Throughout this month of October—beginning October 6 and finishing today, October 27—a very significant event has been happening at the Vatican: the Synod for the Amazon. This gathering of bishops, theologians, religious, professional scientists, lay men and women and many observers was historic not only because of the topic of the synod but also because the issues discussed centered primarily around one particular area of the world rather than on doctrinal, historical and ecclesial issues. While this was certainly the case, we need to underscore the fact that what was being discussed had roots in the Amazon, but they also had far reaching implications for the entire world. The topics on the agenda were developed through listening processes on many levels, including consultations throughout the Amazon region.
Now that the synod is over, the results will be handed over to a committee to summarize and then given to Pope Francis who, although he was present for the majority of the sessions, will look over and reflect upon the proposals that were voted upon and passed and then decide what he wants to declare for the universal Church. No doubt whatever he promulgates will have lasting results for years to come.
I had hopes that I could bring the discussions that were occurring at the Synod to your attention in the bulletin as they were happening, but too many other important events were in process right here at home, so now I would like to outline for you the chief areas addressed so that you will be prepared to put into context what you read both in the Catholic and in the secular press as articles and commentaries are released.
Amazonia, at the heart of South America, encompasses a region of 7.8 million square kilometers. It includes territory that belongs to nine different nations: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana. Its 5.3 million square kilometer rainforest is the largest in the world and is an irreplaceable source of fresh water, oxygen and biodiversity for the planet. The synod focused on the relationship between life and water, highlighting how the great rivers flowing through the region are crucial not only for the flora and the fauna of the territory and of the earth, but for the livelihood, culture and spirituality of thousands of indigenous communities, other minorities, and farmers who live in the Amazon region.
Life in the Amazon is threatened by environmental destruction and exploitation, by the systematic violation of the fundamental human rights of the Amazon population: in particular, by the violation of the rights of the indigenous peoples, such as the right to land, to self-determination, to the delimitation of land, to consultation and prior consent. According to the communities that took part in the synodal listening process, their life is threatened by the economic and political interests of the dominant sectors of today’s society, in particular of the mining companies. Also, climate change and increased human intervention (deforestation, fires and the change of land use) have put the Amazon on a path of no return, when high rates of deforestation, forced displacement of peoples and pollution which put its ecosystems at risk and exerts pressure on local cultures. Many of the people who are forced to leave their land fall into criminal networks, drug trafficking and trafficking in human beings (especially the women), child labor and prostitution.
The original Amazonian peoples have much to teach us. For thousands of years they have taken care of their land, water and forest and have managed to preserve them to this day so that humanity can benefit of the free gifts of God’s creation. New paths of evangelization must be built in dialogue with ancestral wisdom in which the seeds of the Word are manifested. Local communities need a Church that participates, that is present in the social, political, economic, cultural, social and ecological diversity in order to be able to serve individuals or groups without discrimination, a creative Church that can accompany its people in the implementation of new responses to urgent needs, a harmonious Church that promotes the values of peace, mercy and communion.
The Synod also has considered the idea that the exercise of jurisdiction be rethought in these circumstances. In addition to the plurality of cultures within the Amazon, distances generate a serious pastoral problem that cannot be solved by mechanical and technological means alone. It is necessary to promote indigenous vocations of men and women in response to the needs of sacramental pastoral care in order to form an authentic evangelization from an indigenous point of view, according to their customs and habits. It is necessary to move from a “Church that visits” to a “Church that remains,” accompanies and is present through local ministers.
In light of the above, the participants at the Synod have discussed the possibility of priestly ordination be studied for married men with families. These men must preferably be indigenous elders who are respected and accepted by their community. Also the role of women must be recognized, starting from their charisms and talents. This would include acknowledging their leadership in the fields of formation, theology, catechesis, liturgy and schools of faith and politics.
Being Church in Amazonia means to prophetically put power into question, because in this region people do not have the opportunity to assert their rights against large economic enterprises and political institutions. Today, to question power in the defense of land and human rights means to put one’s life at risk, opening a path of the cross and martyrdom. The number of martyrs in the Amazon is alarming (e.g., in Brazil alone between 2003 and 2017 1,119 indigenous people were killed for defending their land). The Church cannot remain indifferent to this; on the contrary, it must support the protection of human rights defenders and remember its martyrs, including women leaders such as Sister Dorothy Stang.
May the Holy Spirit continue to inspire and encourage the Church to address these issues and to bring the light of Jesus Christ ever more brightly to the peoples of the Amazon and to the entire world.
THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
The Psalmist’s proclamation, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor,” reflects the message of today’s readings. The Book of Sirach expresses the fundamental Israelite understanding that God champions the oppressed, the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the lowly. Their prayer “pierces the cloud.”
From his prison cell, Paul writes to his fellow missionary Timothy as he foresees his imminent death. Looking back over his life, he expresses with conviction his trust in the Lord’s love and mercy: “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me.”
