The October 2023 Synod began on Sept. 30, with the most amazing Ecumenical Prayer Service since the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965 (click here for the hour-long service as described by www.omiusa.org, Synodality and the Oblates, Part 7, Oct. 4, 2023). The Synthesis devotes #6 of Part One, with 12 paragraphs [a-l] to “The Eastern Churches and the Latin Church Traditions.” This part of the Synthesis will be examined later. I will concentrate here on #7 of Part One, “On the Road Towards Christian Unity.”
Twelve “fraternal delegates” were invited from four major Christian traditions: three from the Orthodox Church, three from the Oriental Orthodox Churches, three from the Mainline Protestant Churches (Anglican Communion, World Methodist Council, and World Communion of Reformed Churches), and three from Free Churches/Evangelical-Pentecostal(World Baptist Alliance, World Pentecostal Fellowship and Disciples of Christ). Of the six attending from the Protestant Churches, one is a woman, Dr. Elizabeth Newman, of the World Baptist Alliance.
The Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity made it quite clear that these twelve fraternal delegates were “not only observers, but are invited to participate in the discussions, particularly in the Minor Circles” (News, Sept. 25, 2023). And the Synthesis itself spoke of “the active participation of fraternal delegates” as being one of the “new experiences” which gave the delegates “the evangelical joy of being the People of God” (#20a).
The Synthesis of Oct. 28th called the Ecumenical Prayer Service of Sept. 30 “a profound ecumenical gesture. . . . This highly significant event also allowed us to recognize that we are in an ecumenical kairos [critical time] and to affirm that what unites us is greater than what divides us” (6a).
The Synod members then linked the baptism of every Christian with both ecumenism and the sensus fidei, the Latin term indicating that the laity must be consulted in any matter of importance (7b). The attitude of the faithful is at the very root of the effort to include the laity in synods, councils and discussions. Without the laity, not only Roman Catholic laity, but every baptized Christian, something essential is missing. This paragraph concludes, “There can be no synodality without an ecumenical dimension.”
Paragraph 7c joins “a commitment to the service of those experiencing poverty,” with “processes for repentance and healing of memory.” “Therefore, it is important that ecumenism is practiced first and foremost in daily life.”
The members then observed “In not a few regions of the world there is an ‘ecumenism of blood’, stemming from Christians of different affiliations who give their lives for faith in Jesus Christ” (7d).
After noting that “Collaboration among all Christians is crucial in addressing the pastoral challenges of our time,” especially in “secularized societies” (7e), the document addresses a situation affecting more and more Christians: “interchurch marriages,” explaining they “may constitute realities in which the wisdom of communion can mature, and it is possible to evangelize each other” (7f).
After these six “Convergences,” the authors propose four “Matters for Consideration (g-j). Synodality in the Orthodox Churches and “other ecclesial communities” enriched the debates and “requires further investigation” (7g).
“Ongoing ecumenical dialogues have provided a better understanding, in light of the practices of the first millennium, of the fact that synodality and primacy are related, complementary and inseparable realities,” referring to St. John Paul II’s ecumenical encyclical Ut unum sint, (in which he offered the service of the papacy to other Christian Churches, modifying it for their need: 7h).
Since it affects the growing number of interchurch marriages, 7i needs to be quoted in its entirety:
“We need to examine the issue of Eucharistic hospitality (Communicatio in sacris) from theological, canonical and pastoral perspectives in the light of the link between sacramental and ecclesial communion. This issue is of particular importance to inter-church couples. It raised the need for a broader reflection on inter-church marriages.”
Let us give a shout out here to Rev. Martin Reardon and his wife Dr. Ruth Reardon, both now deceased. Along with Father John Coventry, they spear headed this effort through the Association of Inter-Church Families (click here for their Oblate friendship, www.omiusa.org, Oct. 8, 2015). In Oblate parishes and at our retreat centers, this matter of Eucharistic Hospitality is of prime importance.
The fourth and final matter for consideration presents ” ‘non-denominational’ communities and Christian-inspired ‘revival’ movements, which are also joined in large numbers by faithful who were originally Catholic” (7j). This vast subject includes Taize, Iona and Focolare, whose Catholics are still faithful, with Focolare having a special place for Muslims. Then groups such as Richard Foster’s Renovare, in which Catholics retain membership while adapting practices from other Christian Churches. And finally, there are groups such as the late Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri Fellowship, in which Catholics drop their allegiance.
About every fifteen years, the Vatican invites all these renewal groups to come and meet in Rome; many respond.
