like a father. I have received many testimonies of joy from those who

encountered the Lord once more in the sacrament of Confession. Let us not miss the opportunity to live our faith also as an experience of reconciliation. Today too, the Apostle urges us: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20), so that all who believe can discover the power of love which makes us “a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).

I thank every Missionary of Mercy for this valuable service aimed at rendering effective the grace of forgiveness. This extraordinary ministry does not end with the closing of the Holy Door. I wish it to continue until further notice as a concrete sign that the grace of the Jubilee remains alive and effective the world over. As a direct expression of my concern and proximity to the Missionaries of Mercy in this period, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization will supervise them and find the most suitable forms for the exercise of this valuable ministry.

10. I invite priests once more to prepare carefully for the ministry of confession, which is a true priestly mission. I thank all of you from the heart for your ministry, and I ask you to be welcoming to all, witnesses of fatherly love whatever the gravity of the sin involved, attentive in helping penitents to reflect on the evil they have done, clear in presenting moral principles, willing to walk patiently beside the faithful on their penitential journey, far-sighted in discerning individual cases and generous in dispensing God’s forgiveness. Just as Jesus chose to remain silent in order to save the woman caught in adultery from the sentence of death, so every priest in the confessional should be open-hearted, since every penitent is a reminder that he himself is a sinner, but also a minister of mercy.

11. I would like us all to meditate upon the words of the Apostle, written towards the end of his life, when he confesses to Timothy that he was the greatest of sinners, “but for this reason I received mercy” (1 Tim 1:16). Paul’s words, powerful as they are, make us reflect on our lives and see God’s mercy at work in changing, converting and reforming our hearts. “I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service, though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him. But I received mercy” (1 Tim 1:12- 13).

Let us recall with renewed pastoral zeal another saying of the Apostle: “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18). We were the first to be forgiven in view of this ministry, made witnesses at first hand of the universality of God’s forgiveness. No law or precept can prevent God from once more embracing the son who returns to him, admitting that he has done wrong but intending to start his life anew. Remaining only at the level of the law is equivalent to thwarting faith and divine mercy. The law has a propaedeutic value (cf. Gal 3:24) with charity as its goal (cf. 1 Tim 1:5). Nonetheless, Christians are called to experience the newness of the Gospel, the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2). Even in the most complex cases, where there is a temptation to apply a justice derived from rules alone, we must believe in the power flowing from divine grace.

We confessors have experienced many conversions that took place before our very eyes. We feel responsible, then, for actions and words that can touch the heart of penitents and enable them to discover the closeness and tenderness of the Father who forgives. Let us not lose such occasions by acting in a way that can contradict the experience of mercy that the penitent seeks. Rather, let us help light up the space of personal conscience with God’s infinite love (cf. 1 Jn 3:20).

The Sacrament of Reconciliation must regain its central place in the Christian life. This requires priests capable of putting their lives at the service of the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18), in such a way that, while no sincerely repentant sinner is prevented from drawing near to the love of the Father who awaits his return, everyone is afforded the opportunity of experiencing the liberating power of forgiveness.

A favourable occasion for this could be the 24 Hours for the Lord, a celebration held in proximity to the Fourth Sunday of Lent. This initiative, already in place in many dioceses, has great pastoral value in encouraging a more fervent experience of the sacrament of Confession.

12. Given this need, lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion. The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year,14 is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary. I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.

For the Jubilee Year I had also granted that those faithful who, for various reasons, attend churches officiated by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, can validly and licitly receive the sacramental absolution of their sins.15 For the pastoral benefit of these faithful, and trusting in the good will of their priests to strive with God’s help for the recovery of full communion in the Catholic Church, I have personally decided to extend this faculty beyond the Jubilee Year, until further provisions are made, lest anyone ever be deprived of the sacramental sign of reconciliation through the Church’s pardon.

13. Another face of mercy is consolation. “Comfort, comfort my people” (Is 40:1) is the heartfelt plea that the prophet continues to make today, so that a word of hope may come to all those who experience suffering and pain. Let us never allow ourselves to be robbed of the hope born of faith in the Risen Lord. True, we are often sorely tested, but we must never lose our certainty of the Lord’s love for us. His mercy finds expression also in the closeness, affection and support that many of our brothers and sisters can offer us at times of sadness and affliction. The drying of tears is one way to break the vicious circle of solitude in which we often find ourselves trapped.

All of us need consolation because no one is spared suffering, pain and misunderstanding. How much pain can be caused by a spiteful remark born of envy, jealousy or anger! What great suffering is caused by the experience of betrayal, violence and abandonment! How much sorrow in the face of the death of a loved one! And yet God is never far from us at these moments of sadness and trouble. A reassuring word, an embrace that makes us feel understood, a caress that makes us feel love, a prayer that makes us stronger… all these things express God’s closeness through the consolation offered by our brothers and sisters.

Sometimes too, silence can be helpful, especially when we cannot find words in response to the questions of those who suffer. A lack of words, however, can be made up for by the compassion of a person who stays at our side, who loves us and who holds out a hand. It is not true that silence is an act of surrender; on the contrary, it is a moment of strength and love. Silence also belongs to our language of consolation, because it becomes a concrete way of sharing in the suffering of a brother or sister.

14. At a time like our own, marked by many crises, including that of the family, it is important to offer a word of comfort and strength to our families. The gift of matrimony is a great calling to which spouses, with the grace of Christ, respond with a love that is generous, faithful and patient. The beauty of the family endures unchanged, despite so many problems and alternative proposals: “The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church”.16 The journey of life that leads a man and a woman to meet one other, to love one another and to promise mutual fidelity before God, is often interrupted by suffering, betrayal and loneliness. Joy at the gift of children is accompanied by concern about their growth and education, and their prospects for happiness and fulfilment in life.

The grace of the sacrament of Marriage not only strengthens the family to be a privileged place for practising mercy, but also commits the Christian community and all its pastoral activity to uphold the great positive value of the family. This Jubilee Year cannot overlook the complexity of the current realities of family life. The experience of mercy enables us to regard all human problems from the standpoint of God’s love, which never tires of welcoming and accompanying.17

We have to remember each of us carries the richness and the burdens of our personal history; this is what makes us different from everyone else. Our life, with its joys and sorrows, is something unique and unrepeatable that takes place under the merciful gaze of God. This demands, especially of priests, a careful, profound and far-sighted spiritual discernment, so that everyone, none excluded, can feel accepted by God, participate actively in the life of the community and be part of that People of God which journeys tirelessly towards the fullness of his kingdom of justice, love, forgiveness and mercy.

15. Here too, we see the particular importance of the moment of death. The Church has always experienced this dramatic passage in the light of Christ’s resurrection, which opened the way to the certainty of the life to come. We have a great challenge to face, especially in contemporary culture, which often tends to trivialize death to the point of treating it as an illusion or hiding it from sight. Yet death must be faced and prepared for as a painful and inescapable passage, yet one charged with immense meaning, for it is the ultimate act of love towards those we leave behind and towards God whom we go forth to meet. In all religions, the moment of death, like that of birth, is accompanied by a religious presence. As Christians, we celebrate the funeral liturgy as a hope-filled prayer for the soul of the deceased and for the consolation of those who suffer the loss of a loved one.

I am convinced that our faith-filled pastoral activity should lead to a direct experience of how the liturgical signs and our prayers are an expression of the Lord’s mercy. It is the Lord himself who offers words of hope, since nothing and no one can ever separate us from his love (cf. Rom 8:35). The priest’s sharing in this moment is an important form of pastoral care, for it represents the closeness of the Christian community at a moment of weakness, solitude, uncertainty and grief.

16. The Jubilee now ends and the Holy Door is closed. But the door of mercy of our heart continues to remain wide open. We have learned that God bends down to us (cf. Hos 11:4) so that we may imitate him in bending down to our brothers and sisters. The yearning of so many people to turn back to the house of the Father, who awaits their return, has also been awakened by heartfelt and generous testimonies to God’s love. The Holy Door that we have crossed in this Jubilee Year has set us on the path of charity, which we are called to travel daily with fidelity and joy. It is the road of mercy, on which we meet so many of our brothers and sisters who reach out for someone to take their hand and become a companion on the way.

