"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch


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Monday, 5 October 2015


Was the Founder of Taizé Protestant, or Catholic? A Cardinal Solves the Riddle

Fr. Roger Schutz was both. He adhered to the Church of Rome while remaining a Calvinist pastor. Wojtyla and Ratzinger gave him communion. Cardinal Kasper explains how, and why 
Brother Roger Schutz & the Taize Community
Early Days
by Sandro Magister

ROMA, August 25, 2008 – In an interview published on the feast of the Assumption in "L'Osservatore Romano," Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the pontifical council for the promotion of Christian unity, solved a riddle concerning the founder of the multi-confessional ecumenical community of Taizé, Fr. Roger Schutz (in the photo). 

The riddle concerned Schutz's relationship with the Catholic Church. Schutz was a Protestant pastor, of the Reformed tradition and of Calvinist origin. After his death – at the age of 90, killed on August 16, 2005 by a mentally deranged woman, during evening prayers and in the presence of 2,500 faithful – the community of Taizé dispelled the notion that he had secretly converted to Catholicism. But the idea of his conversion was supported by various facts: Schutz had repeatedly received Eucharistic communion from John Paul II; he took communion every morning at the Catholic Mass in Taizé; and he was given communion by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger himself, at the funeral Mass for pope Karol Wojtyla. 

After he became pope under the name of Benedict XVI, Ratzinger commented in touching words – on August 19, 2005, in Cologne, at a meeting with representatives of non-Catholic Christian Churches and communities – on Schutz's death, which had taken place three days before in Taizé. He spoke of him as a luminous example of "interiorized and spiritualized ecumenism," made up above all of prayer. He recalled having had "a cordial friendship" with him, and of having received, on the day of his murder, a letter from him supporting him as pope. 

Benedict XVI also maintains an excellent relationship with Schutz's successor, Brother Alois Leser, a German Catholic. He receives him in private audience at least once a year. Brother Alois's writings frequently appear in "L'Osservatore Romano," the director of which, Giovanni Maria Vian, has also been a great admirer of the community of Taizé for many years. 

But how does Kasper solve the riddle? He denies that Fr. Schutz "formally" adhered to the Catholic Church. And much less did he abandon the Protestantism into which he was born. He affirms, instead, that he gradually "enriched" his faith with the pillars of the Catholic faith, particularly the role of Mary in salvation history, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the "the ministry of unity exercised by the bishop of Rome." In response to this, the Catholic Church allowed him to receive Eucharistic communion. 

According to Kasper, it is as if there had been an unwritten agreement between Schutz and the Church of Rome, "crossing certain confessional" and canonical limits. 

But we'll leave it to the cardinal to give a precise explanation of the "spiritual" ecumenism represented by Fr. Schutz. He once said of himself: "I found my identity as a Christian by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins and the mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking communion with anyone." 

Here is the complete text of the interview, published in "L'Osservatore Romano" on August 15, 2008: 

Roger Schutz, the Monk Symbol of Spiritual Ecumenism 

Interview with Walter Kasper 

Q: Three years have passed since the tragic death of Brother Roger, the founder of Taizé. You yourself went to preside at his funeral service. Who was he for you? 

A: The death of Brother Roger moved me deeply. I was in Cologne for World Youth Day when we heard about the death of Brother Roger, the victim of an act of violence. His death reminded me of the words the prophet Isaiah spoke about the Servant of the Lord: “Ill-treated and afflicted, he never opened his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep dumb before its shearers, he never opened his mouth” (Isa 53:7). Throughout his life, Brother Roger followed the way of the Lamb: by his gentleness and his humility, by his refusal of every act of human greatness, by his decision never to speak ill of anyone, by his desire to carry in his own heart the sufferings and the hopes of humanity. Few persons of our generation have incarnated with such transparency the gentle and humble face of Jesus Christ. In a turbulent period for the Church and for Christian faith, Brother Roger was a source of hope recognized by many, including myself. As a theology professor and then as Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, I always encouraged young people to stop in Taizé during the summer. I saw how much that time spent close to Brother Roger and the community helped them better to understand and to live the Word of God, in joy and simplicity. I felt all that even more when I presided at his funeral liturgy in the large Church of Reconciliation in Taizé. 

Q: What is, in your eyes, the specific contribution of Brother Roger and the Taizé Community to ecumenism? 

A: Christian unity was certainly one of the deepest desires of the prior of Taizé, just as the division between Christians was for him a true source of pain and regret. Brother Roger was a man of communion, who found it hard to tolerate any form of antagonism or rivalry between persons or communities. When he spoke of Christian unity and of his meetings with the representatives of different Christian traditions, his look and his voice enabled you to understand with what intensity of charity and hope he desired “all to be one”. The search for unity was for him a kind of guideline in even the most concrete decisions of each day: to welcome joyfully any action that could bring Christians of different traditions closer, to avoid every word or act that could slow down their reconciliation. He practiced that discernment with an attentiveness that bordered on meticulousness. In the search for unity, however, Brother Roger was not in a hurry or nervous. He understood God’s patience in the history of salvation and in the history of the Church. He never would have acted in ways unacceptable to the Churches; he never would have invited the young people to dissociate themselves from their pastors. Rather than the speed of the development of the ecumenical movement, he was aiming at its depth. He was convinced that only an ecumenism nourished by the Word of God and the celebration of the Eucharist, by prayer and contemplation, would be able to bring together Christians in the unity wished for by Jesus. It is in this area of spiritual ecumenism that I would like to situate the important contribution of Brother Roger and the Taizé Community. 

Q: Brother Roger often described his ecumenical journey as an “inner reconciliation of the faith of his origins with the Mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone.” This road does not belong to the usual categories. After his death, the Taizé Community denied the rumors of a secret conversion to Catholicism. One of the reasons those rumors arose was because Brother Roger had been seen receiving communion at the hands of Cardinal Ratzinger during the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II. What should we think about the statement that Brother Roger became “formally” Catholic? 

A: Born in a Reformed family, Brother Roger had studied theology and had become a pastor in that same Reformed tradition. When he spoke of “the faith of his origins,” he was referring to that beautiful blend of catechesis, devotion, theological formation and Christian witness received in the Reformed tradition. He shared that patrimony with all his brothers and sisters of Protestant affiliation, with whom he always felt himself deeply linked. Since his early years as a pastor, however, Brother Roger sought at the same time to nourish his faith and his spiritual life at the wellsprings of other Christian traditions, crossing certain confessional limits in doing so. His desire to follow a monastic vocation and to found for this purpose a new monastic community with Christians of the Reformation already said a lot about this search of his. 

As the years passed, the faith of the prior of Taizé was progressively enriched by the patrimony of faith of the Catholic Church. According to his own testimony, it was with reference to the mystery of the Catholic faith that he understood some of the elements of the faith, such as the role of the Virgin Mary in salvation history, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharistic gifts and the apostolic ministry in the Church, including the ministry of unity exercised by the Bishop of Rome. In response to this, the Catholic Church had accepted that he take communion at the Eucharist, as he did every morning in the large church at Taizé. Brother Roger also received communion several times from the hands of Pope John Paul II, who had become friends with him from the days of the Second Vatican Council and who was well acquainted with his personal journey with respect to the Catholic Church. In this sense, there was nothing secret or hidden in the attitude of the Catholic Church, neither at Taizé or in Rome. During the funeral of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger only repeated what had already been done before him in Saint Peter’s Basilica, at the time of the late Pope. There was nothing new or premeditated in the Cardinal’s act. 

