Aparecida on Good News in the Family

brazil-popeIn the last of the Aparecida Document’s three parts, we are considering “The Life of Jesus Christ for Our Peoples.” Christ restores the whole person. – This is the real heart of Catholic morality: not that we are required to do something to win Christ’s love, but exactly the opposite: that Christ’s grace restores us to life, brings the fullness of life to all aspects of our humanity.

Aparecida reminds us that this truth must be at the heart of our own encounter with Christ, and that it must express itself in evangelization. Let us give witness that Christ is life, for us and “for our peoples,” the people around us.

The four chapters of Part Three walk us through this truth and three applications:

7. The Mission of the Disciples in the Service of Full Life

8. Kingdom of God and Promoting Human Dignity

9. Family, Persons, and Life

10. Our Peoples and Culture

Chapter Seven says that Christianity is about “fullness of life.” Chapter Eight applies that to how we look at the individual; Chapter Nine the most basic relationships, in the family; and Chapter Ten the broader relationships of society.


Today we consider the family:

9. Family, Persons, and Life

a. Marriage and Family

b. Children

c. Adolescents and Young People

d. The Well-Being of the Elderly

e. The Dignity and Participation of Women

f. The Responsibility of the Male and Father of Family

g. The Culture of Life: Proclaiming It and Defending It

h. Care for the Environment

Actually, I was thinking about putting these meditations on hold today, and instead talking a little about why I have not been able to write as much the last few weeks. But that would have been a meditation on family, anyway. On the one hand, the exuberantly wonderful demands of my own family at Christmas: above all my children, but also by parents and brothers, who came to visit. How better to celebrate Christmas than with family!

On the other hand, the crosses of family, as we have been very busy tending to very dear friends who are considering divorce, and then a divorce, and a new ersatz-marriage relationship, within our own family. What can be more painful than this!

Even so briefly outlined, my own experience the last few weeks gets at the deeper point. If Christ brings life, that can nowhere be more powerfully true than in the family itself. And nowhere do we more powerfully experience our desperate need for Christ than in the struggles of family life.


Aparecida’s outline nicely shows the reality of this – the sort of inherently bursting-beyond-itself of human life. Marriage, of course, is one of our strongest attractions. The first thing we have to say about celibacy is that everyone remotely healthy wants to get married – celibacy is a sacrifice! It is not good to be alone: we feel that so deep down.

But immediately – before Aparecida even gets beyond point a – our marital relationship is bursting its seams, and becoming “family.” When two people come together . . . other people naturally start showing up! (babies) Our culture tries to convince us – and sometimes Catholics are a bit quick to let themselves be convinced – that marriage is “first of all” about two people. That’s boloney. Marriage is about family. It is human relationship bursting out into new relationships.

And suddenly we are thinking about children . . . and adolescents, and young people! Before we get to our own adolescents, we have others: for me, my younger brothers (in their twenties now), my and my wife’s cousins, etc. How fabulously life ramifies, branches out, leaves us endlessly in relationship.

So too, in the other direction, come the elderly: our own parents, and grandparents – the relationships that burst their seams to make us – and our spouse’s parents, etc.

Even we end up thinking beyond ourselves. Pushing our envelope, perhaps, Aparecida gives us not only “the culture of life” – family makes us worry about a family-friendly world! – but also “care for the environment,” which is most properly thought of not as the worship of Gaia and hatred of man, but as the desire to pass on a beautiful world to our children and children’s children.


Because – this is the point – we are by nature relational beings.

The concrete lesson for today is that these various branchings out of family relationship mean that the place we live life – and the place we live our spiritual life, and our awareness that Christ is life – is above all in family. Family is no distraction from our Christian faith. It is the very tangible place where we show what Christ means for us.

How can your relationships with your family manifest to others that Christ is good news?

The Aparecida Model: Total Conversion

brazil-popeIn Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, perhaps the greatest English Catholic novel, Rex Mottram needs to convert to Catholicism so that he and Julia Marchmain can have a Church wedding.  Rex, an adulterer, liar, and financial criminal, is happy to join the Church.  “What do I have to do?  Just show me where to sign.”

Cordelia plays some games to see what’s really going on.  She gets Rex to accept, for example, “the sacred monkeys of the Vatican,” and the importance of sleeping with feet facing East, so it will be easier to walk to heaven.

