Letter #57, 2018: Sabbath of Sabbaths

September 19, 2018, Wednesday

“A Shabbat creates a special space to feel His presence in a superlative way. At Yom Kippur [the Sabbath of Sabbaths], it is God who goes in search of the Jew, but, as in all affective relationships, he who is being sought must allow himself to be found.”—Rabbi Adam Skorka, the Argentine rabbi and friend of Pope Francis, today in an essay on the meaning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in the L’Osservatore Romano (19-20 September 2018). Yom Kippur began yesterday and ends this evening, September 19

“He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace.” —1 Peter 4:11

Day #26

Today is the 26th day since the publication of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s “Testimony.” (The full text is here; it was made public on the evening of August 25.)

The major news items include (and this is just a partial list) the following:

(1) China. An imminent, historic, but very controversial, Vatican-China accord, expected to be signed before the end of September (news report below).

(2) Synods. A new Apostolic Constitution for Bishops’ Synods, entitled Episcopalis Communio (Episcopal Communion) is also controversial. It was issued yesterday morning in Rome (September 18). This document, arguably, must be seen in view of a longer-term plan to transform the governing structure of the Church — the Petrine office — in a “synodal” direction, in order to allow closer union with the Orthodox Churches, which resist granting what they regard as too much authority to the Bishop of Rome (news report below).

(3) Bono. The visit to Rome today, and visit with the Pope, of the Irish singer Bono (report below).

(4) Honor thy father and mother. The Pope’s catechesis today on the 4th Commandment. (report below)

(5) Yom Kippur. An article today in the Osservatore Romano by the Pope’s friend from Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Rabbi Adam Skorka, speaking about Yom Kippur and the transcendent holiness of God, and the need for the sanctification of human beings in order to stand in God’s presence (full text below).

 

(1) China accord

Controversy: The Vatican is about to sign an agreement with the Chinese government which will allow the government to have the final say over the appointment of Catholic bishops. This is a shocking development to many.

The signing is expected to come in a few days, before the end of September, when a Vatican delegation visits China.

The news was published in a paper close to the Chinese government, Global Times. Here is the article:

Vatican to send delegation to China before possible bishops deal: sources

By Li Ruohan

Source:Global Times

Published: 2018/9/18 16:48:39

Agreement pending on appointment of bishops: sources

The Vatican may soon send a delegation to China before both sides reach a long-awaited agreement on the appointment of bishops, sources familiar with the matter told the Global Times.

There are no “disputes on issues of principle” between the two sides, and since the meeting between the two sides was previously held at the Vatican, the Vatican delegation will come to China this time for a meeting in late September, and if the meeting goes well, the agreement would be signed, a source familiar with the issue told the Global Times on Tuesday.

A Vatican source also confirmed with the Global Times last week that a prominent figure from the Holy See would probably come to China in late September, without further elaborating.

China and the Vatican most likely agreed that the future bishops in China should be approved by the Chinese government and mandated by the Pope and the letter of appointment would be issued by the Pope, Wang Meixiu, an expert on Catholic Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Before signing the agreement, the Holy See would deliver an official document to acknowledge seven Chinese bishops who are regarded as “illegitimate” by the Vatican, including some it previously had excommunicated, the source said.

China considers the excommunications as an affront and the acknowledgement would show the Vatican’s understanding of China’s religious situation after rounds of interactions, Wang said.

“The agreement would be very broad on the Church in China and should also include provisions for future talks and changes,” Francesco Sisci, a senior researcher at the Center of European Studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The Vatican faced enormous pressure over the deal. Rome is taking everything into consideration and claims that the Vatican is “surrendering to China” is absolutely false, Sisci said.

“It may be possible to reach an agreement but it may also be that there are last minute developments. It is a moment to be very careful,” he stressed. “It is a historic agreement coming at a time of rising tensions around China. This makes the agreement even more significant for the Holy See, but also more delicate,” Sisci said.

