Wednesday, October 17, 2018

EWTN interview + I may have committed heresy

I was asked to be on EWTN last night, as part of their coverage of the Synod. The day's sessions ended at 7:15 pm, and I was expected at the EWTN studio for 7:30, so I hoofed it over there with little time to waste. Fortunately it was not far, just a little up the Via della Conciliazione (about halfway to the residence where I am staying). Even more fortunately, as I got to the imposing wooden door it opened to reveal a young woman who was heading out to try and find me! Divine providence strikes again!

Although I did get there on time there were a couple of guests ahead of me, so I had a chance to stand on the rooftop and catch of bit of evening breeze. The view overlooks Saint Peter's square, which is absolutely gorgeous at night. When it was my turn I sat down, had some makeup put on, and got miked. Here is what the studio set looked like:


Not a bad view in the background, eh? And that's not a fake backdrop, that's the real dome of Saint Peter's basilica.

The interview went well, it seemed to me. Here is the video as posted on Youtube by EWTN, so you can judge for yourself (I have queued it up to my interview):


As for the heresy I mentioned in the title of this post, it wasn't during the interview, but after. The interview started a little after 8 pm. After it was done I got de-miked, and then headed out of the building. By the time I got home, it was past supper time -- and I was hungry. I got out of my fancy bishop clothes, put on a T-shirt and some jeans, and headed out to a restaurant I knew I was familiar with:


Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Here I am in the heart of Italy, and yet I succumbed to a "Bic Mac attack". That being said, there really is nothing like a burger + fries to satiate a quick hunger. And one thing I've learned is that no matter where you go in the world, when it comes to McDonald's, you know what you are going to get.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

That time when the Pope and I shared a laugh

Today I had a chance to offer my "synod intervention". This is a speech each synod member is invited to present, with a maximum time of 4 minutes. We were asked to prepare ours well in advance (my first draft was finished in June), and then have them approved by the conference of bishops (which the Canadian conference did for mine in the last week of September). Upon arriving in Rome, we registered the text of our interventions with the synod secretariat, so they could arrange the order of the speakers and make sure our intervention would happen on a day when we were discussing parts of the Instrumentum laboris relevant to our personal topic.

Except... on the first day, the Pope told us that we should see our intervention as only a first draft. That we should allow ourselves to be influenced by the discussions going on, and possibly change our intervention. That we should feel free to let the Holy Spirit move.

I was delighted by this, not only because I believe in letting the Holy Spirit move, but because I found the intervention very hard to write. Simply put, the written word is not the same as an oral presentation -- the style and tone are often very different. Also, I had written my original intervention not knowing anything of the dynamics of a Synod, or even who my audience would really be. So I paid close attention to the Spirit, and to the other interventions.

In the end, I decided to re-write my intervention completely. I wanted to speak on catechesis, and that had not changed, but I decided to adopt a less theoretical approach by using a concrete example to illustrate my point (what I've called in the past the "puzzle of faith"). I also decided to risk adding a bit of humour. And it worked! The assembly shared a good laugh, including the Pope!

My intervention was just before the coffee break in the morning, so I had a chance to chat with synod participants over a cappucino. I am pleased to report that not only did they remember the joke, they also remembered the point I was making. One even suggested that Bishop Robert Barron and I collaborate to further develop the point I was making, as Bishop Barron had also spoken about the importance of good catechesis (a fact I referenced in my speech).

Shortly before heading back up to the synod hall, a Cardinal I did not recognize approached me and began to speak of the Youcat catechism published by the Vatican, and he wondered what I thought of it. After all, it was a big seller throughout the world. I replied that, while I appreciated the Youcat and its question-and-answer format, its great weakness is that is does not have a narrative structure. He paused thoughtfully and said he agreed that indeed, it did not. We continued our exchange on the topic, and at one point I admitted that I did not know his name. He apologized for not having worn his nametag, and then said that he was Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna.