Fr. Mowbray, the Jesuit who is assigned to instruct Rex in the faith, concludes that Rex is less than human.  In a classic Waugh-ian critique of the modern world, he says that the pagan world knows no such emptiness of the human mind as in Rex.  Rex is happy to embrace a life of total incoherence, where one part of his personality has nothing to do with any other part of his personality.

We could add to Waugh’s critique of Rex’s humanity a critique of Rex’s God.  A God of the absurd – a God who requires you to believe in sacred monkeys so that you can have a pretty wedding – is no God at all.  Indeed, the glory of the Catholic faith – Waugh brilliantly shows this – is precisely in the coherence of creation: beauty, order, wisdom.  To be restored to true love of the Creator God, and even to become his sons and daughters, is to see the meaningfulness of everything.

Rex is no man.  Rex’s God is no God.


After a December break, we return to our last few meditations on the Aparecida document.  Perhaps it’s good to begin with this bigger picture.

Pope Francis (the principal editor of the document) and, in various ways the document itself, speaks often against the danger of “proselytism.”  I wonder if this word is more familiar in the Latin Ameican context; I don’t think North Americans typically know what it means.

I think what Francis means by proselytism is scoring conversions like Rex Mottram’s.  It is possible, you know.  Fallen man is more than willing to embrace total incoherence, both in his thought and in his moral life.  Modern man, with modernity’s deconstruction of reason and culture, wildly accelerated by the modern media, is especially susceptible to this.

This is the real meaning of heresy: to accept part of the faith and reject other parts – and heresy is not that hard to come by.  Perhaps more deeply, there is the technical term “dead faith” (see Summa theologiae IIa-IIae, q. 4, a. 4).  Dead faith is the real possibility that you can have true, orthodox faith, believe all the right things, but not love God, and so be in a state of mortal sin.  It is possible to be completely orthodox and go to Hell.

We in the orthodox Catholic world need to beware of all this, both in ourselves and in our apostolates.  Faith alone is not sufficient.  That means, too, that being a good culture warrior is not the same as being a good Catholic: you can hold all the hardline positions – all of them! – and not love God or neighbor, and that is death.  And this means loving God, not just kind of, in the background of our orthodoxy, but with all our heart and mind and soul and strength; loving our neighbor not just sort of, but as we love ourselves.

This is the danger in apologetics.  Apologetics has its place!  But a true apologetics must not just win over Rex Mottram’s, who say, “fine, I believe in the Real Presence and the Infallibility of the Pope,” (or, perhaps more dangerous, “yes, I love being uber-traditional”) but do not have a real spiritual life that spills into their entire practical life.


Aparecida, then, proposes a model of evangelization that is total: “varied dimensions of life in Christ,” “At the service of a full life for all,” “Kingdom of God, Social Justice, and Human Dignity,” etc., along with Francis’s emphasis on the evangelization of “accompaniment.”

There is a place for argument.  But more deeply, we need to show, by the way we live, the coherence of the Gospel, the way it impacts our life in its totality, and the way it is meant to bring total conversion to others, not just “signing on the dotted line.”

Aparecida goes to the heart when it puts all of our life and all of our mission under the sign of Mary, for she is the image of total conversion, a life utterly transformed by Christ, down to washing the dishes.

Think about the most boring elements of your life.  Could they show forth the Marian face of the Gospel?

Aparecida on “Suffering Faces that Pain Us”

brazil-popeToday we delve into the Aparecida document’s teaching on the “preferential option for the poor.”

Aparecida frames the question in terms of “Jesus at the service of life.” There are other ways to phrase it.  We can think about loving the Church, and then focusing on the parts of the Church that we find most difficult to love.  We can think about loving the image of God – the human nature taken up by Christ, designed for fulfillment by his divine nature – and focusing on the faces on which it is hardest for us to see that image: “Jesus in his most distressing disguise,” said Mother Teresa.

But Aparecida poses the question of “Jesus at the service of life.”  The whole third part of the document is “The Life of Jesus Christ for our Peoples.”  Do we believe that Jesus is for all people?  Do we believe that he truly brings life to all?  Do we believe that all can be saved?

Do we believe that Jesus brings the fullness of life?  Do we know that he can heal all ills, no matter how deep, and no matter what kind?  And do we live for that fullness of life, or do we prefer the pseudo-fullness of life without Christ?


In one of the most stirring passages of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wrote:

“I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith. Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care.

“No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas.”

