"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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Tuesday, 21 October 2014


Look to the East for canonical-spiritual balance, synod members say
Posted on October 13, 2014 by Jim Lackey
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — By tapping into its Eastern theological and spiritual traditions, the Catholic Church could find an appropriate way to minister to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics and others in situations the church considers irregular, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said.

“According to the tradition of the Byzantine church, a priest or a bishop is not a judge. His task is not to justify or to condemn somebody, especially in such a delicate area as marriage and family,” Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the major archbishop of Kiev-Halych, told reporters Oct. 11. “Our task, our duty is to be spiritual fathers and provide some sort of spiritual healing.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, leaves the morning session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 13. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Much of the initial discussion at the Synod of Bishops on the family, he said, was “focused on canonical procedures and possibilities — how to help those who were married and then divorced to be more and fully accepted into the Christian communities. But our tradition is mostly focused not in canon law, in canonical procedures, but in the spiritual and aesthetical guidance of Christians.”

No one at the synod is questioning the Christian teaching that marriage is indissoluble, he said; “our question is how do we support and help the people of today’s culture, people who are getting more and more fragile,” to grow spiritually.

Pope Francis has described the church as a “field hospital” in the midst of a battle, the archbishop said. “We have to deal with so many wounded people. And we have to realize how many different possibilities, how many instruments Jesus Christ gave us.”

The church’s medicine chest includes: “spiritual assistance, the sacraments of the church, prayer, blessings, support, solidarity,” he said. On a battlefield, “in some cases, a physician would apply very strong and not very sweet medicines in order to save the life. But in some cases we are to provide some — I would say — more efficient medicine, not to cover a wound, but to heal.”

At a time when “the globalized culture is becoming more and more aggressive against the very institution of family,” he said, the church must take seriously its responsibility “to proclaim that according to the Christian faith, family is a covenant between man, woman and God.”

The bishops at the synod, he said, are realistic in recognizing there is no “simple and general rule,” no single medicine, that will bring healing to all couples in irregular situations. However, “everybody would agree that we have to approach those people, we have to be with them, they have to feel that church is mother, but a teacher as well, that they are not alone in their difficult situation.”

“Our hope, our final goal,” he said, is to help every Catholic grow “toward a holy and happy life in the fullness of Jesus Christ. Our goal is not to put everybody into the right canonical position. Our goal is not to declare that somebody is right or wrong. Our goal is how to help everyone grow in the grace of God.”

The married couples and families Archbishop Shevchuk ministers to are not all laypeople; like other Eastern Catholic churches in full union with Rome, his church admits married men to the priesthood. Overall, he said, about 90 percent of the Ukrainian Catholic priests are married and about 99 percent of the priests in his archdiocese are.

Adapting an expression of St. Alphonsus Liguori about good and bad priests, the archbishop said, a happy, solid priest’s family is “a very attractive and truthful way to proclaim the Gospel of the family.”

“I have to think how to be a good father not only to my priests, but to their families,” he said. “And if some family of our priests will fall into serious crisis, it will be a big tragedy not only for them, but for the church.”

Archbishop William C. Skurla of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh also spoke to Catholic News Service about the experience of his church with married priests.

“One of the benefits is that it is a family right in the heart of the church and it allows them to be more responsive to the needs of the people,” he said. “As one of the major archbishops said, ‘It’s a lot easier if you know the price of a loaf of bread or a pound of sugar.’ It gives them a little more credibility in dealing with married people.”

However, he said, “the downside is that it has all of the problems with marriage itself; it is a challenge to remain married, and to balance the life of the family and the life of the parish for the priest, his spouse and the children.”

For everyone today, the archbishop said, “it is a challenge to be married and have a family,” but a married priesthood “is also a support and something that gives life to not only the family of the priest and his wife, but also to the parish.”

He was a 19-year-old doing his obligatory service in the Soviet army in 1989 when the Soviet Union finally legalized the Eastern Catholic Church in Ukraine, allowing members to leave their catacomb existence and openly profess and celebrate their faith.

Meeting reporters Oct. 11 during the Synod of Bishops on the family, he said his people’s experience was that the family was “the last defense of human dignity; only inside the family did we feel ourselves protected because society outside your own home was very dangerous, not human, not Christian.”

As tensions and battles in the Eastern part of the country with pro-Russian militants continue, he said, the suffering of families and their essential role in society are clear once again.

Pain is a common experience, he said, especially for mothers “because they have to send their sons to a war and many of them will receive their sons (back) in a coffin. This is a tragedy.”

The destruction of the economy that comes with social unrest also is weighing particularly heavily upon families. “War brings poverty, economic crisis (and) unemployment, so mothers and fathers today are thinking, ‘How will we heat our house next winter?’ ‘Where will we find money to buy food for our family? How will we provide an education for our children?'”

In addition, he said, many young people are afraid to get married when the future is so uncertain, and as many as half a million people have been displaced.

To be uprooted “is something horrible,” he said. “When you have to leave your home, all your previous personal and family history, to leave your old mother or father who are not able to travel with you, to leave the graves of your ancestors, to leave your churches — this is a tragedy.”

Still, the archbishop said, the people of Ukraine live in hope. “The new Ukraine that is being born amid suffering is a new society” yearning for full freedom and full democracy, bringing together people from every religion and ethnic group. “This new Ukraine that is being born cannot be killed, not even with Russian tanks.”

Sunday, 19 October 2014


The Eucharist in the Syriac Tradition
By Chorbishop Seely Beggiani

It was the divine will of Christ that he would be with us always, and that we are called to be part of his Mystical Body. After His Ascension, Christ continues His work of sanctification and salvation through the mysteries [sacraments]. In the Syriac tradition and in other traditions, the Eucharist is seen as the central mystery toward which all other mysteries are drawn. It is the climax of the process of Christian initiation by which we become disciples of Christ. Baptism and Chrismation prepare believers for participation in the Eucharist. It is the Eucharist that forms Church and unites us to one another in the love of Christ. Through the sacramental body of Christ we grow as members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

Baptism, Eucharist, and the Community of Faith

The Syriac writers presume a direct relationship between baptism and the Eucharist. If Baptism incorporates the candidate into the Church, it also enables him to have access to the Holy Eucharist which is the cause and manifestation of that incorporation. Aphraat teaches in his Demonstration No. 12 -- On the Passover: "When his heart has been circumcised from evil works, one then proceeds to Baptism, the consummation of the true circumcision; he is joined to the people of God and participates in the Body and Blood of Christ." St. Ephrem sees a direct link between Baptism and the Eucharist when he declares: "Once this womb [the baptismal font] has given birth, the altar suckles and nurtures them: her children eat straight away, not milk, but perfect Bread!" (Hymn on Virginity, No. 7).

Ephrem summarizes his teaching in his Hymn on the Epiphany, No. 3: "The figure has passed [that is, the Old Testament types], the truth is realized, with oil you have been signed, by baptism you have been rendered perfect, you have been mingled in the flock, you have been nourished with His Body."

Old Testament Types of the Eucharist

The Syriac writers sought to learn the meaning of the Eucharist by meditating on the Scriptures where they found a dazzling variety of types foreshadowing the Eucharist. James of Saroug draws a parallel between the "deadly fruit" eaten by Adam in the garden, and the "Fruit of Life" that brought Adam and his descendants back to life. The manna which came down from the heavens and fed the Jews in the desert prefigures the "Food of Life" who would give of Himself to feed the world. The bread of the Last Supper meal becomes the Body of Christ to be eaten by human beings.

James of Saroug recalls the practice described in the Book of Numbers (cf. Numbers 19) where God orders that a red heifer be slaughtered as a sin-offering and its blood sprinkled on the meeting tent. James sees the red heifer as a type of the future Christ who, through his death, would achieve forgiveness of sins. The Mosaic law s prescribing the weekly offering of shewbread (cf. Leviticus 24: 5-9) foreshadows the unbloody sacrifice of the Eucharist.