The desire for closeness to Christ requires us to draw near to our brothers and sisters, for nothing is more pleasing to the Father than a true sign of mercy. By its very nature, mercy becomes visible and tangible in specific acts. Once mercy has been truly experienced, it is impossible to turn back. It grows constantly and it changes our lives. It is an authentic new creation: it brings about a new heart, capable of loving to the full, and it purifies our eyes to perceive hidden needs. How true are the words of the Church’s prayer at the Easter Vigil, after the reading of the creation account: “O God, who wonderfully created human nature and still more wonderfully redeemed it”.18

Mercy renews and redeems because it is an encounter between two hearts: the heart of God who comes to meet us and a human heart. The latter is warmed and healed by the former. Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh (cf. Ezek 36:26) capable of love despite our sinfulness. I come to realize that I am truly a “new creation” (Gal 6:15): I am loved, therefore I exist; I am forgiven, therefore I am reborn; I have been shown mercy, therefore I have become a vessel of mercy.

17. During the Holy Year, especially on the “Fridays of Mercy”, I was able to experience in a tangible way the goodness present in our world. Often it remains hidden, since it is daily expressed in discreet and quiet gestures. Even if rarely publicized, many concrete acts of goodness and tenderness are shown to the weak and the vulnerable, to those most lonely and abandoned. There are true champions of charity who show constant solidarity with the poor and the unhappy. Let us thank the Lord for these precious gifts that invite us to discover the joy of drawing near to human weakness and suffering. I also think with gratitude of the many volunteers who daily devote their time and efforts to showing God’s presence and closeness. Their service is a genuine work of mercy, one that helps many people draw closer to the Church.

18. Now is the time to unleash the creativity of mercy, to bring about new undertakings, the fruit of grace. The Church today needs to tell of those “many other signs” that Jesus worked, which “are not written” (Jn 20:30), so that they too may be an eloquent expression of the fruitfulness of the love of Christ and the community that draws its life from him. Two thousand years have passed, yet works of mercy continue to make God’s goodness visible.

In our own day, whole peoples suffer hunger and thirst, and we are haunted by pictures of children with nothing to eat. Throngs of people continue to migrate from one country to another in search of food, work, shelter and peace. Disease in its various forms is a constant cause of suffering that cries out for assistance, comfort and support. Prisons are often places where confinement is accompanied by serious hardships due to inhumane living conditions. Illiteracy remains widespread, preventing children from developing their potential and exposing them to new forms of slavery. The culture of extreme individualism, especially in the West, has led to a loss of a sense of solidarity with and responsibility for others. Today many people have no experience of God himself, and this represents the greatest poverty and the major obstacle to recognition of the inviolable dignity of human life.

To conclude, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy continue in our own day to be proof of mercy’s immense positive influence as a social value. Mercy impels us to roll up our sleeves and set about restoring dignity to millions of people; they are our brothers and sisters who, with us, are called to build a “city which is reliable”.19

19. Many concrete signs of mercy have been performed during this Holy Year. Communities, families and individuals have rediscovered the joy of sharing and the beauty of solidarity. But this is not enough. Our world continues to create new forms of spiritual and material poverty that assault human dignity. For this reason, the Church must always be vigilant and ready to identify new works of mercy and to practise them with generosity and enthusiasm.

Let us make every effort, then, to devise specific and responsible ways of practising charity and the works of mercy. Mercy is inclusive and tends to expand in a way that knows no limits. Hence we are called to give new expression to the traditional works of mercy. For mercy overflows, keeps moving forward, bears rich fruit. It is like the leaven that makes the dough rise (cf. Mt 13:33), or the mustard seed that grows into a tree (cf. Lk 13:19).

We need but think of one corporal work of mercy: “to clothe the naked” (cf. Mt 25:36,38,43,44). This brings us back to the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve realize that they are naked and, hearing the Lord approaching, feel shame and hide themselves (Gen 3:7-8). We know that God punished them, yet he also “made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). He covered their shame and restored their dignity.

Let us think too of Jesus on Golgotha. The Son of God hangs naked on the cross; the soldiers took his tunic and cast lots for it (cf. Jn 19:23-24). He has nothing left. The cross is the extreme revelation of Jesus’ sharing the lot of those who have lost their dignity for lack of the necessities of life. Just as the Church is called to be the “tunic of Christ”20 and to clothe her Lord once more, so She is committed to solidarity with the naked of the world, to help them recover the dignity of which they have been stripped. Jesus’ words: “I was naked and you clothed me” (Mt 25:36), oblige us not to turn our backs on the new forms of poverty and marginalization that prevent people from living a life of dignity.

Being unemployed or not receiving a sufficient salary; not being able to have a home or a land in which to live; experiencing discrimination on account of one’s faith, race or social status: these are just a few of the many examples of situations that attack the dignity of the person. In the face of such attacks, Christian mercy responds above all with vigilance and solidarity. How many situations exist today where we can restore dignity to individuals and make possible a truly humane life! Let us think only about the many children who suffer from forms of violence that rob them of the joy of life. I keep thinking of their sorrowful and bewildered faces. They are pleading for our help to be set free from the slavery of the contemporary world. These children are the young adults of tomorrow. How are we preparing them to live with dignity and responsibility? With what hope can they face their present or their future?

The social character of mercy demands that we not simply stand by and do nothing. It requires us to banish indifference and hypocrisy, lest our plans and projects remain a dead letter. May the Holy Spirit help us to contribute actively and selflessly to making justice and a dignified life not simply clichés but a concrete commitment of those who seek to bear witness to the presence of the Kingdom of God.

20. We are called to promote a culture of mercy based on the rediscovery of encounter with others, a culture in which no one looks at another with indifference or turns away from the suffering of our brothers and sisters. The works of mercy are ‘handcrafted’, in the sense that none of them is alike. Our hands can craft them in a thousand different ways, and even though the one God inspires them, and they are all fashioned from the same ‘material’, mercy itself, each one takes on a different form.

The works of mercy affect a person’s entire life. For this reason, we can set in motion a real cultural revolution, beginning with simple gestures capable of reaching body and spirit, people’s very lives. This is a commitment that the Christian community should take up, in the knowledge that God’s word constantly calls us to leave behind the temptation to hide behind indifference and individualism in order to lead a comfortable life free of problems. Jesus tells his disciples: “The poor will always be with you” (Jn 12:8). There is no alibi to justify not engaging with the poor when Jesus has identified himself with each of them.

The culture of mercy is shaped in assiduous prayer, in docility to the working of the Holy Spirit, in knowledge of the lives of the saints and in being close to the poor. It urges us not to overlook situations that call for our involvement. The temptation to theorize ‘about’ mercy can be overcome to the extent that our daily life becomes one of participation and sharing. Nor should we ever forget what the Apostle tells us about his meeting with Peter, James and John after his conversion. His words highlight an essential aspect of his own mission and of the Christian life as a whole: “They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do” (Gal 2:10). We cannot forget the poor: this is an injunction as relevant today as ever, and one that compels by its evangelical warrant.

21. The Jubilee impresses upon us the words of the Apostle Peter: “Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:10). Let us not hold on jealously to what we have received, but share it with our brothers and sisters in need, so that they can be sustained by the power of the Father’s mercy. May our communities reach out to all who live in their midst, so that God’s caress may reach everyone through the witness of believers.

This is the time of mercy. Each day of our journey is marked by God’s presence. He guides our steps with the power of the grace that the Spirit pours into our hearts to make them capable of loving. It is the time of mercy for each and all, since no one can think that he or she is cut off from God’s closeness and the power of his tender love. It is the time of mercy because those who are weak and vulnerable, distant and alone, ought to feel the presence of brothers and sisters who can help them in their need. It is the time of mercy because the poor should feel that they are regarded with respect and concern by others who have overcome indifference and discovered what is essential in life. It is the time of mercy because no sinner can ever tire of asking forgiveness and all can feel the welcoming embrace of the Father.