First: to say our lifestyle demands attention to other areas is to say that we find our happiness not in what Jesus offers, but in what man offers.  The poor are important precisely as those who are too difficult, and those who have little to offer us.  We would rather be with those who are easier, more fun.  But if Jesus is life, we don’t need to be so stingy.  We should fear that stinginess.

HomelessParis_7032101Second: do we see that “discrimination” of the lack of spiritual care?  If we really live for evangelization, let us evangelize those whom no one else cares to evangelize.  And let us not say that the poor are too difficult to evangelize.

The poor are a privileged place of encounter with Christ precisely because avoiding the poor and pursuing privilege, in all its forms, means denying Christ.


Francis goes on to say, “I fear that these words too may give rise to commentary or discussion with no real practical effect.”  This is a struggle.  It seems easy to talk about the poor, hard to do anything.


But Aparecida’s way of framing the question might provide a helpful middle ground. The section is entitled, “suffering faces that pain us”:


  1. Kingdom of God and Promoting Human Dignity
  2. Suffering Faces that Pain Us

i.      Street people in large cities

ii.      Migrants

iii.      Sick people

iv.      Addicts

v.      The imprisoned


Perhaps the language is a little saccharine, bleeding heart.  (Though remember that “bleeding heart” is first of all a description of Jesus.)  But being “pained” is the middle ground between just talking about things and doing things.  On a biological level and all the way up, pain is motivation to move.

So let us not stop with “commentary or discussion” – but let us begin there.  Let the faces of the poor pain us.


Aparecida helps to stimulate us by offering a concrete list.  “The poor” is pretty vague.  But think about migrants – take the time to contemplate their face.  They are people whom poverty has forced to leave their home, to go somewhere they do not know, where they often do not speak the language and may not be welcomed.  We can talk “immigration policy.”  But more importantly, let us spend time being pained by their suffering.

So too with addicts and the imprisoned.  Yes, on one level we can blame them.  But let us also see their suffering, the suffering of a broken life.  The first step towards reaching out – and, really, the heart of reaching out – is to love.  That begins with feeling the profound need of the poor: with letting their suffering faces pain us.

Mercy, misericordia, is a heart (cordis) stirred by other people’s misery.

Can we imagine Jesus bringing healing even to the suffering faces that pain us?  What would it do to our prayer life, and our active life, if we spent some time imaginging that healing?

Aparecida, Reclaiming “Social Justice” 

brazil-popeWe are in Part Three of the Aparecida Document: “The Life of Jesus Christ for Our Peoples.”  Having discovered Christ as life for ourselves, we turn to bring that life to the world we live in.

This is about evangelization: if we really believe that Christ is Life, we must share that Life with others.  But it is also about ourselves.  Ultimately, the question is whether we let Christ be life-giving to us.

In Chapter 7, we saw “the Mission of the Disciples in the Service of Full Life.”  Christ who is life does not just affect one part of life, but all of life.  He makes everything better: family, community, culture, the intellectual life, our appreciation of nature.


In chapter 8, we apply this teaching to the infamous words “social justice”:

1.Kingdom of God and Promoting Human Dignity

a. Kingdom of God, Social Justice, and Christian Charity

b.  Human Dignity

c. Preferential Option for the Poor and Excluded

d.  A Renewed Pastoral Ministry for Integral Human Promotion

e.  Globalization of Solidarity and International Justice

f.  Suffering Faces that Pain Us

“Social justice” has gotten a bad name among many Catholics.  It is vaguely associated with liberalism: both an unrestrained welfare state and wimpiness on the “social issues”: marriage, abortion, etc.  But look at that second part first: those who do not defend marriage don’t really care about social justice.  If you care about marriage, you believe in true social justice!  Don’t dismiss this phrase too quickly!

Nor does social justice mean an unrestrained welfare state.  In Centesimus Annus, St. John Paul II argued we might often oppose welfare systems precisely because we do care about social justice: because we do not think they “promote human dignity,” or the kingdom of God.

Listen when Pope Francis talks about the “right to work”.  Work is part of human dignity.  A welfare system that lets people sit on the couch all day watching television is a system that does not care about human dignity.

Let’s take back the words “social justice.”  Christians are supposed to “hunger and thirst for justice,” and they are supposed to be engaged in politics and in non-political social action.  “Social justice” doesn’t mean you have to vote for Hillary Clinton.