Other types of the Eucharist include: the jug of oil of the widow which was never exhausted in giving nourishment to the widow, her son, and Elijah (cf. I kings 17:8ff); and the body of Eliseus which was God s instrument to restore life to the dead boy, and thus is a type pre-figuring the life-giving body of Christ (cf. II Kings 4: 32ff). Finally, there is the type of the offering of bread and wine by Melchizedek which foreshadows the end of bloody sacrifices (cf. Gen 14:18).

Symbols of the Eucharist

The Syriac writer James of Saroug also speaks about symbols of the Eucharist. For example, in the story of the good Samaritan, we are told that the Samaritan uses oil and wine to treat the wounds of the Jew who had been attacked by robbers. For James, the oil is a symbol of the baptismal seal and the wine symbolizes the cup of wine, which becomes the Blood of Christ given to heal the wounds of sinners.

The "burning coal" by which the seraph purified the lips of Isaiah represents the power of the body of Christ to purify us of our sins. It also represents the fact that Christ immolated himself for us through his sacrifice on the altar of the cross.

Syriac writers often see the pearl's qualities of fire, light, and purity as a representation of Christ. (There was also the ancient legend that pearls were formed virginally through the action of lightning on the oyster.) However, James of Saroug, reflecting on the biblical parable of the pearl of great price, considered the pearl as signifying a precious possession. It therefore symbolizes the Eucharist, the "life-giving pearl", for which we should sacrifice all that we have.

The Divine Presence

For the Syriac writers the Incarnation is the climax of God's plan of creation. God in His benevolent love for us became one of us in order to save us. St. Ephrem views the humanity of Christ as the instrument of salvation. For him, that same body in which Christ healed humans and rose again, He gave us in sacramental form to heal us, to incorporate us in Him in the Church, and to give us a pledge of His resurrection.

St. Ephrem often meditates on the presence of the divine in the bread and wine. In his Hymn on the Faith. No. 6, he declares: "For in the Bread is eaten a strength not to be eaten and in the Wine is drunk a might not to be drunk..."

In fact, St. Ephrem draws a parallel between the divine action at the Incarnation and at the Eucharist. He declares in the Hymn on the Faith. No. 10:

In the womb that bore you are Fire and the Spirit,
Fire and Spirit are in the river where you were baptized,
Fire and Spirit are in our Baptism too,
And in the Bread and the Cup are Fire and Spirit.

The Syriac fathers were aware that in the Eucharist we are dealing with a great mystery, one that could be grasped only by faith. St. Ephrem believes that the spiritual eyes of faith are able to pierce through shadows and forms and arrive at reality. Using his poetic talents he sometimes tries to express his theological views through the use of narrative such as a meditation by Mary on Christ that he constructs in his Hymn on the Nativity, No. 11:

For [when] I see that outward form of Yours before my eyes, the hidden Form is shadowed forth in my mind, O holy One.

In your visible form I see Adam,and in your hidden form I see Your Father, who is joined with you.

Have you then shown me alone Your Beauty in two Forms?

Let Bread shadow forth you, and also the mind; dwell also in Bread and in the eaters thereof.

In secret, and openly too, may your Church see You, as well as Your Mother.

Lo! Your Image is shadowed forth in the blood of the grapes on the Bread [the intinction during the Divine Liturgy]; and it is shadowed forth on the heart with the finger of love, with the colors of faith.

The Eucharist as Sacrifice

The Eucharist is the sacrifice by which Christ offered himself for our redemption. Foreshadowed by the Passover Lamb of the Old Testament which liberated the Jews, Christ is the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" through the shedding of his blood on the cross. For James of Saroug, Christ has immolated Himself in the presence of the Father. The blood shed on Golgotha is the "medicine of life" for the world.

The Doctrine of the Eucharist

The Syriac world often sought to express its theological beliefs in its worship. It truly exemplifies the ancient adage that the "law of faith is the law of prayer; and the law of prayer is the law of faith." While the Syriac world in its history had to deal with many major and difficult doctrinal issues, its belief in the Eucharist and the real divine presence in the Eucharist were never questioned.

The Church in the west had to deal with a number of controversies regarding the Eucharist, especially the teaching of the Protestant reformers. The Council of Trent declared the Church's official teaching on the Eucharist, and used the formula of official teaching on the Eucharist, and used the formula of transubstantiation to express this teaching. The Maronite Church, of course, believes and accepts all the teachings of Councils and of the Church.

The Eucharist as Nourishment

The Syriac writers view the Eucharist as divine nourishment for our spiritual journey. In his Homily on Our Lord, St. Ephrem explains that our deficiency is filled by the "leaven" from the Body of Christ. Christ who possesses fullness and life in His body supplies for our deficiency and gives life to our mortality.

James of Saroug teaches that just as we have received the gift of immortal life freely, we should give freely to those most in need. Those who receive the Body and Blood of Christ ought to give bread to the hungry and drink to the thirsty.

The Eucharist as Pledge of Immortality

In his Hymn on the Faith, No. 10, St. Ephrem declares in poetic form that the power of the Eucharist overcomes the power of death: "Your Bread kills the Devourer [Death] who had made us his bread, Your Cup destroys death which was swallowing us up. We have eaten you, Lord, we have drunk you, not to exhaust you, but to live by you."

The Eucharist Forgives Sins

As noted above, the Eucharist is the fruit of the redeeming sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The one sacrifice of Christ merits forgiveness for all people for all time. In the Syriac tradition, as well as that of other Churches, the Eucharist is seen as forgiving sin. This is the theme repeated in all the Anaphoras of the Syriac tradition. James of Saroug refers to the place of worship as the "house of forgiveness".

An ancient Syriac homily on the sinner woman in the Gospel attributed to a Bishop John teaches the following: "Behold, it is written of the sinner that she kissed only the feet of Christ, but it is not written that she received his body. And if the kisses of a sinner, given with faith, shook and overthrew the fortress of her debts, how much more we ourselves who embrace Him with love and receive Him with faith, shall we be purified of our faults and sins, and He will answer our requests."

 Eucharistic Symbolism in Ephrem
Tenny Thomas

Ephrem and the Liturgy

Life of Ephrem

In this paper, I will analyze Ephrem’s most important madrashe on the liturgy, “The Mysteries of the Eucharist,” along with his madrashe on Faith, Pearls, Church, Unleavened Bread and Nativity where Ephrem considers the Holy Eucharist. Ephrem the Syrian, known as ‘Harp of the Holy Spirit’ is undoubtedly the greatest poet and theologian that the Syrian Church ever produced. He is described as ‘the greatest poet of the patristic age and perhaps the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante.’ Ephrem was not only a well-known figure in the Syriac-speaking world but also had a great reputation in the Greek East as well as the Latin West. Within the patristic age itself Ephrem’s reputation as a holy man, poet and a theologian was widely known far beyond his Syrian homeland. Less than fifty years after Ephrem’s death Palladius included him among the ascetic saints whose memory he celebrated in the Lausiac History. Sozomen the historian celebrated Ephrem’s memory as a popular ecclesiastical writer, some of whose works had been translated into Greek even during his lifetime.
For Ephrem, the sacred is a dimension that does not submit to analytical investigation by the faculties of reason; only the more fluid logic of scriptural imagery is subtle and allusive enough to evoke it. As Sebastian Brock, a leading authority on early Syriac – speaking Christianity, has eloquently put it: “So astounding is the nature of the Christian mystery — God not just becoming Man, but becoming the very Bread for man to eat — that it is often more meaningful to describe this paradox in the language of poetry, where parable, myth and symbol can perhaps approximate to spiritual reality rather more successfully than straightforward theological description”.

Although Ephrem wrote biblical commentary, prose refutations of the teachings of those whose views he regarded as false, prose meditations, dialogue poems and metrical homilies (memre), there can be no doubt that his preferred genre was the “teaching song” (madrosho). Translators have often called these songs “hymns”, but since they are not primarily songs of praise, the term is not really apt. Rather, they are “teaching songs” (madroshe); they were to be chanted to the accompaniment of the lyre (kennoro), on the model of David, the Psalmist. Perhaps the closest analogue to the madrosho is the Hebrew Piyyut, a genre of liturgical poetry that was sung or chanted during Jewish religious services. Popular in Palestine from the eighth century on, the Piyuut featured biblical themes and literary devices strikingly similar to those employed by Ephrem.

Ephrem composed his “teaching songs” for the liturgy. According to Jerome, Ephrem composed his “teaching songs” for the Divine Liturgy and were to be recited after the scripture lessons. Madroshe would eventually find a place in the liturgy of the hours in the Syriac speaking churches from the earliest periods for which textual witnesses remain. These madroshe consisted of meditations on the symbols that God distributed in nature and scripture. These symbols, which Ephrem often called roze (sing, rozo) in Syriac, which in turn, by God’s grace, discloses to the human mind those aspects of the hidden reality that are within the range of human intelligence.

There are several symbols that Ephrem uses to explain the Eucharist that I will analyze, notably, the Eucharist as “Food”, “Living Coal”, “Pearl” and “Medicine of Life.” In his madrashe on Faith, Ephrem explains that if John the Baptist held even Christ’s sandal straps in awe, how can he hope to approach Christ’s very body? Ephrem takes refuge in the example of the woman who gained healing just through touching Christ’s garment – which in another sense is indeed his body, being the garment of his divinity. The hidden power that lay in Christ’s garment is also present in the Bread and the Wine, consecrated by the fire of the Spirit.


Ephrem views the Eucharistic body of Christ in dynamic continuity with the actual body of the historical Jesus. As the body of Christ, the Eucharist partakes of the entire historical and eternal reality of Christ in all its complexity — divine and human, corporeal and incorporeal, exalted and earthbound, and, of course, body and blood. In other words, for Ephrem the Eucharist is nothing less than the entire eschatological mystery of Christ taking place here and now in history:

Your bread killed insatiable death which had made us its bread. Your cup put an end to death which gulped us down. Lord, we have eaten and drunk you, not to exhaust you, but to have life in you.
Although Ephrem never used the Greek word “Eucharist,” he had much to say about the Body and the Blood of the Lord in the bread and wine of the church’s daily sacrificial offering to God. For his thoughts on the Body and Blood of the Lord, and their place in the life of the church, one must survey the wide range of his madroshe, searching for the verses in which he instructs the faith of the Christians in attendance at the sacred mysteries.

Qurbono is the Syriac word Ephrem used for the liturgical action we call the Eucharist. It has the sense of “sacrificial offering”, and, as it occurs in the madroshe, refers both to the sacrificial offering associated with the Jewish Passover and to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In Ephrem’s world, Christians offered the holy qurbono not only at Easter, Sundays and major feast days, but every day. This is clearly implicated in one of Ephrem’s madroshe, On Paradise:

The assembly of the saints is on the type of Paradise. In it the fruit of the Enlivener of All is plucked each day. In it, my brothers, are squeezed the grapes of the Enlivener of All.
Ephrem refers to the daily qurbono as “the breaking of the bread and the cup of salvation,” often speaking of our Lord’s “breaking his own body”, at the Passover supper, an obvious evocation of the close connection in his mind between Calvary and the Last Supper. Ephrem says of this particular event:

He broke the bread with his own hands in token of the sacrifice of his body. He mixed the cup with his own hands, in token of the sacrifice of his blood. He offered up himself in sacrifice, the priest of our atonement.
For Ephrem, “the Last Supper and its table symbolizes the first church and the first altar, and by extension, representative of all churches and all altars”. Therefore, in his madroshe, Ephrem often calls attention to the prefigurations of the Eucharist in the New Testament and the numerous types and symbols of it in the narratives of the Old Testament. In his estimation, they all find their ultimate focus in the Last Supper and in its consummation on the cross, when blood and water flowed from the pierced side of Christ (John 19:34). This represents the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism respectively, and thereby inaugurating the era of the church. Ephrem’s thought on this subject is particularly rich in symbolism, involving a typological connection between the Cherubim’s sword that guarded the way to the tree of life in paradise after Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:24), and the lance which opened Christ’s side on the tree of the cross, thus providing a new entry to glory for the new Adam’s progeny:
Ephrem’s symbolic interpretation of the piercing of Christ’s side is particularly complicated. Christ is the second Adam, from whose side is born the second Eve, the Church; yet through that opening we enter paradise, to come again to the Tree of Life, which is sometimes the Cross but also sometimes Christ himself.

Eucharist as “Food”
In Ephrem’s writings, the Eucharist emerges as a complex reality that can never be reduced or exclusively equated with any one of its aspects such as, the Eucharist as “food”. Rather, a flexible and often complex exchange of images allows the Eucharist to be viewed from seemingly paradoxical vantage points simultaneously. By merging the scriptural identification of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and with the scriptural identification of Jesus as Bread, Ephrem arrives at a composite image which includes both elements: “The Shepherd has become the food for his sheep” (Madrosho on the Church 3, 21). The same dynamic process is at work in the following chain of images that focus on a single reality, but is viewed from different perspectives:

Blessed is the Shepherd who became a lamb for our atonement. Blessed is the Vine that became a chalice for our salvation. And blessed is the Farmer who became the Wheat that was planted, and the Sheaf that was harvested. (Madrosho on the Nativity 3, 15)
Eucharist as The Power to Forgive Sin

References to the Eucharist in its capacity to forgive sins abound in Ephrem’s writings, and as the following excerpts illustrate, his discussion draws from a variety of biblically inspired images:
I am astonished by our will; though strong, it has let itself be conquered; though a ruler, it has let itself be enslaved; victorious, it desired defeat. See, the foolish scribe has signed his own bill of debts. Blessed is the one who granted us freedom with his bread, and erased the bill of our debts with his chalice. (Madrosho on the Church 32, 2)Just as Adam killed life in his own body, in this very same way, in the body of the one who perfects all, See, the just were perfected, and sinners have found forgiveness. (Madrosho on Unleavened Bread
In Ephrem, Fire represents an image of the divine presence and takes on the added dimension of purifying and cleansing when it is viewed in a Eucharistic context. In the Eucharist, fire’s potential to destroy gives way to its ability to vivify and save those who receive it:
The Fire of mercy has come down to dwell in bread. Instead of the Fire that consumed people, you have eaten Fire in the bread, and have found life. (Madrosho on Faith 10, 12)
Eucharist as “Burning Coals”

Fire imagery figures in a number of expressions used in reference to the Eucharist in Syriac texts. For example, particles of the Eucharistic bread are often called “embers” or “burning coals” (gmurotho), usually with reference to the passage in Isaiah 6:6-7, where the prophet speaks of the Seraphim who touched his mouth with a burning coal from the altar of the temple. In an image of the Eucharist as cleansing and purifying, Ephrem links the divine fire of God’s presence to the image of Isaiah’s purification with a fiery coal. Ephrem makes this connection in his madrosho on Faith. He says,
The Seraph could not touch the fire’s coal with his fingers, the coal only just touched Isaiah’s mouth: the Seraph did not hold it, Isaiah did not consume it, but us our Lord has allowed to do both! To the angels who are spiritual Abraham brought food for the body and they ate. The new miracle is that our mighty Lord has given to bodily man Fire and Spirit to eat and to drink.
Ephrem’s liturgical theology had a profound and lasting influence on the development of Syriac liturgy, where the image of the Eucharist as a purifying fire is commonplace. The power of the Eucharist to forgive sin assumes a prominent liturgical role in the Eucharistic prayers of Syriac speaking Churches. After the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer we find a virtual rite of communal penance that includes an imposition of hands over the congregation by the priest and an accompanying prayer, which speaks of the remission of “unconscious” as well as “conscious sins.” Immediately following this rite, the celebrant announces to the congregation, which he now addresses as “Holy,” with the invitation: “Holy things for the Holy.”
In the following verses, preserved only in an Armenian translation, Ephrem speaks of that “moment” in the liturgy when the Eucharistic bread is broken. The mosaic of images depicts the Eucharist reaching beyond the grave to refresh the dead, while on earth, it forgives the sins of the living:
With awe and discernment; let our hearts revere his death, and our souls yearn for his Mystery. The people of Israel glorified in that manna that even the uncircumcised ate; how much more should we then exalt in this Bread of Life, which not even watchers [i.e., angels] attain. Water poured out of the rock for the [Israelite] people; they drank and were strengthened; but a fountain poured out from a tree on Golgotha, for [all] people. Eden’s other trees were there for the first Adam to eat; but for us, the very planter of the garden has become food for our souls. This moment, more than any others, should be esteemed in your minds; the Son has descended to hover over [Gen 1:2] the forgiving altar. The bones of the dead in Sheol drink the dew of life as they are remembered before God at this moment. Now if the dead receive such benefit now, how much more shall the living receive forgiveness; Blessed is the one who was sacrificed by one people for the life of all people. (Armenian Madrosho 49)
Eucharist as “Pearls”

