Bishops’ guidelines to Cardinal George for post-election statement expressing church’s concern about abortion, other issues

Here is the preliminary text of the statement from the U.S. bishops offered this afternoon providing guidelines to Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops president, in drafting a post-election statement expressing the church’s concerns about abortion and other issues:

“The bishops of the United States have agreed to address the opportunities and dangers for our country at this time. According to the bylaws of the conference, the body of bishops cannot write and approve a statement that is not submitted through the Administrative Committee. Consequently, the bishops have asked the president of the conference to write a letter which will be published with their approval. It remains a statement of the president and not of the conference.

“The points to be addressed in the statement include the following:

“1. Essential elements of the (cardinal’s) presidential address can inform the statement.

“2. The bishops desire to work with the administration, especially in the areas such as economic justice and opportunity: immigrattion reform; health care for the poor, especially for women and children; education; religious freedom; and working for peace. The church is intent on doing good.

“3. The church is also intent on opposing evil. The bishops are completely united and resolute in our teaching and defense of the unborn child from the moment of conception. The bishops therefore express our concern for those left unprotected by law in our present situation: children in their mother’s womb. In the last Congress, a law that would make abortion a ‘fundamental right’ and remove any restrictions now in law would consequently forbid the involvement of the parents of a minor child in a decision to abort, would permit partial-birth abortion, would apparently reject freedom of conscience for health care workers and place Catholic health care in jeopardy, would deregulate abortion clinics, and use tax money to pay for abortions. Such a law would reduce religious freedom and the church must work against its passage.

“4. The recent election was principally decided out of concern for the collapse of the economy, the loss of jobs and economic security for families, here and around the world. Even issues such as the Iraq War and universal health care, let alone abortion rights, were of secondary importance. If the election is interpreted as a referendum on abortion, the unity desired by President-elect Obama and all Americans at this moment of crisis will be impossible to achieve. The common good would be even more grievously wounded and our society would be more deeply divided than it is now. The common good of our country is assured only when the life of every unborn child is legally protected. Aggressively pro-abortion policies and legislation will permanetly alienate tens of millions of Americans and would be interpreted by many Catholics as an attack on the church.

“5. We are grateful for the good will and good work of those Catholics in political life who work to protect the lives of the most vulnerable among us by correcting unjust laws, sometimes at the cost of great sacrifice to themselves and their families. We again express our desire that all Catholics in public life be fully committed to the common good. The church is a communion of persons united around Christ, and we pray that this communion may always be complete.”

Liveblog: U.S. bishops’ Tuesday afternoon session

(If you’ve opened this page mid-session, make sure you refresh your browser often to get the latest updates.)

We continue our grand experiment: liveblogging of the public sessions of the U.S. bishops’ fall general meeting in Baltimore. (Earlier sessions here, here, and here.)

4:11 p.m.: Go here for the rest of this afternoon’s liveblog, because this post was getting too long.

3:48 p.m.: To help you understand the discussion earlier in this post on politics and abortion, we now have, in a separate post, the preliminary text of the guidance statement for Cardinal George as he formulates that response.

3:42 p.m.: Just before coffee break, votes are announced on “action items” discussed in the morning. All were approved: priorities and plans, the budget for 2009 and both the English and the Spanish versions of the special blessing for children in the womb.

3:37 p.m.: Other bishops talking about the impact of recent hurricanes in Texas and Louisiana. These are heavily Catholic areas, where the parish hall serves as the community gathering place, but the media has moved on and no one knows about the ongoing suffering.

3:29 p.m.: Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston is giving an update on recovery from Hurricane Ike. Notes that once the media left, no one knows about the devastation. Says life in Galveston is still a catastrophe.

3:24 p.m.: Cardinal George sums up by noting the variety of audiences the statement could be aimed at — general public, Catholics, politicians — but that arguments can be based on natural law theory, not just religious principles that others can reject. He promises “I’ll do my best” with all the suggestions that have been made.

3:18 p.m.: More calls for a “prophetic” statement. Obama was elected by using the words “hope” and “change,” and the bishops must be equally prophetic.

3:15 p.m.: Bishops encouraging other bishops to not be afraid to stand up for life in whatever they do in their home dioceses, even if it means risking their own lives.

3:07 p.m.: Bishop Martino of Scranton alludes to Vice President-elect Biden when he comments that no Catholic politician should be able to come into his diocese — Biden was born in Scranton — and erroneously state Catholic teaching on abortion.