During the ‘Jubilee for Socially Excluded People’, as the Holy Doors of Mercy were being closed in all the cathedrals and shrines of the world, I had the idea that, as yet another tangible sign of this Extraordinary Holy Year, the entire Church might celebrate, on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, the World Day of the Poor. This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy (cf. Mt 25:31-46). It would be a day to help communities and each of the baptized to reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel and that, as long as Lazarus lies at the door of our homes (cf. Lk 16:19-21), there can be no justice or social peace. This Day will also represent a genuine form of new evangelization (cf. Mt 11:5) which can renew the face of the Church as She perseveres in her perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy.

22. The Holy Mother of God always looks upon us with her eyes of mercy. She is the first to show us the way and to accompany us in our witness of love. As she is often shown in works of art, the Mother of Mercy gathers us all under the protection of her mantle. Let us trust in her maternal assistance and follow her perennial counsel to look to Jesus, the radiant face of God’s mercy.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s Basilica, on 20 November,

the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe,

in the year 2016, the fourth of my Pontificate.

FRANCIS

________________

1 On the Gospel of John, XXXIII, 5.

2 Shepherd of Hermas, XLII, 1-4.

3 Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 27.

4 Roman Missal, Opening Prayer for the Third Sunday of Lent.

5 Ibid., Preface for Sundays in Ordinary Time VII.

6 Ibid., Eucharistic Prayer II.

7 Ibid., Communion Rite.

8 Rite of Penance, No. 46.

9 Sacrament of Anointing and Pastoral Care of the Sick, No. 76.

10 Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 106.

11 ID., Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 2.

12 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 142.

13 Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, 86-87.

14 Cf. Letter According to Which an Indulgence is Granted to the Faithful on the Occasion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, 1 September 2015.

15 Cf. ibid.

16 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, 1.

17 Cf. ibid., 291-300.

18 Roman Missal, Easter Vigil, Prayer after the First Reading.

19 Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei, 50.

20 Cf. CYPRIAN, On the Unity of the Catholic Church, 7.

Posted in Uncategorized

How a restless reforming pope can help heal Reformation rift

A painting of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. (Photo: Greg Copeland/Concordia Publishing)

A painting of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. (Photo: Greg Copeland/Concordia Publishing)

[Austen Ivereigh] When, on this day 499 years ago, a small-town Augustinian friar lecturing in a start-up college in provincial Germany posted dozens of arguments on the door of a castle church, he offered a prime example of what scientists call “the butterfly effect,” namely that small causes can have large effects.

In reality, Martin Luther’s nailing (or more likely gluing) his hard-to-read 95 theses on what was, in effect, Wittenberg university’s bulletin board, was less the trigger of the Reformation than the copies he posted, together with an accompanying letter of breathtaking audacity.

One was to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, then the most powerful bishop in Germany, which meant, sooner or later, the pope himself would be involved.

Luther was not the first to critique the sale of indulgences, or the way the sacrament of confession had been reduced in late-medieval Europe from a channel of God’s grace to a mechanistic transaction. (A local Dominican friar loathed by Luther had a marketing jingle: ‘As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs’).

But as all great polemicists do, he nailed the theological error behind the corruption at the crucial moment, provoking a disproportionate reaction that in turn fueled an uprising. And part of that was about timing.

Tomorrow’s Feast of All Saints was when the ruler of Saxony used to bring out his impressive display of relics, and indulgences were granted (for a price) to the pilgrims who viewed them.

By attacking the system, Luther put into doubt not just the whole medieval basis of clerical livelihoods, but a powerful network of interests – from bankers and bishops all the way up to Rome – that was never likely to take the assault lying down.

There was also a moment when the protest went viral: at Worms, when Luther in 1521 was called on to answer to the emperor. His extraordinarily courageous act of turning up and defying the might of state and Church won many hearts and minds, and gave birth to a revolutionary movement that soon span out of control.

It wasn’t just the authorities’ self-interested over-reaction, but Luther’s own mercurial psychology – tripped by the knowledge that he faced execution at any moment – that explains the series of events, movements and conflicts that we now call the Reformation.

But whatever its causes, the result was tragedy. A valid critique of genuine corruption descended into heresy, division and war.

Luther did not intend to split the Church, yet most of the northern European church over time rejected Rome. Luther never intended to question the Sacraments, yet they were soon thrown into doubt. He never wanted a social uprising, yet that is what occurred.

But of all the unintended consequences of Luther’s protest, the secularization of Europe, especially of its educated classes, is probably the greatest of all – a five-century process meticulously traced in Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation.

Endless doctrinal controversy followed by a hundred years of destructive and inconclusive political-religious wars led to the privatization of religion and the search for empirical observation and philosophy and ideology as a means of uniting society.

When these eventually collapsed – as they now have – relativism and individualism are (mostly) all that remains.

And, of course, shopping. The drive for technology and to consume were the seventeenth-century Dutch responses to sectarian conflict, and are nowadays pretty much the western world’s dominant religion.

****

Of course, both sides are to blame in that cycle of events – something that will be acknowledged today in the first ecumenical global commemoration of the Reformation in Lund.

The dialogue between the two sides is 50 years old, and has produced a number of significant documents – which begs the question of what Pope Francis today can add to the process.

Here, at least, are five things he brings to the table which no previous pope has.

First, he is – to borrow my biography’s title – a “great reformer,” one who sees the need for the Church to be always in need of renewal in response both to internal degradation and external needs. He has said this is something the Church can learn from Luther, although it is equally present in the great reforming popes of the past, or in saints such as Ignatius of Loyola and Francis of Assisi.

Second, he comes with no fear or suspicion of Lutherans but decades of fellowship. In his interview with the Swedish Jesuit journal Signum he spoke of many friendships with Argentine Lutherans -Danish as well as Swedish – with whom he has had sincere exchanges. Traveling with him on the plane today will be one of his oldest non-Catholic friends, the evangelical pastor Marcelo Figueroa.

Third, he feels no obligation to remain within the boundaries of existing theological consensus. In his Signum interview, Francis approvingly quoted what Patriach Athenagoras allegedly told Pope Paul VI: “Let the two of us go ahead, and we will put the theologians on an island to discuss among themselves.”

“Going ahead” in this case means opening up opportunities for collaboration and friendship through common witness and joint works, which Francis passionately believes create new spaces for the Holy Spirit to bind people together. What happens today is intended to break new ground for the theologians later to work out.

Fourth, Francis has a specific abhorrence of the kind of corruption Luther denounced. One of the pope’s favorite phrases is “spiritual worldliness,” an illness identified by the Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac as using the Gospel in the service of particular worldly interests – whether ideology, money, or status.

In my biography I show how Jorge Mario Bergoglio constantly fought against symptoms of this worldliness in the Jesuits and later in the clergy. As cardinal he saw it in Rome and hated it; now he is pope, he is quietly attacking it on many different fronts.

To take one example: under John Paul II, a cardinal in receipt of a very fat donation could arrange for the benefactor to have a bacciamano – kiss the pope’s hand – after Mass with him, and of course a picture with the pope to sit on his desk to impress the world.

Try doing that now with Francis, and you’ll get a flea in your ear.

Finally, Francis is the pope who, more than any other leader of the Catholic Church in modern times. has restored the primacy of mercy to the Church’s proclamation. The whole point of mercy is that it is about God’s reckless forgiving and our complete inability to merit it.

Wasn’t that Luther’s point?

****

Perhaps the main task of today’s ecumenical acts in Lund and Malmö is simply to help both Lutherans and Catholics “receive” the results of 50 years of dialogue between the two Churches. The result of that dialogue is a series of agreements – as well as persisting disagreements – ably summed up in the joint document prepared for the occasion, From Conflict to Communion.

Yet who knows about it? William G. Rusch, Professor of Lutheran Studies at Yale’s Divinity School and a leading ecumenist, believes “the task before us is to receive the fruit of 50 years of dialogue,” the results of which have not been “rejected” so much as “neglected.”

Which is why, said Rusch, the mere fact of the pope appearing today in Lund – where in 1947 the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) was founded – is “an enormous step, compared to where we’ve been.”

The LWF speaks for some 90 percent of the world’s Lutheran Churches, with a combined membership of around 80m people.

In a telephone interview, Rusch told Crux he hopes that the papal visit will enable what he believes to be the next step in the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, namely a juridical process that binds the LWF’s member Churches and of course Catholics.