There is a fire-related image seen in the writings of Ephrem when speaking of the Eucharistic elements as “pearls”. For in the Syrian conception, the pearl is born when lightning strikes the mussel that produces it in the sea. Similarly, according to the Syrian fathers, Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary when Fire and Spirit came within her. Bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ due to the action of Fire and the Spirit. Accordingly, it is not surprising to find Ephrem often using the popular symbol of the pearl for Christ himself and for the Eucharistic elements. In one place Ephrem says, “Christ gave us pearls, his Body and Blood”. Ephrem, in a passage referring to the holy Qurbono, says, It is not the priest who is authorized to sacrifice the Only-Begotten or to raise up that sacrifice for sinners to the Father’s presence: rather, the Holy Spirit goes forth from the Father and descends, overshadows and resides in the bread, making it the Body, and making it treasured pearls to adorn the souls that are betrothed by him.
In another madrosho, Ephrem gives this advice to would be communicants in attendance at the holy liturgy:
The Body and the Blood are living pearls; let them not be demeaned in soul and body that are unclean vessels. Heaven and earth are in the incomparable pearl; do not receive your Lord’s holiness in an unclean vessel.
Eucharist as “Medicine of Life”
In Ephrem’s writings another constant epithet for the Eucharist is “living medicine” or “medicine of life” (sam hayye). The Body and the Blood of the Lord are thought to bring healing to the faithful Christian. Addressing Christ, Ephrem in one of his madrosho On Faith says,
Your Bread slays the greedy one who has made us his bread, your Cup destroys death who had swallowed us up; we have eaten you, Lord, we have drunken you; not that we will consume you up, but through you we shall have life.
To express the fullness of the mystery that is Christ, Ephrem juxtaposes images of the actual body of the historical Jesus with allusions to the Eucharistic body of Christ until the images merge and resolve into a single, integrated whole. Ephrem views the Eucharist as part of a wider manifestation of the divine presence (Fire) and power (Spirit) already revealed at the baptism of Jesus.
Like the woman who was afraid but took heart and was healed (Luke 8:40) heal me of my flight from fear that I may take heart in you. I will progress from your clothes to your body to speak of you as best I can.Lord, your clothes are a fountain of cures; your invisible power dwells in your visible clothing. A little saliva from your mouth (John 9:6), and again, a great wonder: Light from mud.In your bread is hidden Spirit which cannot be eaten. In your wine dwells a Fire which cannot be drunk. Spirit in your bread, Fire in your wine, Clearly a wonder, which our lips receive.When our Lord came down to earth among mortals he made them a new creation — like watchers [i.e., angels]; for he mixed Fire and Spirit in them so they would invisibly become Fire and Spirit.See, Fire and Spirit in the womb of her who bore him; see, Fire and Spirit in the river where you were baptized. Fire and Spirit are in the baptismal font. And in the bread and the cup — Fire, and the Holy Spirit. (Madrosho on Faith 10)
Ephrem draws insistent attention to the physical reality of Christ’s body which he calls the “Treasury of Healing.” Since, as the Gospels record, contact with the physical body of Jesus, and even with his clothing, was able to effect cures, Ephrem speaks of the Eucharistic body of Christ as able to cure and restore those who receive it.
Medical science with its cures does not suffice for the world; but the all-sufficient Physician saw the world and took pity. He took his body and applied it to its pain, and he healed our suffering with his body and blood. And he cured our sickness. Praise be the Medicine of Life, for he is sufficient, and he healed our pain with his teaching. (Madrosho on Nisibis 34, 10).
In Ephrem’s view, the forgiveness of sins flows directly from the Eucharist. He contrasts the willfulness of the sinner with the gratuity of God’s forgiveness. He says, I am amazed at our will: while it is strong, see it brought low; while it is a lord, see it enslaved; while it is a victor, it wills to succumb; free, it surrenders its mouth like a slave, and sets its own hand on the bill of sale. See the foolish scribe, who is the one setting his own hand to the statement of his debts! Blessed is the one who has given us emancipation in his Bread, and in his Cup has erased the statement of our debts.

For Ephrem participating in the Eucharist leads to the indwelling of Christ and the believer becoming the temple of God. Ephrem says:
Let the Qurbono build your own minds and bodies into temples suitable for God. If the Lord dwells in your house, honor will come to your door. How much your ‘honor’ will increase if God dwells within you. Be a sanctuary for him, even a priest, and serve him within your temple. Just as for your sake he became High priest, sacrifice, and libation; you, for his sake, become temple, priest, and sacrificial offering. Since your mind will become a temple, do not leave any filth in it; do not leave in God’s house anything hateful to God. Let us be adorned as God’s house with what is attractive to God.

Saturday, 18 October 2014


How the synod process is different under Pope Francis

For those who have watched the synod process since it was first initiated under Pope Paul VI, the current meeting has some unique aspects that come from Pope Francis.

Speak boldly. The most obvious change in the procedures is the pope's encouragement to the synod participants to speak their minds. "Speak clearly," he exhorted them on the first day of the synod. "Let no one say, 'This can't be said, they will think this or that about me.' Everything we feel must be said, with parrhesia," a Greek word meaning to speak candidly or boldly, and without fear.

The term parrhesia is used of Sts. Paul and John when they spoke before the assembled leaders, elders, scribes and priests in Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 4:13). Pope Francis also applied it to Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II, whom he said were "filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit."

"After the last consistory in February 2014," reported the pope, "... a cardinal wrote to me saying that it was a pity that some cardinals did not have the courage to say certain things out of respect for the pope, thinking perhaps that the pope thought differently. This is not good -- it is not synodality, because it is necessary to say everything that in the Lord we feel must be said: without human respect, without timidness."

It is difficult to exaggerate what a change this is in the synod process. At past synods, it was common for curial officials to warn participants not to bring up certain topics, like married priests, birth control, and Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Those who did were reprimanded. Rather than advising the pope, synod participants often used their speeches as opportunities to prove their loyalty by quoting the pope to himself.

At the last synod on evangelization, then-Cardinal Jorge Borgoglio was in charge of organizing and guiding the discussions.

"I was the rapporteur of the 2001 synod and there was a cardinal who told us what should be discussed and what should not," the pope told La Nacion, an Argentine newspaper. "That will not happen now." Francis is not afraid of discussion and disagreement.

"And, at the same time, we must listen with humility and accept with an open heart all that our brothers say," said the pope in his speech to the synod. "With these two attitudes, synodality is achieved." Speak boldly and listen with humility.

If the synod accomplishes nothing other than more freedom of discussion in the church, it would still be a huge achievement.

Inductive rather than deductive. Past synods tended to start with church teaching and talk about how it could be applied to the world. This follows the classical philosophical and theological method that the bishops learned in their seminaries.

