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What's a synod and why are we having one in Rome now?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 23, May 2022 Categories: Pope Francis,Church History
What Pope Francis will do with the present "Synod on Synodality" remains to be seen. This two-year process of listening begins at the diocesan and parish levels: a rare inclusion of lay concerns.

Synods aren't a new invention in the church. The word means "meeting," and church leaders have always gathered in regions or by country to discuss matters relevant to their territory and times. 

However, the World Synod of Bishops (currently in listening sessions from 2021-2023) is a relatively new animal on the ecclesial scene—a mere half-century old. Pope Paul VI called for its permanent establishment as a consultative body to the papacy in 1965 with the papal letter Apostolica Sollicitudo ("Apostolic Concern"). To say Paul VI invented the idea—as the letterhead Motu Proprio ("on his own initiative") might imply—is misleading. The creation of a Bishops' Synod was mandated by the Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office, a Vatican II document produced the same year. As the Decree notes, while the pope has primacy over the Church universal, he shares his authority "by the Holy Spirit" with other "pastors of souls": AKA, bishops worldwide. [Christus Dominus, no.2]

If the bishops sound a bit cranky here, they had reason. Not every pope has been respectful of the collegiality of their office. In fact, the word collegiality is a third rail in Vatican politics. How can one hold "primacy" and share authority in any meaningful way with bishops who are "constituted true and authentic teachers of the faith and have been made pontiffs and pastors" in their own right? [CD, no.2]

The bishops' mandate for a seat at the table of discernment wasn't ambiguous: "Bishops chosen from different parts of the world in a manner and according to a system ... to be determined by the Roman Pontiff will render ... a more effective auxiliary service in a council which shall be known by the special name of Synod of Bishops." [CD, no. 5] The pope is graciously permitted the task of figuring out how it all should work. But establishing the Synod was non-negotiable.

The actual role of a Bishops' Synod remains unclear. Some popes view it as an advisory body and ignore its recommendations. Others take its counsel to heart. What Pope Francis will do with the present "Synod on Synodality" remains to be seen. This two-year process of listening begins at the diocesan and parish levels: a rare inclusion of lay concerns. The Synod is called a gift and a task, a journey and a reflection, to discern where the Church should focus to "live communion, achieve participation, and open Herself to mission" in the third millennium. Will this process lead to more than documents? Let us pray.

Scriptures: Numbers 11:16-17, 24-30; Matthew 18:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-24; 1 Timothy 1:5-7; 3:1-7; 2 Timothy 2:14-15, 23-26; 3:16-17; 4:1-5

Website: For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission:

Book: Your Church Wants to Hear from You: The Synod on Synodality, by Michael Sanem (Liturgical Press, 2022)

Does the church teach pacifism?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 26, December 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Pope Francis
In 2018, a tweet by Pope Francis exploded in cyberspace: “Do we really want peace? Then let’s ban all weapons so we don’t have to live in fear of war.” The Pope was derided for “hippie eco-pacifism” and his naïve “ark of fraternity.” The world’s a cruel place, naysayers asserted. Weapons keep what little peace is left intact. 

Historically, Christians held two main traditions regarding conflict: pacifism and just war theory. Originally, Christians refused to fight for the empire. They stood down if they converted to Christianity while soldiers. Saint Martin of Tours was the poster child for all who chose to follow Christ and no earthly commander. Mennonites, Quakers, and Brethren persist in this stance, while insisting that pacifism is not passivity. Rejecting the logic of war, Christian pacifism actively pursues non-violent solutions to social and international conflicts. Even the ark of fraternity recognizes that abstainers are sitting ducks without strong creative engagement.

Under Constantine, Christianity became a state religion, creating confusion. Not following a pagan king into battle made sense; how about a Christian monarch? A church-state partnership meant rulers now expected a blessing on their wars. Saint Augustine posited that Christians might fight in a just war. He left the defining of terms to Thomas Aquinas. 

Aquinas sought to restrict war. First, violence can be waged only by the proper authority. Also, the purpose must be just: national interest is insufficient. Thirdly, peace must be the goal of every soldier. Students of Aquinas added that violence must be the last resort. War was permissible in self-defense. The means must be proportionate. A just fight loses legitimacy if civilians or hostages are harmed. 

The position of “just peace” was ventured by Pope John XXIII (Pacem in Terris, 1963). Peace is more than the absence of war, he argued; it’s grounded in the justice that sustains peace. Recent popes have questioned if proportionality is possible in a world with doomsday weapons. Pope Paul VI, in his 1965 speech at the U.N., declared: “Never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations!” Pope John Paul II hoped the world would learn to “fight for justice without violence.”

On the 50th World Day of Peace, Pope Francis described humanity as “engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal”—through war, terrorism, crime, violence against women and children, abuse of migrants, human trafficking, and environmental devastation. The pope recommended: abolishing nuclear weapons, an ethic of fraternity, the will to resolve conflict diplomatically, and a commitment to active peace-building at every level.

Scripture: Isaiah 2:2-5; Micah 4:1-4; Proverbs 8:15-16; Psalm 118:8-9; 146:3-4; Matthew 5:9; 38-48; Romans 13:1-4; Ephesians 4:23; 6:10-17; 1 Peter 2:13-17

Books: I’d Rather Teach Peace, by Colman McCarthy (Orbis Books, 2008); Jesus Christ, Peacemaker: A New Theology of Peace, by Terrence J. Rynne (Orbis Books, 2014)

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The church made Mother Teresa a saint overnight. Why is it taking so long for Bishop Oscar Romero?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 29, November 2017 Categories: Pope Francis,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Oscar Romero
Whether you considered Romero a martyr or a victim of his outspoken politics was a matter of opinion—until recently, when Pope Francis beatified him in 2015.

Oscar Romero (1917-1980), slain archbishop of San Salvador, was as revered by some as deemed controversial by others. Romero studied theology in Rome, served as a bishop’s secretary, edited his diocesan newspaper, pastored the cathedral parish, served as rector of the minor seminary, and was elected to the bishops’ conference of El Salvador as well as the Central American Bishops’ secretariat, all before 1977. For none of these things was he assassinated while celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel.

Ironically, Romero was recommended for his office by the same civic leaders who most surely ordered his death. They viewed him as a safe choice in a time of upheaval, with his scholarly manners and reluctance toward public action. A month after Romero was made archbishop, however, his friend Jesuit Rutilio Grande was murdered for his support of guerillas fighting the U.S.-backed military dictatorship. Romero—cautious, conservative, and steadfastly un-political—was shocked into reconsidering his silence about the injustices borne by the poor of his country.

Whether you considered Romero a martyr or a victim of his outspoken politics was a matter of opinion—until recently, when Pope Francis beatified him in 2015. As early as 2007, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina referred to the slain Archbishop as a martyr and declared: “If I were pope, I would have already canonized him.”

If a person dies for the faith, isn’t that an automatic pass into sainthood? Yes: but only if it’s clear that the death is related to matters of faith. In Romero’s case, accusations flew that he was “Che Guevara in a cassock”: a communist, a Marxist, or a liberation theologian. The latter theology is a mode of thought that some have characterized as a mixing class theory with religious principles. The question remained on the table for a long time: was Archbishop Romero martyred for defending the gospel against its enemies, or for stepping into a military struggle he had no business with in the first place?

Romero traveled to Rome four times in the three years he served as Archbishop to explain that it was the gospel that convicted him to side with the poor against their oppressors and murderers. His homilies were broadcast on the radio across his small country. Weekly he read the names of the dead who fell to the military. He encouraged soldiers not to follow orders that were unjust. His canonization may soon verify that speaking truth to power remains a vocation of the church.

Scripture: Ezekiel 2:1-10; 3:17-21; John 10:17-18; 14:6; 15:13, 18-27; 16:13; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 3:16

Books: Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings, by Marie Dennis, et. al. (Orbis Books, 2000)

Oscar Romero: Love Must Win Out, by Kevin Clarke (Liturgical Press, 2014)

I don’t read papal documents. What do I need to know about Laudato Si?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 14, August 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Pope Francis
Laudato Si
The pope puts the urgency of his argument bluntly: “Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.”

I don’t read many papal documents either. Nor bishops’ letters, to be honest. I make exceptions for those that are turning points in the church’s self-understanding. These would include Vatican II Constitutions, like those on the church (Lumen Gentium), on divine revelation (Dei verbum), and the church in the modern world (Gaudium et spes).  When I read statements like these that express a bold gospel vision for the future, it makes me wish I read more papal documents.

Pope Francis’ graceful encyclical on the environment (Laudato Si, “On Care For Our Common Home”) is one such game-changing text. The pope puts the urgency of his argument bluntly: “Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.” This is no dry repetition of churchy ideas: God made the world, life is sacred, respect the planet, and love your neighbor as you recycle. In fact, the pope’s been criticized by some for NOT writing that document. Instead, he’s presenting a vital summons to the global conscience anchored in the language of the age—science, economics, and social theory—yet cradled in scripture, prayer, and passionate moral appeal. The pope touches third-rail politics and tramples on toes; but who wants a pope who minces pieties or holds his tongue? As Teresa of Avila said: “The world is in flames! Let’s not waste our prayer bothering God with trifles!”

Impressively, this is not just a Vatican document. The pope quotes his fellow bishops around the world, voices that are seldom heard: from Canada, Japan, Paraguay, Bolivia, Portugal, New Zealand. He’s as comfortable citing the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church as he is the canon of saints, leaping from international conference findings to sacramental realities. Laudato Si sounds the warning to this generation and points toward hope. If you’re not stunned, breathless, and convicted by this message, go back and read it again.

And yes, it has 246 paragraphs, which is a lot to read in one sitting. Read a paragraph a day and be done in eight months. But I bet you can’t stop at one. You’ll be collecting pearls like I did: “We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family.” “We are not God.” “The earth is essentially a shared inheritance.” “Purchasing is always a moral act.” Happy collecting.

Scripture -

Genesis 1:31; 2:15; 3:17-19; Psalm 24:1; 104:31; Sirach 38:4; Wisdom 11:24; Luke 12:3; John 1:1-18; Colossians 1:16

Website -

Laudato Si

(On Care for Our Common Home)

Pope Francis    

What is the common good?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 08, June 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Pope Francis
Common good
“The attainment of the common good is the sole reason for the existence of the civil authorities,” Pope John Paul II declared.
Human nature may be viewed from two perspectives: the individual or the social. Which perspective reveals our true identity? Our society ensures we’re well schooled in individual rights and freedoms. From these principles I will navigate toward goals that satisfy my longing for the good life. I may believe that striving for what I want leads to my fulfillment. I may expect the state to safeguard the pursuit of my prosperity by whatever means necessary.

The common good, a tenet of Catholic social justice teaching, moves from the opposite assumption. It presumes human nature is essentially social. It’s not good for us to be alone, as our Creator originally determined. Our fulfillment involves creating conditions that are good for all of God’s children, with whom we share an origin and destiny. This creates a different expectation of the state: “the attainment of the common good is the sole reason for the existence of the civil authorities,” Pope John Paul II declared in Pacem in Terris.

Once we embrace the social nature of the person, the common good becomes a new lens through which to view social policy. What do rights and freedoms look like from a social perspective? Pacem in Terris defends the right to bodily integrity for all, including what’s necessary for life’s proper development: food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and social services. The common good requires freedom to worship, work, and form associations—to gather for mutually beneficial reasons. Immigration becomes a universal right, to care for one’s family or security. All should be free to take an active role in public life as well.

Some resist the common good ideal as a brand of totalitarianism: a system that subordinates the individual to the group. Totalitarians don’t value a universal good, but only their party’s vision of the good. The common good has also been suspect as a communist value. It doesn’t erase individual rights or deny private property; it does view them as limited by and subordinate to the needs of others whose existence is in jeopardy. Pope John Paul II spoke of  “the universal destination of goods”; that the good things of this world are intended to be shared. He also boldly proposed that “personal property is under a social mortgage”. What belongs to us is ours as stewards of God’s gifts, not as guardians of our personal stash.

Scripture: Genesis 2:18; Isaiah 2:2-5; 25:6-10; Romans 14:7-9; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:1-6, 15-16; Philippians 2:3-4

Website: Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue (ICCD) A free resource related to the common good can be found at 

Books: Common Good, Uncommon Questions – William C. Graham, ed. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2014)

Public Theology and the Global Common Good – Kevin Ahern, ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016)



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