The great step forward in this respect was the 1999 Declaration of Justification. According to Rusch the achievement was not just in what it said – essentially, that the roots of Luther’s disagreements with the papacy no longer pertain – but how it came about.

The process showed that there could be a “magisterial function for the global Lutheran communion,” which effectively allowed the theological agreements to move from paper to practice.

It frustrates Rusch that since then, that gain hasn’t been built upon. While he admires From Conflict to Communion and the recent US Catholic-Lutheran document, Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharisthe says neither provides a practical basis for moving forward.

But this kind of institutional process is not where Francis’s interest lies. He believes in praying and working together for justice and peace; such common witness, he believes, is what opens hearts and minds – and prevents the kind of institutional rigidity which is toxic for Christian unity.

Today, we might just see a gesture, or an initiative, which shakes open a new phase for the future of the dialogue, and which is aimed as much at secular Europe as the Lutherans.

“I am convinced those who don’t believe or don’t seek God, maybe haven’t felt the restlessness that comes from seeing a witness,” he told Signum, adding: “And this is very tied to affluence. Restlessness is rarely found in affluence.”

Restlessness is one area where the reformers Martin Luther and Pope Francis are definitely on common ground.

[Austen Ivereigh is traveling with the pope in Sweden for Crux, where this article appears. Stay tuned for his updates].

Posted in Christian unity, Pope Francis, Sweden

Vatican issues new guidelines on disposal of cremated ashes

Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, speaks at a Vatican news conference yesterday (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, speaks at a Vatican news conference yesterday (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Vatican yesterday issued new rules on the disposal of ashes following cremation in order to avoid disrespecting the dead or denying core Christian truths about the fate of the body.

In its Instruction, Ad Resurgendum cum Christo, which was approved by Pope Francis in March, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says the Church continues to prefer that bodies be buried but that if cremation for good reasons occurs, the remains should be kept in a church or cemetery and not at home, and should not be scattered or used to make  objects.

Because of “the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity” the Church cannot “condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the “prison” of the body,” the Instruction says.

The Vatican lifted its disapproval of cremation in 1963 “unless chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine” but yesterday’s Instruction is in response to growing concern at the increasing popularity of disposing of ashes in ways that reflect pantheistic, naturalistic or superstitious beliefs.

The Instruction says that only in exceptional cases — presumably in places where Christians are persecuted, or in times of war — can ashes be kept at home. “From the earliest times, Christians have desired that the faithful departed become the objects of the Christian community’s prayers and remembrance,” the Instruction says, adding: “Their tombs have become places of prayer, remembrance and reflection.”

According to The Times today, about 75 per cent of those who die in Britain are cremated — double the number since the 1970s.

(For AP report, see Crux)

The text of the Instruction follows

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo regarding the burial of the deceasedand the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation 

To rise with Christ, we must die with Christ: we must “be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). With the Instruction Piam et Constantem of 5 July 1963, the then Holy Office established that “all necessary measures must be taken to preserve the practice of reverently burying the faithful departed”, adding however that cremation is not “opposed per se to the Christian religion” and that no longer should the sacraments and funeral rites be denied to those who have asked that they be cremated, under the condition that this choice has not been made through “a denial of Christian dogmas, the animosity of a secret society, or hatred of the Catholic religion and the Church”.1Later this change in ecclesiastical discipline was incorporated into the Code of Canon Law (1983) and the Code of Canons of Oriental Churches (1990).

During the intervening years, the practice of cremation has notably increased in many countries, but simultaneously new ideas contrary to the Church’s faith have also become widespread. Having consulted the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and numerous Episcopal Conferences and Synods of Bishops of the Oriental Churches, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has deemed opportune the publication of a new Instruction, with the intention of underlining the doctrinal and pastoral reasons for the preference of the burial of the remains of the faithful and to set out norms pertaining to the conservation of ashes in the case of cremation.

The resurrection of Jesus is the culminating truth of the Christian faith, preached as an essential part of the Paschal Mystery from the very beginnings of Christianity: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve” (1 Cor 15:3-5). Through his death and resurrection, Christ freed us from sin and gave us access to a new life, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rm 6:4). Furthermore, the risen Christ is the principle and source of our future resurrection: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep […] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:20-22).

It is true that Christ will raise us up on the last day; but it is also true that, in a certain way, we have already risen with Christ. In Baptism, actually, we are immersed in the death and resurrection of Christ and sacramentally assimilated to him: “You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2:12). United with Christ by Baptism, we already truly participate in the life of the risen Christ (cf. Eph 2:6).

Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning. The Christian vision of death receives privileged expression in the liturgy of the Church: “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven”.2 By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul. In our own day also, the Church is called to proclaim her faith in the resurrection: “The confidence of Christians is the resurrection of the dead; believing this we live”.3

Following the most ancient Christian tradition, the Church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places.4 In memory of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, the mystery that illumines the Christian meaning of death,5 burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.6 The Church who, as Mother, has accompanied the Christian during his earthly pilgrimage, offers to the Father, in Christ, the child of her grace, and she commits to the earth, in hope, the seed of the body that will rise in glory.7

By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body,8 and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity.9 She cannot, therefore, condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the “prison” of the body. Furthermore, burial in a cemetery or another sacred place adequately corresponds to the piety and respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed who through Baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit and in which “as instruments and vessels the Spirit has carried out so many good works”.10 Tobias, the just, was praised for the merits he acquired in the sight of God for having buried the dead,11 and the Church considers the burial of dead one of the corporal works of mercy.12

Finally, the burial of the faithful departed in cemeteries or other sacred places encourages family members and the whole Christian community to pray for and remember the dead, while at the same time fostering the veneration of martyrs and saints.

Through the practice of burying the dead in cemeteries, in churches or their environs, Christian tradition has upheld the relationship between the living and the dead and has opposed any tendency to minimize, or relegate to the purely private sphere, the event of death and the meaning it has for Christians.

In circumstances when cremation is chosen because of sanitary, economic or social considerations, this choice must never violate the explicitly-stated or the reasonably inferable wishes of the deceased faithful. The Church raises no doctrinal objections to this practice, since cremation of the deceased’s body does not affect his or her soul, nor does it prevent God, in his omnipotence, from raising up the deceased body to new life. Thus cremation, in and of itself, objectively negates neither the Christian doctrine of the soul’s immortality nor that of the resurrection of the body.13

The Church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased. Nevertheless, cremation is not prohibited, “unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine”.14 In the absence of motives contrary to Christian doctrine, the Church, after the celebration of the funeral rite, accompanies the choice of cremation, providing the relevant liturgical and pastoral directives, and taking particular care to avoid every form of scandal or the appearance of religious indifferentism.

When, for legitimate motives, cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery or, in certain cases, in a church or an area, which has been set aside for this purpose, and so dedicated by the competent ecclesial authority. From the earliest times, Christians have desired that the faithful departed become the objects of the Christian community’s prayers and remembrance. Their tombs have become places of prayer, remembrance and reflection. The faithful departed remain part of the Church who believes “in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church”.15

The reservation of the ashes of the departed in a sacred place ensures that they are not excluded from the prayers and remembrance of their family or the Christian community. It prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten, or their remains from being shown a lack of respect, which eventuality is possible, most especially once the immediately subsequent generation has too passed away. Also it prevents any unfitting or superstitious practices.

For the reasons given above, the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted. Only in grave and exceptional cases dependent on cultural conditions of a localized nature, may the Ordinary, in agreement with the Episcopal Conference or the Synod of Bishops of the Oriental Churches, concede permission for the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence. Nonetheless, the ashes may not be divided among various family members and due respect must be maintained regarding the circumstances of such a conservation.

In order that every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided, it is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects. These courses of action cannot be legitimized by an appeal to the sanitary, social, or economic motives that may have occasioned the choice of cremation.

When the deceased notoriously has requested cremation and the scattering of their ashes for reasons contrary to the Christian faith, a Christian funeral must be denied to that person according to the norms of the law.16

 The Sovereign Pontiff Francis, in the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect on 18 March 2016, approved the present Instruction, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation on 2 March 2016, and ordered its publication. 

Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 15 August 2016, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

 

Gerhard Card. Müller, Prefect              

Luis F. Ladaria, S.I. , 

                                            Archevêque titulaire de Thibica

                                                    Secrétaire 

___________________

AAS 56 (1964), 822-823.

2 Roman Missal, Preface I for the Dead.

3 Tertullian, De Resurrectione carnis, 1,1: CCL 2, 921.

4 Cf. CIC, can. 1176, § 3, can. 1205; CCEO, can. 876, § 3; can. 868.

5 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1681.

6 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2300.

7 Cf. 1 Cor 15:42-44; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1683.

8 Cf. St. Augustine, De cura pro mortuis gerenda, 3, 5; CSEL 41, 628:

9 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 14.

10 St. Augustine, De cura pro mortuis gerenda, 3, 5: CSEL 41, 627.

11 Cf. Tb 2:9; 12:12.

12 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2300.

13 Cf. Holy Office, Instruction Piam et costantem, 5 July 1963: AAS 56 (1964) 822.

14 CIC, can. 1176 § 3; cf. CCEC, can. 876 § 3.

15 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 962.

16 CIC, can. 1184; CCEO, can.876, § 3.

Posted in Vatican guidelines/rules

The messages Francis wants to send with his cardinal choices

Cardinals of the Catholic Church advise the Pope and elect his successor.

Cardinals of the Catholic Church advise the Pope and elect his successor.

[Austen Ivereigh] There are few moments more enlightening about the direction a pope wants to take the Church than consistories to create cardinals, and Francis’s list of 17 men who will receive red hats on Nov. 19 is no exception.

His picks contain three overall messages, and a number of particular ones, which are local Church-specific, and have particular strategic objectives.

Leaving Europe behind 

The 13 under-80s – the so-called ‘electors’, who, once a conclave is called, will vote for Francis’s successor – will help to shape the future direction of the Church. Come November, 17 percent of the electors will have been named by St. John Paul II, 46 percent by Benedict XVI, and just over a third – 36 percent – by Francis.

Most obviously this, the pope’s third consistory, deepens his policy of de-Europeanizing the College of Cardinals in order to better reflect the southward shift in Catholicism’s center of gravity. (Two-thirds of Catholics now live in the global south).

Asked about his plans for new cardinals on the plane back from Azerbaijan, Francis said he wanted “to show the universality of the Church in the college of cardinals – not just the, let’s say, European center. A little bit of everywhere.”

If a conclave were held shortly after the November consistory, European nations would still have the largest single share of red hats (just under 45 per cent), but they are increasingly outweighed by non-European ones.

In 2015 there were five new voting cardinals from Europe, three from Latin America, three from Asia, two each from Africa and Oceania, and none from North America. This time there are three from Europe, three from Latin America, three from the United States, two from Africa, one from Asia, and one from Oceania.

Within the European bloc, meanwhile, the lack of Italians and curial cardinals is particularly striking.

Only Bishop Kevin Farrell of Texas, who has moved to Rome to take up his role as prefect of the council for laity and life, qualifies as a curial cardinal. A conclave held at the end of this year would be made up of 28 per cent curiali, compared with 35 per cent in the conclave that elected Francis.

Hearing from the peripheries

But Francis is not only seeking a geographical re-balance; he wants the College of Cardinals to include the voice of the ecclesiastical periphery.

Just as, in 2014, he picked bishops from Burkina Faso and Haiti, and in 2015 from Burma, Myanmar and Tonga, this time he has selected men from Papua New Guinea, Mauritius and Bangladesh. The presence of these red hats in a future conclave, Francis believes, will help prevent the euro-centric liberal-conservative polarizations of previous papal elections.

Men of Mercy

Appropriately, given that this consistory will take place just before the official closing of the Jubilee of Mercy, Francis’s third message is ‘pastoral conversion’. His choices-from 11 countries on five continents- reflect a Church that witnesses, as he put it, to “the mercy of God in every corner of the world.”

It is hard to find, among these names, one that is not signed up to Francis’s invitation to the Church to foreground mercy. Carlos Osorio, whom Francis named to Madrid in 2014, for example, often says that mercy is the viga maestra – the “buttress” or “main supporting beam”  – of the Church.

The other European red hat, Jozef de Kesel, was also appointed by Francis, in December last year, as Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. A former auxiliary under Godfried Danneels – one of the veteran cardinals at the last conclave who advocated Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope – de Kesel is a bridge-building pastoral theologian and man of dialogue who has none the less been firm in defending Catholic institutions from Belgian state pressure over euthanasia.

Both Osoro and Kesel follow on from traditionalist, culture-warrior archbishops (Antonio Rouco Varela in Madrid, André-Joseph Leonard in Brussels). By making them cardinals, Francis is furthering the pastoral conversion of the European Church.

Consolidating Latin America

Yet for all that Francis wants to bring in voices from Asia and Africa, the main gravitational center in this pontificate remains Latin America, home to nearly half of the world’s Catholics and the most likely provenance of the next pope.

In his first consistory in 2014 Francis appointed five new electors from his home continent, a one-off one-third increase in its representation in the College. In 2015 and 2016 he has named a total of six more – again, the single biggest increase in the College of any part of the world.

Compared with the US choices, which – as John Allen has analyzed at Crux – are designed to produce a gear-shift, the Latin-American picks are intended to consolidate its existing direction. All three men are heavyweights within the continent’s episcopal bodies, busy implementing the vision of Aparecida agreed at the General Conference of the Latin-American bishops (CELAM) in 2007.

Carlos Aguiar Retes, the Archbishop of Tlalnepantla just north of Mexico City, is a highly-regarded former president both of the Mexican bishops’ conference and CELAM, and very likely to be the next Archbishop of Mexico after Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, the current Primate, turns 75 next year.

When I interviewed Aguiar Retes in his austere, nondescript modern office in Tlalnepantla in February I felt I was in the presence of a Mexican Francis: soft-spoken, humble, pastoral, steeped in the vision of Aparecida, deeply influenced by Jesuit spirituality, yet with a razor-sharp analytical mind.

Sérgio da Rocha, 57, is a young, high-flying bishop, also in the Aparecida mould, and active in CELAM. Named Archbishop of Brasilia by Benedict XVI in 2011 after spells as bishop in the poor and racially diverse north-east of the country, he was elected by a clear majority of his fellow bishops as president of the Brazilian bishops’ conference – the world’s largest -in April last year.

Da Rocha has been key to setting the Church’s direction based on dialogue, communion and mission, which he sees as implementing Evangelii Gaudium.

Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo, 72, the Archbishop of Mérida, Venezuela, is a veteran of the Church’s long battle with the authoritarian Hugo Chávez regime. A vocal and visible critic of Chávez while president of the bishops’ conference for two periods, from 1999 to 2006, he has long borne the brunt of state anticlerical propaganda.

His red hat, which means now that Venezuela will again have two cardinals, is both a reward for his courage and service and also a way of bolstering the Church’s position as the country descends into anarchy under Chávez’s disciple, President Nicolás Maduro.

The Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has said he is willing to mediate between the government and the opposition. In naming Porras cardinal, Rome leaves no doubt about its own position in favor of democracy and pluralism.

In sum, Francis’s 2016 consistory has some clear messages. It is designed to bring about or consolidate the pastoral conversion of the Church in the Americas, reducing the European and curial numbers while rewarding pastoralists in the old continent. It’s also intended to bring in young, diverse voices from the Church’s fast-growing periphery, while bolstering the Church in places where it needs all the help it can get.

[This article also appears at Crux, which is profiling the new cardinals. Eg Archbishop Mario Zenari here, Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka here, Archbishop Carlos Osoro here. More profiles to follow at Crux in the next few days.]

Posted in cardinals / consistory, global Church

Catholic commissions across Europe issue SOS for EU

The European Union is “in a bad shape” and trust in its institutions will not be restored by speeches and short-term measures but concrete actions to improve justice and quality of life.

That was the message of the General Assembly of the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions (known as “Justice & Peace Europe”), a Brussels-based alliance of 31 commissions in Europe attached to Catholic bishops’ conferences, and which promote Catholic social doctrine.

