Pope Francis foils the plot
POPE Francis opened the Synod on the family with an admirable homily. It was “ centred on three themes: solitude, love between man and woman, and the family. ”
The first theme, solitude, “ is experienced by countless men and women in our own day. ” From the beginning the solution to it was the love between man and woman. Yet, “ love that is lasting, faithful, conscientious, stable and fruitful is increasingly looked down upon, viewed as a quaint relic of the past. It would seem that the most advanced societies are the very ones that have the lowest birth-rates and the highest percentages of abortion, divorce, suicide, and social and environmental pollution. ”
The remedy is brought by Jesus: “ To a rhetorical question – probably asked as a trap to make Him unpopular with the crowd, which practiced divorce as an established and inviolable fact – Jesus responds in a straightforward and unexpected way. He brings everything back to the beginning, to the beginning of creation, to teach us that God blesses human love, that it is He Who joins the hearts of two people who love one another, He Who joins them in unity and indissolubility. This shows us that the goal of conjugal life is not simply to live together for life, but to love one another for life!
“ Jesus re-establishes the order that was present from the beginning. ”
“ What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder ” (Mk 10:9)
This is a condemnation of “ every form of individualism, ” especially when it is referred to as a supposed ‘personalism,’ “ which conceals a narrow self-centredness and a fear of accepting the true meaning of the couple and of human sexuality in God’s plan. ”
What is “ God’s plan? ” Pope Francis expresses it in all its depth: “ Indeed, only in the light of the folly of the gratuitousness of Jesus’ paschal love will the folly of the gratuitousness of an exclusive and life-long conjugal love make sense. ”
This ‘folly’ is nothing other than the ‘folly of the Cross,’ which inspired Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus to say: “ O Jesus, allow me in my boundless gratitude to say to You that Your love reaches unto folly! ”
Here, Pope Francis quotes Joseph Ratzinger twice (1989,) and once again after becoming Pope (encyclical Caritas in Veritate, no. 3). Thus, ‘The Plot’ that we denounced last month (editorial of He is Risen, no 156, October 2015,) has been foiled. No one can accuse Pope Francis of being disloyal to Benedict.
Nevertheless, it was Ratzinger himself who said in 1967: “ As an expression of Church authority, above the Pope, there is the conscience that must be obeyed first, and if necessary, even against the demands of the authority of the Church. ” It is the true spirit of the Second Vatican Council, of which Benedict XVI is the ‘conservator,’ whereby “ today there is no longer the thickness of a cigarette paper between objective morality and subjectivity. ” (Georges de Nantes’ commentary on Gaudium et Spes 16, in Vatican II, Auto-da-fe, HIR no. 70a).
MARIAGE IS A SACRIFICE
It is quite the opposite for Pope Francis. In his catechesis of May 6, 2015,he in fact stresses the ‘revolutionary’ character – this is his own term – of Christian marriage instituted by Jesus Christ:
“ Saint Paul, speaking of new life in Christ, says that Christians – each one of them – are called to love one another as Christ has loved them, that is to ‘be subject to one another’ (Ep 5:21), which means to be at the service of one another. Here he introduces an analogy between husband-wife and Christ-Church. It is clear that this is an imperfect analogy, but we must take it in the spiritual sense which is very lofty and revolutionary, and at the same time simple, comprehensible to every man and woman who entrusts him and herself to the grace of God.
“ Husbands – Paul says – must love their wives ‘as their own body’ (Ep 5:28); to love them as Christ ‘loved the Church and gave Himself up for her’ (v. 25). You husbands who are present here, do you understand this? Do you love your wives as Christ loves the Church? This is no joke, these are serious things!
“ The effect of this radical devotion asked of man, for the love and dignity of woman, following the example of Christ, must have been tremendous in the Christian community itself.
“ This seed of evangelical novelty, which re-establishes the original reciprocity of devotion and respect, matured throughout history slowly but ultimately it prevailed.
“ The sacrament of marriage is a great act of faith and love: a witness to the courage to believe in the beauty of the creative act of God and to live that love that is always urging us to go on, beyond ourselves and even beyond our own family. The Christian vocation to love unconditionally and without limit is what, by the grace of Christ, is also at the foundation of the free consent that constitutes marriage.
“ The Church herself is fully involved in the story of every Christian marriage: she is built on their successes and she suffers in their failures. We, however, must ask in all seriousness: do we ourselves as believers and as pastors, accept deep down this indissoluble bond of the history of Christ and His Church with the history of marriage and the human family? Are we seriously ready to take up this responsibility, which is, that every marriage goes on the path of the love that Christ has for the Church? This is a great thing! ”
In other words, the mutual love of the spouses is expected to take as its source and model the sacrificial love that joins Christ to the Church:
“ Be subject to one another, in the fear of Christ.
“ Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord; because the husband is the head of his wife, as Christ is the Head of the Church. He is the Saviour of His Body. Therefore, as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed Himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the Church in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
“ So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His Body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh: This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband. ” (Ep 5:21-33)
In the eyes of Saint Paul, the association between the union of Christ and the Church on the one hand, and the union of man and woman in Christ on the other, is not a comparison, it is the very union of Christ and the Church that is achieved, is actualised in the union of the spouses. The onus is on each of us to accomplish, according to his gender, what Christ and the Church accomplish themselves.
“ The submission that is preached to wives is not just any submission, ” Georges de Nantes, our Father, taught, “ it is this submission – it would be better to say, this very particular adhesion – which is that of the Church to Christ. This means that a wife must make her union with her husband an exercise of faith and love.