Wow. If there is one guy who knows about catechesis, it is him. He was the secretary of the commission that prepared the original version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the late 1980's and early 1990's. That catechism, sometimes called the CCC, is definitely one of the signature contributions to the exposition of the Catholic faith of the past 400+ years. I shared with him about the impact the catechism had on me when it first came out, when I was a young man still asking a lot of questions about my faith. He smiled and said that his time working on the CCC was one of the most significant experiences of his life.

When I get back to the synod hall we still had a few minutes before starting again. The Pope was back at his seat, so I went down just to say hello. He recognized me, shook my hand, broke into a big smile and said (slowly, in English), "If you want to be Pope... you can take it!"

LOL! People have not stopped teasing me since. My point was not to be funny, of course, but to use humour to get a message across. And I think it worked. Several people have asked me for a copy of my synod intervention, something I was not expecting, and an article was even written (in Italian, no less!) about it. So I am happy to share it here for those who are interested. See if you can spot the part that made the Pope laugh.



Putting together the puzzle of faith

My intervention is on the topic of catechesis. I once had a conversation with a young Mormon woman who was in the process of becoming Catholic through the RCIA. She was a catechumen, but she was dissatisfied with the catechesis she was receiving. "We are learning lots of facts, going line by line through the creed for example, but they are not showing us how the facts connect together." She was not criticizing the faith, but the way it was presented. She needed a methodology adapted to her, with some basic starting information to put the whole of the faith in context.

I replied that the Catholic faith was like a jigsaw puzzle, one of those very large puzzles with at least a thousand pieces. The first step is to turn over the pieces to see the image on each one. The individual images don't look like much, but as they are put together a greater picture emerges. To build the image, though, we start by looking for the corner and the edge pieces, so as to build the frame of the puzzle, and then fill it in as we see, over time, where particular pieces fit together. And we often use the picture on the box as a guide put putting those pieces together.

I was born in 1970, and my religious upbringing in the Catholic school system and in our parishes used a new approach to catechesis. I can say it was an abysmal failure. In many cases, it remained too academic, i.e. it just gave us pieces, and no overall picture. It also gave us no starting methodology to build the puzzle ourselves. And often, our catechists left out pieces or tried to introduce others that were foreign to the Catholic image, or refuse to turn some of them over so we could see the true image and not just a grey backside. Thank goodness I had parents well-versed in Catholic teaching, as I do not think the catechesis and Catholic education I had received at my parish and school would have been sufficient. I can see the results among my friends, many if not most of whom no longer practice or even believe.

Based on some previous interventions, it would seem my experience was not unique. We know that there must be more than just an intellectual component to being a disciple, but we must also realise that young people -- and not so young -- have real and often deep questions for which they seek answers. We have heard how a new form of catechesis should follow the questions of young people, as was mentioned by Bishop Barron in his comments on Part I. Of course, with such a huge puzzle -- and life itself generates many questions -- we need to know where to start. We need the corner and edge pieces of the puzzle that give us the framework -- four key questions, you might say -- and we need an overall picture to help guide us as we build that puzzle.

The Holy Father has invited us to speak boldly. In that case, let me say that if I was Pope -- I know I'm not, and rest assured, you Holiness, I am not after your job -- but if I was, I'd write an encyclical on the 4 basic questions I believe constitute the corners and edges that anchor the puzzle. These questions are:

  • Who is God?
  • If God is good, why is there evil in he world?
  • If God is good but there is evil in the world, what has God done about it?
  • If God is good but there is evil in the world and God is doing something about it, how can we be part of it?

It is my conviction that these questions haunt the heart of every person, religious or not, and that the Christian faith can give a complete answer to those questions. God is love, the tragedy of sin, the drama and beauty of salvation history, and the call to vocation. In other words, start with the answers to those questions, and every other question falls into place. The picture on the box is revealed. It does not exempt us from building the puzzle ourselves, as no two people will notice the same patterns in exactly the same order, as our life experiences are different. But we'll know where to start and how to finish, and if we make a mistake we can more easily correct it without confusion.