The General Assembly was responding to the EU Summit in Bratislava on 16 September, in which Jean Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, responded to Brexit with a five-point roadmap for investment, the digital single market, security, defence and youth. Noting “the continued controversy and disagreement among member states after the Brexit vote”, Justice & Peace Europe gathered on 3 October in Luxembourg, where it adopted the declaration that follows.

Its analysis shows that the next few months will be crucial for the future of the EU and that ciivl society institutions will need to play a crucial role in preventing its break-up.

Text of the statement follows:

1. The European Union is in bad shape. One important member state has decided to leave the European Union. Many others openly ignore or defy rules and decisions previously adopted together. Some are themselves struggling with unity. To bring things together again trust above all needs to be restored. Trust among member states and, clearly, the trust of citizens in politics in general and in the European institutions in particular. Trust in the European Union as still a valid response to the terrifying war and violence of the 20th century and to the challenges of globalisation in the 21st.

2. Trust in Europe will not result from declarations, roadmaps and speeches and certainly not in the short term. It will take years to rebuild what was lost and it will need substantial results in terms of quality jobs for young people, new opportunities for the poorest, more security for all and protection of the environment. It will require more transparent and democratic procedures. It will necessitate more respect for national, regional and local traditions, which are threatened by global market forces, and more social justice in terms of taxation and opportunities for the poorest in Europe and worldwide.

3. The European Union brings together democratic nation states. It does not replace them and its survival depends on stable and clear majorities in favour of the EU within them. Having this in mind, the next twelve months will present a number of electoral challenges. Several elections and referenda may further weaken popular support for the EU. Governments are usually less inclined to take bold political steps just before important elections. Therefore the months ahead are also very much the time for civil society to take the lead and promote the European Union. Christian Churches will play their part in this.

4. Thus, we welcome the process of consultation between the Conference of European Churches and its membership leading to the next CEC General Assembly in 2018, which was launched last June. Over the next twelve months the Catholic bishops of the EU countries (COMECE) will actively prepare for their major Congress on the future of Europe in Rome 2017. National initiatives like the Semaines Sociales de France will devote their annual gathering in 2017 to the European question. Furthermore, we thank Pope Francis for his committed interest in Europe and for the powerful speeches he gave in 2015 in the European Parliament and at the conferral of the Charlemagne Prize in 2016.

5. Justice and Peace Europe, our own network, is devoted to peace and social justice in the world and we have decided to call our next annual concerted action “Europe at the Crossroads”. The guiding document for the concerted action will be published at the beginning of Lent 2017 and it will include ten concrete policy proposals. National commissions will initiate local activities on the basis of the document and the proposals.

6. Meanwhile, we wish to state our strong commitment to the European Union. We hope that the peoples and nations of our continent continue the path of close cooperation and overcome the current difficulties. Gloomy prophecies often predict the economic and demographic decline of Europe in the course of the 21st century. A possible break up of the European Union would certainly accelerate this process. Improving the European Union and bringing it ever closer to its citizens are the best way to prevent it. Christianity is not a religion of decline but is uplifting. It is a religion of hope. As Christians in Europe we therefore appeal to our fellow citizens and especially those who hold political responsibilities to contribute to a Europe of responsibility and solidarity.

Posted in Europe

Acknowledging differences, Francis and Welby send out bishops to work for peace and the poor

 

Pope Francis, left, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, arrive for vespers prayers in the church of San Gregorio al Celio, in Rome, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Pope Francis, left, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, arrive for vespers prayers in the church of San Gregorio al Celio, in Rome, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

[Austen Ivereigh] At a joint prayer service this evening at the church in Rome from where Augustine set forth to evangelize England, Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, marked the 50th anniversary of their predecessors’ historic meeting — the first since the Reformation. (For background, see CV Comment here.)

The music at the Vespers at St Gregory on the Caelian Hill — whose prior, later known as St Augustine of Canterbury, was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to England — was led by the choir from Canterbury Cathedral together with the Sistine Chapel choir. Among the congregation were Anglican and Catholic bishops from around the world who are in Rome this week to mark the 50th anniversary of their ecumenical dialogue.

Both pope and archbishop addressed the congregation, before symbolically sending out the bishops present in pairs — one Catholic, one Anglican — in a joint mission described in a common declaration. (See texts below).

In his address, Pope Francis noted how “as brothers who belong to different traditions” they were nonetheless “driven by the same Gospel to undertake the same mission in the world.” Therefore, he said, “it would be always good, before embarking on any activity, for you to put these questions to yourselves: Why ought not we do this together with our Anglican brothers?; Can we bear witness to Jesus by acting together with our Catholic brothers?”

Referring to the pastoral staff of St Gregory which is kept in the church, the Pope urged the bishops of both traditions to follow the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, telling them: “It is in sharing the difficulties and joys of the ministry that we once again grow close to each other.”

The declaration notes that, despite many difficulties and disagreements that cannot be immediately resolved — it mentions the ordination of women and “more recent questions regarding human sexuality”  — the two Churches were called to work together more closely. “Our ability to come together in praise and prayer to God and witness to the world rests on the confidence that we share a common faith and a substantial measure of agreement in faith,” it notes.

The world “must see us witnessing to this common faith in Jesus by acting together,” the declaration goes on, before giving examples of this joint mission on issues such as combat climate change and combatting “a culture of waste” where the most vulnerable of people in society are marginalised and discarded.

Pope and archbishop then sent out the pairs of bishops, with the words: “Let their ecumenical mission to those on the margins of society be a witness to all of us, and let the message go out from this holy place, as the Good News was sent out so many centuries ago, that Catholics and Anglicans will work together to give voice to our common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to bring relief to the suffering, to bring peace where there is conflict, to bring dignity where it is denied and trampled upon. ”

He urged them to be “promoters of a bold and real ecumenism, always on a journey in search of opening new paths.” This is always and above all, he said, a matter of following the example of the Lord, his pastoral methodology, of which the prophet Ezekiel reminds us: to seek out the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded, heal the sick. Only thus, the Pope said, “shall the scattered people be brought together”

Texts follow of  Pope Francis’s address at Vespers, plus that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, followed by their joint declaration.

  1. POPE FRANCIS

The prophet Ezekiel, with an eloquent image, describes God as a shepherd herding his scattered sheep. They were separated from each other “in the day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ez 34,12). The Lord seems thus, through the Prophet, to turn to us with a twofold message. First, a message of unity: God, as Shepherd, desires the unity of His people, and he especially desires those appointed as Shepherds under him to spend themselves in pursuit of unity. Second, the reason we are told of the divisions in the flock: in the days of clouds and thick darkness, we lost sight of the brother who stood beside us, we became unable to recognize and rejoice in our respective gifts and in the graces we’ve received. This happened because the darkness of incomprehension and suspicion and, overhead, the dark clouds of disagreements and disputes, gathered around us – often formed for historical and cultural reasons and not only for theological reasons.

But we have the firm belief that God loves to dwell among us, who are his flock and precious treasure. He is a tireless pastor who continues to act (cf. Jn 5:17), encouraging us to walk towards greater unity, which can only be achieved with the help of His grace. Therefore we remain confident, because in us, even though we are fragile earthen vessels (cf. 2 Cor 4,7), God loves to pour out his grace. He is convinced that we can move from darkness to light, from dispersion to unity, from wanting to plenitude. This path of communion is the path of all Christians and is your particular mission, for you are the shepherds of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission.

It’s a great vocation, to work as instruments of communion always and everywhere. This means promoting at the same time the unity of the Christian family and the unity of the human family. These two areas are not just opposed but mutually enriching. When, as disciples of Jesus, we offer our services jointly, each opening and meeting, overcoming the temptation  to close ourselves off and insulate ourselves, we promote the unity of Christians as well as that of the human family. We recognize ourselves as brothers who belong to different traditions, but driven by the same Gospel to undertake the same mission in the world. Then it would be always good, before embarking on any activity, for you to ask of yourselves these questions: Why ought not we do this together with our Anglican brothers? Can we bear witness to Jesus by acting together with our Catholic brothers?