“ The total, fully confident abandonment that must result from it will blossom in the life of the wife, in this very act in which is recapitulated the attitude and the living relationship of the Church with Christ. This, of course, supposes the principle that Saint Paul adds in express terms: the husband, for his part, has to consider himself the Head and Saviour of his wife behave towards her as such, in the sense that these terms apply to Christ towards the Church. This means that man has to give himself up for his wife and to her in a love that is a true participation in the sacrificial love of Christ for the Church.
« All of this is underpinned by the no less explicit affirmation that in marriage, the woman becomes the body of her husband, and the man the head of his wife. It must be understood in the way in which Christ and the Church become so for each other. This, of course, finds its basis in the reality of the carnal union. This reality, however, revealing finally all its spiritual perspectives, it ensues that it is the whole relationship between man and woman in marriage that is transported and as though raised within sacrifice.
“ The relations between man and woman, established on the basis of the carnal relationship, no longer appears as an alternative to the life of sacrifice in imitation of Christ. They become a new means for achieving this sacrificial live. ”
“ MATERNAL MARTYRDOM. ”
Straightaway Pope Francis places himself in this perspective when he entitles his inaugural catechesis of January 7, 2015, after having offered to our devotion “ The Example of the Holy Family ” (December 17, 2014): “ Praise of Maternal Martyrdom, ” the emblematic model of which is the Blessed Virgin:
“ Every human person owes his life to a mother, and almost always owes much of what follows in life, both human and spiritual formation, to her. Yet, despite being highly lauded from a symbolic point of view – many poems, many beautiful things said poetically of her – the mother is rarely listened to or helped in daily life, rarely considered central to society in her role. Rather, often the readiness of mothers to make sacrifices for their children is taken advantage of so as to ‘save’ on social spending.
“ It also happens that in Christian communities the mother is not always held in the right regard, she is barely heard. Yet the centre of the life of the Church is the Mother of Jesus. ”
In Her likeness, “ mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centred individualism. ” Then, the Pope evokes his own mother: “ I remember there were five of us children at home, and while one was doing one thing, the other wanted to do another, and our poor mama went back and forth from one’s side to another, but she was happy. She gave us so much. ”
Beginning with “ the deepest sense of religious practice: in a human being’s life, the value of faith is inscribed in the first prayers, the first acts of devotion that a child learns. It is a message that believing mothers are able to pass on without much explanation: these come later, but the seed of faith is those early precious moments. Without mothers, not only would there be no new faithful, but the faith would lose a good part of its simple and profound warmth.
“ The Church is mother, with all of this, she is our mother! We are not orphans; we are children of the Church, we are children of Our Lady, and we are children of our mothers.
“ Dearest mothers, thank you, thank you for what you are in your family and for what you give to the Church and the world. To you, beloved Church, thank you, thank you for being mother. To You, Mary, Mother of God, thank You for letting us see Jesus. Thank you, all you mammas present here: let us salute them with a round of applause! ”
Their crosses do not only come from the worries that their children cause them. The Pope drew the picture of the “ bad father. ” (January 28, 2015)
This term “ father ” is dearer than any other to us Christians, the Pope recalls, “ because it is the name by which Jesus taught us to call God: Father. The meaning of this name took on new depth from the very way Jesus used it to turn to God and to manifest His special relationship with Him. The blessed mystery of God’s intimacy, Father, Son and Spirit revealed by Jesus, is the heart of our Christian faith. ” (January 28, 2015)
Nevertheless, even before this revelation, the term “ father ” “ indicates a fundamental relationship ” within the first creation, which defines the human condition from the very beginning. The woe of our present-day society is that it has reached a stage where it claims to abolish it:
“ At first, this was perceived as a liberation: liberation from the father-master, from the father as the representative of the law that is imposed from without, from the father as the censor of his children’s happiness and the obstacle to the emancipation and autonomy of young people. ”
Well, the Pope begins by recognising that a certain abusive “ authoritarianism ” might have justified this rebellion, but this is no reason to “ go from one extreme to the other. ” In fact, “ in our day, the problem no longer seems to be the invasive presence of the father so much as his absence, his inaction. ”
The Pope relates:
“ As Bishop of Buenos Aires I sensed the feeling of orphanhood that children are experiencing today, and I often asked fathers if they played with their children, if they had the courage and love to spend time with their youngsters. And the answer was negative in most cases: ‘But I can’t, because I have so much work...’ The father was absent from the little child growing up, he did not play with him, no, he did not waste time with him. Now, on this common journey of reflection on the family, I would like to say to all Christian communities that we must be more attentive: the absent father figure in the life of little ones and young people causes gaps and wounds that may even be very serious. In effect, delinquency among children and adolescents can be largely attributed to this lack, to the shortage of examples and authoritative guidance in their everyday life, a shortage of closeness, a shortage of love from the father. The feeling of orphanhood that so many young people live with is more profound than we think. ”
The Pope extends to educational institutions “ a certain – let’s call it paternal – responsibility towards young people, ” who are left “ deprived of safe paths to follow, of teachers in whom they can trust. ” These latter are replaced with all sorts of “ idols, ” whereby “ their hearts are robbed; they are obliged to dream of amusement and pleasure but they are not given work; they become deluded by the god of money, and they are denied true wealth. ”
The following Wednesday, the Pope preached a totally different behaviour to fathers with a family, in order that they might imitate St. Joseph “ a just man, who ‘took his wife to his home’ (Mt 1:24) and became the father of the family of Nazareth ” (February 4, 2015)
Saint Joseph is the model of fathers of families, who are “ the irreplaceable guardians and mediators of faith in goodness, of faith in justice and in God’s protection. ” In order to imitate him, the father must first “ be close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship. Then he must be close to his children as they grow: when they play and when they strive, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they take a wrong step and when they find their path again; a father who is always present.