Section 7 concludes with 5 proposals (k-o). All easily attained the 75 percent approval of the voting members of the synod. K and l both concern the year 2025, with k recommending that since it is the anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council (Nicea, 325 AD), “a common commemoration of this event will help us to better understand how in the past controversial questions were discussed and resolved together in Council.” L notices that the date for Easter will coincide in 2025 for all Churches and Christian communities. “The Assembly expressed a keen desire to come to a common date for the feast of Easter so that we can celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, our life and our salvation, on the same day.”
M reinforced the role of the fraternal delegates: “There is also a desire to continue to involve Christians of other Churches and ecclesial traditions in Catholic synodal processes at all levels and to invite more fraternal delegates to the next session of the Assembly in 2024.” L contines this attention: “A proposal has been put forward by some to convene an ecumenical Synod on common mission in the contemporary world.” The final proposal, o, refers back to “ecumenism of blood” (7d) above: “It was also proposed that we might devise an ecumenical martyrology.”
It is disappointing that Eucharistic Hospitality did not receive a proposal. This probably means that the Assembly did not think it would receive a 75% majority vote. But at least this crucial, pastoral matter did make the “Considerations” above.
When the document examines “The Bishop of Rome in the College of Bishops,” (#13), it states “Promoting the unity of all Christians is an essential aspect of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. The ecumenical journey has deepened understanding of the ministry of the successor of Peter and must continue to do so in the future. Responses to the invitation made by St. John Paul II in the encyclical Ut unum sint, as well as the conclusions of ecumenical dialogues, can help the Catholic understanding of primacy, collegiality, synodality, and their mutual relationships” (b).
Unfortunately, when the document presents Bishops, Clergy, and Consecrated Life, no mention is made of ecumenism as “an essential aspect.” But when it examines “A synodal approach to formation” (#14), the Assembly requested “conducting ecumenical and interreligious dialogue” as one of the nine areas required (#e).
For Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the emphasis that “Rather than saying the Church has a mission, we affirm that the Church ‘is’ mission” (#8) means that ecumenism is a vital and essential part of mission and the Church. May every Oblate work so that Christian Unity becomes a deeper part of our mission.
On Oct. 25, the Synod participants sent a short, 2 1/2-page “Letter of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God.” This statement, full of the Holy Spirit, contains many of the elements presented above.
During his Wednesday General Audience, Pope Francis praises Servant of God Madeleine Delbrêl’s life as epitomizing apostolic zeal and calls on the faithful to imitate the way she shared the joy of faith with others.
To learn more about Madeline Delbrêl’s life, check out this article from The Catechetical Review.
Based on the oblation prayer of Michael Rodrigo, O.M.I., Martyred 10 November 1987
By Fr. Jack Lau, OMI
The question asked of me many times while at Aanmodaya Ashram (an ashram is a hermitage, monastic community, or other place of religious retreat found in South Asia), an Oblate Ashram in Kanchipuram, India was, why are you here? “Why are you, a westerner here at this ashram which we find difficult to live in?” And I would tell them a story of how at 5 or 6, I had a photo of the Buddha in my room and by 11, incense was burning before him. Needless to say; I was not an ordinary first grader. But that answer usually ended the conversation. I continue to ponder that answer, for there is a part of me that is drawn to Asia and to the temples of Asia.
My first experience was in traveling to Thailand in 2004. I stayed with the Oblates and traveled about with them. I remember going to the juniorate and going on a class trip to a local temple. I was excited and my eyes were open, and my heart was already there. Yet the students, probably all about 18 or 19 were shocked that we were going to a temple. For they were taught at home not to go to other places of worship, much like in the U.S. before the 1960s & 70s. Yet the Oblates of Thailand understood well the power of the culture to open up the heart. So, among the Oblates, prayer and the church environment, reflected the prayer at the temple. All were seated on the floor and the soles of one’s feet never faced the teacher or the image of the Holy. As a foreigner one learns by looking, observing, asking when necessary and making plenty of innocent mistakes. What I saw in Thailand was a Catholicism that looked as if Jesus grew up in Thailand.
That experience surely touched me for while helping-out at an Eco program at the Novitiate, one of the General Councilors (Oswald Firth, OMI, from Sri Lanka) came through. My demeanor must have stood out to him. He said to me, “you ought to spend a considerable amount of time at the Oblate Ashram in India.” At that time, I had already been instructing numerous yoga classes in Buffalo, Minnesota and was practicing Yoga while studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
I arrived in Chennai India early in the morning to the warm greetings of the Provincial House. After a couple of hours of sleep there was an early mass and breakfast. I was shown my place, which had a fork, spoon, and knife all in place. Then I looked around and no one was using utensils. The right hand was all you needed! And so “when in Rome, do as the Romans.” And yes, the food was different and spicier than I was used to. No cereal or café au lait!
It was that morning I meet Joseph Samarakone, OMI; director/guru/teacher/Acharya of Aanmodaya Ashram, a ministry of the Oblate Province of India. Sam, as I called him, was an imposing caricature. He seemed tall, though I was taller, he was large framed draped in orange, a white full beard and blue piercing eyes. His voice was deep and commanding. That afternoon we jumped into a jeep and drove about 1 hour to Kanchipuram-“City of a thousand temples”. I arrived, was blessed by the women of the ashram . I had a tour of the ashram and then I was shown my hut/dwelling. It had electricity, a bathroom, and I brought with me the mosquito net which I hung up with dental floss! What more could one want.
I came to realize quickly that I would be spending between 5 to 7 hours a day in the temple sitting. At first it was in the round teaching centre with the statue of the seated Jesus (Sat Guru/Supreme Teacher) in the front. After about 7 months the temple which was under construction was completed and blessed by the Superior General. What I experienced is that God speaks through cultures, through the lives of the people and their sacred texts. So, each day we would be reading from a variety of text. Friday was usually the Sufi Mystics. Saturday was from the Jewish Mystics and on the other days we read from the Christian mystics and the Sages and Saints from around the world. God is still speaking! Being in the State of Tamil Nadu where the Shivite experience/expression of Hindu culture was prominent we would read and ponder daily the local Shivite saints. Manikkavachaka was the sage that Sam would recite daily. One day, the electricity went out and he continued by memory the entire text. Sam was passionate and brilliant, and he shared with me his love of sacred scripture from around the world. (There are YouTube of his talks on-line) I continue to read and ponder these sacred texts throughout the week and often use them in my sermons. I am drawn to the Upanishads for their poetry, clarity, and rootedness in the human experience. “Hear, O children of immortal bliss! You are born to be united with the Lord. Follow the path of the illumined ones and be united with the Lord of Life.” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 2:5)
An important moment in my journey was a visit to the Sikh Golden Temple, a gurdwara located in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, India. I spent the day walking around the large pool on hot white marble. I asked a group of young people; “who can go in the pool?” They said anyone can in the pool. So, I continued to walk and then I said, “what makes this water any different than the Jordan, the Tiber or even Lourdes”? And with that I plunged myself in, and a woman near me handed me her little boy. I will hold that moment and memory close to my heart and allow it to guide my way. I have carried these many experiences with me into the cave of my heart.
This past month (Sept 2023) I was able to attend an Oblate Ordination in Colombo Sri Lanka. Much can be said, yet to drive through the city streets, and walk along country paths I could see shrines with the Buddha and his disciples, Jesus, Mary, and Anthony of Padua through-out the country. As one looking in from the outside, the spiritual essence of the country was present and at least for me was not oppressive but inviting. I saw a lived faith reality in the temples and shrines. I saw it in homes with statues of both the Sacred Heart and the Buddha. The author and contemporary prophet of our time, Thich Nhat Hahn (d.2022) would see, “Jesus and Buddha as brothers”.
The moment of profound stirring was my visit to Seba Seth Gedera, an faith community founded by Oblate Michael Rodrigo, OMI -Martyr. (d. 10 Nov 1987) (On the OMI MUD page there are links to Michael Rodrigo’s OMI, writings)
Michael was about respecting individuals and lifting them up while celebrating their experience and faith. He was not there to impose a colonial church upon the people, in fact he was not there to build a “church”. Rather he was there to build the kindom (I purposely use the word ‘kindom’ for it reflects to me family relationships rather than the word kingdom that reflect to patriarchy and power) through dialogue, hard work, and radical relationships. Michael was also known for his knowledge of local healing herbs and vegetation. He was highly respected by the local Buddhist monasteries and was invited to teach (dharma talks).
As I walked into the small chapel, I fell to my knees in the place where his shattered body laid. I had read about him and seen the gruesome photos, but being there was something very different. Michael’s path into the kindom reality is one in which the Oblate family might study and be challenged by. It is about presence, respect and a radical “oneing” within all of humanity and all of creation. (LSi#91) “Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”
This past year I have been participating in a Buddhist / Catholic Dialogue regarding the environment sponsored by the World Parliament of Religion. Laudato Si states (225) Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived our authentically, it is reflected in a balance lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to the deeper understanding of life.
As I continued to study and pray with the text of the deep wisdom of the world and the more that I see/read and take in, I see a common tap root. Richard Rohr, OFM, writes: “The recurring theme of all religions is a sympathy, empathy, connection, capacity between the human and the divine – that we were made for union with one another. They might express this through different rituals, doctrines, dogmas, or beliefs, but at the higher levels they are talking about the same goal. And the goal is always union with the divine.”
Thank you for the invitation to share a bit of my story as I continue to sit in and be present to the Word that is reflected throughout all of creation.