“Mercy is joined to justice”: Enzo Bianchi on the synod

Yesterday morning, Massimo Faggioli tweeted that “no Catholic religious in America has had the courage to write what Enzo Bianchi wrote today on the Synod, marriage, and divorce.” (Enzo Bianchi is an Italian monk, the founder and head of a remarkable ecumenical monastic community in Italy called The Community of Bose.) Faggioli pointed to an essay by Bianchi published in Italian at the Vatican Insider website by the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Though many articles on the site are often offered in English as well, this one is not (yet).

I checked it out and agreed, so spent some time doing a quick translation into English. Though I don’t have the time to go over this with the kind of care and attention it deserves, here’s my quick and dirty translation of Bianchi’s peice. It’s worth a look:


Immediately after the election of Pope Francis, Cardinal Rivasi declared, “We look forward to a new breeze.” Today, after twenty months of this pontificate, we can say that there is a new climate in the fabric of the church: a climate of freedom in which every Catholic, both bishops and the simple faithful, can feel free to speak with honesty and courage according to their conscience and to say what they think, without being immediately silenced, censored, and even punished, as has been the case over in recent decades.

This doesn’t mean it is an idyllic climate, because even within the Church there are bitter conflicts — as the New Testament shows us was the case from the beginning — but if these are approached without mutual excommunications, if each person listens to the reasons offered by the other before declaring him to be an enemy, if all are careful to maintain communion, then even conflicts are fruitful and serve to deepen and more effectively give reasons for the hope that lives in the hearts of Christians.

Unfortunately, one can see that there are now “enemies of the Pope”: people who don’t limit themselves to respectful criticism, as happened with Benedict XVI and John Paul II, but who go so far as to despise him. A bishop who declares to his priests that the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium “could have been written by a peasant” expresses a judgment of contempt, but at the same time prophetically recognizes that that letter is readable and understandable even to a poor and simple Christian at the peripheries of the world. And so, despite his intentions, these derogatory words are in fact words of praise. Some even attempt to delegitimize Bergoglio’s election by saying the conclave was not conducted according to the rules, while others claim that there are still two popes, both successors of Peter, but with different duties…. We have known for a long time people inclined to follow their own ecclesiastical hypotheses rather than the objectivity of the great Catholic tradition in which the gospel is given primacy.

Certainly the composition of this synod, its new way working, the Pope’s invitation to participants to speak plainly and even to criticize his thinking or offer a different opinion, and the request for frankness in the interventions have created a synodal atmosphere that was unseen in the previous synods. Pope Francis wants [l’assise?] to be lived in the spirit of episcopal collegiality and of ecclesial synodality and not to be a simple celebration: and Francis also doesn’t hesitate to say that the synod takes place according to the great tradition cum Petro et sub Petro, that is with the Pope present and, as successor of Peter, personally reaching a final discernment.

As for the theme of the synod, it is so crucial because what is under discussion is not just a different discipline in regard to marriage, family, and sexuality, but the face of the invisible God, a face that we Christians know only through the face of Jesus Christ, the one who reveals, explains and makes known God. Under discussion is the face of the merciful and compassionate God, as it was revealed in his holy name given to Moses and was spoken about by Jesus, the Son he sent into the world, who never chastised sinners, never punished, but forgave them whereever he met them, and in that way moved them toward repentance and conversion.

There is no doubt that at the heart of the debate and the synodal discussions, there are words of Jesus that can be neither forgotten nor tampered with. In the Gospels, in fact, when talking about divorce — which was permitted by Moses but condemned, we mustn’t forget, by the prophets — Jesus did not choose the way of casuistry but recalled the intention of the Lawgiver and Creator and rejected any possibility of breaking the bond that is formed by the love of a man and a woman: “In the beginning it was not so… The two become one flesh… No person can divide what God has joined together!” The language is clear, demanding, and radical because the relationship between a man and a woman bound in the covenant of the word is a sign of the faithful covenant between God and his people: if fidelity in one becomes a lie, then the other is no longer credible either. It is a demanding and difficult message, which priests should teach their people from their knees: “It is the Lord’s words, not ours, the call for this fidelity. We repeat it because it is our duty to do so, but we offer it from our knees, without conceit or arrogance, because we know that to live one’s marriage faithfully and with a continually renewed love is difficult, exhausting, even impossible without the help of God’s grace….”

But even if this is the unchangable teaching of the Gospel, it remains true that in history, and especially today, this bond in the history of love, romance is not always taken up in faith, in adherence to the word of Christ. In any case, it sometimes deteriorates, withers, and dies. Yes, spouses should remain faithful to their committment until one returns to the other, but if that is no longer possible, after repeated attempts, then separation may be a lesser evil. And it is here that one can sometimes begin a new history of love that can prove to be a bearer of life, lived in loyalty and fidelity, in the sharing of faith and of life-giving connection with the Christian community. For those who live in this situation, it is not possible to celebrate another wedding without contradicting the sacrament of marriage already celebrated, but if there is a penitential journey, if they show fidelity over the passing of the years to the new bonds they have formed, could they not at least be admitted to communion, which offers them nourishment along the way of their journey towards the Kingdom? According to traditional Catholic teaching, the Eucharist is also a sacrament for the forgiveness of sins. Cardinal Martini asked: The question of whether divorcees can receive Holy Communion should be reversed: how can the Church come to their aid with the power of the sacraments?” The answer to these questions can come only from the Pope, after having heard the voice of the Church through the synod.

One other point should be made: Why can priests, monks, and religious who have made public promises to God in the heart of the Church and then abandoned their vocations and contradicted their vows — vows that St. Thomas Aquinas said the Church can never dissolve — participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church, while those in other situations of infidelity are excluded? There seems to be an injustice in this practice, created by clerics who may or may not live their celibacy well but who have no experience of the effort and the difficulties involved in married life.

What then is a Catholic who is mature in his or her faith to expect from the synod? A proclamation, again and again, of the indissolubility of marriage, yes, but offered in a way that manifests the mercy of God, reaching out to those who, in the course of this demanding adventure, have fallen into a contradiction of the covenant and inviting them into the fullness of ecclesial life. The Christian God has a face in which mercy is joined to justice, a compassionate God who in Jesus walked and continues to walk among the woundedthe sick a God who calls everyone to conversion and to life.




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