One should not expect to solve complicated problems the Catholic Church in China faces today with one agreement, Wang said.

The two sides still need further discussions on the complex situation in the different dioceses in the Episcopal selection, she said.

China has around 6.5 million Catholics with more than 7,000 clergymen, and around 6,000 churches and other Catholics sites, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association said in March.

“The dialogue between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China continues,” Greg Burke, director of the Holy See Press Office, said Saturday when asked to confirm whether the two sides would sign a deal on the appointment of bishops as early as the end of September.

China’s foreign ministry also stressed last week that the two sides have maintained efficient contact and that China is willing to push forward constructive dialogue and improve its relationship with the Vatican.

The sources stressed that the ongoing negotiations will stay on the religious level, and will not touch on any diplomatic issue such as the establishment of diplomatic ties between Beijing and the Vatican.

 

Here is another link to an article in the South China Morning Post on this same matter (link).

 

My comment on the situation:

There are two main views of this complex, controversial accord, now imminent.

For Pope Francis and the Vatican, the accord is expected to open up new spaces of legal action for the Catholic Church in China and, in an optimistic perspective, the result will, over time, be a very large number of conversions to Catholicism, perhaps even tens of millions (as Vatican officials have said to me privately). This will happen because of the very “comprehensiveness” of the Communist vision of life, leaving no space for the life of the spirit. So if a space is opened for the life of the spirit, it may attract enormous interest from the Chinese people.

So the Pope is imagining, observers in Rome have said, that he, a Jesuit, will finally accomplish the long-postponed mission of Father Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), the Jesuit who almost 500 years ago went to China and tried to convert China — and failed.

Some even go so far as to say that this achievement would be the single thing this Pope would most like to accomplish(!).

Hence, his apparent sense of urgency about signing this accord.

But there is also a pessimistic vision, which sees the accord as a betrayal of an essential principle of Church life, that the Church be free (“libertas ecclesiae”), that is, ruled and governed in her internal life by Christians not beholden to external powers or governments, in this case, the Communist government of China.

This pessimistic vision, therefore, thinks the accord is a terrible mistake, and should not be signed.

And here is an interview in which a Catholic “China expert” expresses this second, negative, pessimistic opinion:

Asia News

09/19/2018

Fr. Ticozzi: “The Chinese government wants absolute control over the Church” (link)

While the rumor mill is churning over an imminent agreement between Beijing and the Holy See, doubts about the effective freedom that the Party could guarantee to Chinese Catholics remain strong. We must pray for them, for the unity of the Church and for the discernment of local pastors. China “continues to consider itself the absolute center of the world”. The opinion of a missionary, a great expert in the Middle Empire.

Rome (AsiaNews) – The possible agreement between China and the Vatican “does not change the concrete reality of the facts. The Chinese government wants absolute control over the Catholic Church and the episcopate,” says Fr Sergio Ticozzi, a great China expert and PIME missionary. He is convinced of this and in this interview, underlines the critical issues of a compromise with the Party: “If the Vatican is now ready to recognize bishops with lovers and children, obedient first of all to the Party and its political pawns from their entrance into the seminary, in the future it will pose no resistance to any candidate that the Chinese authorities propose or for the dioceses they set.”

The voices of an agreement reached between China and the Holy See (on the nominations of bishops) have become more insistent in recent times. At the same time we are witnessing a resurgence of violence towards the faithful — above all underground — and other religions in China. How credible are these rumors?

Father Sergio Ticozzi: Everyone already knows of the existence of a text that is the subject of discussion in the meetings between the Vatican and Chinese government delegations. Its content is not yet known in detail, but according to what is reported by the official ecclesiastical authorities, it deals with the modalities of appointing bishops. But for this reason the Chinese authorities demand the legitimacy of the seven illegitimate bishops of whom three are excommunicated. The Vatican seems very eager to do this, with the aim of avoiding the continuation of illegitimate episcopal ordinations and therefore the danger of a schism.

The Chinese government is exploiting this and the emotionality of Pope Francis, and knows that, if the Vatican is now ready to recognize bishops with lovers and children, obedient first of all to the Party and its political pawns from their entrance into the seminary, in the future it will pose no resistance to any candidate that the Chinese authorities propose or for the dioceses they set (the division of the dioceses is often a very complex matter and it does not seem that the members of the Vatican delegation know much about Chinese ecclesiastical geography).

The Chinese episcopate and the Catholic Church will therefore continue to be under their absolute control. Besides the appointment of the bishops, there are other problems, such as those of the officialization of illegitimate bishops (there are 35 of them, 19 active), the registration of clandestine clergy, the role of the Patriotic Association, etc. I do not know if and how they are dealt with in the agreement or set aside. I am afraid that the Vatican’s ambiguity on the principles of autonomy and independence of the Chinese Church is unfortunately maintained.

How can the push towards agreement and the continuation of persecution and control of religions and Catholics be reconciled? And this question applies both for China and for the Vatican…

Father Sergio Ticozzi: The perplexity arises from the fact that, while the Vatican seems very optimistic, the Chinese authorities are strongly restricting the freedom of religious practice, transferring full control from the government to the Communist Party. Everyone is aware of the present restrictions on the religious education of children, of the control of church administration and interference in religious affairs in the name of ‘sinicization’.

This reveals that there are two opposing positions in China: the foreign ministry that pushes in one sense while the Party with the Department of the United Front and the State Administration for Religious Affairs who oppose it on a practical level. The implementation of any agreement will therefore be very difficult, if not impossible, unless the Vatican is content with theory.

It is said that thanks to this agreement the Vatican favors a greater unity of the Church in China. Is that so? What is the status of the unity of the Church in China?

Father Sergio Ticozzi: The Vatican’s concern is undoubtedly to avoid a schism by eliminating illegitimate episcopal ordinations: in this it intends to favor the unity of the Church in China. In fact, however, it does not seem to take into consideration the concrete fact of the division of the Church and the existence of its unofficial section. Many have the impression that the Vatican is playing the Chinese authorities’ game and is cooperating in their intent to eliminate it. Then there is also the issue of the perpetual state of confusion in the faithful: how to treat bishops and clergy who say they are loyal to the Holy Father, but who adhere to the principles of autonomy and independence of the Patriotic Association and obey the Party in everything? Do they belong to the universal Catholic Church or to a national church?

China is seen as the next world superpower that will soon overthrow the United States. Until recently, analysts thought that as China opened up to the world and economic liberalism, there would be more political and religious freedom … Instead, China seems to offer another model: economic well-being, social control, control of the media, of religions …

It is part of the national subconscious, from the leaders to the ordinary citizen, a subconscious that was created by its imperial history, for Chinese people to see themselves as the “middle Empire”, that is the “Center of the world”, to which the other states “carry tributes” all the Chinese aspire to this. Numerically they are already and economically they are becoming as much; they also want to become this militarily. It is difficult for China to learn how to behave on an equal footing with equality on the world stage, even if it is repeated in words (unfortunately it does not have good models to learn from). This is why it wants to follow its own ‘way’; everything must be ‘Sinicized’.

This point has never been taken into due consideration, especially by Western countries. Not having the imperial model, the current governing body is convinced that a country as vast as China needs a very strong central power that only the Communist Party can currently provide, with Xi Jinping at its center. His ‘way’ or current model seems to be “total control first and then economic well-being.”

What can we do for China and for the Church in China?

Father Sergio Ticozzi: The clergy and Chinese Catholics deserve great respect. Trying to solve their problems without their direct involvement does not seem right. Personally I feel very uncomfortable when I see that foreigners judge the Chinese or foreigners decide in their place. We must also show Catholics support, encouragement and esteem for the difficulties they face in living the faith, as well as facilitating, by every available means, opportunities to strengthen their religious formation and their spirit of evangelization, which they greatly need (priestly and religious vocations are in sharp decline). The union in prayer with them and for them is indispensable since faith and correspondence to it are gifts of the Lord.