In a talk he gave in the presence of Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter’s Basilica during the young adult European meeting in Rome in 1980, the prior of Taizé described his own personal journey and his Christian identity with these words: “I have found my own Christian identity by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the Mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone.” In fact, Brother Roger never wanted to break “with anyone,” for reasons which were essentially linked to his own desire for unity and to the ecumenical vocation of the Taizé Community. For that reason, he preferred not to use certain expressions like “conversion” or “formal” membership to describe his communion with the Catholic Church. In his conscience, he had entered into the mystery of the Catholic faith like someone who grows into it, without having to “abandon” or “break” with what he had received and lived beforehand. The meaning of some theological or canonical terms could be discussed endlessly. Out of respect for the faith-journey of Brother Roger, however, it would be preferable not to apply to him categories which he himself considered inappropriate for his experience and which, moreover, the Catholic Church never wanted to impose upon him. Here too, the words of Brother Roger himself should suffice for us. 

Q: Do you see any links between the ecumenical vocation of Taizé and the pilgrimage of tens of thousands of young adults to this small village in Burgundy? In your opinion, are young people sensitive to the visible unity of Christians? 

A: As I see it, the fact that every year thousands of young people still make their way to the little hill of Taizé is truly a gift of the Holy Spirit to today’s Church. For many of them, Taizé represents the first and main place where they can meet young people from other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. I am happy to see that the young adults who fill the tents of Taizé each summer come from different countries of Western and Eastern Europe, and some from other continents, that they belong to different communities of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox tradition, that they are often accompanied by their own priests or pastors. A number of young people who come to Taizé are from countries that have experienced civil wars or violent internal conflicts, often in a still recent past. Others come from regions that suffered for several decades under the yoke of a materialistic ideology. Still others, who perhaps represent the majority, live in societies deeply marked by secularization and religious indifference. In Taizé, during the times of prayer and sharing on the Bible, they rediscover the gift of communion and friendship that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can offer. In listening to the Word of God, they also rediscover the unique treasure that has been given to them by the sacrament of baptism. Yes, I believe that many young people realize what is truly at stake in the unity of Christians. They know how the burden of divisions can still weigh heavily on the witness of Christians and on the building up of a new society. In Taizé they find a kind of “parable of community” that helps to go beyond the rifts of the past and to look towards a future of communion and friendship. When they return home, that experience helps them to create groups of prayer and sharing in their own life-context, to nourish that desire for unity. 

Q: Before heading the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, you were the bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart and, in that capacity, you welcomed in 1996 a young adult European meeting organized by the Taizé Community. What do these meetings contribute to the life of the Churches? 

A: That meeting was indeed a time of very great joy and profound spiritual intensity for the diocese, and especially for the parishes that welcomed the young participants from different countries. Those meetings seem to me extremely important for the life of the Church. Many young people, as I said, live in secularized societies. It is hard for them to find companions on the road of Christian faith and life. Spaces to deepen and celebrate faith, in joy and serenity, are rare. The local Churches sometimes find it hard to walk alongside the young in their spiritual journeys. It is in this respect that large meetings like those organized by the Taizé Community respond to a true pastoral need. Christian life certainly requires silence and solitude, as Jesus said: “Shut yourself in your room and pray to your Father who is in that secret place” (Matt 6:6). But it also needs sharing, encounters and exchanges. Christian life is not lived out in isolation, on the contrary. Through baptism, we belong to the same one body of the Risen Christ. The Spirit is the soul and the breath that animates that body, making it grow in holiness. The gospels, incidentally, speak regularly of a great crowd of persons who came, often from very far away, to see and hear Jesus and to be healed by him. The large meetings held today are part of this same dynamic. They enable the young better to grasp the mystery of the Church as communion, to listen together to the words of Jesus and to put their trust in him. 

Q: Pope John XXIII called Taizé a “little springtime.” For his part, Brother Roger said that Pope John XXIII was the man who had affected him the most. In your opinion, why did the Pope who had the intuition of the Second Vatican Council and the founder of Taizé appreciate one another so much? 

A: Every time I met Brother Roger, he spoke to me a lot about his friendship for Pope John XXIII first of all, then for Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. It was always with gratitude and a great joy that he told me about the many meetings and conversations he had with them over the years. On the one hand, the prior of Taizé felt very close to the Bishops of Rome in their concern to lead the Church of Christ along the ways of spiritual renewal, of unity between Christians, of service to the poor, of witness to the Gospel. On the other hand, he felt deeply understood and supported by them in his own spiritual journey and in the orientation that the young Taizé Community was taking. The awareness of acting in harmony with the thought of the Bishop of Rome was for him a kind of compass in all his actions. He never would have undertaken an initiative that he knew was against the opinion or the will of the Bishop of Rome. A similar relationship of trust continues today with Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke very touching words when the founder of Taizé died, and who receives Brother Alois every year in a private audience. Where did this mutual esteem between Brother Roger and the successive Bishops of Rome come from? It was certainly rooted in human realities, in the rich personalities of the men concerned. In the final analysis, I would say that it came from the Holy Spirit, who is coherent in what he inspires in different persons at the same time, for the good of the one Church of Christ. When the Spirit speaks, all understand the same message, each in his or her own language. The true creator of understanding and brotherhood among the disciples of Christ is the Spirit of communion. 

Q: You are well acquainted with Brother Alois, Brother Roger’s successor. How do you see the future of the Taizé Community? 

A: Although I had already met him previously, it is above all since Brother Roger died that I have come to know Brother Alois better. A few years earlier, Brother Roger told me that everything was planned for his succession, on the day when that would be necessary. He was happy about the prospect that Brother Alois was going to take over. Who could have ever imagined that that succession was going to take place in a single night, after an unthinkable act of violence? What has astonished me since then is the great continuity in the life of the Taizé Community and in the welcome of the young. The liturgy, the prayer and the hospitality continue in the same spirit, like a song that has never been interrupted. That says a lot, not only about the personality of the new prior, but also and above all about the human and spiritual maturity of the whole Taizé Community. It is the community as a whole that has inherited Brother Roger’s charism, which it continues to live and to radiate. Knowing the individuals concerned, I have full confidence in the future of the Taizé Community and in its commitment for Christian unity. That confidence comes to me from the Holy Spirit as well, who does not awaken charisms in order to abandon them at the first opportunity. God’s Spirit, who is always new, works in the continuity of a vocation and a mission. He will help the community to live out and to develop its vocation, in faithfulness to the example that Brother Roger left it. Generations pass, but the charism remains, because it is a gift and a work of the Spirit. I would like to conclude by repeating to Brother Alois and to the whole Taizé Community my great esteem for their friendship, their life of prayer and their desire for unity. Thanks to them, the gentle face of Brother Roger remains familiar to us. 


The official website of the community of Taizé, in 32 languages: 
click on:


The words dedicated to Fr. Roger Schutz by Benedict XVI, in the address to non-Catholic Christians in Cologne on August 19, 2005: 

"I would like to remember the great pioneer of unity, Bro. Roger Schutz, who was so tragically snatched from life. I had known him personally for a long time and had a cordial friendship with him. 

"He often came to visit me and, as I already said in Rome on the day of his assassination, I received a letter from him that moved my heart, because in it he underlined his adherence to my path and announced to me that he wanted to come and see me. He is now visiting us and speaking to us from on high. I think that we must listen to him, from within we must listen to his spiritually-lived ecumenism and allow ourselves to be led by his witness towards an interiorized and spiritualized ecumenism. 

"I see good reason in this context for optimism in the fact that today a kind of network of spiritual links is developing between Catholics and Christians from the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities: each individual commits himself to prayer, to the examination of his own life, to the purification of memory, to the openness of charity. 

"The father of spiritual ecumenism, Paul Couturier, spoke in this regard of an 'invisible cloister' which unites within its walls those souls inflamed with love for Christ and his Church. I am convinced that if more and more people unite themselves interiorly to the Lord's prayer 'that all may be one' (Jn 17: 21), then this prayer, made in the Name of Jesus, will not go unheard." 


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.

Friday, 2 October 2015


The reform of marital procedures backed by Pope Francis will multiply decrees of nullity from a few thousands to many millions. Obtainable very easily even in just 45 days. The synod on the family will open in October to a landscape already changed 

by Sandro Magister

ROME, September 15, 2015 - As the days go by it becomes ever clearer how revolutionary is the scope of the two motu proprio published by Pope Francis on September 8 - the second for the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches - on the reform of procedures for marital nullity cases:

It is the pope himself, in the opening of the document, who presents the reason for the reform:

“The enormous number of faithful who, despite wanting to look after their conscience, too often are turned aside by the juridical structures of the Church.”

In the official presentation of the motu proprio the president of the commission that elaborated the reform, Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota, turned the reason into an objective:

“To move from the restricted number of a few thousand findings of nullity to the enormous number of unfortunates who could have a declaration of nullity but are left out by the existing system.”

Francis has been absolutely convinced for some time that at least half of the marriages celebrated in church all over the world are invalid. He said so in the press conference on July 28, 2013 on the return flight from Rio de Janeiro. He said it again to Cardinal Walter Kasper, as Kasper in turn said in an interview with “Commonweal” of May 7, 2014.

And therefore these faithful unheeded in their anticipation of having the nullity of their marriages recognized are also part, in the vision of Francis as presented by Pinto, of those “poor” who are at the center of his pontificate. Millions and millions of “unfortunates” waiting for the assistance that is due them.

The procedural reform backed by Jorge Mario Bergoglio aims precisely at this: to allow these endless crowds easy, fast, and free access to the recognition of the nullity of their marriages. The synod of last October (see paragraph 48 of the final “Relatio”) expressed generic support for improvements in the procedures. But a good number of fathers said they were against one or another of the reforms proposed by various sides. Which however are precisely the ones now found in the motu proprio.


The reform delineates two main types of marital procedures. There is the ordinary one and the one - entirely new - called “shorter.”

In the ordinary procedure the main innovation is the abolition of the obligatory double decree of nullity. Only one is needed, as previously permitted in experimental form between 1971 and 1983 in the ecclesiastical tribunals of the United States, a concession that was revoked after the flood of nullity decrees issued by the tribunals and the bad reputation of “Catholic divorce” that was the result.

A single decree, without appeal, reduces the duration of an ordinary procedure to about one year.

Ecclesiastical tribunals, moreover, will have to be set up in every diocese of the world, no matter how small or remote, an objective from which the Catholic Church is very far today mainly because of the shortage of churchmen and laity who are experts in canon law.

But there is another more substantial innovation, presented in the new canon 1678 § 1, which will replace the corresponding canon 1536 § 2 of the existing code of canon law.

While in the canon being scrapped “the force of full proof cannot be attributed” to the statements of the parties, unless “other elements are present which thoroughly corroborate them,” in the new canon “the statements of the parties can have the force of full proof,” to be considered as such by the judge “if there are no other elements to refute them.”

One discovers in this an exaltation of the subjectivity of the party bringing the case that matches up neatly with the official presentations of the two motu proprio by Monsignor Pinto and the secretary of the commission he heads, Monsignor Alejandro W. Bunge, with regard to the “principle motivation” that in their judgment drives many Catholics - in the future a “mass” - to apply to their marriage tribunals:

“Nullity is requested for reasons of conscience, for example to live the sacraments of the Church or to perfect a new stable and happy bond, unlike the first one.”

It is therefore easy to foresee that the longstanding controversy over communion for the divorced and remarried will fizzle out amid the facts, replaced by unlimited and practically unfailing recourse to the certification of nullity of the first marriage.


The biggest innovation of the reform backed by Francis is however the procedure called “shorter.”

Very short, actually. According to the new canons it can begin and end in the span of just 45 days, with the local bishop as the sole and ultimate judge.

Recourse to the abbreviated procedure is allowed “in cases in which the alleged nullity of the marriage is supported by particularly evident arguments.”

But there’s more. Recourse to this kind of procedure is not only allowed but encouraged, seeing the superabundant illustration of supporting circumstances furnished by article 14 § 1 of the “Procedural rules” attached to the motu proprio.

The article says:

“Among the circumstances that can allow the handling of the marital nullity case by means of the shorter procedure […] there are for example:
- that lack of faith which can generate the simulation of consent or the error that determines the will,
- the brevity of conjugal cohabitation,
- abortion procured to prevent procreation,
- stubborn persistence in an extramarital relationship at the time of the wedding or immediately afterward,
- the malicious concealment of sterility or of a grave contagious disease, or of children born from a previous relationship, or of incarceration;
- the grounds of the marriage being entirely extraneous to conjugal life or consistent with the unexpected pregnancy of the woman,
- physical violence inflicted to extort consent,
- lack of the use of reason corroborated by medical documents, etc.”

The list is stunning in its disjointed variety. It includes circumstances, like physical violence inflicted to extort consent, that are actual grounds for the nullity of a marriage. But it includes others, like the brevity of conjugal cohabitation, that cannot in any way support a decree of invalidity. And it includes yet another, the lack of faith, that although difficult to evaluate is ever more frequently evoked as the new universal master key for nullity. And yet these circumstances are all listed on an equal footing, together with a final “etc.” that induces one to add other examples at will.

But in addition to being heterogeneous, the list appears to be misleading. In and of itself it lists circumstances that would simply allow one to access the “shorter” procedure. But it is very easy to interpret it as a list of cases that allow one to obtain the recognition of nullity. Many couples have experienced one of the circumstances illustrated - for example, pregnancy before the wedding - and it is therefore natural that the conviction should arise in them that, upon request, their marriage can be dissolved, seeing also the pressure that the Church exercises in suggesting - precisely in the presence of those circumstances - recourse to the procedure of nullity, and moreover to the quick one.

In short, if to this one adds that in every diocese there will have to be a preliminary service of consultation to put on this track those who are seen as fit for it, once a “shorter” procedure thus constituted is underway a decree of nullity will be practically guaranteed. Which according to the common understanding is a divorce, as Pope Francis himself seems to foresee and fear when he writes in the introduction to the motu proprio:

“It has not escaped me how much an abbreviated judgment could put at risk the principle of the indissolubility of marriage."

And he continues:

“For precisely this reason I have determined that the judge in such a procedure should be the bishop himself, who by virtue of his pastoral office is together with Peter the greatest guarantee of Catholic unity in faith and discipline."

Monsignor Pinto, in the official presentation of the reform, admitted however that “a bishop with millions of faithful in his diocese could not personally preside over the decision of nullity for all the faithful who request it.”

Nor must it be overlooked that there are few, very few bishops with the juridical competence necessary to act as judges in such procedures.


Improvised in less than a year and intentionally published before the synod on the family meets in October, the revolution of marital procedures decided by Pope Francis therefore shows itself to be a colossus with feet of clay, the implementation of which promises to be long and difficult, but which has already produced immediate effects on public opinion inside and outside the Church.

Of these effects, the main one is the widespread conviction that now even the Catholic Church has made room for divorce and the blessing of second marriages.

In the official presentation of the reform Bishop Dimitrios Salachas, apostolic exarch of Athens for Greek Catholics of the Byzantine rite, pointed out this other innovation of the motu proprio:

“As it seems to me, this is the first time that a pontifical document of a juridical nature has had recourse to the patristic principle of pastoral mercy called ‘oikonomia’ among the Orientals, to address a problem like that of the declaration of the nullity of marriage.”

Evidently, pope Bergoglio also had this result in mind when two years ago he said, during the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome:

“The Orthodox follow the theology of economy, as they call it, and they give a second chance of marriage, they allow it. I believe that this problem must be studied.”