"What's happening within the synod is we're seeing a more inductive way of reflecting, starting from the true situation of people and trying to figure out what's going on here," said Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The synod participants, the archbishop said, are "finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source -- what we call a theological source, a place of theological reflection."

This approach, beginning with the data of experience, is familiar to many in the church; for example, the "see, judge, act" approach of those working for social justice. Those involved in pastoral planning also do situation assessments at the first stage of planning. Many contemporary theologians also reflect on the lived experience of Christians in their theological reflection. Rather than taking an ideal and imposing it on reality, one first reflects on reality.

This is another contribution of Pope Francis. "Synod assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent," he said in his homily at the opening Mass for the synod. "They are meant to better nurture and tend the Lord's vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people." 

Remember, this is a pope who did not finish his doctoral dissertation in theology. He began life as a chemist and was a pastor and spiritual director, not an academic. He is certainly not anti-intellectual -- he is well read and respects theologians like Cardinal Walter Kasper -- but he has learned as much from experience as from books.

Collegial consensus building. There are many people urging Pope Francis to intervene on one side or another of the synodal debates. This is not his style. Rather, he urges everyone to speak and listen. He trusts in the Holy Spirit to guide the bishops in collegial discernment. He is not in a hurry. You might say that for him, the process is more important than the product.

This does not mean that he does nothing. But rather than giving impassioned speeches to sway the assembly, he will more likely speak to the bishops one by one, both at the synod and between synods, and facilitate consensus that way. This is the way he operated with the bishops in Latin America when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

For the pope, the synod is not just a two-week process; rather, it continues until the end of next year's synod in October 2015. "Do not expect any final positions next week," the pope told La Nacion. "This will be a long synod, which will probably last a year. I am only giving it the initial push," he added. 

One of the procedural changes initiated at this synod is to have an hour of "free discussion" every evening, where bishops are supposed to respond to what they heard during the day. In the past, prepared speeches were given, one after another, with no real interaction. People in the synod report that during this hour, greater interaction is taking place as synod participants respond to each other, but about half the bishops use this time to simply give another speech. Change comes slowly.

CELAM process. There is no question that Pope Francis brings to the synod his experience of working with other bishops in CELAM, the Latin American bishops' conference. The bishops had a frustrating experience at Santo Domingo in 1992, when the Vatican imposed its agenda on them.

In contrast, at the 2007 Aparecida meeting, then-Cardinal Bergoglio "wanted to create an environment in which there was a lot of participation," according to Archbishop Víctor Fernández, who as rector of the Catholic university in Buenos Aires worked closely with Bergoglio.

"Cardinal Bergoglio did not want to start with a pre-set text," Fernández said. He "wanted the bishops to speak with absolute freedom ... so that little by little consensus would be found." To those who felt the process was too slow, he would "say that if there wasn't time to write a document, that was too bad, but that's the way we have to work." 

But CELAM had something that the synod does not: commissions that worked on topics between meetings. "There was a very free discussion" in the commissions, Fernández reported, "and texts would emerge from each of these commissions." When the bishops go home from the synod, they will have no commissions to continue their work until their next meeting. That will be left to the Roman Curia, which in the past has not been a big supporter of collegiality.

Francis could make a big difference by guiding the process between synods, but in the long run, the lack of synodal committees or commissions is a critical flaw in the process. There is a synodal council elected by the members, but the agenda is simply too big for one committee.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons Pope Francis appointed a commission of canonists to work out the details of simplifying the annulment process, which may be one of the major accomplishments of the synod. Even before the synod met, the pope saw a consensus developing on making the annulment process simpler and quicker, and therefore appointed the commission.

Pope Francis would do well to appoint more commissions after the synod to carry forward its work to the next synod. For example, there could be commissions on topics like the Orthodox method of dealing with divorced people, marriage preparation, interfaith marriages, new ways of talking about marriage and family, birth control, pastoral care of children in divorced families, pastoral care of gays, the impact of poverty and war on families, the role of women, etc. These commissions should be made up of synod members, not just curial officials.

One drawback of the CELAM process was that the texts developed by the various commissions did not always fit well together. "There was very little time to put together the Aparecida [concluding] document, which is why it's a bit of a mish-mash from the point of view of style," Fernández said. "But the greatness of that document lies in the fact that it was the fruit of a genuine debate, of real discussions where consensus emerged little by little."

"If you ask me what light this sheds for understanding the pope's behavior today [in the synod]," Fernández said, responding to my question, "I'd say it's quite possible that the pope wouldn't be too worried if this synod doesn't produce anything extraordinary or if it isn't greeted with great applause. Because he has always believed that time is greater than space, that the important things brew slowly over time, and that the important thing is to initiate processes rather than force decisions. And that these, at the right time, will produce good fruit." 

There is one thing that the synodal process has that the CELAM did not: a pope. At CELAM, Bergoglio was one among equals. In Rome, Francis is pope, albeit a pope who wants to be collegial. How that dynamic works out will be interesting to watch. 

[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is treesesj@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]

The Vatican's Synod on the Family, and Why You've Missed the Point.
by Michael Rogers S.J.

If you are extraordinarily upset or excited about the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family that has taken place for the last two weeks here in Rome, then you likely don't really understand what it actually is. The prior statement is neither a cynical nor is it a flip or reductive statement. It is also not meant to be merely provocative, and it is certainly not meant to be insulting. It is, however, a dose of reality. In the months leading up to this synod we have heard the narrative of a gradual simultaneous crescendo of the two seemingly discordant melodies of "justice" and "mercy" rising up within the Vatican.

The media, both Catholic and secular, has told us how those two tunes have swelled to their height in the past two weeks during the synod. We are presented the narrative of bishops in turmoil and of battling movements, political and otherwise, within the Church. Depending on how passionate you are about that narrative, you may have even identified heroes and villains among the more outspoken members of the synod. If you have been listening to and ascribing to this narrative, then I would like to assure you that all will be well, that you can remain calm, and that all is under control. I would also like to point out, however, that you likely haven't understood what is actually going on in the synod.

The "messy" church that Pope Francis called for, and that we see in the context of the synod, is nothing new. It is rather the reality of the Church at some of its most important and profound moments. We are all human, it takes us time to figure out precisely how the the Holy Spirit is moving. Our humanity necessarily implies disagreement as people rarely agree one hundred percent on anything. This human reality also means that we need to take the time proper to think, to reflect, and to pray. Two weeks, or even the year long lead up to this synod, does not constitute unto itself such a proper period of time. Some of the most important and most beautiful articles of our Catholic faith are the result of conversations like the ones that we are having at the current moment, and many of them came at the cost of a polemical environment far more heated than the one that some media outlets claim has existed in the synod hall. At the first Council of Nicea, in the midst of dogmatic debate on the divinity of Christ, it is well known that St. Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus, pulled the the bishop Arius to the ground by the beard and punched him in the face. Nicholas was subsequently imprisoned by the other bishops for his actions. As far as we know, no matter how heated we would like to imagine the floor of the synod hall, it hasn't come to fisticuffs, and no bishops have been hauled off to the Vatican lock-up, so relax. There is more than enough precedent for the messiness of the current situation and the Church has survived and even thrived, so we can all calm down.

If you identify yourself as a follower of one camp or another then you likely don't understand what this is all about. The Church is not a democracy. We cannot, by popular fiat, simply will the Church into being what we wish it to be, nor can we stop it from developing into what God wants it to be. This is not about political allegiances, it is not about whether one could be considered "conservative" or "liberal" (terms which are immediately odious and throughly unhelpful), nor is it about who might win the day. This is also not about two separate agendas of "mercy" and "justice." There is one agenda shared by the members of the synod. Among those I have met personally they are all good men who, while they might disagree about how to apply the lessons of the Gospel to our contemporary reality, have one agenda in mind: Find the best way to help people to be most fully alive and, as a result of Catholic and Christian faith, find their way to God both in this life and the next. In the end the narrative of two factions is useless because there is, at base, one faction seeking the one agenda of a more perfect consensus on how to proceed as a Church in the current context.