 

(2) Synods.

Here is a text explaining what the new document may mean for the Church, from the Catholic Herald, by Christopher Altieri.

Episcopalis communio: what does the Pope’s new document mean for the Church? (link)

by Christopher Altieri

Tuesday, 18 Sep 2018

The new law appears to combine the Synod’s teaching authority with that of the Roman Pontiff

Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Constitution on Tuesday morning, which introduces significant reforms to the structure of the Synod of Bishops. Titled Episcopalis communio — “Episcopal communion” — the document is composed of a six-page introduction articulated in ten numbered sections, and a 27-article dispositive part.

The introduction talks a good deal about collegiality, broad consultation with all the faithful of every state of life in the Church, and the general spirit of synodal collaboration:

Although in its composition it appears as an essentially episcopal organism, the Synod does not therefore live separately from the rest of the faithful. On the contrary, it is an instrument apt to give voice to the whole People of God, precisely through the Bishops, who are constituted by God as, “authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church,” showing itself from Assembly to Assembly to be an eloquent expression of synodality as “[a] constitutive dimension of the Church.” [from the Introduction of the new document]

In effect, however, the reforms Pope Francis introduced on Tuesday may create a situation in which the bishops gathered in synod assembly act at least as much as filters, as they do channels for the voice of the faithful.

The role of the General Secretary appears greatly increased and his powers expanded, along with those of the General Secretariat. These expanded powers especially regard the steering of Synod Assemblies, from their early organisation, through the sessions, to the drafting and approval of final documents — all of which come to be part of the Synod Assembly proper.

Though the Synod of Bishops remains a consultative body, the new law envisions a sort of elision of the body’s teaching authority with that of the Roman Pontiff. Article 18 § 2 reads, “If expressly approved by the Roman Pontiff, the final document participates in the ordinary Magisterium of the Successor to Peter.”

Lawyers will quibble over just what sort of elision that is, as they will also discuss the nature of and extent the participation any document thus approved has in Papal teaching authority.

The old saying tells us that the proof of the pudding is in the eating of it. Applied to current circumstances, this means that we need to wait and see how the Synod of Bishops actually operates under its new paper dispositions.

If the new document makes anything clear, it is that Francis — whose “synodal” approach to governance has been the subject of much discussion — meant what he said when he told the participants in the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that “synodality” means being with Peter, and that “being with Peter” means being under him. How “synodal” is the Church Francis envisions? One short answer might be: as synodal as Peter says it is.

 

And here is a link to another article from the OnePeterFive website which is highly skeptical about the new document (link).

American Catholic writer Steve Skojec, the editor of OnePeterFive, writes:

So what is the upshot of all of this?

We have two upcoming synods – one for addressing the issues facing youth, and one for the Amazon region. Between these two, several controversial issues are expected to be tackled, namely, homosexuality, clerical celibacy, and the inclusion of women in some level of the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Marco Tosatti makes a noteworthy observation today in his column at La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana [Note: What follows is all an English translation of the analysis by Tosatti, cited by Skojec]:

[I]t appears clear, after the two Synods on the Family of 2014 and 2015, and after the announcement of the 2019 Synod focused on the Amazon, that this sort of meeting has changed subtly but radically in its form and purpose. Prior to Francis, the Synods had a purpose of bringing forth numerous voices speaking about problems that had not been noted before – even if they were at times a bit scattered. But beginning with the Synod on the Family in 2014, organized, prepared, and conducted under the leadership of Cardinal Baldisseri, we have seen that in reality these mega-events are coordinated to follow a precise agenda, intended and directed from on high. And, in the final analysis, they serve merely to create a backdrop for documents – Amoris Laetitia is the prime example – which are in large part pre-cooked, to which the contributions of the Synod Fathers make purely cosmetic additions. How can we not recall the candid confession of Archbishop [Bruno] Forte [of Chieti] about the confidential conversation he had with the Pope? “If we speak explicitly about giving communion to the divorced and remarried,” reported Msgr. Forte, referring to a remark made by Pope Francis, “they don’t understand what a mess that will put us in. So we will not speak about it in a direct way – do it in a way that the premises are there, and then I will draw out the conclusions.” After reporting this remark, Forte made a joke, saying, “Typical of a Jesuit.” [emphasis added]