‘Either it wasn’t a marriage, and this is nullity — it didn’t exist,’ he told reporters. ‘And if it did, it’s indissoluble. This is clear.’ (Pope Francis on the plane to the US)

On March 13th, 2013, the college of cardinals elected Jorge Begoglio to become Pope Francis.   I have been an enthusiastic follower of the last two popes, have drunk in all that they have said, and this has been an enormous help in my vocation "to seek God" as a Benedictine monk.   But there was one thing missing, the wisdom that can only be gained on the streets.   It seems that the college of cardinals agreed with me, so they elected Pope Francis.   It is the strength of the Jesuits that they seek and find God in whatever set of circumstances that Divine Providence has placed them, in the sacrament of the present moment, in the here and now; and Jorge Bergoglio had found God on the streets of Buenos Aires.  We are now "suffering" the consequences of the cardinals' choice.  If I am especially happy at the cardinals' choice, it is because I found God in the streets of Peru.

We arrived, all three of us, at the small town of Tambogrande on the feast of St Bernard, 1981, with the object of founding a monastery and with the charge, by the Archbishop of Piura, of running a parish the size of an English county, with about 80,000 souls, in a town of 20,000, with masses on Sundays and feastdays,  and the rest distributed among a large number of villages, eighty with a chapel and, therefore with mass on great feasts, when we arrived, and one hundred and twenty when left in 1990.  Since the arrival of the Spanish, there had been no systematic attempt to catechise. The parish priest before our arrival was the first parish priest to live in the town.   All the rest preferred to live in Piura, the city a day's donkey ride away, and only came for Sundays and when they were paid on feastdays.   Every fifty ir sixty years, a team of Dominicans, Franciscans, Redemptorists or whatever, would go from town to town, village to village, and stay for two weeks, marrying, baptising, hearing confessions and preaching and teaching.  What they taught was handed down by parents and grandparents; so we came across many people who really knew their faith, but they were a minority.  Parish priests were content to sacramentalise, but not to evangelise.  The last priest before us was parish priest for over forty years.  There was much evidence of his youthful zeal and apostolic fervour; but, without any system of support provided by his bishop, he abandoned his post after forty years, leaving behind a few children, fruit of his occasional lapses from a life of celibacy; but this was hardly noticed in a community where very few are married in church.

The people greeted our arrival with great enthusiasm completely lacking in decorum.   Children crowded into the sanctuary during Mass, sitting on the floor.   People came to communion in droves - as Graham Green wrote, "like hungry dogs," - and would jostle each other and say, "A mi, Padrecito, a mi!!"

They wanted Jesus, but their sexual lives were  a porqueria.  It is true that few were divorced, because they weren't married in the first place.  Men often had more than one family, a custom the Spanish had learnt from the Moors before they came over to Peru, and many women brought up children alone except for the occasional visit of their man.  Homosexuals had a recognised place in society because they served the needs of the adolescents.  Every effort was spent to protect female adolescents from boys because, when they were of an age to marry, girls needed to be virgins.

We gave communion to all comers; but, gradually, people began to go to confession.   We came to realise that many of the people were living quietly heroic lives, especially women, bringing up their children in a macho world.  Many could not escape from their irregular unions, had tried to be married but their husbands wouldn't agree, even if they were free to do so.   One great problem was that a church wedding entailed giving food and entertainment to the whole neighbourhood, and many, perhaps most, could not afford it.

We began having "matrimonios masivos" during fiestas, when everybody was feasting anyway, and we charged very little.   We also had mass baptisms at fiesta time too.  Each matrimony was prepared for by a course that the couple had to attend, as was each baptism; and we trained catechists in each village and in the town.   First Communion, traditionally a great social event, eventually had a course for parents and children that lasted two years; but that was later.  The more instructed and regular became the community, the more the rules were followed; but our first job was to let them see that God loves them.

We didn't always succeed.  On one occasion, I was receiving the kids of the 5th year of secondary for confession in my house, a couple of hundred of them, who came to my house in their own time over a week.   One day, a group of homosexuals came - they were not preparing for Confirmation like the rest - but confession was in the air.   I will always remember the first sentence of the first homosexual who came, "Padrecito, mi pecado mas grande es que soy."  (Father, my greatest sin is that I exist.)  I felt utterly, completely inadequate.   What could I say?  It was so wrong, but how could I put it across that he is very precious because God loves him?  I absolved the lot, and have never forgotten it.

Little by little, the Catholic community began to normalise.  The rules of the Church were being obeyed; but  there were still people in irregular unions who were allowed to go to communion.  We asked ourselves the question, did we want the irregular union to be dissolved, si o no?  Usually the answer was "No", because it was the only stability the children had, and the only way the mother could feed them: it was the place where they experienced love.  We decided it was illogical of us to want the union to continue and stop the mother from going to communion for doing what we wanted her to do.

I am sure that Pope Francis has had similar experiences.  What the people want is Jesus.   You don't meet them with a rule book: you meet them with Jesus.  It is only after they meet Jesus that the rules make any sense and they have the spiritual strength to observe them.   That is my conviction, and it is also that of Pope Francis. As he said to an International Theology congress in the Catholic University of Argentina by video link recently:
In this context, the Pope concluded, doctrine can never be separated from the pastoral context. He pointed to the great fathers of the Church, like Irenaeus, Augustine, Basil or Ambrose, who were great theologians because they were great pastors too. Encountering families, the poor and those who live on the margins of society, he said, is the path to a better understanding of our faith.

 There are people who cannot escape from irregular situations, sometimes because of the fault of others, sometimes because they would be breaking up a viable community of love that is giving a stable background for her family.

I have a king-size bone to pick with Cardinal Burke and his ilk.   They take the book of Canon Law, which is the Gospel teaching and that of the Church turned into laws.   They think that, once Christ's teaching is turned into laws, that makes the laws equivalent to the Gospel, which they aren't.  It belongs to the pre-Vatican II understanding of the Church.   It was thought that by defining its political institution  as a divinely founded perfect society united by papal jurisdiction, and by simply concluding that this perfect society is the mystical body of Christ, they had arrived at an adequate understanding of the Church: they hadn't, as Vatican II has shown us.It is in keeping with the view that the value of the liturgy is found in its official status over against other forms of prayer, which is a highly inadequate understanding of the liturgy when measured beside Sacrosanctum Concilium.  By the side of the Fathers of the Church, the pre-Vatican II ordinary teaching on the Church, as we learnt in Fundamental Theology, was very poor stuff.   In the same way, so much is left out of Catholic  teaching on marriage in the Canon Law books that it has only limited value.  It is not profound enough to analyse theologically the value or lack of it of a marital union that started with adultery but was tranformed by conversion; just as the legalistic view of the Church could not do justice to Protestant communions which also irregular and outside Christ's normal arrangement.

Synod’s Turn To Speak. But Decisions Will Be Up To Francis
The last exchange of fire before the opening of the work. The uncertainty about the procedure. The appeals to the pope. Why in the end it will be he alone who will draw the conclusions 

by Sandro Magister

ROME, September 28, 2015 – Back in Rome after his journey to Cuba and the United States, culminating with the world meeting of families in Philadelphia, Pope Francis is now facing the much more exacting challenge of the synod that will open on October 4, the Sunday of the liturgical year on which - as if by a jest of providence - Catholic churches all around the world will resound with these words of Jesus: “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

The synod will last for three weeks, and the procedures that will be adopted have not yet been made known, despite having a big influence on the outcome of the work.

What is certain is that there will not be a final message, no commission having been set up to write one.

Another definite feature, preannounced by Pope Francis, is that “each week there will be a discussion of one chapter” of the three into which the preparatory document is subdivided:

So this time there will be no “Relatio post disceptationem” halfway through the work, after a first phase of free discussion on everything, as at the synod of October 2014. The discussion will be broken up right away into narrow linguistic groups, each of which will sum up its perspectives in reports destined to remain confidential. At the end of the three weeks there will be a vote on a final “Relatio,” and the pope will give the concluding talk.

Also unlike in the past it is not expected that after a few months there will be a postsynodal apostolic exhortation to cap everything off. The discussion will remain open to future developments. The only embodiment of the provisory conclusions will be the pope’s talk at the end of the work, which will as a matter of course overtop and obscure all the other voices.