Chapter 8 poses the question in terms of the “Kingdom of God.”  What does God want for our social life?  What does it mean to pray “thy kingdom come”?  Ultimately, only God can bring about the true heavenly kingdom.  But if we are people who long for that kingdom, we must also be people who work for that kingdom, who choose for that kingdom, every day.

The first section of this chapter puts together “Kingdom of God, Social Justice, and Christian Charity.”  There are those terrifying words, “social justice” – but in a theological context.  Those who love as Christians love are moved to act, socially.  “Social” means politics, yes: we cannot separate our faith – or our love of neighbor – from our politics.  But it also means non-political action, in all the other ways we treat our neighbors.

What does true social justice want?  First, to “promote human dignity.”  To treat people like people.  Again, that doesn’t mean blind support for welfare, which sometimes treats people like mouths to feed, without dignity.  But it also doesn’t mean we can shrug our shoulders at the disadvantaged.  We are called to be creative: to look for ways, both in policy and outside of politics, to restore the human dignity of all people.

Aparecida goes on to speak of “integral human promotion.”  This is a phrase that comes from Paul VI’s great encyclical Populorum Progressio – a favorite encyclical of Benedict XVI’s, on which he based his Caritas in Veritate.  “Integral human development” means we promote all aspects of the person: we don’t just give them food stamps, we also worry about their soul, and their relationships, and their education, etc.  It means we feed the hungry, but also promote marriage, and education reform, and evangelization.  That’s real Catholic social justice.


We do this here at home, and also, in this globalized world, internationally.  In our politics, our economic choices, our travel, our education, and our prayers, we should work to discover the dignity of all people.  That doesn’t necessarily mean new rules: the main point is not that there’s now a ban on chocolate.  The main point is just that we should think about other people, including people far away.

Finally, we should think especially about “the poor and excluded” – because it is they who most need our aid, they whose dignity is least respected, and they whom we are most inclined to forget.  Next week we will consider in greater depth the “suffering faces that pain us,” and call us to mercy.

How does your faith impact your politics?  Your view of society?

Aparecida on Pastoral Missionaries

brazil-popeThe Second Vatican Council famously spoke (though actually quite infrequently) of “scrutinizing the signs of the times.” Some people like to emphasize that it was a “pastoral” Council. (I doubt these people have spent time with the documents of previous councils.)

Similarly, Pope Francis has spoken about being “pastoral,” including a Synod focused on “Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization.”

At a recent discussion of the Synod, a young man said something I’ve heard too often. “Why even talk about being pastoral?” he asked. “Doesn’t that just risk watering down our theology?” A few other young people seemed to share his opinion.


We are now surveying the seventh chapter of the Aparecida document. We find there a call to “pastoral conversion”:

7. The Mission of the Disciples in the Service of Full Life

     a. Living and Communicating the New Life in Christ to our Peoples

     b. Pastoral Conversion and Missionary Renewal of Communities

     c. Our Commitment to Mission Ad Gentes

But here we find this “pastoral” idea thoroughly contextualized in terms of “mission.” “Pastoral conversion” is about “missionary renewal.”

I hope it’s clear that talking about “mission” and being “missionary” has nothing whatsoever to do with watering down our theology. It has to do with communicating our theology.

When I prepare a class, or a post for this website, or a parish presentation, I have to think about two things. First, what is it that I want to communicate? What do we believe? Call this part “theology” or “doctrine.”

But second, I have to ask myself, “how do I get that across to my audience”? If I’m teaching my students from the Summa theologiae, for example, I have to think about what information I need to add: they don’t know the Aristotelian philosophy Thomas is deploying; they don’t know the bigger outline of the Summa, and the other parts of the Summa to which Thomas is referring; they don’t know the Tradition; often, they don’t fully share Thomas’s rich Catholic faith. I have to say more, in order to explain to them what Thomas is teaching.

I hope it’s clear, this has nothing whatsoever to do with “watering down” what Thomas, or the Church, teaches. It has to do with actually caring whether other people understand that teaching. That is the true meaning of “pastoral”: not watering down, but figuring out how to explain it to people in a particular context, including showing them what it would mean to apply it to their actual lives. This is about loving an living our doctrine, not about watering it down.

As I have mentioned before, Pope Francis, and the Aparecida document before him, corrects St. John Paul II’s use of the phrase “pastoral formation” in his letter Pastores (pastors/shepherds) dabo vobis. Instead, Francis prefers to say, “missionary formation.” Not because being pastoral doesn’t matter, but because we need to see why it does matter.


Chapter Seven of the Aparecida document argues for “moving from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry.” By “mere conservation,” I think they mean, “we understand what we are saying, and we don’t really care if other people understand.”

Again, the “pastoral” orientation Aparecida is calling for is not toward relativism, not toward accepting the ways of the world. Aparecida is, to the contrary, confronting the practical relativism that doesn’t care about mission. No matter how much we say we believe in objective truth, if we treat Jesus as only our savior, and his moral teaching as only for us, we are practical relativists. Mission is about living like we believe in truth.

Thus, too:

“The Church’s ministry cannot ignore the historic context in which its members live. These social and cultural transformations naturally represent new challenges to the Church in its mission of building the Kingdom of God. Hence the need, in fidelity to the Holy Spirit who leads it, for an ecclesial renewal that entails spiritual, pastoral, and also institutional reforms.”

The reason for reform, the reason for considering our historic context, is not to accommodate to the world. It is about rising to the challenge. First, we need to think about how to talk, how to explain what it is we believe.

But then, too, we need to think about how to live it, how to show our neighbors our faith, and how to show them what it would mean for them, here and now, in this historical context, to embrace Jesus Christ.

“Pastoral conversion” is really a matter of “missionary renewal.”

What do I need to do to communicate the faith to the people around me?

Aparecida on “Communicating the New Life in Christ”

brazil-popeThe Aparecida Document’s seventh chapter, the first chapter of its third and final part, examines “The Mission of the Disciples in the Service of Full Life.”

Part Three: The Life of Jesus Christ for Our Peoples

7. The Mission of the Disciples in the Service of Full Life

     a. Living and Communicating the New Life in Christ to our Peoples

          i. Jesus at the service of life

          ii. Varied dimensions of life in Christ

          iii. At the service of a full life for all

          iv. A mission to communicate life

     b. Pastoral Conversion and Missionary Renewal of Communities

     c. Our Commitment to Mission Ad Gentes

In order to understand this chapter, this week we will examine the four subsections of section “a,” next week we will return to consider the whole chapter.


The bigger purpose of this chapter, and of the whole document, is to understand the real meaning of “mission.” What does it mean to be truly missionary?

There are two sides to this question. First, what is a real missionary? What does a real Christian missionary bring to others? Second, why do Christians need to be missionaries? What does mission have to do with my spiritual life?

The title of this section, “Living and Communicating the New Life in Christ to our Peoples” addresses that second question. First, it ties together “living” and “communicating.” On the one hand, we cannot communicate what we do not live. If we do not find our lives in Christ, there is no point trying to be missionaries of Christ. We communicate more by who and what we are than by any words we may preach. Words are necessary, but they make little sense if our lived witness contradicts them.

But on the other hand, can we really live without communicating? Does it make any sense to say that I think Christ is the way, the truth, and the life – but only for me? Christian life without mission, in fact, is a kind of relativism, a denial of the truth of Christ. If I really believe Christ is life, I must communicate that to others!


Second, the title of this section ends “to our Peoples.” And there is simply a recognition that I am part of a people.

It is perhaps easier seen at the level of family. If I find my life in Christ, and I am a part of a family – if my life is really tied to that family – how can I not share that life with the people to whom I am bound!

And so too if I am part of a neighborhood, of a parish, of a nation, of any community, if those really mark part of who I am, how can my life in Christ not spill over, how can I not communicate that life to my communities?

Mission and true life go hand in hand.


But what kind of mission? The first subsection proposes “Jesus at the service of life.” We are returning to a previous theme. If Jesus is truly our savior, truly our life, then he is the savior of our entire life, everything about us. Jesus affects, and perfects, and restores every aspect of human life.

Of course, in so restoring it, it will be changed. He might restore my desire for movies by redirecting it to something richer; might change my desire to rise from poverty to a desire to help those who are truly poor. He does not leave us unchanged.

But he does perfect us, in all our humanity. To say Jesus is life is to say – Aparecida quotes Pope Benedict – “The new life of Jesus Christ touches the entire human being and develops human existence in fullness ‘in its personal, family, social and cultural dimensions.’”

Thus true life in Christ, and true communication of that life, must celebrate “varied dimensions of life in Christ.” To tell people to embrace Jesus without showing how he perfects every aspect of life is simply not to live or communicate the fullness of the Gospel.

