Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What Will The Church Of The Future Be Like?

The well-respected theologian and expert at Vatican II Karl Rahner, SJ, proposed in 1965 that the Christian of the future would have to be a mystic or he will not exist. And his reference to mysticism meant “a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence.”

He predicted that Christians would live in a diaspora situation, that is, as a “relatively small minority,” and nowhere would there be a Christian nation which would lead people to embrace the Christian faith.  A Christian of the future will be Christian because he has a personal experience of Jesus and makes the deliberate choice to follow him as Lord. Culture or society will not be sufficient to lead one to Christ.

“The Christians,” he said, “will be the little flock of the Gospel, perhaps esteemed, perhaps persecuted…The Church is the sacrament of the salvation of the world even where the latter is still nor and perhaps never will be the Church.”

Rahner did not spell out what I have written below, These possibilities are purely of my own imagining --hunches, if you will, about what the Church of the future may be like. I am not a sociologist, I have no crystal ball, I claim no gift of prognostication. And yet trying to read :the signs of the times,” I suggest that

By 2020 Pope Francis II will try to emulate Pope Francis I and carry on his work.
Smaller parishes will be administered by lay leaders.
The Roman Curia will be in need of reform.
Dorothy Day will be added to the Church’s Hall of Fame (canonized a saint).
The Roman Missal of 2011 will be under revision.

By 2025 women will be serving as deacons in many parishes, especially in the missions.
Religious orders of Sisters will experience renewal and growth.
The number of Catholic parochial schools will have declined significantly.
Most bishops will no longer wear miters.
The Roman Curia will be in need of reform.
Catholicism will identify more with social justice issues than previously..

By 2050 a majority of the Catholic priests in the United States will be of African origin.
The Third Vatican Council will be convoked to reaffirm the direction and reforms of Vatican II.
Priestly celibacy will become optional.
The Roman Curia will be in need of reform.

Even though it is said that the future is the hardest thing to predict, what do you imagine the Church of the future will be like?

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Challenge Of Implementing Amoris Laetitia

The start of a new year fuels speculation about what it will hold.

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States (some say he is the  44th since Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th) already challenges prediction.

The surprises in Pope Francis’ leadership of the Catholic Church are likely to continue as he promotes a less legalistic and more pastoral approach to the Church’s mission and ministry.

One of the certain challenges for episcopal conferences and individual dioceses will be how to implement Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, his exhortation on family life, especially chapter eight, commonly entitled “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness.”

Most of this apostolic exhortation focuses on the gift of married love and the blessings of family life. Pope Francis and the bishops of the two synods on family wanted to offer support and encouragement to husbands, wives and their children in light of God’s plan and the Church’s teaching. At the same time they also addressed the trials, troubles and failures which threaten this basic building block of Church and society.

Having affirmed that breaking the marriage bond “is against the will of God,” Pope Francis’ exhortation also acknowledged the weakness of many members of the Church. He confirmed that “the Church must accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children” by restoring in them both hope and confidence. The Church’s task, he said, “is often like that of a field hospital” (# 291).

He noted that the bishops who participated in the Synod on the Family (the  14th ordinary general assembly of the synod of bishops, October 4-25, 2015) did not fail to acknowledge that even in civil marital situations which do not correspond to the Church’s teaching on marriage the grace of God can be found  in such constructive elements as the courage to do good, to be caring toward one another in love, to be of service to the community around them  (## 291-92).

The synod bishops and the pope’s exhortation recall Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the “law of gradualness,” which acknowledges that people grow at different rates in their understanding, appreciation and implementation of the objective demands of the law (# 295).

It is in awareness of this phenomenon and in the light of divine mercy that the Church chooses to take the path not of rejecting but reinstating people in situations of weakness and imperfection.

The synod and the pope agree that the Church has the responsibility to help people in marital or cohabiting situations outside its teaching to come to an understanding  about grace in their lives and offer them assistance toward the fullness of God’s plan for them (cf # 297).

Even more challenging for the Church and her ministers is to acknowledge situations “where, for serious reasons, such as the upbringing of the children, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate” (# 298).

There is in some cases, of course, the possibility of a Church-granted declaration of nullity.  Or, as the exhortation suggests, there can be situations calling for the application of “the discernment of pastors,” perhaps a reference to the unnamed but sometimes used “internal forum” (cf # 298).

The exhortation cautions against making those in such situations to feel that they are excommunicated.  Catholics who divorce are not excommunicated, nor are Catholics who divorce and remarry under excommunication.

Pope Francis explained, “If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor the Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases” (# 300).

Bishop Robert McElroy met the challenge of implementing Amoris Laetitia for his San Diego, California diocese by calling for a local synod and responding to recommendations raised during the six months of meetings and discussions.

According to the report in the National Catholic Reporter (Nov18-Dec 1, 2016), the San Diego synod issued 15 recommendations, offering support for family life and a response to those who are divorced and remarried. Among the recommendations are creation of a diocesan office for family spirituality which would develop resources for ministering to families, including “the divorced, single-parent, widowed, deployed, deported, special needs, multi-generational households and LGBT.”

In his own pastoral letter “Embracing the Joy of Love” (which set the stage for the diocesan synod), Bishop McElroy challenged San Diego Catholics to develop a culture of  invitation, welcoming, and hospitality for families of all kinds, and to offer support to those who are divorced.

Other dioceses across the country and around the world will likewise read, study and embrace Amoris Laetitia and develop ways to help families, as Pope Francis put it,  “to grow and mature in the ability to love” (# 325).

Monday, December 5, 2016

Advent Trees

Sometimes we’re just too close to something to see it well. It’s that adage about not being able to see the forest for the trees.

It’s when we step back that things come into better focus, or we see more than first we could imagine.

Aging does that. Seniors tend to become nostalgic about the people, places, and experiences they used to know. It’s often a pleasure to review old photos or videos, re-read old letters and cards, return to sites we used to haunt.

Many of us know the :”if only” experience. If only I had spent more time with so-and-so. If only I had appreciated the kindness, wisdom, or relationship I was offered. If only I could see a face, hear a voice, share an experience with someone now gone.

The wise say, “You can go back to the place, but you can never go back to the time.” And given the speed with which venues change, even going back to the place as remembered is often impossible.

Two important lessons emerge from our regret that the past is past and cannot be made present: 1) we should recognize and cherish the people and places around us now; and 2) we should be understanding  when those we cherish now do not see us often enough or share themselves with us as we wish.

For sometimes we’re just too close to something or someone to see the big picture. It reminds me of the response of that blind man in Mark 8:22-26. Jesus put spittle on the man’s eyes, touched him, and asked, “Do you see anything?” And the man replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” And Jesus had to lay hands on the man’s eyes a second time before he could see everything distinctly.”

The waiting and preparing of the Advent season, the theme of light and the coming of the Christ all conspire to invite us to step back and see life and church and relationships more distinctly.

Many of the people of Jesus’ day could not see him for the messiah he was. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. And Jesus replied, “A prophet is not accepted in his native place” (cf Lk 4:22-24).

If we can’t see the forest for the trees, it isn’t surprising we can’t see Christ because of the way we celebrate Christmas.