All of this is to leave aside the obvious practical realities, that the votes of the synod are merely a consultative reality and that any legislation comes only from Pope Francis, that this has simply been the first formal phase of a longer conversation, and that in the end for Catholics there is the belief that God is ultimately in control of all of this. So if you're overly energized about the synod, if this is for you an ecclesial soap-opera, or if you have used the word "revolution" in the context of describing this whole process, please, I beg you, relax. You likely haven't really understood what this synod actually is, anyway.



His Eminence Cardinal Péter Erdő

General Rapporteur (unofficial translation)


Part I

Listening: the context and challenges to the family

The socio-cultural context
The relevance of emotional life
Pastoral challenges

Part II

The gaze on Christ: the Gospel of the Family

The gaze on Jesus and gradualness in the history of salvation
The family in God’s salvific plan
The discernment of values present in wounded families and irregular situations
Truth and beauty of the family and mercy

Part III

Discussion: pastoral perspectives

Proclaiming the Gospel of the family today, in various contexts
Guiding couples on the path in preparation for marriage
Accompanying the first years of married life
Positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation
Caring for wounded families (separated couples, the divorced who have not remarried, the divorced and remarried)
Welcoming homosexual persons
The transmission of life and the challenge of declining birthrate
The challenge of education and the role of the family in evangelization



During the prayer vigil held in St Peter’s Square on 4 October 2014 in preparation for the Synod on the family, Pope Francis evoked the centrality of the experience of family in all lives, in a simple and concrete manner: “Evening falls on our assembly. It is the hour at which one willingly returns home to meet at the same table, in the depth of affection, of the good that has been done and received, of the encounters which warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which hastens the unending feast in the days of man. It is also the weightiest hour for one who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of shattered dreams and broken plans; how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, of abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes the wine of joy has been less plentiful, and therefore, also the zest — the very wisdom — for life […]. Let us make our prayer heard for one another this evening, a prayer for all”.

The source of joys and trials, of deep affections and relations – at times wounded – the family is truly a “school of humanity” (“Familia schola quaedam uberioris humanitatis est”, Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 52), of which we are in great need. Despite the many signs of crisis in the institution of the family in various contexts of the “global village”, the desire for family remains alive, especially among the young, and is at the root of the Church’s need to proclaim tirelessly and with profound conviction the “Gospel of the family” entrusted to her with the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

The Bishop of Rome called upon the Synod of Bishops to reflect upon the situation of the family, decisive and valuable, in its Extraordinary General Assembly of October 2014, a reflection which will then be pursued in greater depth in the Ordinary General Assembly scheduled to take place in October 2015, as well as during the full intervening year between the two synodal events. “The convenire in unum around the Bishop of Rome is already an event of grace, in which episcopal collegiality is made manifest in a path of spiritual and pastoral discernment”: thus Pope Francis described the synodal experience, indicating its tasks in the dual process of listening to the signs of God and the history of mankind and in the resulting dual and unique fidelity.

In the light of the same discourse we have gathered together the results of our reflections and our dialogues in the following three parts: listening, to look at the situation of the family today, in the complexity of its light and shade; looking, our gaze fixed on Christ, to re-evaluate with renewed freshness and enthusiasm what the revelation transmitted in the faith of the Church tells us about the beauty and dignity of the family; and discussion in the light of the Lord Jesus to discern the ways in which the Church and society can renew their commitment to the family.


Listening: the context and challenges to the family

The socio-cultural context

Anthropological and cultural change today influences all aspects of life and requires an analytic and diversified approach, able to discern the positive forms of individual freedom. It is necessary to be aware of the growing danger represented by an exasperated individualism that distorts family bonds and ends up considering each component of the family as an isolated unit, leading in some cases to the prevalence of an idea of the subject formed according to his or her own wishes, which are assumed as absolute.

The most difficult test for families in our time is often solitude, which destroys and gives rise to a general sensation of impotence in relation to the socio-economic situation that often ends up crushing them. This is due to growing precariousness in the workplace that is often experienced as a nightmare, or due to heavy taxation that certainly does not encourage young people to marriage.

Some cultural and religious contexts pose particular challenges. In African societies the practice of polygamy remains, along with, in some traditional contexts, the custom of “marriage in stages”. In other contexts the practice of “arranged marriages” persists. In countries in which Catholicism is a minority religion, there are many mixed marriages with all the difficulties that these may lead to in terms of legal form, the education of children and mutual respect from the point of view of religious freedom, but also with the great potential that derives from the encounter between the differences in faith that these stories of family life present. In many contexts, and not only in the West, the practice of cohabitation before marriage, or indeed cohabitation not orientated towards assuming the form of an institutional bond, is increasingly widespread.

Many children are born outside marriage, especially in certain countries, and there are many who subsequently grow up with just one of their parents or in an enlarged or reconstituted family context. The number of divorces is growing and it is not rare to encounter cases in which decisions are taken solely on the basis of economic factors. The condition of women still needs to be defended and promoted, as situations of violence within the family are not rare. Children are frequently the object of contention between parents, and are the true victims of family breakdown. Societies riven by violence due to war, terrorism or the presence of organized crime experience deteriorating family situations. Furthermore, migration is another sign of the times, to be faced and understood in terms of the burden of consequences for family life.

The relevance of emotional life

Faced with the social framework outlined above, a greater need is encountered among individuals to take care of themselves, to know their inner being, and to live in greater harmony with their emotions and sentiments, seeking a relational quality in emotional life. In the same way, it is possible to encounter a widespread desire for family accompanied by the search for oneself. But how can this attention to the care for oneself be cultivated and maintained, alongside this desire for family? This is a great challenge for the Church too. The danger of individualism and the risk of living selfishly are significant.

Today’s world appears to promote limitless affectivity, seeking to explore all its aspects, including the most complex. Indeed, the question of emotional fragility is very current: a narcissistic, unstable or changeable affectivity do not always help greater maturity to be reached. In this context, couples are often uncertain and hesitant, struggling to find ways to grow. Many tend to remain in the early stages of emotional and sexual life. The crisis in the couple destabilizes the family and may lead, through separations and divorce, to serious consequences for adults, children and society as a whole, weakening the individual and social bonds. The decline in population not only creates a situation in which the alternation of generations is no longer assured, but over time also risks leading to economic impoverishment and a loss of hope in the future.

Pastoral challenges

In this context the Church is aware of the need to offer a meaningful word of hope. It is necessary to set out from the conviction that man comes from God and that, therefore, a reflection able to reframe the great questions on the meaning of human existence, may find fertile ground in humanity's most profound expectations. The great values of marriage and the Christian family correspond to the search that distinguishes human existence even in a time marked by individualism and hedonism. It is necessary to accept people in their concrete being, to know how to support their search, to encourage the wish for God and the will to feel fully part of the Church, also on the part of those who have experienced failure or find themselves in the most diverse situations. This requires that the doctrine of the faith, the basic content of which should be made increasingly better known, be proposed alongside with mercy.


The gaze upon Christ: the Gospel of the Family

The gaze upon Jesus and gradualness in the history of salvation

In order to “walk among contemporary challenges, the decisive condition is to maintain a fixed gaze on Jesus Christ, to pause in contemplation and in adoration of His Face. ... Indeed, every time we return to the source of the Christian experience, new paths and undreamed of possibilities open up” (Pope Francis, Address of 4 October 2014). Jesus looked upon the women and the men he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps with patience and mercy, in proclaiming the demands of the Kingdom of God.

From the moment that the order of creation is determined by orientation towards Christ, it becomes necessary to distinguish without separating the various levels through which God communicates the grace of the covenant to humanity. Through the law of gradualness (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 34), typical of divine pedagogy, this means interpreting the nuptial covenant in terms of continuity and novelty, in the order of creation and in that of redemption.

