I loved living in la bella Roma for the past three months while on sabbatical. I returned to good ole Georgia last night and will continue my sabbatical until December 3rd when I return to my wonderful parish in the Holy Land of Macon, Georgia. I am good to go.
But while in the air over the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, Pope Francis new Apostolic Exhortation was released. It is wonderful and it will truly prepare our Church for the 21st century that got off to a very, very rocky start as the Church is concerned.
I would recommend you read the apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium yourself which you can read here here. Don't read the spin the secular press gives or those who are ultra traditionalists or ultra progressives. READ IT HERE!
But there are three things you can read where the Holy Father tells you there will be no discussion, case closed. The first is on abortion and the second on women's ordination to Holy Orders, (deacon, priest and bishop) and by extension of those two, no to the manipulation of the true nature of marriage, such as same sex unions and the combination of possibilities:
On abortion, an unambiguous statement:
On the role of women in ministry and decision making but NO TO THE PRIESTHOOD--discussion closed!Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, “every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offense against the creator of the individual”.
Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.
"I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection," the pope wrote.
At the same time, he said, "demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded."
"The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion," the pope said, "but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general."
The idea that ordination equals power not only robs the Church of valuable contributions from women, he said, it presents a misguided view of the priesthood and the sacraments.
"The configuration of the priest to Christ the head -- namely, as the principal source of grace -- does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others," Pope Francis wrote. "In the Church, functions 'do not favor the superiority of some vis-a-vis the others.'"
Even when considering the priest's role within the hierarchical structure of the Church, he said, "it must be remembered that 'it is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ's members.' Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God's people."
Pope Francis said the Church and society need women and always have benefited from their contributions, including "the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess."
"I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood," he wrote. "But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church," including "the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church's life."
On the manipulation of the true nature of marriage (and with an explicit reference to the French Bishops who have been fighting the redefining of marriage in France to include same sex unions and the first time the Holy Father has confirmed their initiatives!:
The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born “of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life”.
I have not read the entire exhortation yet, only summaries. What I sense from it is that what is happening in the local Churches, dioceses and parishes, as well as new movements is where it is at, not the Vatican. All of us know this is the truth, even in pre-Vatican II times. It never has been the Vatican actually, nor our local bishops and exalted pastoral centers, but in our parishes where 99.9% of us Catholics experience Catholicism and what we are meant to do.
First, we touch most of our people in the pews (unfortunately only about 25% and fewer) at our Sunday Mass. Mass must be beautiful and oriented toward adoration of God, not the exaltation of the congregation.
We have two forms of this Mass in in the Latin Rite and three if you count the Anglican Use Mass. Do these well and beautiful and by the book. There can be variety not only in forms but in the style of the celebrations, including music and cultural accretions, but do them by the book and remove the NARCISSISM of the clergy and laity out of it by the humility of our sinfulness and unworthiness and the reduction of the pride of personality and horizontal self reference! WATCH HOW POPE FRANCIS CELEBRATES THE MASS, AND YOU WILL SEE WHAT I MEAN.HE CELEBRATES THE MASS EVEN WHEN FACING THE CONGREGATION IN AN "AD ORIENTEM" SORT OF WAY! HE POINTS TO CHRIST, NOT HIMSELF IN TERMS OF HIS PERSONALITY.
On the parish level and diocesan level, women outnumber men and this has always been the case, even in pre-Vatican II times when there was an abundance of Women Religious in parishes, schools, hospitals and care for the poor. In fact, Women Religious were the backbone of the Church and today, lay women continue this.
Just look at St. Joseph Church, Macon! The vast majority of pastoral workers, paid and volunteer are women. Women are chairmen of our pastoral council, finance council, stewardship council and other committees. In these councils and committees real decisions are made, but more importantly real work, pastoral work.
And thanks to the Daughters of Charity our parish is situated very well in going to the periphery of those who live on the edge of Macon society, the homeless and poor as well as needy families of a variety of configurations. We help without asking questions about doctrinal positions or moral lifestyle.
Our Saint Vincent de Paul Society goes to the periphery every day.
The question for our ministry to the poor is to find ways to help them to experience the Catholic Church apart from being a "Non Governmental Organization" (NGO). How do we invite them to Mass, to our way of praying and living the Gospel? How do we invite them to become Catholic and to see Christ in our Church building as well as our people?
Finally, the pope is grieved by all the vitriolic polarization in the Church (and so am I). These are the Pope's money quotes (summarized by Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB at Praytell):
“when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.” (38). Then we risk “the edifice of the Church’s moral teachings…becoming a house of cards.” (39) Instead of the Gospel, we would be teaching “certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.” (39)
Relativism in Pastoral Workers: In a culture of skepticism toward Christianity, many pastoral workers “develop a sort of inferiority complex which leads them to relativize or conceal their Christian identity and convictions.” They are obsessed with “being like everyone else.” (79) Pastoral workers fall into “relativism” which is not just about doctrine, but about “the deepest and inmost decisions that shape their way of life.” There is a “practical relativism” – “acting as if God did not exist.” (80)
Worldliness in Pastoral Workers: The pope seems to have a two-pronged critique of those on the so-called left and right. He critiques “Gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten,” and then he goes on to critique a ‘self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.” This latter leads to “narcissistic and authoritarian elitism.” (94)
Mercy: The Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” (47) We should not act as “arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators,” and the church is not a “tollhouse” but “the house of the Father.” (47)