3:05 p.m.: Bishop Trautman says he trusts that Cardinal George will issue a good statement, but also suggests that it take a prophetic tone. Bishops now express joking concern that the cardinal will be up all night trying to take all their suggestions to heart.

2:53 p.m.: Bishops also concerned about the term “common good” since some Catholic groups tried to use that terminology to justify voting for pro-abortion politicians.

2:47 p.m.: Lots of bishops speaking up now. I take back what I said below at 2:29 — they were just getting warmed up.

Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., and Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., attend the Nov. 11 session of the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., and Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., attend the Nov. 11 session of the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

2:45 p.m.: Archbishop Hughes raises issue that President Obama may be able to reverse a number of executive orders on his first days in office, underlining the urgency of this question.

2:38 p.m.: More applause as bishops recall the link Cardinal George made in his presidential address yesterday tying the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision to the current battle for the rights of the unborn.

2:34 p.m.: Bishop Boyea draws applause when he raises the specter of Catholic hospitals being forced to shut down because of their refusal to comply with regulations requiring them to perform abortions.

2:29 p.m.: Bishops going point by point through a five-point proposal for the statement. Little discussion, because obviously everyone in the room agrees on the importance of the abortion issue in America today.

2:25 p.m.: Cardinal Egan asks that the statement be limited to “one important thing to say” and not let it get lost in trying to cover too much. Bishops agree by voice vote.

2:21 p.m.: Politicians and abortion discussion now beginning. Statement coming, but can’t be issued by the full body of bishops on such short notice, so the bishops are authorizing Cardinal George to issue a statement on their behalf.

2:19 p.m.: Just for the record, Cardinal George is reading the text of this morning’s statement on the economy.

2:15 p.m.: Here’s a link to the list of the five committees for which the bishops are electing chairmen.

2:12 p.m.: Back to elections for committee chairs, but they’re doing them by paper ballot, so we won’t get results right away.

1:57 p.m.: Getting ready for the afternoon session. Bishops have lots to cover.

“Solidarity at a Time of Economic Crisis”

The new statement on the economy approved by the bishops this morning and issued in the name of Cardinal Francis George, USCCB president, has not yet been posted on the USCCB Web site, but here is an unofficial version:

As the Catholic bishops of the United States gathered in Baltimore and as servants of Jesus our hope, we bring with us our concern for people in our dioceses, and we want to express our active support and solidarity with all those who are being hurt by the current economic crisis. As pastors and bishops, we see the many human and moral consequences of this crisis. Clearly, the impact is greater in some regions than others. However, across our nation families are losing their homes; retirement savings are threatened; workers are losing jobs and health care; and many people are losing a sense of hope and security.

This disturbing and complicated situation brings home a universal truth: we are all children of God. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We all are in this together. Hard times can isolate us or they can bring us together. The Catholic community will continue to reach out to those in need, stand with those who are hurt, and work for policies that bring greater compassion, accountability and justice to economic life.

Pope Benedict XVI has outlined our goals in his 2008 World Day of Peace message: “The family needs to have a home, employment and a just recognition of the domestic activity of parents, the possibility of schooling for children, and basic health care for all.” He also insists that society and public policy should be “committed to assisting the family in these areas.”

We offer our prayers for the families and individuals, our sisters and brothers, who are hurting, anxious or discouraged in these difficult times. We also pledge our prayers for our wounded nation and suffering world. We pray that, working together, we can find the courage, wisdom and ways to build an economy of prosperity and greater justice for all.

(UPDATE: Here’s the official version.)

Liveblog: U.S. bishops’ Tuesday morning session

(If you’ve opened this page mid-session, make sure you refresh your browser often to get the latest updates.)

We continue our grand experiment: liveblogging of the public sessions of the U.S. bishops’ fall general meeting in Baltimore. (Earlier sessions here and here.)

12:41 p.m.: Press briefing for journalists about to begin here.

12:34 p.m.: No time for Q&A, so the morning session is now over.

12:30 p.m.: Consumers want conversations, but they will be more accurate if you participate in them, so that’s why the church needs to be involved in these tools.

12:25 p.m.: Search engines also important. Google search of “Bible,” for instance, brings up USCCB’s New American Bible page as one of the top results.

12:22 p.m.: Facebook page for fans of Archbishop Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., shown on the screen, drawing chuckles from the bishops. YouTube channel sponsored by Philadelphia Archdiocese also shown.