In spite of the much-heralded emphasis on collegiality, in fact, the next round of the synod will also see at work in Francis a monocratic exercise of papal authority, as in last year’s session, at the end of which the pope kept alive propositions that had not obtained the votes necessary for approval. And they were precisely the ones on the most controversial points, divorce and homosexuality.


One undisputed sign of this monocratic exercise of papal authority was the publication, last September 8, of the two motu proprio with which Francis reformed annulment procedures (see above)

A reform of marital cases had been expected for some time. But Francis set it in motion while keeping out the family-centered synod, which he knew was not inclined to approve what he had in mind. He set up the preparatory commission in August of 2014, before the convocation of the first session of the synod. And he signed the motu proprio last August 15, before the second session, scheduling its implementation for next December 8.

The most substantial innovation of the new procedures is that in order to obtain a declaration of nullity, the mere word of the applicant will have the “force of full proof,” without the need for other evidence, and the presumed “lack of faith” will act as a universal master key not just for thousands but for millions of marriages to be declared null, with an ultra-fast procedure and with the local bishop as the sole judge.

On this the synod fathers therefore find themselves facing a fait accompli. But it is hard to imagine that they are not discussing it. Church historian Roberto de Mattei has even hypothesized that some synod fathers may ask for the abrogation of this act of governance on the part of Pope Francis, “up to now his most revolutionary.” And he has cited the historical precedent of the retraction made in 1813 by Pius VII - imprisoned by Napoleon Bonaparte - of his act of subjection of the Holy See to the sovereignty of the emperor: a retraction invoked publicly by Cardinal Bartolomeo Pacca, pro-secretary of state, and by other “zealous” cardinals, as well as by the great spiritual master Pio Brunone Lanteri, a future venerable:


Meanwhile, an appeal has been issued in the American magazine “First Things” by a hefty number of theologians, philosophers, and scholars from various countries, asking the synod fathers to reject paragraph 137 of the preparatory document, judged as contrary to the magisterium of the Church and a portent of confusion among the faithful:

The appeal concerns the teaching of Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” on birth control - an encyclical that Pope Francis himself has called “prophetic” - and numbers among its authors and signatories a good number of professors from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family: Stephan Kampowski, Livio Melina, Jaroslav Merecki, José Noriega, Juan José Pérez-Soba, Mary Shivanandan, Luigi Zucaro, as well as luminaries like the German philosopher Robert Spaemann and the Swiss ethicist Martin Rhonheimer.

In the judgment of the signatories of the appeal, paragraph 137 of the preparatory document assigns absolute primacy to the individual conscience in the selection of the means of birth control, even against the teaching of the Church’s magisterium, with the added risk that such primacy could also be extended to other areas, like abortion and euthanasia.

In effect, it is precisely on the primacy of the individual conscience “beyond what the rule might say objectively” that the supporters of communion for the divorced and remarried rely, as one of these, cardinal of Vienna Christoph Schönborn explained in an interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica” of September 26:

“There are situations in which the priest, the guide, who knows the persons, can come to the point of saying: ‘Your situation is such that, in conscience, in your and in my conscience as a pastor, I see your place in the sacramental life of the Church.’”

The split between the individual conscience and the magisterium of the Church is analogous to that which separates pastoral practice from doctrine: a danger that in the judgment of many looms over the synod and has been the object of very strong words from Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, in a lecture given on September 1 in Regensburg on the occasion of the release of the German edition of Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book “God or Nothing”:

According to Müller, “the separation of teaching and practice of the faith” was precisely that which in the 16th century led to the schism in the Western Church. With the deceptive practice of indulgences, the Church of Rome was in fact ignoring doctrine and “the original protest of Luther himself against the negligence of the shepherds of the Church was justified, because one may not play with the salvation of souls, even if the purpose of the deception would be to bring about a good deed.”

And today – the cardinal continued – the question is the same: “We may not deceive the people, when it comes to the sacramentality of marriage, its indissolubility, its openness toward the child, and the fundamental complementarity of the two sexes. Pastoral care must keep in view the eternal salvation, and it should not try to be superficially pleasing according to the wishes of the people.”


As can be seen, the proponents of “openness” are very active, but the stances of those who oppose it are also numerous and strong.

On September 29 there will be a repeat presentation in Rome, backed up with 800,000 signatures including those of 201 cardinals and bishops, of the “Filial Appeal” to Pope Francis that he pronounce “a word of clarification” against the “widespread confusion arising from the possibility that a breach has been opened within the Church that would accept adultery—by permitting divorced and then civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion—and would virtually accept even homosexual unions.”

This appeal to the pope is not far from what was said by Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan and a father at the next synod, in an interview with “Corriere della Sera” of Sunday, September 27:

“The urgent priority, for me, is that the synod would suggest to the Holy Father a magisterial statement that would unify by simplifying the doctrine on marriage. A statement aimed at demonstrating the relationship between the experience of faith and the sacramental nature of marriage.”

The complete text of the interview:

> Scola: "I miei timori sulla famiglia. Ci si sta pensando poco"

On September 30, at the Angelicum University, cardinals Carlo Caffarra and Raymond Leo Burke, two of the five cardinals who on the verge of the synod of 2014 took a stance against their colleague Walter Kasper with the book “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” will reassert their ideas together with Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the congregation for the Oriental Churches and also a coauthor of the book.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015


The themes of the Transfiguration and the Cross
united in one single mosaic
San Apollinare, Ravenna

 “For God so loved the world, the He gave His Only-Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
 Whenever Pope Francis speaks, writes or does anything important, the secular press, and even much of the Catholic press, completely distort his message to the Church and the world by trying to fit it into a pattern of ideas that belong to secular politics; and, in doing so, lead to enormous misunderstanding.  What Francis is attempting to do is something that has nothing whatsoever to do with being right wing or left wing, conservative, liberal or progressive.   Such adjectives are totally irrelevant, totally useless in attempting to interpret Pope Francis.   To understand him we must go back to the Gospel.

Jesus interpreted his presence among the Jews as a proclamation the Lord's Jubilee year, the year when all debts are cancelled, all offences forgiven.  He described this situation in the following terms;
The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favour. (Is 61, 1/Luke 4, 18 - 19)
The Jews knew by their own deliverance from Egypt that God is against all types of slavery and entrapment and that his constant love (hesed) is ready to forgive all kinds of sin.   At the same time, they knew of no society without slaves, accepted that there were circumstances where people needed to sell themselves into slavery or put themselves into debt, and that it is necessary to punish wrongdoing.  They compromised: the maximum length of slavery for a fellow Jew was six years; and all Jewish slaves had to be freed, all debts forgiven, every fifty years. However, as a jubilee every fifty years was only binding if all twelve tribes lived in their allotted area of Israel, and this was ancien history by the first century AD, when Jesus declared a "year of the Lord's favour", it was news indeed.   

This "year" was to be a permanent state for followers of Christ: they would live in mercy, observe the exigencies of mercy, so that they could permanently benefit from God's mercy themselves and should be the means by which God's mercy would be revealed to others.