“ To say ‘present’ is not to say ‘controlling’! Fathers who are too controlling cancel out their children, they do not let them develop. The Gospel speaks to us about the exemplarity of the Father Who is in Heaven, Who alone, Jesus says, can be truly called the ‘good Father’ (cf. Mk 10:18). Everyone knows that extraordinary parable of the ‘prodigal son’, or better yet of the ‘merciful Father’, which we find in the Gospel of Luke in chapter 15 (cf. Lk 15:11-32). What dignity and what tenderness there is in the expectation of that Father, who stands at the door of the house waiting for his son to return! Fathers must be patient. Often there is nothing else to do but wait; pray and wait with patience, gentleness, magnanimity and mercy. A good father knows how to wait and knows how to forgive from the depths of his heart. Certainly, he also knows how to correct with firmness: he is not a weak father, submissive and sentimental. The father who knows how to correct without humiliating is the one who knows how to protect without sparing himself. ”
“ To be son or daughter according to God’s plan ” is the basis of “ his/her personal dignity, a dignity which nothing and no one can ever destroy. ” (February 11, 2015)
The Pope again evokes family memories:
“ I remember what my mother said about us: ‘I have five children.’ When they asked her: ‘Which one is your favourite’, she answered: “ I have five children, like five fingers. [The Pope displays his fingers] Should they strike this one, it hurts me; should they strike that one, it hurts me. All five hurt me. All are my children and all are different like the fingers of a hand.’ ”
What a masterpiece of a Christian family!
“ A child is loved because he is one’s child: not because he is beautiful, or because he is like this or like that; no, because he is one’s own child! Not because he thinks as I do, or embodies my dreams. A child is a child: a life generated by us but intended for him, for his good, for the good of the family, of society, of mankind as a whole.
“ From this also derives the depth of the human experience of being son or daughter, which allows us to discover the most gratuitous dimension of love, which never ceases to astonish us. It is the beauty of being loved first: children are loved before they arrive. So often I find mothers in the square who are expecting a baby and ask me for a blessing... these babies are loved before coming into the world. And this is free, this is love; they are loved before being born, like the love of God Who always loves us first. They are loved before having done anything to deserve it, before knowing how to talk or think, even before coming into the world! ”
Consequently, “ the fourth Commandment asks children – we are all children! – to honour our father and mother (cf. Ex 20:12)
“ This Commandment comes immediately after those regarding God Himself. Indeed, it contains something sacred, something divine, something which lies at the root of every other type of respect among men. To the biblical formulation of the fourth Commandment is added: ‘that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.’ The virtuous bond between generations is the guarantee of the future, and is the guarantee of a truly human history.
“ A society with children who do not honour parents is a society without honour; when one does not honour one’s parents one loses one’s own honour! It is a society destined to be filled with arid and avid young people. However, even a society with a paucity of generations, which does not love being surrounded by children, which considers them above all a worry, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society.
“ Let us consider the many societies we know here in Europe: they are depressed societies, because they do not want children, they are not having children, the birth rate does not reach one percent. Why? Let each of us consider and respond. If a family with many children is looked upon as a weight, something is wrong! ”
In a large family, “ children learn to assume responsibility for their family. They mature in sharing its hardship. They grow in the appreciation of its gifts. The happy experience of brotherhood inspires respect and care for parents, to whom our recognition is due. ”
The other day, at the meeting held at Centre-Sèvres, I asked Cardinal Tauran a question, and my paper made it through the ‘pastoral customs’:
“ What role does Pope Francis’ catecheses on the family play in the preparation of the Synod? ”
The cardinal’s answer was evasive:
“ They should be read and re-read! ”
We got the feeling that the Cardinal had not really followed them.
Yet it is true that in the present state of confusion, they are precious pearls: “ In the multiplication of generations there is a mystery of enrichment of the life of all, which comes from God Himself. We must rediscover it, challenging prejudice; and live it, in the faith, in perfect happiness.
“ I say to you: how beautiful it is when I pass in your midst and I see the dads and moms lift up their children to be blessed; this is an almost divine gesture. Thank you for doing it! ”
THE BEAUTY OF THE FRATERNAL BOND.
“ The fraternal bond holds a special place in the history of the People of God, who received His revelation at the core of the human experience. The Psalmist sings of the beauty of the fraternal bond: ‘Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!’ (Ps 133:1). This is true, brotherhood is beautiful! Jesus Christ also brought to its fullness this human experience of being brothers and sisters, embracing it in Trinitarian love and thereby empowering it to go well beyond the ties of kinship and enabling it to surmount every barrier of extraneousness.
“ We know that when the fraternal relationship is destroyed, when the relationship between siblings is destroyed, the road is open to painful experiences of conflict, of betrayal, of hate. The biblical account of Cain and Abel is an example of this negative outcome. After the killing of Abel, God asks Cain: ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ (Gen 4:9a). It is a question that the Lord continues to repeat to every generation. And unfortunately, in every generation, Cain’s dramatic answer never fails to be repeated: ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ (ibid., 4:9b). The rupture of the bond between siblings is a nasty, bad thing for humanity. In the family too, how many siblings quarrel over little things, or over an inheritance, and then they no longer speak to each other, they no longer greet one another. This is terrible! Brotherhood is a great thing, when we consider that all our brothers and sisters lived in the womb of the same mother for nine months, came from the mother’s flesh! Brotherhood cannot be broken. (February 18, 2015)
Here is a truth of which “ we are not always aware, but the family itself introduces fraternity into the world! Beginning with this first experience of fraternity, nourished by affection and education at home, the style of fraternity radiates like a promise upon the whole of society and on its relations among peoples.