[…]

[W]e must ask what agenda is being brought to the [upcoming in October] Synod on Youth. After [the World Meeting of Families in August in] Dublin, and given the presence of Eminences and Excellencies who may easily be ascribed to the pro-homosexual philosophical current in the Church, it is no stretch of the imagination to place among the possible objectives for the Synod another little or big step towards the “normalization” of homosexuality and homosexual relations – stable and loving, of course. The wind from Santa Marta seems to be blowing in that direction. In the facts, not in the statements. We hope we are mistaken.

 

(3) Bono.

Here is an article about Bono’s meeting today with Pope Francis.

SEPTEMBER 19, 2018

U2’s Bono and Pope discuss Irish sexual abuse crisis (link)

By Philip Pullella, Reuters

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Bono, frontman for Irish rock band U2, met Pope Francis on Wednesday and said afterwards he is an extraordinary man who is sincere in his pain over a sexual abuse crisis in Ireland.

Bono and the pope spoke for more than 30 minutes at a meeting to team up the rock star’s ONE organization, a global campaign and advocacy organization that aims to end extreme poverty, with a papal group named Scholas Occurrentes, which helps foster cooperation among schools worldwide.

“Having just come from Ireland, inevitably, we talked about his (being) aghast about what has happened in the Church,” Bono told reporters afterwards.

During his trip to Ireland last month, Francis begged forgiveness for the multitude of abuses suffered by victims in Ireland at the hand of the Church over decades.

“I explained to him how it looks to some people that the abusers are being more protected than the victims and you could see the pain in his face,” Bono said. “I felt he was sincere and I think he is an extraordinary man for extraordinary times.”

Years of sexual abuse scandals have shattered the credibility of the Church, which four decades ago dominated Irish society. In the past three years, Irish voters have approved abortion and gay marriage in referendums, defying the Vatican.

Bono also said he and the pope discussed development issues and the pontiff’s 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si,” which backed moves to defend the planet from global warming and climate change and called for a more equal distribution of the earth’s resources.

“We have to re-think the wild beast that is capitalism. Although it is not immoral, it is amoral and it requires our instruction and he (the pope) is very keen on that,” Bono said.

 

(4) Pope on Honoring Father and Mother

Pope Francis in his catechesis during his Wednesday General Audience today, explained the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.” He said that God rewards those who practice it with a happy life.

POPE FRANCIS: “Although not all fathers and mothers are good, nor all childhoods are serene, all children can be happy. Because a full and happy life depends on the just recognition of those who have brought us into the world.”

He recalled that honoring one’s parents is a free act, and it helps each person make peace with their past.

POPE FRANCIS: “If you have drawn apart from your parents, make an effort and go back; reconcile. Maybe they are old, but remember that they have given you life.”

Before leaving, he suggested to the pilgrims that they decide never to offend other people’s parents.

POPE FRANCIS: “We have a habit of saying bad things, even swear words. Please, never, never, never insult the parents of others. Never insult the mother or father. Make this decision: from now on I will not insult the mother or father of another.”

Among the participants at the audience was a very large group of soldiers. They came from Slovakia and participated in a special pilgrimage.

 

(5) The Day of Yom Kippur. For God and for Men (link)

The following reflection on Yom Kippur was printed in today’s edition of the Vatican semi-official daily, L’Osservatore Romano.

It’s discussion of God’s holiness seems relevant in these times.