It is in sharing the difficulties and joys of the ministry that we once again grow close to each other. May God grant you to be promoters of a bold and real ecumenism, always on a journey in search of opening new paths, which will benefit in the first place your brothers in the Provinces and the Episcopal Conferences. This is always and above all a matter of following the example of the Lord, his pastoral methodology, of which the prophet Ezekiel reminds us: to seek out the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounds, heal the sick (cf. v. 16). Only thus shall the scattered people be brought together.

I would like to refer to our common journey in the footsteps of Christ the Good Shepherd, inspired by the pastoral staff of St. Gregory the Great, which might well symbolize the great ecumenical significance of this meeting. Pope Gregory, from this wellspring of mission, chose and sent St. Augustine of Canterbury and his monks to the Anglo-Saxon nations, inaugurating a great chapter in evangelization, which is our common history, and binds us inseparably. Therefore it is right that this pastoral staff be a symbol of our shared journey of unity and mission.

At the center of the curved part of the staff is represented the Risen Lamb. Thus, while reminding us of the will of the Lord to gather the flock and go in search of the lost sheep, the staff also seems to show us the central content of the love of God in Jesus crucified and risen, the Lamb sacrificed and living. It is love that penetrated the darkness of the sealed tomb, and opened the doors to the light of eternal life. The love of the Lamb victorious over sin and death is the true innovative message to carry together to those who are lost today, and to those who still do not have the joy of knowing the compassionate face and merciful embrace of the Good Shepherd. Our ministry consists in illuminating the darkness with this gentle light, with the meek power of love that conquers sin and overcomes death. We have the joy to recognize and celebrate the heart of the faith. Let us once again make that our center and focus, without being distracted by that, which, enticing us to follow the spirit of the world, would detract from the original freshness of the Gospel. From there comes our shared responsibility, the one mission to serve God and humanity.

It was also pointed out by some authors that the pastoral staves, at the other end, often have a pointed tip. It may well think that the ministry not only recalls the vocation to lead and gather the sheep in the name of the Risen Christ, but also to prod those that tend to stand too close and shut in, urging them to get out. The mission of the pastors is to help the flock entrusted to them, that it be always out-going, on the move to proclaim the joy of the Gospel; not closed in tight circles, in ecclesial “microclimates” which would take us back to the days of clouds and thick darkness. Together we ask God for the grace to imitate the spirit and example of the great missionaries, through which the Holy Spirit has revitalized the Church, which is revived when she goes out of her own accord on the ways of the world to live and proclaim the Gospel. Let us remember what happened in Edinburgh, at the origins of the ecumenical movement: it was precisely the fire of mission that allowed us to begin to overcome the barriers and break down the fences that isolated us and made a common path unthinkable. Let us pray together for this: the Lord grant us that from here might arise a renewed élan for communion and mission.

(Unofficial translation by Vatican Radio)

2. ARCHBISHOP WELBY

The Israelites in the slave labour camps outside Babylon knew about fault and responsibility. In the passage just before this they hear from Ezekiel whom to blame for their exile: it is the bad shepherds, their failed leaders. In the following passage they are told that their desperate plight is also their own fault. There are bad sheep as well as bad shepherds.

In this passage, sandwiched between bad shepherds and bad sheep, it is God who says that He Himself will act. He seeks, he rescues, he feeds, he cares for the weak, but the fat and strong, who can only have become so by evil means, are to be destroyed. We are the sheep, and our Shepherd is God himself. In that sentence is all our hope, our certainty that the Church will live through all its struggles and vicissitudes, for the Good Shepherd finds, cares, judges, and restores. Yet in our confidence, we must not forget the warnings.

We cannot be bad shepherds, for they are rejected. When we fight, and when we lose the obligation of sharing mercy and forgiveness, we not only disobey the explicit prayer and command of Our Lord , but also we become shepherds who devour. The church becomes a circus for gladiatorial combat, in which the losers are shown no mercy.  Augustine, commenting on Psalm 32, says of the Donatists, “Let us grieve for them, my friends, as though they were our own brothers and sisters. For that is what they are, whether they like it or not.”  The wonderful power of the Year of Mercy is in its appeal to the merciful heart of God, in which we must be merciful to each other.

We cannot either be bad sheep, by becoming inward looking, and turning from the Saviour who has gone before us to the poor, the migrant, the slave and the refugee. The Good Shepherd is seeking his people, the fullness of our life is found when we seek with him. Last Christmas, in my chapel, we heard the testimony of a young, trafficked sex worker who had been found by Christians, and through them found the Good Shepherd. We all wept at hope renewed and a journey of healing begun.

While we rejoice that our Good Shepherd is the one who rescues, we also know that we are called to be his feet and hands and mouth. The mouth that calls, the hands that pick up, the feet that cross any obstacle to find the lost sheep and bring it home.

My prayer is always that as God’s family, we are those who look out into a world that is like sheep without a shepherd, where the weak, the unborn, the trafficked, the dying, are treated as inconveniences. Not only do we look, but we respond, saying to the Good Shepherd, “here we are, send us”.

3. COMMON DECLARATION of His Holiness Pope Francis and His Grace Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury

Fifty years ago our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey met in this city hallowed by the ministry and blood of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Subsequently, Pope John Paul II with Archbishop Robert Runcie, and later with Archbishop George Carey, and Pope Benedict XVI with Archbishop Rowan Williams, prayed together here in this Church of Saint Gregory on the Caelian Hill from where Pope Gregory sent Augustine to evangelise the Anglo-Saxon people. On pilgrimage to the tombs of these apostles and holy forebears, Catholics and Anglicans recognize that we are heirs of the treasure of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the call to share that treasure with the whole world. We have received the Good News of Jesus Christ through the holy lives of men and women who preached the Gospel in word and deed and we have been commissioned, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to be Christ’s witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). We are united in the conviction that “the ends of the earth” today, is not only a geographical term, but a summons to take the saving message of the Gospel particularly to those on the margins and the peripheries of our societies.

In their historic meeting in 1966, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey established the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission to pursue a serious theological dialogue which, “founded on the Gospels and on the ancient common traditions, may lead to that unity in truth, for which Christ prayed”. Fifty years later we give thanks for the achievements of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, which has examined historically divisive doctrines from a fresh perspective of mutual respect and charity. Today we give thanks in particular for the documents of ARCIC II which will be appraised by us, and we await the findings of ARCIC III as it navigates new contexts and new challenges to our unity.

Fifty years ago our predecessors recognized the “serious obstacles” that stood in the way of a restoration of complete faith and sacramental life between us. Nevertheless, they set out undeterred, not knowing what steps could be taken along the way, but in fidelity to the Lord’s prayer that his disciples be one. Much progress has been made concerning many areas that have kept us apart. Yet new circumstances have presented new disagreements among us, particularly regarding the ordination of women and more recent questions regarding human sexuality. Behind these differences lies a perennial question about how authority is exercised in the Christian community. These are today some of the concerns that constitute serious obstacles to our full unity. While, like our predecessors, we ourselves do not yet see solutions to the obstacles before us, we are undeterred. In our trust and joy in the Holy Spirit we are confident that dialogue and engagement with one another will deepen our understanding and help us to discern the mind of Christ for his Church. We trust in God’s grace and providence, knowing that the Holy Spirit will open new doors and lead us into all truth (cf. John 16: 13).

These differences we have named cannot prevent us from recognizing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ by reason of our common baptism. Nor should they ever hold us back from discovering and rejoicing in the deep Christian faith and holiness we find within each other’s traditions. These differences must not lead to a lessening of our ecumenical endeavours. Christ’s prayer at the Last Supper that all might be one (cf. John 17: 20-23) is as imperative for his disciples today as it was at that moment of his impending passion, death and resurrection, and consequent birth of his Church. Nor should our differences come in the way of our common prayer: not only can we pray together, we must pray together, giving voice to our shared faith and joy in the Gospel of Christ, the ancient Creeds, and the power of God’s love, made present in the Holy Spirit, to overcome all sin and division. And so, with our predecessors, we urge our clergy and faithful not to neglect or undervalue that certain yet imperfect communion that we already share.