“ The blessing that God, in Jesus Christ, pours out on this bond of fraternity, expands in an unimaginable way. He renders it capable of overcoming all differences of nationality, language, culture and even religion [...]. Christians, in fact, go to meet the poor and the weak not to obey an ideological programme, but because the word and the example of the Lord tell us that we are all brothers. This is the principle of God’s love and of all justice among men. ”
GRANDPARENTS AND THEIR GRANDCHILDREN.
The Pope begins by denouncing “ the shortcomings of a society programmed for efficiency, which consequently ignores its elderly. [...] They are thrown away. It is brutal to see how the elderly are thrown away. It is a brutal thing; it is a sin! ” (March 4, 2015)
The Pope quotes Sacred Scripture: “ Do not disregard the discourse of the aged, for they themselves learned from their fathers; because from them you will gain understanding and learn how to give an answer in time of need. ” (Sir 8:9).
He who the Philippine people called ‘Lolo Kiko,’ ‘Grand Father Francis,’ is living proof of this truth, as we said last month. He perfectly fulfils his ‘vocation,’ which is to imitate, along with all our grandparents, Simeon and Anna who welcomed Mary and Joseph who had come to present the Child Jesus in the Temple. (March 11, 2015)
The Pope concluded this catechesis by embracing his countless children:
“ How I would like a Church that challenges the throw-away culture with the overflowing joy of a new embrace between young and old! This is what I ask of the Lord today, this embrace! ”
There followed a second catechesis on children, who are “ a gift and a treasure. ” (March 18, 2015)
“ First of all children remind us that we all, in the first years of life, were completely dependent upon the care and benevolence of others. The Son of God was not spared this stage. It is the mystery that we contemplate every year at Christmas. The Nativity Scene is the icon that communicates this reality in the simplest and most direct way.
“ It is curious: God has no difficulty in making Himself understood by children, and children have no difficulty in understanding God. It is not by chance that in the Gospel there are several very beautiful and powerful words of Jesus regarding the ‘little ones’. This term, ‘babes’, refers to all the people who depend on the help of others, and to children in particular. For example, Jesus says: ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to babes’ (Mt 11:25). And again: ‘See that you do not despise one of these little ones: for I tell you that in Heaven their angels always behold the face of My Father Who is in Heaven.’ (Mt 18:10)
“ Thus, children are in and of themselves a treasure for humanity and also for the Church, for they constantly evoke that necessary condition for entering the Kingdom of God: that of not considering ourselves self-sufficient, but in need of help, of love, of forgiveness. We all are in need of help, of love and of forgiveness! ”
The rest shows that the Pope’s acquaintance with Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus bears its “ counter reformation ” fruits.
“ Children remind us of another beautiful thing: they remind us that we are always sons and daughters. Even if one becomes an adult, or an elderly person, even if one becomes a parent, if one occupies a position of responsibility, underneath all of this is still the identity of a child. We are all sons and daughters. This always brings us back to the fact that we did not give ourselves life but that we received it. The great gift of life is the first gift that we received. Sometimes in life we risk forgetting about this, as if we were the masters of our existence, and instead we are fundamentally dependent. In reality, it is a motive of great joy to feel at every stage of life, in every situation, in every social condition, that we are and we remain sons and daughters. This is the main message that children give us, by their very presence: simply by their presence they remind us that each and every one of us is a son or daughter. ”
We are far from the “ cult of man ” that Paul VI proclaimed in Saint Peter’s in his Closing Address to the Council, on December 7 1965:
“ THE CULT OF MAN ” AT THE COUNCIL
“ The Church of the Council, it is true, has also been much concerned with man, with man as he really is today, living man, man totally taken up with himself, man who not only makes himself the centre of his own interests, but who dares to claim that he is the principle and finality of all reality.
“ Secular, profane humanism has finally revealed itself in its terrible shape and has, in a certain sense, challenged the Council. The religion of God made man has come up against the religion – for that is what it is – of man who makes himself God.
“ What happened? An impact, a battle, an anathema? That might have taken place, but it did not. It was the old story of the Samaritan that formed the model for the Council’s spirituality. It was completely filled with a boundless sympathy for men. The attention of this Synod was taken up with the discovery of human needs – which become greater as the son of the earth (sic) makes himself greater.
“ At least grant it this merit, you modern humanists who renounce the transcendence of supreme things, and come to know our new humanism: we also, we more than anyone else, we have the cult of man. ”
Pope Francis cures us of the cult of man who makes himself God and brings us back to the cult of God Who became man, through “ spontaneous trust in God, in Jesus, in Our Lady ” and through “ the tenderness ” that they inspire, which consists in “ having a heart ‘of flesh’ and not ‘of stone’, as the Bible says (cf. Ez 36:26.) ” That is why “ Jesus invited His disciples to ‘become like children’, because ‘the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like them’ (cf. Mt 18:3; Mk 10:14).