It is my hope that this Synod will propose a renewal of catechesis that includes an approach respectful of individual questions but which also helps guide young people on their journey of "building the puzzle".

Thank you for your attention.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Reporting in! part II

Today was the conclusion of our discussion on Part II of the Instrumentum Laboris. I was up early, as our small group met in the morning to finalize the various modi we wanted to present as suggestions to the committee that will be writing the draft of the final document. It was a lot of preparation, but the meeting went super well, and we were done within the first hour. That gave me a chance to write my second "rapporteur report", which needed to be handed in by 12:30 pm.

We got back to the main synod hall by 4:30 pm, and soon thereafter we start the process once again of verbally presenting the written reports to the members of the Synod. Again, I had this duty, but this time I was much more comfortable with the task. Part of the challenge, mind you, was orally presenting a report that I knew would later be shared in print with the world. The oral word and the written word constitute two very different literary genres, so I adapted my written presentation with a few side comments (and even a few jokes). The synod members seemed pleased, and more importantly, they seemed to "get it". That was the most important part of the presentation for me, as I wanted to make sure I was faithfully communicating the consensus of our group to the broader audience.

One original element of our presentation is that we had a diagram to illustrate how certain different vocations relate to each other. While the Vatican Press Office did publish the presentation (along with several others) they left out the diagram! So that you can see the whole thing as it was presented, feel free to keep reading below.

I'll admit that I was pretty wired after the presentation. I don't mind speaking in public but obviously I want to be true to our small group, so I want to get it right. Of course, there are remedies for stress, including exercise, and here in Rome, gelato! A brother bishop and I headed out for some "limone et pistacchio", my two favorites in one cup... mmmm good!



Moderator: Em.mo Card. COUTTS Joseph
Relator: S.E. Mons. DOWD Thomas


Preliminary comment

In looking at Part II, our group looked to the overall structure in #3 to inform our work. We saw that part I looked at the concrete situation of youth today, while part II was meant to cause us to reflect on how to interpret that data (while part III will be the phase where we examine concrete suggestions for action).

Our goal as a group, therefore, was to develop a hermeneutical model (i.e. an interpretive framework) for that evaluation of part I, which will then help us eventually offer suggestions for concrete pastoral action (that will be done in part III).

Our various modi should be considered as concrete applications of the overall approach to this part as well as to the specific hermeneutical approaches appropriate to each chapter. To avoid presenting them as individual modi, we have also prepared a separate document with suggestions for clarification of terminology, editorial suggestions, etc.

Chapter 1

A Christian interpretive framework must be rooted in a Christian worldview, which is essentially rooted in Scripture. With its many examples from Scripture, we saw the essential function of Chapter 1 as an attempt to provide concrete Biblical reference points for this overall hermeneutic.

Among the Biblical examples the Instrumentum laboris provided, we saw certain ones as out of place:

#77: Joshua succeeds Moses, but then he leads an army of conquest
#81: The call of Samuel is actually a poor example of the dynamics of a young person seeking his vocation.
#83: The prayer of Solomon is beautiful, but his later life is not an example for young people!
#83: The Esther example is also full of violence and trickery.

We think the call of Jeremiah (#78) as a core hermeneutical key in Chapter 1. It should be retained. The encounter between Jesus and the rich young man is also important.

To these we would add Paul's relationship with Timothy. He advises him to “let no one despise your youth” -- Timothy has real responsibility in the Church, given to him by a gift of the Holy Spirit but also by the laying on of hands, and is also being guided by his “elder friend” Paul.

With regards to the process of accompanying, we also see the sending of the disciples two by two (Luke 10:1-11). Jesus accompanies them, and then entrusts them with real responsibility -- but with them accompanying each other. He also listens to them when they return, and prays for them.

