Synod of Bishops – Day Two

Yesterday saw the third and fourth general congregation of the Synod, presided over by Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega. The morning session was devoted to interventions from the Synod fathers, and 25 prelates made use of the option to make a five-minute presentation  on some point the wanted to highlight. And that time limit is rather strict, as Bishop Kicanas points out: “[I]t must be five minutes, since one’s mic is turned off exactly when five minutes have passed. Those getting close to being turned off rush to get in as much of their text as possible.”

There were several general trends in the interventions: penance, education and a focus on the personal relation with Jesus Christ. As Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera López, appointed to  Monterrey in Mexico one week ago, pointed out: “We cannot evangelise properly if we do not educate properly. And we do not educate properly if we do not evangelise.” Several prelates emphasised the need for humility, most notably  the Philippine Archbishops Luis Tagle of Manila and Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan. The latter said:

“The new evangelization calls for new humility. The Gospel cannot thrive in pride. When pride seeps into the heart of the Church, the Gospel proclamation is harmed […] The hierarchy must shun arrogance, hypocrisy and bigotry. We must punish the errant among us instead of covering up our own mistakes. We are humans among our human flock. All our beauty and holiness we owe to God. This humility will make us more credible new evangelizers. Our mission is to propose humbly not to impose proudly.”

There were also an intervention from one of the fraternal delegates, non-Catholics invited to attend and share their thoughts and experience. The Lutheran Bishop of Lapua in Finland, Simo Peura (pictured), summarised some of the points in the Instrumentum laboris and wished to all attendants and the “Synod of Bishops the Blessing of the Triune God.”

Special guest Dr. Lamar Vest of the American Bible Society, in the morning’s final intervention, emphasised the role of the Bible and harkened back to the previous Synod of Bishops, which was devoted to the Bible.

The fourth general congregation began in the late afternoon with prayer, followed by voting for the members of the Commission for the Message. This commission will compose a nuntius or pastoral Message to the People of God, especially those involved with the Synod. The message will be presented at the end of the Synod. Cardinal Giuseppe Betori and Archbishop Luis Tagle presided over the election, which will select eight members in addition to the aforementioned clerics and two members appointed directly by the pope.

After this election, the interventions continued. Nine Synod fathers intervened, among them Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, who spoke first about the reality of evil and then about the important role of women in the Church. He said:

“It is time to clarify that, if the Church does not ordain female priests, this is not because they are less capable or less worthy! On the contrary! It is solely because the priest is not only a “minister of the rite”, but a representative of Christ the Groom Who came to wed humanity. Let us give thanks for the quality and the specificity of the massive contribution of women to evangelization. Some strong gestures should underline this clearly. Without joyous women, recognized in their own being and proud of belonging to the Church, there would be no new evangelization.”

Especially some of the South-American Synod fathers, but also Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris, emphasised the importance of countering secularism in the parishes and society.

Following the interventions, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, presented a report on the implementation of the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, published after the previous Synod of Bishop which, as mentioned before, was devoted to the Word of God.

The second full day of the Synod was closed with a viewing of an edited version of a documentary produced by the  Pontifical Council for Social Communications on the Second Vatican Council.

Summaries of the interventions and Cardinal Ouellet’s report may be found in the two bulletins devoted to yesterday’s proceedings.

 Photo credit: [1] Pope Benedict XVI speaking with Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, CNS Photot/Paul Haring, [2] KT/Markku Pihlaja


Moning reflection: pride

He spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being upright and despised everyone else,
‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.”
The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.’

Luke 18:9-14

Another well-known Gospel reading at Mass today, but also a very significant one. At first glance it reminds us not to be boastful, not to pride ourselves on things at the expense of others.

The pharisee may well speak the truth above: he may indeed by generous, just and faithful, fasting and paying his tithes. But to whom does he compare himself? To the Lord God, of whom his life should be a reflection? No, he compares himself to those who, in his own perception, are not as generous, just and faithful as he is. What this incorrect direction of comparison leads to is rather beautifully shown in the line, “The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself”. He doesn’t pray to God, he speaks his boastful words to himself.

When we compare ourselves to others and then boast about how much better we are than they, we become the arbiter of how things should be. Rather than looking up to God who can lift us up into a more perfect life with Him, we stop at ourselves. When we do something that is good in our own perception, then it must be good, for we decide that for ourselves.

But we are imperfect beings, living in an imperfect world. We are eternally called to improve ourselves, to strive for a life in imitation of Christ. That means that we follow someone who is above and outside ourselves, someone more perfect.

Does that mean we can’t take pride in our achievements? No, we can, but we must make the clear distinction between what we ourselves are able to do, and what has been given us. And we must certainly not take that pride as a reason to look down upon others. In the eyes of God we are all sinners, as the tax collector recognises. We also rarely have the complete picture, so taking pride over the expense of others is ultimately unjust.

In our imitation of Christ, we should make use of the talents that have been given us, and we should appreciate them. But they are tools and do not make us better people in themselves. It’s how we use them that matters most.

Art credit: “The Pharisee and the Publican,” by James Tissot