12:20 p.m.: Tons of information being presented here, compacted from the three-hour workshop on Saturday. Blogs, RSS, social networks, other new tools. Don’t know how many bishops are understanding this.

12:12 p.m.: Now the bishops are hearing about “user-generated media” and “consumer-generated media.” The latter can have a great impact on organizations and brands.

12:09 p.m.: Digital media can be a very powerful ally of the church, she notes.

12:02 p.m.: Amy Federman, from Burson-Marsteller, is giving the presentation, telling the bishops about the importance of participating in this new age of digital communications. In a show of hands, biggest group of bishops admit they are “absolute beginners.”

11:57 a.m.: Next up, a presentation on digital media and Web 2.0. A version of this was presented to the bishops’ Communications Committee in June, then there was a workshop for bishops on Saturday.

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, gives his homily during Mass Nov. 10 at the bishops' annual fall meeting in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, gives his homily during Mass Nov. 10 at the bishops' general meeting in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

11:54 a.m.: On the economic crisis, a statement is being discussed that will be issued in the name of Cardinal George as president of the conference. By voice vote, the bishops assent to it being issued.

11:51 a.m.: Just to clarify, I think these were always going to be paper ballots, under conference rules.

11:48 a.m.: Bishops speaking on importance and symbolic value of such a blessing. And then there’s another paper ballot on this. Also voting on a separate Spanish version.

11:43 a.m.: Next up, debate and vote on blessing service for children in the womb.

11:41 a.m.: No questions here either, so another paper ballot, with results announced later.

11:39 a.m.: Now they’re talking about priorities and plans for the USCCB. Much of this is internal, but let’s see if questions are raised.

11:35 a.m.: No questions from the floor for Archbishop Schnurr, so now they’re voting on it by paper ballot. Results later.

11:30 a.m.: Moving on to debate and vote on USCCB budget for 2009, presented by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr.

11:27 a.m.: Still problems, so moving to written ballot for members of the board for Catholic Relief Services, which had to be on paper anyway.

11:25 a.m.: Trying again with vote for chairman-elect of national collections committee.

11:22 a.m.: Uh oh, there’s a problem with the electronic voting.

11:20 a.m.: New secretary-elect for USCCB is Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown.

11:15 a.m.: Meanwhile, check out this new story from CNS:

Three bishops honored for their restoration efforts following Katrina

11:12 a.m.: These elections used to be complicated paper ballots, but now they’re mostly electronic, with devices that look like TV remote controls.

11:10 a.m.: Executive session and coffee break over, so back to work. First stop: elections.

9:10 a.m.: As previously announced, the bishops are in closed, executive session until approximately 10:30, and then we’ll all face a busy day with elections, priorities and plans, liturgy, a discussion and/or statement on politicians and abortion, the current economic crisis, and possibly CCHD/ACORN. Stay tuned.

CNS Bible Blog: Jesus’ farewell discourse

Link to Bible Blog seriesBy Father Scott M. Lewis, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

After the supper (described in the Gospel of John, chapters 13-17), Jesus gives a long farewell discourse reminiscent of the sort of teachings that great philosophers and religious figures were expected to give to their followers prior to their departure from this world. It represents a sort of last will and testament.

Many of the verses are repeated several times and the discourse is rather circular. It probably is a compilation of many of the things that Jesus had said at various times in his ministry. Jesus tells them that in the Father’s house there are many dwelling places and he is going to prepare a place for them (14:2). But they are puzzled and can’t understand where he is going and how they can follow even though he insists that they know the way.

Scott M. Lewis SJ

Scott M. Lewis, SJ

Finally, he must spell it out for his rather slow-witted disciples: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).

How are we to interpret this? For so long it was thought that one must be a card-carrying Christian in good standing in order to be “saved” and be with God. And we must remember that John would have raised the bar even higher: one must be a member of his particular brand of Christianity. But we must not confuse what Jesus is saying about himself with institutional Christianity.

The “way” is the term given to the earliest Christian communities. It simply means the path — the spiritual path — that leads to God. We saw earlier that when Jesus is portrayed as the “truth” it has nothing to do with doctrine. Jesus simply knows and reveals God as God really is: love and light, in whom there is no darkness or violence. He is the “life” in that he imparts the life-giving spirit of God to all those who open their hearts and minds to him.

Jesus is the divine pattern for what it means to be authentically human and divine. Those wishing to reach God must conform to this pattern regardless of who they are or what label is attached to them. This pattern is love, humble service, and openness to the transcendent and holy. An astounding promise is made in verses 12-14: the believer will do the works that Jesus did and even greater ones!

A stained glass image of Christ (CNS photo from Crosiers)

A stained glass image of Christ (CNS photo from Crosiers)

If this is true, then it seems that we have missed something. Often we are too literal in our interpretation of the Gospel, others times not literal enough. This instance belongs to the latter. This spiritual empowerment — already indicated in the prologue (1:12-13) — is possible because Jesus shares all that he is and has with his disciples through the gift of the spirit.

But there is an important proviso: disciples must “abide” in Jesus. Abide (menein) appears 10 times in the image of the vine in chapter 15. This image of the vine is similar to that of the body of Christ in 1 Cor 12:12-27; Col 1:18; and Eph 1:22-23. The image indicates that we are totally dependent on Christ for our spiritual power and sustenance. Once cut off from him we wither and die, although we may not realize it immediately. We can even continue to go through the motions of religious practice. One abides in Christ by means of love. Verses 12, 15, 21, and 23 spell it out: If you love me (conditional) you will keep my commandments. It is then that Jesus and the Father will take up residence in the believer’s heart and soul. It describes a mystical union that is a way of life rather than an experience of a few key moments.

Love is the way in which God is known as well as an empowering principle. Love — abiding in Jesus — also transforms human relationships with God. The divine friendship to which Jesus invites his followers means that nothing is hidden and that there is an easy familiarity with the Lord. Being a servant of the Lord is great, but being the Lord’s friend is far better. Which are we?

More on today’s bishops’ meeting sessions

Bishop Michael P. Driscoll of Boise, Idaho, takes a call Nov. 10 before the start of the opening session of the U.S. bishops' meeting in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Bishop Michael P. Driscoll of Boise, Idaho, takes a call Nov. 10 before the start of the opening session of the U.S. bishops' fall meeting in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

SECOND UPDATE: We’ve also moved this story on the missal-translation issue:

Bishops again take up section of missal translation rejected in June

UPDATE: Cardinal Cordes (see previous post) also spoke yesterday on the papal encyclical “Deus Caritas Est.” Here’s our story on both events:

Pope’s encyclical said to give charities encouragement, guidance

- – -

Here’s more on this morning’s discussion of a blessing for pre-born children:

Bishops to vote on blessing service for children in the womb

And on Cardinal George’s and Archbishop Sambi’s talks this morning:

Bishops’ conference opens with nod to historic presidential election

Liveblog: U.S. bishops’ Monday afternoon session

(If you’ve opened this page mid-session, make sure you refresh your browser often to get the latest updates.)

Continuing our experiment with liveblogging the bishops’ general meeting, here’s this afternoon’s session. (Click here for Monday morning.)

2:40 p.m.: Again, that’s it for today’s liveblog. The bishops will be back in open session at mid-morning tomorrow.

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, right, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, talks with conference vice president Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 10 before the opening session of the U.S. bishops' general fall meeting in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, right, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, talks with conference vice president Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 10 before the opening session of the U.S. bishops' fall general meeting in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

2:30 p.m.: So now they’ll go to small-group meetings on the priorities for about an hour, and then the bishops will hold their regular regional meetings. So, that’s it for today.

2:26 p.m.: They’ll vote tomorrow on the goals, and bishops will also be asked to indicate which objectives are most important and least important.

2:21 p.m.: Nine goals and 30 objectives to be discussed. Nine goals are listed in that news release I mentioned a few minutes ago.

2:18 p.m.: Three-year goals, and Bishop Kicanas says he hopes by 2011 the bishops can look back and see what’s been accomplished.

2:13 p.m.: Bishop Kicanas, vice president of the conference, opens the discussion explanation on the five priority initiatives for the USCCB. (Here’s a news release on the five initiatives, who heads the task forces, and what the goals are.)

Dorothy Day’s birthday

1952-dorothy-day11

Catholic Worker Movement co-founder Dorothy Day celebrates her birthday in 1952. (CNS/courtesy of Jim Forest)

Author Jim Forest sent along a reminder that Nov. 8 was the birthday of Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day. She was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1897.

Forest, who has written extensively about Day’s life and his experiences of life working alongside the fervent advocate for New York’s poor and homeless people in the 1960s and 1970s, sent this excerpt from one of her essays:

“People say, What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time. We can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes.”

The Vatican’s sainthood effort, which Day once said she would hardly welcome lest it minimize the importance of her work, continues.

Liveblog: U.S. bishops’ Monday morning session

(UPDATE: For Monday afternoon session, click here.)

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago gives his president's address Nov. 10 at the opening session of the U.S. bishops' general fall meeting in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago gives his presidential address Nov. 10 at the opening session of the U.S. bishops' general fall meeting in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

(If you’ve opened this page mid-session, make sure you refresh your browser often to get the latest updates.)

The CNS Blog today launches a grand experiment: liveblogging of the public sessions of the U.S. bishops’ fall general meeting in Baltimore. Check back here both for what’s going on on the floor of the meeting but also for links to relevant materials.

12:45 p.m.: Press briefing now being livestreamed on the U.S. bishops’ Web site. Many questions being raised about the Catholic vote in the presidential election. (UPDATE: Link now takes you to recording of this briefing.)

12:32 p.m.: Morning session ends with the praying of the Angelus.

12:25 p.m.: Cardinal Cordes notes the importance of charitable activity in the life of the church as expressed in Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est.”

Archbishop (now Cardinal) Paul Cordes, left, and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, arrive in Biloxi, Miss., with other church officials for a 2005 tour of Mississippi areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Archbishop (now Cardinal) Paul Cordes, left, and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, arrive in Biloxi, Miss., with other church officials for a 2005 tour of Mississippi areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. (CNS/Bob Roller)

12:16 p.m.: Oops, Archbishop Cordes is now a cardinal (as of a year ago). Here’s a CNS file photo (right) when he visited after Katrina.

12:07 p.m.: Archbishop Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” is addressing the bishops now on the church’s charitable activities. He recalls visiting devastated areas in the U.S. following Hurricane Katrina.

12:03 p.m.: Concludes by recalling that he was worried about what he would say to the pope when they shared an elevator ride during the papal visit. But the pope set him at ease when he told Father O’Connell that CUA is “a truly great Catholic university.”

12:01 p.m.: Difficult times because of the current economic crisis, but Father O’Connell says fundraising has been strong.

11:51 a.m.: Father O’Connell says he’s proud that the pope chose CUA as “his pulpit” for addressing the U.S. bishops last April. And he says the impact of the papal visit on the students of the university is hard to describe.

11:47 a.m.: Next up, a report to the bishops by Vincentian Father David M. O’Connell, president of The Catholic University of America. He’s grateful for the bishops’ support, both personally and financially, for “the bishops’ university.”

11:43 a.m.: Archbishop Pilarczyk of Cincinnati draws a laugh from the bishops when he notes that the proposed document is erroneous when it refers to “a varia” since the singular form of the word is “varium.” The proposal then is approved.

11:38 a.m.: Now they’re on “varia” process. This too is fairly internal: How do bishops raise new topics for the conference to explore and how are these ideas assigned to a committee?

11:36 a.m.: Remember, this is just a preliminary discussion. Vote on priorities and plans is tomorrow.

11:30 a.m.: Some discussion of the bishops’ marriage initiative, but much of this discussion continues to be fairly routine.

11:14 a.m.: Priority and plans of the bishops’ conference now up for discussion. This is routine stuff that happens every year, though this is the first discussion following the USCCB restructuring which took effect this year.

11:09 a.m.: Discussions about the translations of the Mass have been going on for years. Here is some background: here, here, and here.

11:05 a.m.: Only two questions on the blessing in the womb item, so now they’ve moved on to the translation of the Roman Missal rejected at their previous meeting.

11:01 a.m.: Meanwhile, the full text of Cardinal George’s address to the bishops is now posted on the bishops’ Web site.

10:59 a.m.: Proposed liturgical item on blessing of a child in the womb now on the floor.

10:57 a.m.: Break over, on to “action items.” The bishops don’t vote now. Documents are presented and bishops can ask for clarification.

10:25 a.m.: Coffee break, and then there will be preliminary consideration of the meeting’s “action items,” such as a proposed service for the blessing of a child in the womb and the bishops’ conference priorities and plans.

10:20 a.m.: Auxiliary Bishop Cisneros of Brooklyn addressing bishops about last year’s Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean and presents a triptych representative of the meeting, which Cardinal George says will be given a place of prominence at the bishops’ headquarters.

10:17 a.m.: Archbishop Sambi is given a standing ovation at the end of his talk, customary for the pope’s representative in the United States. Cardinal George suggests he ask the pope for a raise.

10:16 a.m.: USCCB has Web page devoted solely to this meeting.

10:13 a.m.: Archbishop Sambi covering list of all the duties of bishops, including supporting their priests.

10:08 a.m.: Praises American Catholics’ emphasis on religious education.

Abp. Sambi

10:00 a.m.: Archbishop Sambi recalling words of Pope Benedict to the bishops in Washington last April.

9:55 a.m.: Now the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Sambi, addresses the meeting. Last year he announced the schedule for the papal trip to the United States

9:54 a.m.: Time of challenge for the church and the nation, but all times are, the cardinal says.

9:50 a.m.: Applause when Cardinal George comments that life of the unborn cannot be sacrificed.

9:47 a.m.: Opens with comments on the election of the first African-American president, but also talks about how Catholic politicians often have to put aside church teachings to be successful.

9:46 a.m.: Cardinal George, president of the USCCB, is delivering the meeting’s “presidential address,” which some would call a “state of the church” speech.

9:40 a.m.: For instance, report includes recommendations — and strong support — for the bishops’ movie reviews from the Office for Film and Broadcasting.

9:35 a.m.: National Advisory Council report being given now. Council is a body of laity, religious, priests and bishops that give advice to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on issues facing the bishops. Here’s some background on the council from earlier this year.

9:20 a.m.: Meeting opens with message to the Holy Father, as it always does, asking Pope Benedict to pray for the bishops as they deliberate.

CNS Bible Blog: What made Peter squirm?

Link to Bible Blog seriesBy Father Scott M. Lewis, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

We have all seen the Holy Thursday scene so many times: a few embarrassed-looking parishioners in front of the congregation with their shoes off and an alb-clad priest trying to wash their feet without stumbling or falling. Everyone seems relieved when it is over.

But the footwashing that Jesus performed in chapter 13 of John was not intended to give us another liturgical ritual. It was supposed to be a paradigm for authentic Christian life.

Washing the feet of the guests was considered the lowest task in a household and no Jewish slave would ever be asked to do it. So when Jesus puts a towel around himself and begins to wash their feet we can imagine their shocked and stunned silence. There are echoes of Philippians 2:1-11 –- assuming the condition of a slave –- as Jesus begins his task.

Scott M. Lewis SJ

Scott M. Lewis, SJ

The synoptic Gospels portray the disciples squabbling among themselves at the Last Supper about who is the greatest. John considers this question so important that he is willing to omit the institution of the Eucharist in order to relate this scene. But the footwashing will illustrate love to the limit and can be seen as an interpretation of the meaning of Eucharist rather than a replacement.

Peter’s objections are often thought to reflect humility or feelings of unworthiness. That may be the case but there is another possibility. Peter might have seen all too clearly what Jesus was doing and was struggling to come to terms with it. The paradigm that Jesus mimes for them is one of renunciation of status, honor, and ego and runs counter to human values and human societies. This was an essential element of spirituality in the early Christian communities. No wonder Peter was squirming. But Jesus was adamant and uncompromising: unless I wash your feet you can have no share with me!

A church window depicts Jesus and his apostles at the Last Supper. (CNS photo from Crosiers)

A church window depicts Jesus and his apostles at the Last Supper. (CNS photo from Crosiers)

As Jesus dons his robe again, he recognizes that only later will they understand what he has just done. He is teacher and lord, and if he is willing to serve others in what is considered the lowliest way without feeling slighted or diminished then how much more should his disciples?

Humility has a bad reputation — understandably so — because of how it is often invoked to oppress and control others. The humility that Jesus models is not one of subordination or domination. New Testament scholar Sandra Schneiders describes this as a “radical new order of human relationships” between equals. Disciples are invited to draw their sense of worth and honor from their relationship with Jesus Christ and the love which they share with one another.

At the conclusion of the supper he gives them a “new” commandment: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Chapter 15 will clarify the manner of this love: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Love alone is to be the identifying sign of the Christian disciple, not what one eats, drinks, or wears, nor the manner of ritual and prayer.

In what sense is this commandment new? Christianity did not invent love. When Jesus refers to love of God and neighbor as the greatest commandment in the other three Gospels he quoted from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. But it is new in the sense that it is the first and essential commandment given by Jesus in the new age that he has inaugurated by his incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection.

The spirituality that Jesus invites us to follow in every aspect of our lives is a continual letting go of pride, fear, and desire for honor, power, and recognition. In its place we should be eager to lay down our “life” (ego, selfishness, and personal advantage) for the sake of others.

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