So too if we are not “at the service of a full life for all.” If Jesus is savior, he is savior of all of human life, every aspect of ourselves, and of every human life. The fullness of the Gospel must be preached, to all men!


Aparecida tells us, “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.” Let us discover the fullness of life by sharing Christ, the way, the truth, and the life, in all his fullness, with those around us.

Think of someone in your life who does not know Jesus as Savior. If you were to tell them he is life-giving, what parts of your life would you need to show that through?

Introduction to Aparecida Part 3

brazil-popeToday we begin the third and final part of the Aparecida document. The first part, “The Life of Our People Today,” remember, planted us firmly in history, surveying the situation of the world we live in. The second part, the central and longest one, “The Life of Jesus Christ in Missionary Disciples,” considered what it means to be a Christian, culminating in the chapter on formation, “The Formative Itinerary of Missionary Disciples.”

Part Three turns us as missionary disciples back to the world in which we live: “The Life of Jesus Christ for Our Peoples.” Aparecida is constantly focused on keeping the faith real. This is not an abstraction lived in private, but the reality of human life, lived out in all the aspects of our life. To be missionary is not a marginal aspect of faith. It is where faith is proved, where we show that we really believe it.

And to believe that Christ is truly life for us is to believe that he is life for all men. Remember that the first chapter of “The Life of Jesus Christ in Missionary Disciples” – the life of Christ in us – considered all the ways in which Christ is Good News. He is not just one part of life. All that is human finds its perfection in Christ: that chapter had sections on human dignity, life, the family, work, science, material goods, even ecology. It called for Latin America to be a “the continent of hope and love.” A truly Christian society is one permeated by the goodness of Christ, in every aspect.


Part Three asks us to take what we have found in Christ back to our world:

Part Three: The Life of Jesus Christ for Our Peoples

7. The Mission of the Disciples in the Service of Full Life

8. Kingdom of God and Promoting Human Dignity

9. Family, Persons, and Life

10. Our Peoples and Culture

These chapters work out in concentric circles. The first gives the principles, summarized in the word “life.” The Church is pro-life. That means, of course, first of all that we are opposed to anything that is directly contrary to life: murder in all its forms, including the insidious murder of unborn children.

But, as John Paul II explains in his magnificent encyclical Evangelium Vitae, “The Gospel of Life,” we are opposed to murder because we embrace the goodness of human life. Life is worth living. Human life is a good because life itself is good.

Consider, for example, how one could say, “our joy is in heaven, so it doesn’t really matter if life is terminated.” Ah, but it does matter, because heaven is not opposed to our natural life, it is its fulfillment. We would have a wrong vision of heaven if we thought that it meant the goodness of human life doesn’t matter.

And we would have a wrong vision of Christ. John Paul II’s first encyclical focused on Christ as Redemptor Hominis: the redeemer of man. He said the theme of his pontificate would be, “the way of the Church is man.” All that is authentically human belongs to Christ, and is fulfilled in Christ. Christ is “at the service of full life,” as Aparecida puts it – and so too are we.


Thus the first chapter of specifics focuses on “human dignity,” and the good of the individual. Any vision that treats human individuals as not mattering is an anti-Christian vision. Anti-Christ, we can even say: a denial that Jesus is the fulfillment of man, the savior of every man, the lover of man.

Here Aparecida will treat the “preferential option for the poor and excluded,” and look at “suffering faces that pain us”: street people, migrants, the sick, the addicted, and the imprisoned. Jesus says what we do to these, we do to him. As Archbishop Chaput often puts it, if we do not love them, Jesus is very clear: “we will go to Hell.” Christians care about every individual.


But we care, too, about human community, where individuals flourish, and so the next chapter is on “family,” considering the many relationships that make up a truly human life: children, adolescents, the elderly, men and women, and our relationship to the land itself.

The last chapter extends this out to its final culmination: “our peoples and culture.” He who embraces the fullness of human life, and who believes Christ is the fulfillment of human life, believes that Christ is the answer to the biggest questions of politics and culture. The true missionary disciple – the true believer – takes his faith even there.

When elements of life do you think too few Christians see in connection with the goodness of Christ?

Aparecida on Christ and Culture

The following quote makes an interesting argument, moving from one point to another in perhaps an unexpected way.

The first point is specifically about Latin American culture. When the Gospel came to the Indians, it did not hurt their culture, it liberated it. By itself that is perhaps a happy, pat-ourselves-on-the-back Catholic triumph.

