On Thursday the Synod of Bishops was a background to the grand opening of the Year of Faith. In a 2.5-hour Mass marked with many memory’s to the Second Vatican Council, and attended by the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople and the Archbishop of Canterbury, in addition to several hundred Catholic prelates of various rites, Pope Benedict XVI gave a homily in which he referred to the modern world as experiencing an emptiness:

“Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”. In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. Living faith opens the heart to the grace of God which frees us from pessimism.”

But in the documents of the Second Vatican Council we find a remedy to counter that void, he said.

“[D]uring the Council there was an emotional tension as we faced the common task of making the truth and beauty of the faith shine out in our time, without sacrificing it to the demands of the present or leaving it tied to the past: the eternal presence of God resounds in the faith, transcending time, yet it can only be welcomed by us in our own unrepeatable today. Therefore I believe that the most important thing, especially on such a significant occasion as this, is to revive in the whole Church that positive tension, that yearning to announce Christ again to contemporary man. But, so that this interior thrust towards the new evangelization neither remain just an idea nor be lost in confusion, it needs to be built on a concrete and precise basis, and this basis is the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the place where it found expression.”

The sixth general congregation, chaired by Cardinal John Tong Hon, met in the late afternoon, starting with the recital of Psalm 116. First item of the agenda was the continued voting for the Commission for the Message. After that, 11 Synod fathers made interventions.

Father Robert Prevost, Prior General of the Order of St. Augustine, was the first speaker, and he made some scathing, if truthful, remarks about modern media:

“At least in the contemporary western world, if not throughout the entire world, the human imagination concerning both religious faith and ethics is largely shaped by mass media, especially by television and cinema. Western mass media is extraordinarily effective in fostering within the general public enormous sympathy for beliefs and practices that are at odds with the Gospel.
However, overt opposition to Christianity by mass media is only part of the problem. The sympathy for anti-Christian lifestyle choices that mass media fosters is so brilliantly and artfully engrained in the viewing public, that when people hear the Christian message it often inevitably seems ideological and emotionally cruel by contrast to the ostensible humaneness of the anti-Christian perspective.”

His proposed solution is the introduction of a sense of Christians mystery.

“In order to combat successfully the dominance of the mass media over popular religious and moral imaginations, it is not sufficient for the Church to own its own television media or to sponsor religious films. The proper mission of the Church is to introduce people to the nature of mystery as an antidote to spectacle. Religious life also plays an important role in evangelization, pointing others to this mystery, through living faithfully the evangelical counsels.”

Comparing the clear proclamations of faith in both Islam and Judaism, Patriarch Grégoire III Laham, head of the Greek-Melkite Church, suggested a very clear task for the Synod:

“Our beautiful Christian faith is too complicated: the terms, their content and their explanation. We bathe in an ensemble of dogmas, of mysteries: the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, Redemption, the Sacraments (called mysteries by the Greeks).
These dogmas must be interpreted in a form capable of touching upon daily life, human aspirations, happiness and prosperity, the daily realities of our faithful.
From this, we can see the great importance and need for the New Evangelization to create a concise, precise and clear text on our Faith. This is important for our faithful ad intra, as well as for our fellow non-Christian citizens ad extra.
I hope that this proposition can find its path, and that theologians will be charged with it at the end of our Synod.”

Photo credit: [1] l’Osservatore Romano, [2] Alessia GIULIANI/CPP/CIRIC

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