Jesus came to establish God's kingdom on earth, where the will of God would be done on earth as in heaven.  The more stable, radical, profound and all-embracing was the voluntary, loving obedience of the creature who welcomed God's kingdom   , the more stable and profound would be God's rule.  His weapon was the Incarnation,  with the two wills, human and divine, acting in perfect synergy. Christ established his Kingdom for his Father, not by conquering, but by a life of obedience "unto death".
"…7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
All that is morally evil in the world is the fruit of a radical disobedience, a radical refusal to allow God in, a flight from and rebellion against the very kenotic Love by which creation exists.   When carried to extremes, it is so far from the Source of Being, so close to non-existence, that it can  rightly be called Darkness.   As the light of Christ's obedience to his Father grows with his self-surrender, his self-sacrifice in love, so the darkness of disobedience is diminished and expelled because the Father is filling this obedience with his love.   "He ascended into hell".   As a Russian priest wrote:
 He [Christ]  went where man had gone in his madness, to that profundity and that distance. There is in fact no limit to human fallenness, either. And the Lord descends into Hades, to the very depths of human sin, and there is no terrible, vile, and heinous sin that man has done to which Christ has not reached, which Christ has not touched, which Christ has not taken upon Himself. There is no abomination that Christ has not experienced through His crucifixion and His descent into Hades.
It is precisely because He experienced this, that He attained this, that He reached each one of us in our sin, in our fallenness, that He gives us the opportunity to attain to such heights to which no one had ascended, save the Son of Man. source: Pravmir
There are two scenes in the Gospels that belong together, two feasts in the Church's calendar that are a pair with forty days between them. The two scenes are the Transfiguration and the Garden of Gethsemane; the two feast are the Transfiguration and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: each scene and each feast explains the other.  Peter, James and John sleep in both scenes, in one out of wonder and in the other out of sadness. Yet it is the very desperate struggle of Christ, intent on being obedient unto death in the most extreme circumstances that is the vehicle of God's uncreated light so evident in the Transfiguration.   The darkness of almost non-existence, brought about by radical disobedience to the Source of Light, is being dispersed by the light of Christ's obedience.   By death on the Cross, Christ is conquering death. The obliteration of darkness and the spreading of light throughout the world is the principal theme of the Easter Vigil.

The purpose of a Christian Year of Jubilee, a "year of mercy", is to encourage people to start again, setting them free from all debts, restraints, punishments that impede a new start, just as long as they change direction (repent) and hand over their whole life to God in union with Christ.   There is nothing right wing or left wing, conservative, liberal or progressive about any of this.  Such adjectives are simply too trivial, banal and superficial to be of any use.   It is simply basic Christianity, the meaning of the Resurrection, the basic Gospel for our time.

   Since the"year of the Lord's favour" is now a permanent reality for Christians, when a pope calls a jubilee, it becomes an occasion for the Church to be more truly itself, to do more consciously in that year what it is bound to do all the time: it is a challenge to authenticity.
To help us, I am putting together N.T. Wright, who was Anglican Bishop of Durham and is recognised as perhaps the leading New Testament scholar of our time, Pope Benedict XVI who is, to say the least, one of the most prestigious Catholic theologians of our time, and Pope Francis.  All three, in their separate ways, preach the same basic Gospel message that forms the theme of the Year of Mercy.  

I put Popes Benedict and Francis together because I do not believe that their versions of Catholicism differ in substance. They even share a favourite theologian in Henri de Lubac!  Both accept basic Catholic teaching and have a very intelligent and spiritually profound understanding of it.   Both, like Pope John Paul II, realise that the modern world needs a new evangelisation.   Where they differ is that one is a German academic theologian, while the other is a South American pastor whose theology has had to be re-learned on the streets of Buenos Aires.   This may have led to a difference of opinion as to the likelihood of Catholic marriages being valid in a population that is largely unevangelised, and what to do about it. We shall be looking into that question at the end of this post.

For the present, watch and listen to the videos of N.T. Wright, especially the first and the last; read Pope Benedict's sermon on the resurrection of Christ; and then read carefully what the Year of Mercy means to Pope Francis, in his own words.   

Remember what Pope Benedict says:
The Resurrection was like an explosion of light, an explosion of love which dissolved the hitherto indissoluble compenetration of "dying and becoming". It ushered in a new dimension of being, a new dimension of life in which, in a transformed way, matter too was integrated and through which a new world emerges.
We already enter by faith and baptism into this new world and share in its very essence in holy communion.  To allow us to live this new life, to make use of our new capabilities, to take up our new duties, to activate our new charisms as people in whom Christ lives, Christ unshackles us from our past and forgives our sins.  To heighten awareness of this process and to bring people into it, both as evangelisers and as evangelised, is the purpose of the Year of Mercy.

 Remember also what N.T. Wright says in his last video,"The living God can actually come into distraught, 'don't know how to cope' situations, and actually transform them, right now."  This is because we have a job to do, to proclaim the message, "Repent and be released from your sins." This is not just a message about the past, nor is it only about the distant future This is not a message only for individuals, but for families, towns and peoples.  It is about Christ's living presence here and now, addressing people here and now, calling us into the new dimension brought about and revealed in Christ's resurrection.  Once people realise that they have been going the wrong way and change direction to do the will of God, God will take away all that has been holding them back and will transform their situation from within by Christ's presence.  That is evangelisation.

The Atonement Debate
How God Became King
The Meaning of the Resurrection


Vatican Basilica
Holy Saturday, 15 April 2006


"You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here" (Mk 16:6). With these words, God’s messenger, robed in light, spoke to the women who were looking for the body of Jesus in the tomb. But the Evangelist says the same thing to us on this holy night: Jesus is not a character from the past. He lives, and he walks before us as one who is alive, he calls us to follow him, the living one, and in this way to discover for ourselves too the path of life.

"He has risen, he is not here." When Jesus spoke for the first time to the disciples about the Cross and the Resurrection, as they were coming down from the Mount of the Transfiguration, they questioned what "rising from the dead" meant (Mk 9:10). At Easter we rejoice because Christ did not remain in the tomb, his body did not see corruption; he belongs to the world of the living, not to the world of the dead; we rejoice because he is the Alpha and also the Omega, as we proclaim in the rite of the Paschal Candle; he lives not only yesterday, but today and for eternity (cf. Heb 13:8).

But somehow the Resurrection is situated so far beyond our horizon, so far outside all our experience that, returning to ourselves, we find ourselves continuing the argument of the disciples: Of what exactly does this "rising" consist? What does it mean for us, for the whole world and the whole of history? A German theologian once said ironically that the miracle of a corpse returning to life - if it really happened, which he did not actually believe - would be ultimately irrelevant precisely because it would not concern us. In fact, if it were simply that somebody was once brought back to life, and no more than that, in what way should this concern us? But the point is that Christ’s Resurrection is something more, something different. If we may borrow the language of the theory of evolution, it is the greatest "mutation", absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development: a leap into a completely new order which does concern us, and concerns the whole of history.

The discussion, that began with the disciples, would therefore include the following questions: What happened there? What does it mean for us, for the whole world and for me personally? Above all: what happened? Jesus is no longer in the tomb. He is in a totally new life. But how could this happen? What forces were in operation? The crucial point is that this man Jesus was not alone, he was not an "I" closed in upon itself. He was one single reality with the living God, so closely united with him as to form one person with him. He found himself, so to speak, in an embrace with him who is life itself, an embrace not just on the emotional level, but one which included and permeated his being. His own life was not just his own, it was an existential communion with God, a "being taken up" into God, and hence it could not in reality be taken away from him. Out of love, he could allow himself to be killed, but precisely by doing so he broke the definitiveness of death, because in him the definitiveness of life was present. He was one single reality with indestructible life, in such a way that it burst forth anew through death. Let us express the same thing once again from another angle. His death was an act of love. At the Last Supper he anticipated death and transformed it into self-giving. His existential communion with God was concretely an existential communion with God’s love, and this love is the real power against death, it is stronger than death. The Resurrection was like an explosion of light, an explosion of love which dissolved the hitherto indissoluble compenetration of "dying and becoming". It ushered in a new dimension of being, a new dimension of life in which, in a transformed way, matter too was integrated and through which a new world emerges.

It is clear that this event is not just some miracle from the past, the occurrence of which could be ultimately a matter of indifference to us. It is a qualitative leap in the history of "evolution" and of life in general towards a new future life, towards a new world which, starting from Christ, already continuously permeates this world of ours, transforms it and draws it to itself. But how does this happen? How can this event effectively reach me and draw my life upwards towards itself? The answer, perhaps surprising at first but totally real, is: this event comes to me through faith and Baptism. For this reason Baptism is part of the Easter Vigil, as we see clearly in our celebration today, when the sacraments of Christian initiation will be conferred on a group of adults from various countries. Baptism means precisely this, that we are not dealing with an event in the past, but that a qualitative leap in world history comes to me, seizing hold of me in order to draw me on.