But Aparecida draws an important conclusion about culture in general. Today there is a great concern, including among some Catholics, to rediscover cultural particularity: a sense of place, a distinct way of life, artistic traditions, etc. The quotation below simply argues that this need not be opposed to the universality of the Church, of truth, and of the Gospel. The best way to really live local culture is to set it free through encounter with the truth who is Christ, and the universality which is the global Church.

Two other conclusions: first, within the truth of Christ – not outside it – we discover the true place of dialogue, of appreciating and affirming legitimate differences. I, an Anglo-American, can appreciate the best in Latin American, African, or Asian culture precisely through our contact in the Truth which is Christ.

And second, Christ is the truth. If you really want truth, if you really want culture, seek ye first his face, his kingdom, his righteousness. Don’t start with culture; find culture in Christ.

brazil-popeThe proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbian cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture. Authentic cultures are not closed in upon themselves, nor are they set in stone at a particular point in history, but they are open, or better still, they are seeking an encounter with other cultures, hoping to reach universality through encounter and dialogue with other ways of life and with elements that can lead to a new synthesis, in which the diversity of expressions is always respected as well as the diversity of their particular cultural embodiment.

Ultimately, it is only the truth that can bring unity, and the proof of this is love. That is why Christ, being in truth the incarnate Logos, “love to the end”, is not alien to any culture, nor to any person; on the contrary, the response that he seeks in the heart of cultures is what gives them their ultimate identity, uniting humanity and at the same time respecting the wealth of diversity, opening people everywhere to growth in genuine humanity, in authentic progress.

-The Aparecida Document

Parting Thoughts on Formation in the Aparecida Document

brazil-popeFor several weeks we have been examining chapter 6 of the Aparecida Document, “The Formative Itinerary of Missionary Disciples.” Before we close this chapter, and move on to the third main part of the document, some thoughts on putting this into practice.

My feeling coming away from this chapter is that there’s so much important work to be done . . . and I’m not sure how to do it. What can we do?


Some of us are directly engaged in the institutions considered as “places of formation for missionary disciples”: I am the head of a “family, first school of faith” I teach in a Seminary and a Catholic University.

But even in those institutions, it isn’t always easy to know how to promote formation. This chapter, for example, insisted on the importance of “initiation to Christian life.” Although my wife and I try to do a lot, it is striking to discover how difficult it is to get into our children’s souls. They sometimes tell me that they pray outside of family prayer times, but I don’t really know; I don’t know how engaged they are. (And, as Flannery O’Connor said, “stories of pious children tend to be false”: patting ourselves on the back for the games our children play or the sweet things they say is not the same as really forming them in the faith.)

This is all the more difficult in the university. I am fortunate to be able to proclaim Christ in my classroom – but how do I bring them to an actual encounter? I can talk about moral obligations, but how do I promote real moral conversion? I can talk about a lot of things: but ultimately, we are dealing with other people’s souls. And not only, as with my children, do I not have access to their wills, but in other contexts, I don’t even have access to most of their lives. I don’t know what goes on when they leave my classroom.


I feel this all the more acutely as we move into other areas, like the parish and “small ecclesial communities.” It is easy – and perhaps helpful – to daydream about a really lively parish, where people are really initiated and formed as Christians. But in practice, priests are busy, I have put on events in our little parish that no one comes to, and even when I help with formation events in more lively parishes, there’s still the question of how you get people in the door, how you get them to listen, and how you get them to actually embrace what we are teaching.

We attend our neighborhood parish, in the belief that investing in a less-than-perfect parish is a witness to our faith in the truth of the sacraments, our fidelity to the Church, and our call to mission. But the weaknesses of our parish make it all the harder to get any great programs going. I respect those who go out of their way to find better parishes, but I’m not sure it solves the problem. Still the question is how to initiate those who are not initiated, and form those who are not formed. Abandoning the weak doesn’t solve much, and even in a great parish, there remain many who do not want to go any deeper than they have already gone.


What to do? (This is a pep talk for me as much as for my readers.)

First, we can attend to our own formation. We can keep always before our eyes our own call to encounter with Christ, moral conversion, discipleship in Christ’s teaching, communion with other disciples, and mission – and continued development on the intellectual, spiritual, missionary, and communal levels. We cannot give what we do not have. If we work at our own formation, we never know what opportunities may present themselves, even in casual conversations.