With regards to the fear that some feel when they are facing their call, we would add the passage of Peter walking on water. He is called by Christ to come and walk, and he does. He only begins to sink when he takes his eyes off Jesus, but Jesus rescues him.

Other Biblical examples will be found in other modi.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 provides an overview of different vocations, beginning with the very broad (“the mystery of vocation that illuminates creation”) to vocations very specific to the Church (ordained ministry, consecrated life). We saw the description of the various types of vocations as “pearls on a string”, each description having its own value, but being even more valuable when properly related to each other.

We would therefore propose a restructuring of the presentation of chapter 2 (“vocations in the light of faith”) to better illustrate the relationships between the various layers of vocation. One could call this a “vocational pyramid”.

The base layer: Being loved for love's sake

Our group saw this basic dimension of human existence as important to highlight. It is alluded to in #88 when reference is made to vocation being characteristic of all creation. In short, there are people -- especially the weakest and most vulnerable -- whose vocation might not be to action, but to a more passive reception of the love of others. This is a great gift to the overall community, and we thought of Jean Vanier as a modern prophet to demonstrates that those with intellectual handicaps are not to be thought of as human failures -- they are gifts that help all develop their humanity by calling us to a love that is greater than efficiency.

The call to holiness

The next layer in the vocational “pyramid” is the call to holiness, which by its very nature is universal. However, we recognized that the expression “call to holiness” can conjure images that obscure this universal meaning. For example, we felt that in many people's minds, the “call to holiness” sounds like a mere “call to piety” or worse, a call to mere pious practices.
In order to express this concept more completely and in plain language that can speak to young people, we felt that any explanation of this universal call could use applications such as:
  • The call to holiness is ultimately a call to happiness and joy, not an external imposition
  • The call to holiness means a call to become the best possible version of oneself
  • The call to holiness includes a call to find one's best possible path in life -- it includes one's internal call, but also how to respond to the concrete situations of life around us
  • Drawing on an insight from the Eastern church, the call to holiness is about incarnating attributes of God in our life, e.g. joy, mercy, justice, care for creation, etc.
The greatest sign of holiness is, of course, charity (agape). We propose that the story of Saint Therese of Lisieux, who was attracted to all particular vocations (even priesthood) but found the unity of all of them in love as a wonderful illustration of this principal.

For the next two layers, we wanted to distinguish “vocations of being” (calls to particular states of life) from “vocations of doing” (calls to a particular profession, career, apostolate, etc.).
The “vocations of being”

The discussions of ordained ministry, consecrated life, marriage, and the single life led us to contemplate how these states of life are related to each other. We used this model as a visual aid:
The states of celibate and married life are mutually exclusive, so they do not touch. Each can be a “state of life” vocation unto itself. However, it is possible for them to be combined with states which touch them.

  • For example, a Latin-rite diocesan priest is generally both “clergy” and “celibate”, while a permanent deacon is often both "clergy" and "married". A lay religious would be "
  • The vocation of a religious priest includes three callings: “clergy”, “consecrated life”, and “celibate”.
  • The existence of third orders, as well as new forms of consecrated life, often allow married persons to participate in a charism of consecration. If lived by a married cleric, it is also a way to combine three “states of life”.

The “vocations of doing”

In our discussions it became clear that, for many young people, a key aspect of discernment is the attempt to find an answer to a very practical question: “What am I going to do with my life?” Many would prefer a profession that gives them meaning and responds to their talents rather than one which merely provided sustenance.

We recognized that for many people (and for many past generations) the idea of “fulfillment” was not found in work. Work was/is a matter of survival, not of career choice, and meaning/fulfillment was generally found in family life outside of the actual job. Still, this distinction is emerging more and more, and must be addressed.

Our general consensus is that finding ones “vocation of doing” generally means following one's talents. We recognized that in some cases what appears to be a secular career is actually a deeper calling (for example, even in the secular world being a teacher is often described as a “calling” rather than a mere job or career). Saint Paul takes the image of the Body of Christ, in which each member has a specific part to play, and then expands it into lists of specific “roles” that can serve as guidelines for finding the specific calling (see 1 Cor 12 and Eph 4).