 Baptism is something quite different from an act of ecclesial socialization, from a slightly old-fashioned and complicated rite for receiving people into the Church. It is also more than a simple washing, more than a kind of purification and beautification of the soul. It is truly death and resurrection, rebirth, transformation to a new life.

How can we understand this? I think that what happens in Baptism can be more easily explained for us if we consider the final part of the short spiritual autobiography that Saint Paul gave us in his Letter to the Galatians. Its concluding words contain the heart of this biography: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20). I live, but I am no longer I. The "I", the essential identity of man - of this man, Paul - has been changed. He still exists, and he no longer exists. He has passed through a "not" and he now finds himself continually in this "not": I, but no longer I.

With these words, Paul is not describing some mystical experience which could perhaps have been granted him, and could be of interest to us from a historical point of view, if at all. No, this phrase is an expression of what happened at Baptism. My "I" is taken away from me and is incorporated into a new and greater subject. This means that my "I" is back again, but now transformed, broken up, opened through incorporation into the other, in whom it acquires its new breadth of existence. Paul explains the same thing to us once again from another angle when, in Chapter Three of the Letter to the Galatians, he speaks of the "promise", saying that it was given to an individual - to one person: to Christ. He alone carries within himself the whole "promise". But what then happens with us? Paul answers: You have become one in Christ (cf. Gal 3:28). Not just one thing, but one, one only, one single new subject. This liberation of our "I" from its isolation, this finding oneself in a new subject means finding oneself within the vastness of God and being drawn into a life which has now moved out of the context of "dying and becoming". The great explosion of the Resurrection has seized us in Baptism so as to draw us on. Thus we are associated with a new dimension of life into which, amid the tribulations of our day, we are already in some way introduced. To live one’s own life as a continual entry into this open space: this is the meaning of being baptized, of being Christian. This is the joy of the Easter Vigil. The Resurrection is not a thing of the past, the Resurrection has reached us and seized us. We grasp hold of it, we grasp hold of the risen Lord, and we know that he holds us firmly even when our hands grow weak. We grasp hold of his hand, and thus we also hold on to one another’s hands, and we become one single subject, not just one thing. I, but no longer I: this is the formula of Christian life rooted in Baptism, the formula of the Resurrection within time. I, but no longer I: if we live in this way, we transform the world. It is a formula contrary to all ideologies of violence, it is a programme opposed to corruption and to the desire for power and possession.

"I live and you will live also", says Jesus in Saint John’s Gospel (14:19) to his disciples, that is, to us. We will live through our existential communion with him, through being taken up into him who is life itself. Eternal life, blessed immortality, we have not by ourselves or in ourselves, but through a relation - through existential communion with him who is Truth and Love and is therefore eternal: God himself. Simple indestructibility of the soul by itself could not give meaning to eternal life, it could not make it a true life. Life comes to us from being loved by him who is Life; it comes to us from living-with and loving-with him. I, but no longer I: this is the way of the Cross, the way that "crosses over" a life simply closed in on the I, thereby opening up the road towards true and lasting joy.

Thus we can sing full of joy, together with the Church, in the words of the Exsultet: "Sing, choirs of angels . . . rejoice, O earth!" The Resurrection is a cosmic event, which includes heaven and earth and links them together. In the words of the Exsultet once again, we can proclaim: "Christ . . . who came back from the dead and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever". Amen!

© Copyright 2006 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana


To My Venerable Brother

Archbishop Rino Fisichella
President of the Pontifical Council 
for the Promotion of the New Evangelization

With the approach of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy I would like to focus on several points which I believe require attention to enable the celebration of the Holy Year to be for all believers a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God. It is indeed my wish that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective.

My thought first of all goes to all the faithful who, whether in individual Dioceses or as pilgrims to Rome, will experience the grace of the Jubilee. I wish that the Jubilee Indulgence may reach each one as a genuine experience of God’s mercy, which comes to meet each person in the Face of the Father who welcomes and forgives, forgetting completely the sin committed. To experience and obtain the Indulgence, the faithful are called to make a brief pilgrimage to the Holy Door, open in every Cathedral or in the churches designated by the Diocesan Bishop, and in the four Papal Basilicas in Rome, as a sign of the deep desire for true conversion. Likewise, I dispose that the Indulgence may be obtained in the Shrines in which the Door of Mercy is open and in the churches which traditionally are identified as Jubilee Churches. It is important that this moment be linked, first and foremost, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a reflection on mercy. It will be necessary to accompany these celebrations with the profession of faith and with prayer for me and for the intentions that I bear in my heart for the good of the Church and of the entire world.

Additionally, I am thinking of those for whom, for various reasons, it will be impossible to enter the Holy Door, particularly the sick and people who are elderly and alone, often confined to the home. For them it will be of great help to live their sickness and suffering as an experience of closeness to the Lord who in the mystery of his Passion, death and Resurrection indicates the royal road which gives meaning to pain and loneliness. Living with faith and joyful hope this moment of trial, receiving communion or attending Holy Mass and community prayer, even through the various means of communication, will be for them the means of obtaining the Jubilee Indulgence. My thoughts also turn to those incarcerated, whose freedom is limited. The Jubilee Year has always constituted an opportunity for great amnesty, which is intended to include the many people who, despite deserving punishment, have become conscious of the injustice they worked and sincerely wish to re-enter society and make their honest contribution to it. May they all be touched in a tangible way by the mercy of the Father who wants to be close to those who have the greatest need of his forgiveness. They may obtain the Indulgence in the chapels of the prisons. May the gesture of directing their thought and prayer to the Father each time they cross the threshold of their cell signify for them their passage through the Holy Door, because the mercy of God is able to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom.

I have asked the Church in this Jubilee Year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus himself taught us. Each time that one of the faithful personally performs one or more of these actions, he or she shall surely obtain the Jubilee Indulgence. Hence the commitment to live by mercy so as to obtain the grace of complete and exhaustive forgiveness by the power of the love of the Father who excludes no one. The Jubilee Indulgence is thus full, the fruit of the very event which is to be celebrated and experienced with faith, hope and charity.

Furthermore, the Jubilee Indulgence can also be obtained for the deceased. We are bound to them by the witness of faith and charity that they have left us. Thus, as we remember them in the Eucharistic celebration, thus we can, in the great mystery of the Communion of Saints, pray for them, that the merciful Face of the Father free them of every remnant of fault and strongly embrace them in the unending beatitude.

One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe they they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.

A final consideration concerns those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X. This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one. From various quarters, several Brother Bishops have told me of their good faith and sacramental practice, combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint. I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity. In the meantime, motivated by the need to respond to the good of these faithful, through my own disposition, I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins.

Trusting in the intercession of the Mother of Mercy, I entrust the preparations for this Extraordinary Jubilee Year to her protection.

From the Vatican, 1 September 2015


© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

This letter is neither left wing nor right wing, liberal or conservative.   Some blog writers who are obsessed with their own sick view on whatever Pope Francis does, have exclaimed that this letter tells women that they can have abortions whenever they like.   Clearly, they have not read the letter.

The letter deals with two kinds of people who could have been all too easily left out.  The gift of mercy is for absolutely everyone who asks for it.  Women and others involved in abortion normally must seek absolution only from priests designated by the bishop, thus underlining the gravity of the sin.  So that all who repent can receive absolution, all priests may absolve this sin, thus underlining the mercy of God.

Another group of people could also make things difficult for people to receive mercy are the schismatic priests of the Society of Pope Pius X.  As they and their bishops are out of communion with Rome, their bishops cannot give the priests jurisdiction to absolve. This is a consequence of being in open rebellion against papal authority.   In this letter, the pope grants to these priests the faculty that their bishops cannot give them to hear confessions , so that ALL may receive mercy.