“ Dear brothers and sisters, children bring life, cheerfulness, hope, also troubles. But such is life. Certainly, they also bring worries and sometimes many problems; but better a society with these worries and these problems, than a sad, grey society because it is without children! When we see that the birth rate of a society is barely one percent, we can say that this society is sad, it is grey because it has no children. ”
FRANCIS TEACHES US AGAIN HOW TO PRAY
On March 25, 2015, feast of the Annunciation, the Pope invited his audience to a “ renewal of prayer for the Synod of Bishops on the Family. ”
He clearly explained his intention, which many people have not yet understood, as can be seen by the debate raised by the second session of the Synod during this month of October:
“ I would like this prayer, as the whole journey of the Synod, to be animated by the compassion of the Good Shepherd for His flock, especially for people and families who, for different reasons, are ‘harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Mt 9:36). Thus, sustained and animated by the grace of God, the Church can be ever more committed, and ever more united, in the witness of the truth of the love of God and of His mercy for the world’s families, none excluded, both within the fold and without.
“ I ask you, please do not fail to pray. Everyone – the pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, men and women religious, lay faithful – we are all called to pray for the Synod. This is what is needed, not gossip! ”
Then he invited the throng to recite the beautiful prayer that he had had printed on the back of a picture and distributed:
“ Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in You we contemplate the splendour of true love, to You we turn with trust.
“ Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families too may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic churches.
“ Holy Family of Nazareth, may families never again experience violence, rejection and division: May all who have been hurt or scandalised find ready comfort and healing.
“ Holy Family of Nazareth, may the approaching Synod of Bishops make us more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.
“ Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer. ”
THE “ PASSION ” OF CHILDREN.
Our common Father expresses his outrage:
“ From the first moments of their lives, many children are rejected, abandoned, and robbed of their childhood and future. There are those who dare to say, as if to justify themselves, that it was ‘a mistake’ to bring these children into the world. This is shameful! Let us not unload our faults onto the children, please! Children are never ‘a mistake’. ” (April 8, 2015)
They are “ the most beautiful gift and blessing that the Creator has given to man and woman. ”
If Jesus rebuked His apostles who did not let children approach Him, what can be said about those who do not even let them come into existence! “ Think what a society would be like if it decided, once and for all, to establish this principle: ‘It is true, we are not perfect and we make many mistakes. When it comes to the children who come into the world, however, no sacrifice on the part of adults is too costly or too great, to ensure that no child believe he was a mistake, is worthless or is abandoned to a life of wounds and to the arrogance of men’. How beautiful a society like this would be! I say that for such a society, much could be forgiven, innumerable errors. Truly a great deal.
“ The Lord judges our life according to what the angels of children tell Him, angels who ‘always behold the face of the Father Who is in Heaven’ (cf. Mt 18:10). Let us always ask ourselves: what will the children’s guardian angels tell God about us? ”
MALE AND FEMALE HE CREATED THEM.
“ As we all know, sexual difference is present in so many forms of life, on the great scale of living beings. Man and woman alone, however, are made in the image and likeness of God: the biblical text repeats it three times in two passages (26-27): man and woman are the image and likeness of God. This tells us that it is not man alone who is the image of God or woman alone who is the image of God, but man and woman as a couple who are the image of God. The difference between man and woman is not meant to stand in opposition, or to subordinate, but is for the sake of communion and generation, always in the image and likeness of God. ” (April 15, 2015)
I know only one theologian in the world who knew how to expound this mystery of the human couple conceived and created by the divine Trinity. Before him, theologians and moralists failed to establish a relationship between, on the one hand, the Trinity, the sublime perfection of a pluripersonal and unitary life, far from us in Heaven and on the other, the male and female couple, whose union without grandeur has but one goal: the necessary reproduction of the human race.
The simple stroke of inspiration, which is the hallmark of genius of our mystical Doctor of Trinitarian life, consists in explaining that “ the Trinity has no real, true, analogical trace in the created world because there is no total being in the world that can represent the fullness of Trinitarian life, nor is there any creature, however perfect and powerful it may be, that would be worthy to represent the One, the Father. All the veritable traces of the Trinitarian mystery, the likeness of which the Creator has willed to imprint in His work, are the dyads which, dependent on Him and emanating from His Paternal and Creative power, make with Him, but never without Him, triads in His own image and likeness. If we count man and woman as one and two, we falsely put man in the place of God, the First, whence the human couple necessarily appears irreducible to the Trinity, unlike God and as though by nature and interpersonal situation, in revolt against Him!
“ The truth, however, is inscribed in the vivid account of the creation of man, male and female, to be found in the Book of Genesis. God, the One, the Principle of all being, creates man who is His Son (Lk 3.38), and who with Him makes Two: likeness and unlikeness. Man with God: the Sacred Dyad! From this Dyad, however, there proceeds Woman, who is like the man, the ‘shadow’ or the other half of the man, both a Creation of God and an emanation of man; she issues from the One and from the other in order to return to the One through the other: God the Father, Adam and Eve, with Eve drawn from the side of Adam by God. This is the dyad reconciled with the triad; or rather, precontained in the Trinity we have the human couple. ” (Georges de Nantes, A Theology of Love, CCR no. 77, August 1977, p. 15-16)
“ Anatomy suggests it, biology explains it even better, but Revelation sheds full light on the question. God, Man and Woman maintain a very profound and mysterious union among themselves; one of complementarity and subordination, tending to a certain tangential equality. God the Father is the Source; He is All. Man issued from Him in the image and likeness of the Son, Who is Strength, Wisdom, the Word of God. Adam is in the likeness of the Second Person; he is with God and, in a certain measure, already like God. In the created world he is the Head who must increase, multiply and subdue. Woman, who is drawn from Adam by God, is in the image and likeness of the Holy Spirit, who is Love, Gift, the gentle radiance of divine joy and the term of the movement whereby the latter returns to its Principle. Eve, in whom strength becomes tenderness and wisdom becomes recollection, joy and love, is the term of all creation. Paradoxically, it is not our knowledge of the Holy Spirit, ‘the Great Unknown’ that gives us a deeper knowledge of the ‘eternal Feminine’. It is our pervasive knowledge of feminine nature that gives us a better understanding of what Revelation has to tell us of the Holy Spirit, in whose image and likeness woman is, or rather she is called to be better still, the Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit. ” (ibid., pp. 15-16)
Pope Francis is the first Pontiff of modern times to pose the question in its full magnitude: “ Experience teaches us: in order to know oneself well and develop harmoniously, a human being needs the reciprocity of man and woman. When that is lacking, one can see the consequences. We are made to listen to one another and help one another. We can say that without the mutual enrichment of this relationship – in thought and in action, in affection and in work, as well as in faith – the two cannot even understand the depth of what it means to be man and woman.
