Embrace the ‘good news of great joy’

Archbishop Aquila

“Do not be afraid … I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11). The angels announced to the stunned shepherds, as they proclaimed the fulfillment of God’s promise to the people of Israel.

It’s worth noting that the angels appeared to the shepherds at night, when they would have been on guard against the dangers of predators looking for their sheep. Likewise, when the magi arrived to pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews, they first encountered Herod, who later massacred the children of Bethlehem out of fear that a challenger to his throne had been born. Eventually, the threat of Herod’s wrath drove Mary and Joseph into hiding in Egypt, only to return to Nazareth when Herod had died.

With the passing of the centuries, it can be easy to recast Christmas as a time of utter peace and tranquility and forget the turmoil into which Jesus was born. In a way, this is comforting as we reflect on the state of the world and the Church today. Certainly, there is great uncertainty and moral poverty in many places. And yet, Christ’s birth is even more joyous because of the dark surroundings.

This past year has been both blessed and challenging for the Church.

We had the privilege of celebrating the 25th anniversary of World Youth Day in Denver on August 11th and the beginning of the More Than You Realize discipleship initiative. The archdiocese also closed the local phase of the Cause for the Canonization of Julia Greeley, completed the construction of the Prophet Elijah House for retired priests and opened the Annunciation Heights youth and family camp.

On the other hand, the Church and the archdiocese have been dealing with the Archbishop McCarrick scandal and the fact that some bishops covered up the sexual abuse of minors. At the same time, the broader culture has also become increasingly hostile to faith, while becoming more accepting of beliefs and activities that are contrary to our faith. This can be seen in the aggressive advancement of gender ideology, the abandonment of the common good in favor of a more tribal and divided society, and the willingness of many to cast aside the unborn, the immigrant, or the elderly.

It is this world — one that is both broken and dark yet filled with the potential for great good — that needs to hear the proclamation of the angels at Christmas: “Do not be afraid … I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.”

We all need saving, which is clear from the fallen state of us all. It is truly good news that Jesus was born and continues to come to us in each Eucharist and the other sacraments. His sacrificial outpouring of love for us should cause us to boldly trust in his love and provision for us as we seek to build up the kingdom in our life.

Let us make our own the words of Pope St. Leo the Great as he preached about Christmas. “Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness. No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all.”

May you and your family’s celebration of Christ’s birth be one that fills you with hope, joy and peace, so that the world can experience through your works of mercy and love the good news of salvation in him. In the midst of the darkness around us, may we the bring the light and joy of the Gospel to each person we encounter!

Celebrate Life March

As we look forward to the new year, I invite you to join me in celebrating the gift of life and salvation through your prayer and lived example.

One specific way you can do this is to participate in the Celebrate Life March on January 12th at 1:00 p.m. at the State Capitol. This will be preceded by a Mass at the Cathedral at 11:30 a.m.

For more info visit:

respectlifedenver.org.

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA