The winter meeting of the U.S. College of Catholic Bishops begins this coming Monday. It will thus follow close on the heals of the meeting of the French Conference of Bishops, which concluded today. "Father Z" at What Does the Prayer Really Say? offers a translation of two paragraphs with his comments.
The following is a translation of Cardinal Ricard's entire closing address given this morning. I liked much of it, and I have concerns about portions of it. Having little time for blogging except on week-ends, I do not have time to add my own comments to this post, and I may do another post later with commentary. Perhaps I will wait until after the U.S. Bishops' meeting to write about them in comparison.
Here is the entire address in my translation:
Conference of the French Bishops
Plenary Assembly – November 2006
Thursday, November 9, 2006
Our Assembly is completed. We have tried, with satisfaction, the new working method that we implemented. On our Assembly’s chosen theme, interested bishops met, reflected, often called upon experts, and offered us the fruit of their reflection. This morning, I would like, in the name of our Conference, to express our gratitude to the Studies and Projects Committee, to the working group chairmen, bishops and experts for their invaluable investment.
THE STUDIES AND PROJECTS COMMITTEE DOSSIERS
We successively considered the following dossiers:
Three structural differences in our society: man/woman, father/mother, brother/sister
In choosing this working theme, we felt the need to revisit and to look further into our anthropological convictions about realities as fundamental as the sex difference, the couple, parenthood, filiation . . . The group of bishops that completed this work wanted to undertake it in an interdisciplinary manner. It was thus begun by soliciting the collaboration of theologians, psychiatrists, philosophers, historians, and lawyers. They were asked to fill out forms of comprehension and argumentation. We received about 15 of those from them. The objective was to make us work and thus to better comprehend that modernity in which we exercise our ministry as pastors and as doctors.
The dense and technical talk given by Mr. Jacques Arènes the first day, allowed us to enter into “gender theory.” That became the ideological matrix from which most of the day’s issues came. The challenges that it poses are frightening. We want to approach them head on. How can we dialogue with an individualist and “constructivist” philosophy? How can we meet anew a human being who wishes to define himself without reference to a filiation, a tradition, and a heritage? Our exchanges with each other, in a climate of great freedom, allowed us to restate some fundamental convictions.
The Biblical creation texts remain for us inspired texts that should be continually re-read and re-interpreted. Deep analyses are more necessary than ever: masculinity, authority, fraternity, and filiation, and still others . . . Why not interest broader circles of people in that reflection, vital to our society’s future: philosophers, specialists from the social sciences, political leaders . . .? The road for that enquiry will be long. We are happy to have taken the first steps today.
Catholic Education in France: A Christian Educational Commitment
We also wanted, during our Plenary Assembly of November 2005, to implement a working group on the mission of Catholic Education today. Its objective was to specify what defines the “proper character” of Catholic educational establishments and to encourage all of their leaders to implement it with confidence and courage.
Now, for many parents and teachers, that reference to “proper character” is a source of questioning and perplexity. It nonetheless describes that which is the originality and particularity of Catholic education: on the one hand, an educational project inspired by a conception of man which has its source in the Gospel and, on the other hand, an explicit proposition of the Christian faith and Ecclesial life. We all agree on the principles. But we must see how this “proper character” is implemented very concretely on the ground. That implies inspiration, a spirit, the Christian engagement of leaders, an institutional translation into practical proposals given to children and youth. That is not done without tensions, for our establishments are open to all youth and are often places of a first evangelization.
We are aware that the heads of institutions, and their collaborators, are engaged in an exciting but difficult work. They accomplish it and live it as a mission received from the Church. Again, we assure them of our confidence and our support, particularly in the exercise of pastoral and missionary responsibility that is primarily theirs. More than anyone else, they know well that no one ever finishes evangelizing or being evangelized.
We need the collaboration of all – the educational community, families, children and youth – to continue to carry out the project of Catholic education, with its own vocation, and to the benefit of all of society.
The Ministries of Priests and the Life of Christian Communities
The exchanges proposed by the working group on “The Ministries of Priests and the Life of Christian Communities” allowed us to begin a reflection that will continue in months to come, in Assembly but also with the priests of our dioceses. In our sharing, we could measure once again the generosity with which priests carry the weight of mission, but also the extent of the evolutions that are required of them.
Under these circumstances, the importance of the presbyterium, around the bishop, appeared to us as a reality from which we must rediscover theological and spiritual richness. But that constitutive dimension of the priestly ministry also demands practical applications, particularly allowing different generations of priests to mutually enrich each other.
Reflection will also continue in order to better discern favorable conditions for implementing the missionary dimension of the ministry of priests.
Many priests have discovered the richness of their collaborations with deacons, lay people and religious communities. It is not a question of a transfer of tasks, but rather a collaboration in the same mission, with respect for each other’s specificity. We have a presentiment of how much the Christian community is called to step forward so that the burden of that mission really will be carried by all.
Similarly, with priests, we shall not escape the discernment necessary for treating hierarchically the tasks of their ministry in accordance with the concrete mission that is theirs today.
The trail that the working group will continue to blaze for us will be a chance to move forward in that reflection.
On the proposal of the Studies and Projects Committee, the Assembly decided to begin two new working groups: one on Catholics and Muslims in France Today and the other on the Formation of Future Priests.
Moreover, the Assembly also decided to create a Faith and Culture Observatory which will allow our Conference to be particularly attentive to the cultural environment in which we have to inscribe the Gospel.
CHURCH UNITY, RECONCILIATION AND LITURGY
During our Assembly, we reconsidered two events that have marked our recent Ecclesial situation: the creation of the Institute of the Good Shepherd and the information, given by the press, of the upcoming publication of a motu proprio which would broaden conditions for the celebration of the Mass called that of “St. Pius V”. We know the emotion that those two news items caused for many priests, deacons, and lay people from our dioceses. I had the opportunity to consider this point at length in my opening address. I would like to summarize here, in a few words, the fruit of our exchanges and the convictions that were expressed during our Assembly, and which were brought to mind by the message that you gave to me. On this issue, I thank you for your confidence and your support, which are a great comfort for me.
1) We Bishops from the Episcopal Conference want, at the outset, to express our profound communion with Pope Benedict XVI. He knows that he can count on our fraternal collaboration and on the help of our prayer.
2) We share his concern about working toward Church unity and offering a path for reconciliation for all those who, following Bishop Lefebvre, left full communion with the See of Peter. We hold up in our prayer that work of reconciliation which is the fruit of the Spirit.
3) We have the conviction that that work cannot be done except in rediscovering together the sacramental reality of the Church and in welcoming, with humility and simplicity, Christian brotherhood as a gift from God. Seeing all the relationships within the Church in terms of strategies to be carried out, battles to be fought, victories to be won and polemics to be intensified can only harm that work of reconciliation.
4) We affirm that the teaching of the Council and the apostolic dynamism that it imparted to the whole Church remain the compass that orients our walk. We state our great recognition of all those, priests, deacons, monks, nuns, and lay people, who contributed, with much generosity, to putting into practice the conciliar orientations and decisions. They are good servants of the Gospel.
But the Vatican II Council is yet to be received. It is still necessary to verify that its breath quite deeply animates the life and functioning of our Christian communities. It is also necessary to verify that we are not placing under its patronage ways of living, thinking, celebrating and organizing ourselves that have nothing to do with it.
Remaining faithful to the Council does not mean that we remain nostalgic for the first decades of its implementation. The Council itself invites us to live within a pilgrim Church, a Church walking toward the Kingdom, which receives from day to day the charisms and ministries that the Holy Spirit sends to it, as disconcerting as they may be.
5) We know well that the disagreements with the faithful who followed Bishop Lefebvre in his “no” to Rome are not initially liturgical, but theological -- regarding religious liberty, ecumenism, interfaith dialogue – and political. But we do not, for that reason, want to minimize the importance of the liturgy which is at the heart of Ecclesial life. In that regard, we thank all those men and women who contribute to the quality of our liturgies, and who allow us to have, in many places, beautiful and prayerful celebrations, joyful and welcoming.
6) We wish to continue welcoming those who hold an attachment to the Mass called that of “St. Pius V.” Diversity is possible. But that must be regulated. Liturgical unity and Church unity are at stake. We could not provide a choice between forms of the Roman rite – the Mass of “St. Pius V” or the Mass of “Paul VI” – according to one’s own subjectivity. A Church where each one would build his chapel based upon his own personal tastes, his sensibility, his liturgical choice, or his political opinions could not still be Christ’s Church. Today, we must resist the temptation of an “à la carte religion”. As bishops, we are ready to keep vigil, with the Holy Father and under his authority, over the unity and communion within our local Churches and between our Churches.
CARRYING THE GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR
Communion serves mission. Did not Christ say, “As you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21)? The work of reconciliation in the Church is important, provided that it truly serves the preaching of the Gospel. It should not contribute to closing the Church in on itself, centering all its energies on internal problems. It is first of all to the poor that we are sent.
In the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus announced that, by his coming, what had been announced by the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Following Christ, we are invited to testify to the love of the Father, to the friendship of the Son, and to the power of the Spirit for all men, and most particularly for the poor, those who suffer, and all those who are weakened by life. Yes, “the love of Christ controls us” (II Cor. 5:14). We cannot shy away from the Lord’s calling.
May the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, let us participate in her joy, in her confidence and in her full availability to the will of the Lord!
+ Jean-Pierre Cardinal Ricard
Archbishop of Bordeaux
President of the French Conference of Bishops