“ Modern contemporary culture has opened new spaces, new forms of freedom and new depths in order to enrich the understanding of this difference. It, however, has also introduced many doubts and much skepticism. For example, I ask myself, if the so-called gender theory is not, at the same time, an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it [...]. I would urge intellectuals not to leave this theme aside, as if it had to become secondary in order to foster a more free and just society. ”
A fruitful answer flows from Georges de Nantes’ doctrine:
“ Man, in his sexual relationship, is called to be the Image of the Son, to be and to appear strong and wise in the eyes of his wife, like a son of God, an image of God for her. He is her head and her lord, but in the name of the One Who is Lord principally and absolutely, that is of God the Father. Whence his strength, his authority and his prestige, which are unquestionable but quite relative.
“ Woman, in her very condition as spouse, cannot be considered as an object, as an inferior thing to be used, taken advantage of and enjoyed at will. Even in her submission and inferiority, she is like the Third Divine Person. Love who receives all and who gives back to him who espouses her as much as she receives from him, is subordinate and submissive but equal in nature, in the tangential equality of exchange, reciprocity and union of love. Woman is more than man’s companion, she is more than his ‘half,’ she is also the term of Divine blessing and therefore in the eyes of her husband, the unexpected, the unmerited, the wonderful and most ardently desired of gifts, without which man would find no fulfilment. In woman, the image of grace, man finds the ultimate subject for his thanksgiving and gratitude to the Father. ” (ibid.)
Pope Francis is calling for this theology of our Father when he indicates, “ among many others, two points that I believe call for urgent attention.
“ The first. There is no doubt that we must do far more to advance women, if we want to give more strength to the reciprocity between man and woman. In fact, it is necessary that woman not only be listened to more, but that her voice carry real weight, a recognised authority in society and in the Church. The very way Jesus considered women in a context less favourable than ours, because women in those times were relegated to second place. Jesus considered her in a way which gives off a powerful light, which enlightens a path that leads afar, of which we have only covered a small stretch. We have not yet understood in depth what the feminine genius can give us, what woman can give to society and also to us. Maybe women see things in a way that complements the thoughts of men. It is a path to follow with greater creativity and courage.
“ A second reflection concerns the topic of man and woman created in the image of God. I wonder if the crisis of collective trust in God, which does us so much harm, and makes us pale with resignation, incredulity and cynicism, is not also connected to the crisis of the alliance between man and woman. In fact the biblical account, with the great symbolic fresco depicting the earthly paradise and original sin, tells us in fact that the communion with God is reflected in the communion of the human couple and the loss of trust in the heavenly Father generates division and conflict between man and woman. ”
This is precisely the subject of Fr. de Nantes’ following paragraph under the heading: “ The Couple in Revolt: ”
“ With mankind in a state of rebellion, separated from its Divine Source and enslaved to sin, the couple is no longer the second and third persons of the original trinity. The second has made himself the first and forces the third to consider him as her all. Everywhere is tyranny, violence, oppression and folly. Then the third person, drawn into his rebellion and provoked to evil by evil, wants to be his equal, wants to be the total image and whole likeness of her All. Everywhere is insubordination, revolt and hatred. Hence we have the ‘class struggle,’ the famous universal ‘dialectic of Master and Slave’ that germinates in the struggle of the sexes and grows out of rebellion against God. Instead of filial wisdom, we see the folly of man’s pride; instead of grateful love and tender submission, we see the hatred of resentment and the revolt of the woman-object against her oppressor. The effect of the couple’s enclosing itself up in rejecting God is its deliberate sterility, if not physical at least moral. Children are unwanted by couples who gather only passing and selfish pleasures: the man is obsessed by his passion for mastery and the woman by her revolt. ” (ibid., p. 12-13)
Pope Francis concludes :
“ The great responsibility of the Church, of all believers, and first of all of believing families, which derives from us, impels people to rediscover the beauty of the creative design that also inscribes the image of God in the alliance between man and woman. The earth is filled with harmony and trust when the alliance between man and woman is lived properly. If man and woman seek it together, between themselves, and with God, without a doubt they will find it. Jesus encourages us explicitly to bear witness to this beauty, which is the image of God. ”
The following catecheses prove this.
It is also the conclusion of George de Nantes, under the heading: “ In Christ and the Church: ”
The comparison is marvellous.
On Wednesday, April 22, 2015, Pope Francis quoted the second creation narrative of the Bible, according to which the Lord “ formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. ” (Gn 2:7).