Second, we can do what we can. Think of the music director. There’s only so much he can do, for example, to promote moral conversion, and drive people to confession. But he can do that: he can choose hymns with challenging texts, and the tunes he believes will draw people higher instead of coddling their complacency.

We too should do what we can. Last Sunday I chatted after Mass with an older woman, very nice, but not very fervent. What can I do to promote her formation? I can witness, by occasional words and by my public actions, my love of Christ, the moral transformation that love has brought about in my life, my commitment to the Church. Sometimes that seems like not very much. But at all times, we just have to do what we can.

Setting aside big programs, what are little ways that you can promote integral formation in your parish?

Aparecida on Places for Formation

brazil-popeThis week we come at least to the final section of the Aparecida document’s chapter on “The formative itinerary of missionary disciples.” At last we consider where all this should happen.

     d. Places of Formation for Missionary Disciples

          i. The family, first school of faith

          ii. Parishes

          iii. Small ecclesial communities

          iv. Ecclesial movements and new communities

          v. Seminaries and houses of religious formation

          vi. Catholic education

               1. Catholic educational institutions

               2. Universities and advanced institutions of Catholic education

Because I do not think it can be over-emphasized – and I think Aparecida has wanted us to see this – let us one more time say: true formation is always about real encounter with Jesus Christ, leading to constant continuing conversion, discipleship and continued learning, communion in the life of the Church and the local Christian community, and mission to draw others into all of the above.


The question is how. One key way to approach that question is to ask, “where?”

Aparecida’s first answer is, “the family, first school of faith.” Obviously not everyone grows up in a family that can form them as true Christians. But let us all – those with families and those without families – realize that there is no greater maker of saints than a holy Christian family. And why? Because in the family come opportunities for real, daily prayer – not occasional meetings, but day-to-day – along with the day-to-day struggle for conversion. Family makes it real.

Let me make an appeal: if in any way we think about marriage without thinking about family as the first school of faith, we fail profoundly.

The exclusivity of family – not everyone is part of such a family – should perhaps remind us, too, that formation needs to focus on the particular. Efforts to form absolutely everybody everywhere end in forming no one. We can only form particular people in particular contexts. Is that unfair? It is the reality of the human condition. Let it drive us to mission: to look to work for formation where we can.


Next come three forms of religious organizations: parishes, “small ecclesial communities,” and “ecclesial movement and new communities.”

The parish exists to be a place of formation. What would it mean to make our parish liturgies real places of encounter with Christ? But what could we do, too, to make them places of personal conversion, life-long discipleship, and communion? And places from which we launch out into mission?

The “new movements” exist to complement the parishes, to pick up where parishes fall short. But let them not replace the parishes, which are natural places of encounter, closer to the reality of family.

And let both parishes and big movements encourage us to think about small communities: all the little ways we can gather together, in various ways in various places, to live the faith more deeply. These forms of communion and encounter are necessary!


Finally, Aparecida speaks of schools: seminaries, houses of religious formation, Catholic schools, and universities. Here perhaps I am preaching to the choir, but let us not forget that this is the real purpose of these institutions, the reason they exist: so that as we give people other skills, we also form them as Christians.

Let us consider, then, too, the importance of these institutions. What opportunities for formation are lost when we give up on our educational institutions?


Now, in all of these places we may still ask, how? How, in any of these places, can we bring people to true formation as Christians? The heart of the answer, I think, is in relationship: our relationship with the truth, and our relationship with one another.

These “places” all remind us that true formation can only happen where people are in real contact, whether it is the more natural contact of families and parishes, the explicitly formative contact of small ecclesial communities and big ecclesial movements, or the explicitly educational contact of seminaries and schools.

Perhaps I should point out that Web pages and blogs don’t make Aparecida’s list. Reading is an important part of formation. But real formation means praying together, living together, struggling forward together. It requires true human contact. Let our internet outreach never falsify formation by reducing it to just one element.

Because the other side of formation is our relationship with the truth: the truth of integral formation. How do we form others in the Christian life? By pursuing it ourselves, in its integrity. By never forgetting that it must be always about encounter with Christ, conversion, discipleship, communion with others, and mission.

But perhaps the last word that must be said about formation is that there is no last word. Once we bring people into contact in the context of real, integral, Christian formation, there is no single answer. The answer is in relationships. It is in creativity. And it is in a passionate thirst for our own formation, and to share deeper formation with others.

What could we do to promote formation in our parish?