Chapter 3

Our group found chapter 3 of part II to be very wordy. Keeping in mind that the purpose of Part II is to provide an “interpretive framework” or “hermeneutic of vocation”, our group analyzed chapter 3 to see what key concepts it provided within all the verbiage.

We want to highlight the following insights/concepts which we feel should be retained:
  • Discernment, in plain language, is the process of finding your best path in life, according to the internal gifts/talents one has, as well as the external environment/opportunities one lives in.
  • Following one's “emotions” seems too superficial as a criteria of finding one's vocation. What we really should be looking to do is find and follow one's deepest desire, one's truest joys, one's inner peace.
  • True discernment recognizes that a vocation is an invitation, not an imposition. It does not include the idea that if you've missed your “only” calling you've somehow missed the boat. All genuine vocations possess true good and God can bless them regardless of our specific choice of vocation.
  • Following one's vocation does include an ascetic component, in that finally making a choice can mean renouncing other choices. People who want to keep all their options open can never really discern.
 Chapter 4

Our group found chapter 4 of part II to be very important. We recognize that accompaniment can come in many forms. Keeping in mind that the purpose of Part II is to provide an “interpretive framework” or “hermeneutic of vocation”, we sought to discern what are the elements of “true” accompaniment.
  • As a first point, we wanted to highlight that true accompaniment respects that the discernment being made does not belong to the mentor, but to the person being accompanied. Manipulation can never be part of a true accompaniment. Members of our group, unfortunately, shared stories of this form of pseudo-accompaniment, some of which even seemed well-meaning (as opposed to predatory) but which was still inappropriate.
  • With this in mind, we appreciated the emphasis in the document on the respect for the freedom and conscience of the person being accompanied. We would like these concepts to be more fully developed (see our modi related to this point).
  • Accompaniment should be done in a climate of friendliness, trust and warmth. However, it should not be so friendly that objectivity is lost. The Irish notion of anim cara (“soul friend”) is a good image here. The mentor should also be free to offer "fraternal correction" when necessary, without losing the respect for freedom and conscience as mentioned before.
  • We contributed a modus suggesting that the relationship between “spiritual” and “psychological” accompaniment be more completely addressed so as to show the unity between them while at the same time respecting the specific contributions of each.
  • The role of the community in accompaniment is very important, in that a “calling” is often initiated and verified in the context of a community. It is not just the individual doing an individual discernment.
  • It is important to emphasize that mentors should pray for those they are accompanying. They must carry them in their heart before God.
Concluding observations

Our group wanted to highlight the centrality of the Eucharist in the process of discernment.
  • The Eucharist is not just the offering of the consecrated species, but includes the offering of oneself to the Father. This is a fundamentally vocational dimension to the Eucharist.
  • The Eucharist is what gathers the community that does the discerning alongside the young person.
  • In the Emmaus story, it is in the Eucharist that the “eyes of the disciples are opened”.
  • Many people do the prayerful element of their discernment in the context of the Eucharist.

A modus has been offered in this regard.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Seven new saints

Today was a day of great joy in Rome, and in the Church as a whole. Seven new saints were canonized in one ceremony, including Pope Paul VI (my first Pope when I was growing up) and Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. A very powerful film was made about +Romero in 1989 starring Raul Julia. If you get a chance to see it, you should.