The parable in the Gospel is one of Jesus’ most concise and forceful. Luke conveys its purpose in the introduction: “Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” The prayer of the Pharisee expresses this attitude. In fact, the Pharisee was not praying to God; he was talking to himself as he listed all his great virtues. He considered himself to be better than the rest of humanity. Contrasted to the Pharisee is the tax collector, one of the most despised members of society. In his encounter with God, he recognized his unworthiness by uttering the simple prayer, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Luke captures the parable’s message succinctly in Jesus’ ending, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The humble person, as all the readings illustrate, is the one who acknowledges that all is grace. Everything comes from God. In our encounter with God, we recognize our sinfulness and need of God’s forgiveness.
The reading from Sirach tells us that God listens to the oppressed and that the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds. In the Gospel, the tax collector who humbled himself was justified. As Mary sings in the Magnificat, the Lord lifts up the humble. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states, “Christ’s disciples are called to renew ever more fully in themselves ‘the awareness that the truth about God who saves, the truth about God who is the source of every gift, cannot be separated from the manifestation of his love of preference for the poor and humble, that love which, celebrated in the Magnificat, is later expressed in the words and works of Jesus’” (#59).
As God looks out for the poor, so should Christ’s disciples. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis states, “In all places and circumstances, Christians, with the help of their pastors, are called to hear the cry of the poor. This has been eloquently stated by the bishops of Brazil: ‘We wish to take up daily the joys and hopes, the difficulties and sorrows of the Brazilian people, especially of those living in the barrios and the countryside—landless, homeless, lacking food and health care—to the detriment of their rights’” (#191).
For Your Reflection: How does the way you live consider those who are oppressed? When have you identified with the phrase, “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted”? Why is it tempting to you to seem righteous in others’ eyes?
THE SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS
Friday, November 1, 2019
A Holyday of Obligation
The apocalyptic symbolism in the text from Revelation (our First Reading) can make the passage challenging to comprehend. Apocalyptic literature speaks of the end-time and often contains destructive images of what will happen to the earth. We hear of an angel from the East with the living God’s seal calling out to four other angels who had the power to harm the earth and sea. Before the group of angels damages the earth and sea, the angel with God’s seal wants to mark God’s servants. A very large number, but still a finite number, 144,000 will be sealed. One hundred forty-four is the square of the number twelve, perhaps representing the twelve tribes of Israel.
The number of people who stand before the “throne and the Lamb” is a “great multitude.” God’s chosen ones come from every nation, people and language. They profess salvation from God and the Lamb. The blood of the Lamb has saved the multitude from trial and distress. This faithful gathering is a vision for us of the saints who also professed salvation through the Cross. Through Baptism, we are a part of this glorious communion and hope one day to enjoy the glory of the throne alongside God and the Lamb.
As God’s children, our identity rests on the Father’s love for us. “We are God’s children now,” we hear in the Second Reading. We do not need to wait for the future to be God’s children. We know the Father now and he knows us. And, we believe in the fullness of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, whereas some in the Christian community then had difficulties believing in one or the other. Those who believe rightly, then and now, and whose lives consistently live out their belief in Jesus, hope one day that they “shall see him [God] as he is.” That will occur at the resurrection of the dead on the last day.
In the Gospel, we hear that the “blessed” are those whose spirits are poor, who are meek and merciful, possess clean hearts, are peacemakers and are persecuted, and have been insulted and slandered. These are God’s chosen. These are the ones who live as disciples of Jesus. They form the Communion of Saints, some of whom are canonically recognized and others, like most of us, did their best to live out their faith.
We hear, too, of the gifts of blessedness: comfort, satisfaction, seeing God, an identity as the children of God, and the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew wrote for a predominantly Jewish-Christian audience, so one of his goals was to show how the Kingdom of Heaven was also open to Gentiles, It is not one’s prior life that dictates entry into the Kingdom, but coming to faith in Jesus now and living as his disciple. Would that our example of living the Beatitudes would lead more people in this world to be kingdom people.
The Solemnity of All Saints on Friday, November 1, is an obligatory holyday of obligation. This means that all Catholics are required to participate in Mass on this day not only to honor the Saints but also to remind ourselves that each one of us is called to become a saint as well and that we should do our best to help others to holiness by the good example and the affirmation that we give. Now is the time to plan on what time is best for you to attend Mass on that day. Here at St. Peter’s we will celebrate the following Masses for the Feast: Thursday, October 31, at 5:00 P.M. and on November 1 at 6:00, 6:45, 7:30, 8:15, 11:15, 12:15 (Festive Mass with choir), 1:15, 4:30, and 5:15 P.M. We offer all these times for Mass so that you will be able to accommodate one of them with your work schedule. We look forward to seeing you on this beautiful holyday.
ALL SOULS DAY/BOOK OF REMEMBRANCE
Once again this year we have a Book of Remembrance so that you may write in the names of relatives and good friends who have died. This book will be in the rear of church from now until All Souls Day on November 2, when it will be placed on the St. Joseph Altar. The book will remain there during the entire month of November, and those who are written in the book will be remembered in the Masses celebrated at the main altar throughout November. Please be judicious in deciding the number of names you place in the book so that there will be room for others to also take advantage of this opportunity.
END OF DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME
Next Sunday, November 3, Daylight Saving Time ends in the United States. Therefore before you go to bed on the Saturday night before, you want to set your clocks back one hour so that you will not arrive for Mass on Sunday at an incorrect time. My experience is that most people remember to do so, although we usually do have a few individuals coming to church wondering why the Mass schedule has been changed.