Jesus Himself, referring to the primordial plan for the human couple, reaffirms the indissoluble union between man and woman, while understanding that “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Mt 19,8). In this way, He shows how divine condescension always accompanies the path of humanity, directing it towards its new beginning, not without passing through the cross.

The family in God’s salvific plan

Since, by their commitment to mutual acceptance and with the grace of Christ couples promise fidelity to one another and openness to life, they acknowledge as constitutive elements of marriage the gifts God offers them, taking their mutual responsability seriously, in His name and before the Church. Now, in faith it is possible to assume the goods of marriage as commitments best maintained with the help of the grace of the sacrament. God consecrates love between spouses and confirms its indissolubility, offering them help in living in fidelity and openness to life. Therefore, the gaze of the Church turns not only to the couple, but to the family.

We are able to distinguish three fundamental phases in the divine plan for the family: the family of origins, when God the creator instituted the primordial marriage between Adam and Eve, as a solid foundation for the family: he created them male and female (cg. Gn 1,24-31; 2,4b); the historic family, wounded by sin (cf. Gn 3) and the family redeemed by Christ (cf. Eph 5,21-32), in the image of the Holy Trinity, the mystery from which every true love springs. The sponsal covenant, inaugurated in creation and revealed in the history of God and Israel, reaches its fullest expression with Christ in the Church.

The discernment of values present in wounded families and in irregular situations

In considering the principle of gradualness in the divine salvific plan, one asks what possibilities are given to married couples who experience the failure of their marriage, or rather how it is possible to offer them Christ’s help through the ministry of the Church. In this respect, a significant hermeneutic key comes from the teaching of Vatican Council II, which, while it affirms that “although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure ... these elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward Catholic unity” (Lumen Gentium, 8).

In this light, the value and consistency of natural marriage must first be emphasized. Some ask whether the sacramental fullness of marriage does not exclude the possibility of recognizing positive elements even the imperfect forms that may be found outside this nuptial situation, which are in any case ordered in relation to it. The doctrine of levels of communion, formulated by Vatican Council II, confirms the vision of a structured way of participating in the Mysterium Ecclesiae by baptized persons.

In the same, perspective, that we may consider inclusive, the Council opens up the horizon for appreciating the positive elements present in other religions (cf. Nostra Aetate, 2) and cultures, despite their limits and their insufficiencies (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 55). Indeed, looking at the human wisdom present in these, the Church learns how the family is universally considered as the necessary and fruitful form of human cohabitation. In this sense, the order of creation, in which the Christian vision of the family is rooted, unfolds historically, in different cultural and geographical expressions.

Realizing the need, therefore, for spiritual discernment with regard to cohabitation, civil marriages and divorced and remarried persons, it is the task of the Church to recognize those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1,9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.

Truth and beauty of the family and mercy

The Gospel of the family, while it shines in the witness of many families who live coherently their fidelity to the sacrament, with their mature fruits of authentic daily sanctity must also nurture those seeds that are yet to mature, and must care for those trees that have dried up and wish not to be neglected.

In this respect, a new dimension of today’s family pastoral consists of accepting the reality of civil marriage and also cohabitation, taking into account the due differences. Indeed, when a union reaches a notable level of stability through a public bond, is characterized by deep affection, responsibility with regard to offspring, and capacity to withstand tests, it may be seen as a germ to be accompanied in development towards the sacrament of marriage. Very often, however, cohabitation is established not with a view to a possible future marriage, but rather without any intention of establishing an institutionally-recognized relationship.

Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care, restoring trust and hope to them like the light of a beacon in a port, or a torch carried among the people to light the way for those who are lost or find themselves in the midst of the storm.

Part III

The discussion: pastoral perspectives

Proclaiming the Gospel of the family today, in various contexts

The Synod dialog has allowed an agreement on some of the more urgent pastoral needs to be entrusted to being made concrete in the individual local Churches, in communion cum Petro et sub Petro.

The announcement of the Gospel of the family is an urgent issue for the new evangelization. The Church has to carry this out with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher (cf. Eph 4,15), in fidelity to the merciful kenosi of Christ. The truth is incarnated in human fragility not to condemn it, but to cure it.

Evangelizing is the shared responsibility of all God’s people, each according to his or her own ministry and charism. Without the joyous testimony of spouses and families, the announcement, even if correct, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words that is a characteristic of our society (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 50). On various occasions the Synodal Fathers underlined that Catholic families are called upon themselves to be the active subjects of all the pastoral of the family.

It will be decisive to highlight the primacy of grace, and therefore of the possibilities that the Spirit gives in the sacrament. This is about letting it be known that the Gospel of the family is a joy that «fills the hearts and lives», because in Christ we are «set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness» (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). In the light of the parable of the sower (cf. Mt 13,3), our task is to cooperate in the sowing: the rest is God’s work. We must not forget that the Church that preaches about the family is a sign of contradiction.

For this reason, what is required is a missionary conversion: it is necessary not to stop at an announcement that is merely theoretical and has nothing to do with people’s real problems. It must not be forgotten that the crisis of faith has led to a crisis in matrimony and the family and, as a result, the transmission of faith from parents to children has often been interrupted. Confronted by a strong faith, the imposition of certain cultural perspectives that weaken the family is of no importance.

Conversion has, above all, to be that of language so that this might prove to be effectively meaningful. The announcement is about letting it be experienced that the Gospel of the family is the response to the deepest expectations of a person: to his or her dignity and its full realization in reciprocity and communion. This is not merely about presenting a set of regulations but about putting forward values, responding to the need of those who find themselves today even in the most secularized countries.

The indispensable biblical-theological study is to be accompanied by dialog, at all levels. Many insisted on a more positive approach to the riches contained in diverse religious experiences, while not being blind to the difficulties. In the diverse cultural realities the possibilities should first be grasped and in the light of them the limits and radicalizations should be rejected.

Christian marriage cannot only be considered as a cultural tradition or social obligation, but has to be a vocational decision taken with the proper preparation in an itinerary of faith, with mature discernment. This is not about creating difficulties and complicating the cycles of formation, but of going deeply into the issue and not being content with theoretical meetings or general orientations.

The need was jointly referred to for a conversion of all pastoral practices from the perspective of the family, overcoming the individualistic points of view that still characterize it. This is why there was a repeated insistence on renewing in this light the training of presbyters and other pastoral operators, through a greater involvement of the families themselves.

In the same way, the necessity was underlined for an evangelization that denounces clearly the cultural, social and economic factors, for example, the excessive room given to market logic, that prevents an authentic family life, leading to discrimination, poverty, exclusion, and violence. For this reason a dialog and cooperation has to be developed with the social structures, and lay people who are involved in cultural and socio-political fields should be encouraged.

Guiding couples on the path in preparation for marriage

The complex social reality and the changes that the family is called on today to deal with require a greater undertaking from the whole Christian community for the preparation of those who are about to be married. As regards this necessity the Synodal Fathers agreed to underline the need for a greater involvement of the entire community privileging the testimony of the families themselves, as well as a rooting of the preparation for marriage in the path of Christian initiation, underlining the connection between marriage and the other sacraments. In the same way, the necessity was highlighted for specific programs for preparation for marriage that are a true experience of participation in the ecclesial life and that study closely the diverse aspects of family life.

Accompanying the early years of married life

The early years of marriage are a vital and delicate period during which couples grow in the awareness of the challenges and meaning of matrimony. Thus the need for a pastoral accompaniment that goes beyond the celebration of the sacrament. Of great importance in this pastoral is the presence of experienced couples. The parish is considered the ideal place for expert couples to place themselves at the disposal of younger ones. Couples need to be encouraged towards a fundamental welcome of the great gift of children. The importance of family spirituality and prayer needs to be underlined, encouraging couples to meet regularly to promote the growth of the spiritual life and solidarity in the concrete demands of life. Meaningful liturgies, devotional practices and the Eucharist celebrated for families, were mentioned as vital in favoring evangelization through the family.

Positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation

A new sensitivity in today’s pastoral consists in grasping the positive reality of civil weddings and, having pointed out our differences, of cohabitation. It is necessary that in the ecclesial proposal, while clearly presenting the ideal, we also indicate the constructive elements in those situations that do not yet or no longer correspond to that ideal.

It was also noted that in many countries an “an increasing number live together ad experimentum, in unions which have not been religiously or civilly recognized” (Instrumentum Laboris, 81). In Africa this occurs especially in traditional marriages, agreed between families and often celebrated in different stages. Faced by these situations, the Church is called on to be “the house of the Father, with doors always wide open […] where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (Evangelii Gaudium, 47) and to move towards those who feel the need to take up again their path of faith, even if it is not possible to celebrate a religious marriage.

In the West as well there is an increasingly large number of those who, having lived together for a long period of time, ask to be married in the Church. Simple cohabitation is often a choice inspired by a general attitude, which is opposed to institutions and definitive undertakings, but also while waiting for a secure existence (a steady job and income). In other countries common-law marriages are very numerous, not because of a rejection of Christian values as regards the family and matrimony, but, above all, because getting married is a luxury, so that material poverty encourages people to live in common-law marriages. Furthermore in such unions it is possible to grasp authentic family values or at least the wish for them. Pastoral accompaniment should always start from these positive aspects.

All these situations have to be dealt with in a constructive manner, seeking to transform them into opportunities to walk towards the fullness of marriage and the family in the light of the Gospel. They need to be welcomed and accompanied with patience and delicacy. With a view to this, the attractive testimony of authentic Christian families is important, as subjects for the evangelization of the family.

Caring for wounded families (the separated, the divorced who have not remarried, the divorced who have remarried)

What rang out clearly in the Synod was the necessity for courageous pastoral choices. Reconfirming forcefully the fidelity to the Gospel of the family, the Synodal Fathers, felt the urgent need for new pastoral paths, that begin with the effective reality of familial fragilities, recognizing that they, more often than not, are more “endured” than freely chosen. These are situations that are diverse because of personal as well as cultural and socio-economic factors. It is not wise to think of unique solutions or those inspired by a logic of “all or nothing”. The dialog and meeting that took place in the Synod will have to continue in the local Churches, involving their various components, in such a way that the perspectives that have been drawn up might find their full maturation in the work of the next Ordinary General Assembly. The guidance of the Spirit, constantly invoked, will allow all God’s people to live the fidelity to the Gospel of the family as a merciful caring for all situations of fragility.

Each damaged family first of all should be listened to with respect and love, becoming companions on the journey as Christ did with the disciples of the road to Emmaus. In a particular way the words of Pope Francis apply in these situations: «The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment”, which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Es 3,5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our  compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life» (Evangelii Gaudium, 169).

Such discernment is indispensable for the separated and divorced. What needs to be respected above all is the suffering of those who have endured separation and divorce unjustly. The forgiveness for the injustice endured is not easy, but it is a journey that grace makes possible. In the same way it needs to be always underlined that it is indispensable to assume in a faithful and constructive way the consequences of separation or divorce on the children: they must not become an “object” to be fought over and the most suitable means need to be sought so that they can get over the trauma of the family break-up and grow up in the most serene way possible.

Various Fathers underlined the necessity to make the recognition of cases of nullity more accessible and flexible. Among the propositions were the abandonment of the need for the double conforming sentence; the possibility of establishing an administrative means under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop; a summary process to be used in cases of clear nullity. According to authoritative propositions, the possibility should then be considered of giving weight to the faith of those about to be married in terms of the validity of the sacrament of marriage. It needs to emphasized that in all these cases it is about the ascertaining of the truth over the validity of the obstacle.

As regards matrimonial suits, the speeding-up of the procedure, requested by many, as well as the preparation of a sufficient number of operators, clerics and lay people, dedicating themselves to this, requires an increase in the responsibilities of the diocesan bishop, who in his diocese might charge a specially trained priest who would be able to offer the parties advice on the validity of their marriage.

Divorced people who have not remarried should be invited to find in the Eucharist the nourishment they need to sustain them in their state. The local community and pastors have to accompany these people with solicitude, particularly when there are children involved or they find themselves in a serious situation of poverty.

In the same way the situation of the divorced who have remarried demands a careful discernment and an accompaniment full of respect, avoiding any language or behavior that might make them feel discriminated against. For the Christian community looking after them is not a weakening of its faith and its testimony to the indissolubility of marriage, but rather it expresses precisely its charity in its caring.

As regards the possibility of partaking of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, some argued in favor of the present regulations because of their theological foundation, others were in favor of a greater opening on very precise conditions when dealing with situations that cannot be resolved without creating new injustices and suffering. For some, partaking of the sacraments might occur were it preceded by a penitential path – under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop –, and with a clear undertaking in favor of the children. This would not be a general possibility, but the fruit of a discernment applied on a case-by-case basis, according to a law of gradualness, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances.

Suggesting limiting themselves to only “spiritual communion” was questioned by more than a few Synodal Fathers: if spiritual communion is possible, why not allow them to partake in the sacrament? As a result a greater theological study was requested starting with the links between the sacrament of marriage and the Eucharist in relation to the Church-sacrament. In the same way, the moral dimension of the problem requires further consideration, listening to and illuminating the consciences of spouses.

The problems relative to mixed marriages were frequently raised in the interventions of the Synodal Fathers. The differences in the matrimonial regulations of the Orthodox Churches creates serious problems in certain contexts to which have to be found suitable responses in communion with the Pope. The same applies to inter-religious marriages.

Welcoming homosexual persons

Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.

The transmission of life and the challenge of the declining birthrate

It is not difficult to notice the spread of a mentality that reduces the generation of life to a variable of an individual’s or a couple’s plans. Economic factors sometimes have enough weight to contribute to the sharp drop in the birthrate which weakens the social fabric, compromising the relationship between generations and rendering the view of the future less certain. Being open to life is an intrinsic requirement of married love.

Probably here as well what is required is a realistic language that is able to start from listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional opening to life as that which human life requires to be lived to its fullest. It is on this base that we can rest an appropriate teaching regarding natural methods, which allow the living in a harmonious and aware way of the communication between spouses, in all its dimensions, along with generative responsibility. In this light, we should go back to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Paul VI, which underlines the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth control.

So help is required to live affectivity, in marriage as well, as a path of maturation, in the evermore profound welcoming of the other and in an ever-fuller giving. It has to be emphasized in this sense the need to offer formative paths that nourish married life and the importance of a laity that provides an accompaniment consisting of living testimony. It is undoubtedly of great help the example of a faithful and profound love made up of tenderness, of respect, capable of growing in time and which in its concrete opening to the generation of life allows us to experience a mystery that transcends us.

The challenge of education and the role of the family in evangelization

The fundamental challenge facing families today is undoubtedly that of education, rendered more difficult and complex by today’s cultural reality. What have to be considered are the needs and expectations of families capable of testifying in daily life, places of growth, of concrete and essential transmission of the virtues that provide form for existence.

In this Church can carry out a precious role in supporting families, starting from Christian initiation, through welcoming communities. What is asked of these, today even more than yesterday, in complex as well as mundane situations, is to support parents in their educative undertaking, accompanying children and young people in their growth through personalized paths capable of introducing them to the full meaning of life and encouraging choices and responsibilities, lived in the light of the Gospel.


The reflections put forward, the fruit of the Synodal dialog that took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer by the reflection of the local Churches in the year that separates us from the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops planned for October 2015. These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view. All the same the collegial path of the bishops and the involvement of all God’s people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will lead us to find roads of truth and mercy for all. This is the wish that from the beginning of our work Pope Francis has extended to us, inviting us to the courage of the faith and the humble and honest welcome of the truth in charity.

(from Vatican Radio)

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