It must be understood that any change of emphasis or of rules that is sought by Pope Francis does not involve a change in the basic teaching of the Church.  The Church will still teach after the Synod that Christian marriage, for example, is for life.  It is not the doctrine of marriage that the Pope wants to change - he has repeated the traditional teaching many times - but the rules governing marriage.   He wants rules that make possible the New Evangelisation.  Here are a few of the changes that are being discussed: 

  •  A large part of the Christian population is unevangelised. This means that there are many Catholics simply do not have the spiritual stamina to observe Jesus' teaching on marriage "till death do us part." While being legally Catholics, they take their standards from the contemporary world, not from the Gospel; and statistics show that their marriages are no more stable than those of their non-Christian neighbours.   All the evidence points to the probability that, in matter of marriage, that their baptism is inert. The Canon Law does not take that into account.  It can be argued that unevangelised Christians are incapable of having a valid Christian marriage because this assumes an intimacy with God that they do not have, and a view of marriage that they only, at the very best, pay lip-service to.
  • It could be argued that lukewarm Catholics are often more formed by facebook and television, by secular culture rather than by what the have learned of their faith, and that this has so distorted their values that they too often probably enter invalid marriages.
  •  All this becomes important when these people are in the process of being brought into a new relationship with God through the New Evangelisation.   This new outreach by the Church to lapsed Christian does call for a revision of present Canon Law that presumes that a Christian marriage is valid when a large number of them very probably aren't.
  • There is a third situation: that of people who have conducted a valid marriage, but that marriage has broken up, and both partners have new families.   They have committed adultery; but the new family has children, and the new couple have returned to the faith and have become practising Catholics, sending their kids to Catholic schools, attending Mass, and doing everything short of breaking up the new family.  One thing that we all agree is that the second union is not a sacramental marriage because only the first one was that.   Pope Francis is in total agreement, as is Cardinal Kasper.  They are not going to change the basic teaching of the Church.   The differences lie in what to do with a member of a family who has committed adultery by "marrying" someone else and now has another family.  There are three possible attitudes to the new family: a) it is simply an adultrous union, the first marriage being ontologically in existence, even if the couple have completely separated.   It is against the will of God, the couple is in mortal sin and, of course cannot go to communion.  b)   it began life as an adulterous union; but once its members began to live a Christian life, to support one another in the faith, and to be a means of grace for the children, it became something else, a Christian community, even though something less than a sacramental family.  Comparison has been made with a Protestant ecclesial community which lacks the structure of a sacramental local church, but has become a means of grace to its members because of the mercy of God and the action of the Holy Spirit.   Like an ecclesial community that can function imperfectly as a church for its members, it shares some of the functions of a sacramentally united family, but is cannot symbolise the unity of Christ with his Church because it lacks the "once and for always" quality.
  •  When a second union is functioning in this way, can the couple go to communion?   "No," says Pope Benedict, "Because the existence of this family unit is contrary to the plan of God and the teaching of the Church.  But they must consider themselves as real members of the Church, and practise as far as they can,  making do with 'spiritual communion' at the Eucharist, instead of sacramental communion."   "Yes," says Cardinal Kasper, "Because they are not excommunicated; nor are they to be considered in mortal sin, because no one in unrepented mortal sin can make even a spiritual communion because his supernatural life is dead (which is what 'mortal sin' means).   Once it is admitted that they can make a spiritual communion, there is no reason for keeping them away from sacramental communion.   Besides, the pastoral good that comes from parents and children communicating together , and the spiritual good to them that allows them to give a wholehearted response to the New Evangelisation outweighs any good that comes from keeping the old rules.
  • It must be remembered that the situation that would allow people in second, non-sacramental families to go to communion demands the context of a whole-hearted conversion to Christ where, from the moment of this conversion, they strive to live by the values of the kingdom.
  • Cardinal Burke and company are confusing Law with the Gospel. Or, perhaps, they believe the best way to defend the Church against secular society is to build a wall and hide behind it, enabling them to carry on as they have always done, oblivious to the plight of all on the other side of the wall.
  •  Canon Law is based on the teaching of the Church, but is not identical with it.  Laws made by the Church to back up Christian civil society can become an obstacle to evangelisation when, after the collapse of Christendom, we wish to hold out a helping hand to the victims who have been wounded by a secular society without God.
  • The picture of the Catholic Church used as a paradigm in Vatican I, of a perfect society united by the universal jurisdiction of the pope, is true, but can only give a limited insight by itself into the nature of the Church; and there is no room in it to recognise the ecclesial reality of the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches nor the more limited but no less real reality of the ecclesial communities of the Reformation.  We need the eucharistic ecclesiology of Vatican II and seeing the Christian llife as essentially communion to do justice to the wider picture.  For exactly the same reason, to deal with marriage as a holy but basically legal contract, and to deal with the whole subject in  terms of Canon Law,and in degrees of legal certainty rather than in terms of communion of persons, is incapable of appreciating the wider picture.   Thus, to say that "They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist” is not accurate because a legalistic approach simply cannot cope with an adulterous union becoming, through conversion, a non-sacramental but real instance of living in communion with Christ, any more than the paradigm of the Church as a perfect society can do justice to churches separated from Rome by schism.




St Michael and All Angels 2015 

“I tell you solemnly, you will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.”
            The first Christian monks believed that this word of Jesus to Nathanael was as much the basis of their vocation as the texts from the Acts of the Apostles describing the life of the first Christian community in Jerusalem. So together with the terms Apostolic Life and Coenobitic Life, the early monks and nuns used the term Angelic Life to describe the wonderful way to which the Lord had called them the live. So the Belmont Community, that has the privilege of living under the protection of St Michael and All Angels, is a community not just of apostles and coenobites: we are angels, for that is what God has called us to be like, a choir of angels. And the longer you live in the community and get to know the brethren, the more you come to realise how true that is.
            Why were the desert fathers so struck by the similarity of a monk’s life to that of an angel? To begin with, the Bible constantly tells us that the angels stand in God’s presence night and day singing his praises, worshipping his majesty, sharing in his glory, enjoying his presence, seeing his face. That is what a monk seeks to do, through the grace and mercy of God. We are aware of God’s presence not only when we gather together in church to celebrate the liturgy, but also in the refectory, the calefactory, the cloister, our cells, the parishes and other places where we work, in fact, wherever we happen to be. The desire to practise continuous prayer leads us to seek God and find him in all the circumstances of our lives, whatever we are doing, and in all people.
            The Scriptures also tell us that the angels are God’s messengers and servants. Has it ever struck you that only an angel can evangelise? So our vocation, such a tremendous gift of God, calls us to proclaim the truth and the beauty of God’s word, the wisdom and the righteousness of his will, his extraordinary and gracious love for creation and for each one of his creatures. At the same time, we are called to serve the monastic community, our brethren, with charity and humility and without murmuring, as St Benedict repeatedly reminds us in the Holy Rule. And there is a wider call to service in the Church and in the world. Just think what Christian monks and nuns have contributed to mankind, to civilization, in so many areas of life.
            In our abbey church, we are all aware of the many angels who surround us and accompany us in our prayer: they are just everywhere. Yet, the angels we see depicted in art are only a reminder of the countless angels we cannot see with our eyes but are truly present when we join in their song of adoration: Holy, Holy, Holy. They speak powerfully to us of what and who we are called to be in the mystery of God’s love and the intentions of his Divine heart. May today’s feast and this celebration help us remember that we must become as the angels, light as a feather on the breath of God in the singing of his praises, prophetic messengers and obedient servants of the Lord in preaching his word, nothing without Him but everything with Him.
            On behalf of the monastic community, I wish you all a very happy feast day and to the brethren, who celebrate the anniversary of a profession or an ordination, every prayer and blessing. May the angels lead us all into paradise today and for ever. Amen.


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