Wider and deeper than our differences are the faith that we share and our common joy in the Gospel. Christ prayed that his disciples may all be one, “so that the world might believe” (John 17: 21). The longing for unity that we express in this Common Declaration is closely tied to the desire we share that men and women come to believe that God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to save the world from the evil that oppresses and diminishes the entire creation. Jesus gave his life in love, and rising from the dead overcame even death itself. Christians who have come to this faith, have encountered Jesus and the victory of his love in their own lives, and are impelled to share the joy of this Good News with others. Our ability to come together in praise and prayer to God and witness to the world rests on the confidence that we share a common faith and a substantial measure of agreement in faith.

The world must see us witnessing to this common faith in Jesus by acting together. We can, and must, work together to protect and preserve our common home: living, teaching and acting in ways that favour a speedy end to the environmental destruction that offends the Creator and degrades his creatures, and building individual and collective patterns of behaviour that foster a sustainable and integral development for the good of all. We can, and must, be united in a common cause to uphold and defend the dignity of all people. The human person is demeaned by personal and societal sin. In a culture of indifference, walls of estrangement isolate us from others, their struggles and their suffering, which also many of our brothers and sisters in Christ today endure. In a culture of waste, the lives of the most vulnerable in society are often marginalised and discarded. In a culture of hate we see unspeakable acts of violence, often justified by a distorted understanding of religious belief. Our Christian faith leads us to recognise the inestimable worth of every human life, and to honour it in acts of mercy by bringing education, healthcare, food, clean water and shelter and always seeking to resolve conflict and build peace. As disciples of Christ we hold human persons to be sacred, and as apostles of Christ we must be their advocates.

Fifty years ago Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey took as their inspiration the words of the apostle: “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3: 13-14). Today, “those things which are behind” – the painful centuries of separation –have been partially healed by fifty years of friendship. We give thanks for the fifty years of the Anglican Centre in Rome dedicated to being a place of encounter and friendship. We have become partners and companions on our pilgrim journey, facing the same difficulties, and strengthening each other by learning to value the gifts which God has given to the other, and to receive them as our own in humility and gratitude.

We are impatient for progress that we might be fully united in proclaiming, in word and deed, the saving and healing gospel of Christ to all people. For this reason we take great encouragement from the meeting during these days of so many Catholic and Anglican bishops of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) who, on the basis of all that they have in common, which generations of ARCIC scholars have painstakingly unveiled, are eager to go forward in collaborative mission and witness to the “ends of the earth”. Today we rejoice to commission them and send them forth in pairs as the Lord sent out the seventy-two disciples. Let their ecumenical mission to those on the margins of society be a witness to all of us, and let the message go out from this holy place, as the Good News was sent out so many centuries ago, that Catholics and Anglicans will work together to give voice to our common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to bring relief to the suffering, to bring peace where there is conflict, to bring dignity where it is denied and trampled upon.

In this Church of Saint Gregory the Great, we earnestly invoke the blessings of the Most Holy Trinity on the continuing work of ARCIC and IARCCUM, and on all those who pray for and contribute to the restoration of unity between us.

Rome, 5 October 2016

 

 

Posted in Anglicans/CofE, Christian unity, Pope Francis address | Tagged , , ,

When Canterbury and Rome meet in a common mission

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, at an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, at an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

[Austen Ivereigh] In the history of this pontificate, October 2016 may come to be seen as the focal point of Christian unity initiatives — beginning with the Orthodox and ending with the Protestants, with the Anglicans (appropriately) sandwiched between the two.

The Pope began the month with a landmark visit to Georgia – where the Orthodox Church is at its most conservative and suspicious of Rome – not long after the news that a document has come to an agreed Catholic-Orthodox position on the vexed questions of “synodality and primacy” during the first millennium.

Given that differences on the synodal structure of the Church and the primacy of the Pope are two of the greatest obstacles to unity between Catholics and Orthodox believers, the document – which has not yet been published – will help to deepen the ties Francis has established with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Cuba in February and Georgia’s Patriarch Ilia II.

At the end of the month, meanwhile, all eyes will be on Francis’s visit to Sweden for the joint Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of  the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses, which he nailed to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. (Technically, the anniversary is October next year, but the year-long commemoration begins this month.)

Again, the meeting will add a personal and symbolic warmth to preceding theological rapprochement, demonstrated recently by a U.S. Lutheran declaration that there are no longer “church-dividing issues” with the Catholic Church on questions of church, ministry and the Eucharist.

But this week is all about Anglicans, hundreds of whom are gathering in Rome for a series of events to mark a half-century of Anglican-Catholic search for unity.

This evening Pope Francis will pray with the leader of the 80m-strong Anglican Communion, Justin Welby, on the 50th anniversary of the first meeting since the Reformation of a pope and an archbishop of Canterbury.

The church where the Vespers will be held (the Sistine Chapel choir will be joining forces with the choir of Canterbury Cathedral to provide the polyphony) is significant: in 597, the prior of the monastery church of San Gregorio al Celio was none other than St Augustine of Canterbury, whom Pope Gregory I sent that year to evangelize England – “this barbarous, fierce and unbelieving nation,” as he described it.

In between that event and the historic 1966 meeting of Michael Ramsey and Blessed Paul VI is a long and complex history in which the Reformation is only part of the story. While one strain of the Church of England is pretty much indistinguishable from Protestantism, another part can sometimes seem more Catholic than the Catholics.

In between is the Anglican mainstream, which at least in England considers itself not so much the product of the Reformation as a reformed version of historic Catholicism.

The 1966 meeting led  to the setting up of the Anglican Center  – known as the ‘Anglican embassy to Rome’ – to help further the understanding between the two Churches. It also sparked a series of bilateral meetings and agreed documents under the auspices of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC).

New Zealand Archbishop David Moxon, who heads the Center, says the official dialogues have produced  “about 85 per cent agreement over basic core doctrine” – including Baptism and Eucharist, missiology and the use of the Bible.

Yet while there will be more of that dialogue this week – including a colloquium at the Gregorian University – the stress now is on joint action and common witness, especially what Moxon describes as “a practical partnership in mission.”

Joining the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury at their joint Vespers at San Gregorio church tonight will be 19 pairs of 36 Anglican and Catholic bishops brought together by the other main dialogue body, the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM). The 19 pairs will be symbolically sent out on mission together by Francis and Welby.

Writing in the English Catholic weekly The Tablet, Moxon says that the two Churches “are capable of formally agreeing on much more, in the areas of biothics, euthanasia, modern slavery, climate change, and many other justice-and-peace issues.” Such a joint mission, he says, “witnesses to the presence of God in ways that are as potent as a great prayer or an uplifting liturgy.”

That will be a key theme of discussion when, tomorrow morning, Archbishop Welby meets Francis in the company of about 20 Anglican bishops – about half of the leaders of the Communion’s 38 provinces, the most populous of which are now in the global South.

The fact that not all are coming is a sign of the deep fractures within the Anglican Communion, which is a loose federation of national Churches rather than a unitary body.

Moxon is full of praise for what he calls Pope Francis’s “extroverted ecumenism,” and is convinced that joint mission will be the main driver of unity between the Churches. If mission starts to drive ecumenism, says Moxon, both sides will “find God drawing us together.”

That, of course, chimes exactly with Francis’s repeated calls for Christians to be and act together in the service of the Kingdom rather than spend time in introverted, intellectual dialogue, which risks closing off the action of the Holy Spirit.

At the background of this week, therefore, is a longstanding recognition that – given differences over authority, the Eucharist, and the priesthood – institutional unity is too far-off a goal to reach for, and that it is better to focus on concrete joint actions in the here and now.

One side effect of this “extroverted ecumenism” may well be to help resolve the Anglican Church’s own crisis of identity.

Last year San Gregorio sent its valuable relic, the head of the crozier of St. Gregory the Great, to the Anglican Primates’ Meeting, which was attempting to resolve the longstanding dispute within the Communion over homosexuality.

Whether its presence helped is not clear, but it was a sign that the Successor of St. Peter cares not just about the unity of the Catholic Church, but the whole of Christendom.

[This article also appears at Crux.]

Posted in Anglicans/CofE, Christian unity, Pope Francis