“ The Holy Spirit, who inspired the whole of the Bible, momentarily evokes the image of man alone – something is missing – without woman. The Holy Spirit evokes God’s thoughts, even His emotion, as He gazes at Adam, observing him alone in the garden. He is free, he is a lord... but he is alone. God sees that this ‘is not good’: as if what is missing is communion, he lacks communion, the fullness is lacking. ‘It is not good’, God says, and adds: ‘I will make him a helper fit for him’ (Gn 2:18.)
“ Then God brings all the animals to man; man gives to each its name – and this is another image of man’s dominion over creation – but he sees that not one of the animals is like himself. Man continues alone. When finally God presents woman, man exultantly recognises that this creature, and this creature alone, is a part of him: ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ (Gn 2:23.) ”
Georges de Nantes did not hesitate to write: “ God created the sexes according to flesh and according to spirit to be His image in spiritual union and His likeness in carnal embrace and fruitfulness... Sex is a constituent element, not an accessory nor a secondary one, but an essential element of earthly creation. (The Angels are another chapter!) When, at the Devil’s suggestion, man’s pride turned him away from God, there was an immediate revolt within him of the carnal, sexual instinct against the spiritual soul and hence against God. ” (ibid., p. 17)
“ God’s faith in man and in woman, those to whom He entrusted the earth, is generous, direct and full. He trusts them. Then, however, the devil introduces suspicion into their minds, disbelief, distrust, and finally, disobedience to the commandment that protected them. They fall into that delirium of omnipotence that pollutes everything and destroys harmony. ”
The remedy is Jesus:
“ At the beginning of his Gospel, John the Evangelist narrates the episode of the wedding at Cana, at which the Virgin Mary and Jesus were present with His first disciples (cf. Jn 2:1-11). Jesus not only participated at that wedding, but ‘saved the feast’ with the miracle of wine! Thus, the first of His prodigious signs, with which He reveals His glory, He performed in the context of a wedding, and it was an act of great sympathy for that nascent family, entreated by Mary’s motherly care. This reminds us of the Book of Genesis, when God completes His work of creation and makes His masterpiece; the masterpiece is man and woman. Here at a marriage, at a wedding feast, Jesus begins His own miracles with this masterpiece: a man and a woman. Thus Jesus teaches us that the masterpiece of society is the family: a man and a woman who love each other! This is the masterpiece! ”
It is from the same biblical and Franciscan perspective that Georges de Nantes wrote:
“ It was therefore not only natural for the Word, the Son of God, but very necessary for depraved mankind that, when He became incarnate, He should take the sex created in His Image and that He be a man in every acceptance of the term, in the full perfection of the first sex: wise, strong, but of a wisdom and strength of His God and Father, as His Son and Image, most holy, most perfect, sent by Him to be on earth what He is in Heaven for all eternity and to re-educate mankind in its vocation of filial holiness. ”
“ He was, as Saint Paul explains, the New Adam. Like the first Adam, He not only desired to rule over all creation but to receive from His Father, not without His own assistance, a companion like to Himself, truly drawn from His own flesh and blood: a spouse, a wife, in immortal bonds. ” (ibid.)
Pope Francis comes precisely to this mystery, the subject of the catechesis of May 6, 2015:
“ Christian marriage is a sacrament that takes place in the Church, and which also makes the Church, by giving rise to a new family community. ”
Georges de Nantes is more explicit:
“ The Christian, in the sacrament of marriage, is for his wife what Christ is for His Church. This analogy carries a real, but quite supernatural, identification. His spouse can see Christ in him, for if he is a Christian, and above all if he is holy, he is a member of Christ. Likewise, the husband must see the Church in his wife, for she is a true member of it, all the more so for not being his carnal conquest or his human property, but the gift made to him by God to help him rise towards God.
“ Similarly, as there is only one God the Father, engendering only one Son, so the Christian spouse is unique. And as only one Holy Spirit is the fulfilling term for the twofold procession of the Divine Persons, so there is only one wife. The original monogamy was only restored and still holds in Catholicism on the strength of this Revelation of the One Son and the One Spirit, the sacramental symbol of which is marriage. (Mt 19:8) As for the laws governing fecundity, is it necessary to show how they hinge on the Wisdom and Love deployed by the Heavenly Father in creation? ” (ibid., p. 18)
Let us come back to Pope Francis:
“ The route is well marked forever, it is the route of love: to love as God loves, forever. Christ does not cease to care for the Church: He loves her always, He guards her always, as Himself. Christ does not cease to remove stains and wrinkles of every kind from the human face. ”
Christ does this each morning, by offering to His Father the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, as it is represented in the Eucharistic and Marian theophany with which Sr. Lucy was favoured in Tuy in 1929.
“ Moving and very beautiful to see is this radiation of God’s power and tenderness which is transmitted from couple to couple, family to family. Saint Paul is right: this truly is a ‘great mystery’! ”
In this same perspective “ of openness to all that is human, to all that is revealed to us of God, ” Georges de Nantes wrote, “ we understand that the Word Made Flesh should thus come on earth in search of a companion like Himself, and not finding one in a universe stained with sin, that He should remit Himself to God His Father and in the sleep wherewith He was struck on the Cross a companion should be drawn from His open side, the perfect spouse who would be complementary to Him, submissive but eschatologically equal. Such is the Church, the new Humanity, whose personification was and remains the Virgin Mother and whose uncreated Soul is the Holy Spirit, whose personal vocation is Virginal Love, made inexhaustibly fruitful by grace until the last day. ” (ibid., p. 18)
THREE EXPRESSIONS TO LIVE IN PEACE.