Here is how some major Jewish and Christian translations render the term used to describe the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur):

Shabbat Shabbaton “Sabbath of Sabbaths” (link):

• JPS, RSV, NKJV – “a Sabbath of solemn rest”

• KJV, NIV – “a Sabbath of rest”

• Net Bible, NJPS – “a Sabbath of complete rest”

• Living Torah – “a Sabbath of Sabbaths”

The first translation is difficult because there is no indication that Shabbaton means “solemn.”

The second and the third take the approach that Shabbaton maintains the rest.

Interestingly, Victor P. Hamilton (Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary, pp. 337, 523-524, 595) reads Shabbaton as an adjective but still takes the first approach, translating the phrase, “a most restful rest.”

Here is Skorka’s reflection:

L’Osservatore Romano, 19-20 September 2018

By Rabbi Abraham Skorka

Two expressions define the essence of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.

One is qodesh ha-qodashim, the “holy of holies,” the place in the temple of Jerusalem where there was the Ark of the Covenant which contained, according to the wise authors of the Talmud, the fragments of the first Tablets of the law together with the second Tables. The first had been carved and written by God himself and Moses let them fall when he saw the people dancing around the golden calf. The latter were carved by Moses and written by God after having forgiven the sons of Israel on the Day of Atonement, which remained so for all generations, always according to the wise ones.

The only day of the year when the high priest could enter the sacred precinct was Yom Kippur, to lift incense toward God, as part of the ritual by which the atonement was obtained.

That day was defined in the Torah by a special expression, shabbat shabbaton, which, as we said at the beginning, together with qodesh ha-qodashim, forms its so special essence.

In Leviticus 16:31 and 23:32, Yom Kippur is called shabbat shabbaton [“Sabbath of Sabbaths,” “Sabbath of Complete Rest“] which is the second expression that defines the essence of this special time.

According to Ibn Ezra (in his commentary on the first of the quoted verses), the two terms should be interpreted as synonyms and emphasized the concept of the prohibition of carrying out work on that day.

The Bible uses the same expression (Exodus, 31:15, 35:2, Leviticus, 23:3), to define sabbatical rest and in Leviticus 25:4 to designate the jubilee year.

The Jubilee, says the verse, is to make the earth rest, the Sabbath is for God (Exodus, 16:25), since, refraining from working on the seventh day, man bears witness to a creation ex nihilo by God, who finished his work on that day.

The shabbat shabbaton, which refers to the day of atonement, as the aforementioned verses make clear, it is for man.

It is the man’s shabbat [“rest“].

It is the day of holiness that God grants to man.

The day when one human being is allowed, representing all the members of his people, to go into a place that bears witness to the presence of God in human reality, the qodesh ha-qodashim [the “holy of holies”].

God expiates [“atones for”] the sins of the Benei Israel [“Children of Israel”], so that they may find themselves in purity next to Him.

In Berakhot 7 we are told: “Rabbi Yishmael the son of Elisha said: Once I entered the innermost part to offer incense and I saw Akatrie-l K-ah, the Holy One of Hosts, seated on a high and exalted throne. He said to me: “Yishmael, my son, bless me.” I said: “May Your will be that Your mercy will overcome your anger and that Your mercy prevails over all other attributes, and that you treat your children with the attribute of mercy, and that you treat them beyond the letter of the law.” And he made a sign of assent with his head [nodding].”

Every day the Jew goes in search of God at the moment of prayer.

A Shabbat creates a special space to feel His presence in a superlative way.

At Yom Kippur, it is God who goes in search of the Jew, but, as in all affective relationships, he who is being sought must allow himself to be found.

L’Osservatore Romano, 19-20 September 2018

Have you ever wished to visit St. Peter’s Basilica in the early morning, when the doves are beginning to glide across a nearly empty St. Peter’s square? Have you ever wished to visit Assisi, and pray at the tomb of St. Francis in the crypt of his 13th-century basilica, or at the tomb of St. Clare in her basilica, built of alternating pink and white stones?

Join Inside the Vatican Pilgrimages and you will be able to experience this and more..

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