The bishops first gathered in the basilica itself for vesting and general getting ready:


Once all was set, we headed out to the upper level of the steps, as the mass was to take place outside. It was a gorgeous day! Banners were hung off the balconies of Saint Peter's showing the images of the seven saints to be canonized. I could only get 6 in the frame of my camera at once, so here are two pictures of the banners so you can see all 7 images:



I had never been to a canonization mass before, so I was not too sure what to expect. As it turns out, it was pretty much like any other mass, with a few additions. We began with the sign of the cross as usual, and then we began the ritual of canonization. After the singing of the Veni Creator Spiritus, the Prefect of the Congregation for Saints came forward and made a formal request asking the Pope to canonize the seven candidates. A brief biography was ready for each, and the Pope declared that their enrollment among the saints and that the Christian faithful could venerate each as such. We sang the Gloria, and the Pope ordered that Apostolic letters be drafted for each saint corresponding to the declaration that had just been made. The mass then proceeded as usual.

Except, of course, it was not a usual mass! The ritual was pretty much the same (with the nice touch of the 7 new saints being mentioned at the appropriate spot in Eucharistic Prayer III), but the size of the event was huge. Since seeing is believing, I made this little video at the end to give you a sense of scale:


After mass was over we hopped a small shuttle bus that let 3 of the Canadian bishops off close to the Canadian College in Rome, where a reception and lunch was hosted for the bishops of the Synod by the rector and residents of the college. It was a nice conclusion to the morning's events.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Double duty at the Synod

Yesterday and today we were back in our small groups for discussion of part II of the Instrumentum laboris. Once again, I feel so blessed to be in my particular small group. Everyone has participated, and the interventions have never felt out of place.

I wound up doing double duty in our small group, however. We have both a Moderator (Cardinal Joseph Coutts of Pakistan) and a Rapporteur (myself). Cardinal Coutts was unavailable for these sessions, however, so I wound up co-chairing the meeting along with our theological "expert" assigned to the group. Many thanks to Kevin for accepting to help -- we made a good team. Still, it was not always easy keeping my eyes on who was raising their hand to speak while also trying to keep the minutes of the meeting going!

Apart from going out for coffee with a friend in the afternoon the rest of my day was pretty much spent working on my notes from the small group. We will need to be voting on our modi next Monday morning; as well, all Rapporteurs will also need to hand in the small group report to the Synod secretariat by Monday noon.

So no pictures today, but I thought you might be interested to see my commute from my residence to the Paul VI Synod hall:


A very nice walk 2-4 times per day. Good to get some exercise.

Ciao for now!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Condolences to Bishop Jaya Polimera

A week ago I wrote about my connection with +Jaya Polimera, the bishop of the diocese of Eluru in India. 

I learned today that Bishop Polimera's mother just passed away. He has therefore left the Synod to return to India for the funeral arrangements.

I ask your prayers for him, for her, and for the whole family.

You can learn more about the diocese of Eluru from their website.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

A first in the history of Synods

What do you do when you are trying to get to your seat in the Synod hall and the Pope is blocking your way?

Why you get out your camera of course! Especially when he is busy chatting with the first two bishops from mainland China to come to a Synod since the Communist takeover in 1949.


The two bishops in question had brought pectoral crosses and episcopal rings that they asked the Pope to bless for them. I caught that moment here:


Not my best picture, but historic nonetheless. I have to thank the official Papal photographer who saw what I was trying to do and allowed me to get in close, even moving aside to give me a bit better angle.

Some have questioned if it was wise for the Pope to sign the agreement with the Chinese government that recognized a role for the Communist party in the selection of bishops in mainland China. This is a serious point, and I for one would like to see the text of the actual agreement that was signed before completing my own thoughts on the matter. I am generally opposed to governments interfering in the selection of successors of the Apostles -- after all, Jesus picked Peter and the rest of the Twelve freely, no one forced him to consult Herod or Pontius Pilate first (thank goodness). Still, a similar sounding agreement has been in place in Vietnam for years (also run by Communists) and has permitted a certain freedom to the Church there. So I am of two minds on the matter.

There is no question in my mind about one thing, mind you: these two bishops were genuinely delighted and touched to be so close to the Pope. They know how rare this chance is, and I have to believe that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Unity, will touch their hearts as they head back home and share the experience with their brother bishops.