The audience of May 13, 2015 was presided over by Our Lady of Fatima Whose statue adorned Saint Peter’s Square. Pope Francis invited the throng to listen to a Ave Maria recited in Portuguese by one of his assistants with the Portuguese and Brazilians who were there. At the end of the audience, the Pope recommended the daily recitation of the Rosary:
“ Dear young people, learn to cultivate a devotion to the Mother of God with the daily recitation of the Rosary; dear sick people, feel Mary present at the hour of the Cross and you, dear newlyweds, pray to Her that love and mutual respect never be lacking in your home. ”
He had just indicated the way to achieve this by practicing a ‘total morality’ that can be summed up in “ three expressions to live in peace, ” which Pope Francis wrote above “ the doorway of a series of reflections on family life and what it’s really like to live in a family, day in and day out. ” These are the fruit of his catecheses on the family about which it may be said that they make Pope Francis the true head of our Catholic family, the only family that contains all the others.
“ The expressions are: ‘please?’, ‘thank you’, and ‘pardon me’.
Yet one must be careful not to “ have formal observance sink into spiritual worldliness [...]. We, however, mean “ good manners ” only in the most authentic way, according to which the habit of cultivating good relations is firmly rooted in a love for the good and a respect for the other person. The family lives according to this refined sense of loving. ”
The Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins is its living source, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary its reservoir.
“ Let us look at these expressions: the first expression is, ‘please?’
“ When we take care to ask for something kindly – even something we think we have a rightful claim to – we help to strengthen the common life that undergirds marriage and the family. Entering into the life of another, even when that person already has a part to play in our life, demands the sensitivity of a non-invasive attitude which renews trust and respect. Indeed, the deeper and more intimate love is, the more it calls for respect for the other’s freedom and the ability to wait until the other opens the door to his or her heart. ”
One thing alone counts: love. Everything must be done through love.
“ At this point, we can remember the words of Jesus in the Book of the Apocalypse: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me.’ (Ap 3:20). Even the Lord asks permission to enter! Let us not forget that. Before doing anything in your family, ask: ‘Do you mind if I do this? Would you like me to do this?’ This way of asking is well-mannered indeed, but it is also full of love. This does so much good for families.
“ The second expression is ‘thank you’. Sometimes we have to wonder if we are turning into a civilisation of bad manners and bad words, as if this were a sign of self-liberation. It is not uncommon to hear these bad words publicly. Kindness and the ability to say ‘thank you’ are often considered a sign of weakness and raise the suspicion of others. This tendency is encountered even within the nucleus of the family. We must become firmly determined to educate others to be grateful and appreciative: the dignity of the person and social justice must both pass through the portal of the family. ”
Christian life also: through thanksgiving.
“ If family life neglects this style of living, social life will also reject it. Gratitude, however, stands at the very core of the faith of the believer. A Christian who does not know how to thank has lost the very ‘language’ of God. This is terrible! Let us not forget Jesus’ question after He healed the ten lepers and only one of them returned to thank Him (Lk 17:18).
“ I remember once listening to a very wise, old person; very simple, but with that uncommon wisdom of life and piety: ‘Gratitude is a plant that grows only in the soil of noble souls’. That nobility of soul, that grace of God in the soul compels us to say ‘thank you’ with gratitude. It is the flower of a noble soul. This really is something beautiful.
“ The third expression is ‘pardon me’. Granted, it is not always easy to say, but it is so necessary. Whenever it is lacking, the little cracks begin to open up – even when we do not want them to – and they can even become enormous sinkholes. It is hardly insignificant that in the ‘Our Father’ that Jesus teaches us – a prayer that sums up all of life’s essential questions – we find this expression: ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ (Mt 6:16)
“ To acknowledge that we have fallen short, to be desirous of returning that which has been taken away – respect, sincerity, love – these make us worthy of pardon. This is how we heal the infection. If we ourselves are not able to ask for forgiveness, then neither are we are able to forgive.
“ A house in which the words ‘I am sorry’ are never uttered begins to lack air, and the flood waters begin to choke those who live inside. So many wounds, so many scrapes and bruises are the result of a lack of these precious words: ‘I am sorry’.
“ Marital life is so often torn apart by fights... the “ plates will even start flying, ” but let me give you a word of advice: never finish the day without making peace with one another. Listen to me carefully: did you fight with your wife or husband? Did you fight with your parents? Did you seriously argue? That is not a good thing, but it is not really that which is the problem: the problem arises only if this feeling hangs over into the next day. So if you have fought, do not let the day end without making peace with your family. How am I going to make peace? By getting down on my knees? No! Just by a small gesture, a little something, and harmony within your family will be restored. Just a little caress, no words are necessary. Do not let the sun set on your family without having made your peace. Do you understand me? It is not easy, but you have to do it. It will help to make life so much more beautiful. ”
In fact, it is impossible without God’s grace.
“ So these three key expressions for family life are really simple words; so simple that perhaps they even bring a smile to our face. When we forget them, however, it is no laughing matter, right? ”
We see war setting the world on fire for want of God’s grace that we will obtain through the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Pope Francis and the bishops in communion with him. May this “ please ” be the only worthwhile conclusion for the Synod.
“ May the Lord help us to put them back where they belong: in our hearts, in our homes, and in our civic life. These are the words that truly enter into the love of a family. ”
And they lead it to Heaven!
Brother Bruno of Jesus-Mary.