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Welcome to Starting Seven, The Pillar’s daily newsletter.

I’m Luke Coppen and I seek to guide you each weekday morning to the most interesting Catholic news and comment.

😇 Today’s feast:  St. Peter Canisius.

📜 Today’s readings:  Sg 2:8-14  ▪  Ps 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21  ▪  Lk 1:39-45.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  At his weekly general audience, Pope Francis said that “we risk wasting our lives” if we do not practice discernment (full text, full video, photos).

2:  The Vatican has found French Guiana’s retired Bishop Emmanuel Lafont guilty of abuse and ordered him to conduct a life of prayer and penance at a French monastery.

3:  Cardinal Reinhard Marx has said that Vatican cardinals’ critiques of the “synodal way” during the German bishops’ ad limina visit were an opinion, not a papal decision (German report).

4:  Massimo Faggioli says that the Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik scandal sheds light on “the new information climate in the Catholic Church” (Fr. Raymond de Souza, Slovenian Jesuit province statement).

5:  Nathaniel Rich charts the sainthood cause of Louisiana’s Charlene Richard.

6:  Daniel Philpott explains how “restorative justice” could help to heal the wounds of abuse in the U.S. Church.

7:  And Abigail Frymann Rouch reports that a prayer app created by British Jesuits is “an unlikely hit with Evangelicals in North America.”

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

A discerning choice  Unlike his interviews, Pope Francis’ general audience addresses rarely create ripples in the international media. Unless, that is, they feature circus performers or hecklers, or strain interfaith relations. But his Wednesday audiences arguably offer a deeper insight into his pontifical priorities.

Take his current catechetical cycle, launched in August and dedicated to the theme of discernment. The topic is at the heart of the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order to which Pope Francis belongs.

Discernment is also fundamental to the global Synodal Process that some contend is the most significant papal initiative since the Second Vatican Council.

  • As Pope Francis said at a Mass launching the process in 2021, “The Synod is a process of spiritual discernment, of ecclesial discernment, that unfolds in adoration, in prayer and in dialogue with the word of God.”

The Synodal Process is arguably incomprehensible without understanding what Pope Francis means by discernment — a concept so rich that he has so far devoted 13 audiences to describing it.

Faith, hope, and old age  Pope Francis is not the first pontiff to indicate his priorities through his general audiences. John Paul II famously outlined his “theology of the body” in his weekly addresses to Rome’s pilgrims from 1979 to 1984.

Benedict XVI, meanwhile, dedicated audiences to such cornerstones of Christianity as the Psalms, the Apostles, Doctors of the Church, and St. Paul.

Pope Francis has tended to relate his audience cycles to current events. His first general audience, on March 27, 2013, fell in Holy Week, providing a ready-made topic for his debut. After Easter, he picked up where Benedict had left off in his catecheses for the Year of Faith.

At the end of 2014, Francis launched a series devoted to the family, coinciding with the family synods. In 2015, he began to focus on mercy, as the Church marked the Jubilee of Mercy. His other cycles include one on Christian hope in 2016, prayer in 2020, and the Letter to the Galatians and St. Joseph in 2021 (amid the Year of St. Joseph).

This year, he presented a cycle on the meaning of old age, which generated little buzz but, given global demographic trends, arguably showed him at his most prophetic.

No drama  When obituaries of Pope Francis come to be published, few are likely to mention his general audiences. They offer little drama in an otherwise action-packed reign. But they are an important facet of his teaching for anyone seeking a rounded view of this pontificate.

What's Starting Seven? Here's what you're reading, and how to get must-read morning news in your inbox, each day.

🔍 Stories to watch

🇺🇸  Campaigners have expressed disappointment after the U.S. voted against a worldwide moratorium on executions (Martin O’Malley).

🇨🇳  Chinese “underground” Bishop Joseph Gao Hongxiao has reportedly died.

🇳🇱  The prominent priest Fr. Ad van der Helm has been listed among the Christian Democratic Appeal party’s candidates for the 2023 Dutch Senate election (Dutch report).

🇯🇵  The Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace has criticized moves to “make Japan a military superpower” (Japanese statement).

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scotland’s bishops have said they are “gravely concerned” about the Scottish government’s gender recognition bill (full text).

🇪🇺  European Church leaders have issued a joint Christmas message appealing for steps “towards a just peace” in Ukraine.

🇵🇱  Poland’s John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin has hosted a joint Hanukkah and Advent celebration.

📅  Coming soon

Dec. 22  Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, turns 75.

Dec. 24 Pope Francis celebrates the Mass of the Nativity of the Lord at 7:30 p.m. Rome time.

Dec. 25  Pope gives Christmas blessing “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) at noon.

Dec. 26  St. Stephen.

Dec. 28  Pope Francis expected to publish apostolic letter marking 400 years since St. Francis de Sales’ death.

Dec. 29  Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga turns 80.

Dec. 30  Feast of the Holy Family.

Dec. 31  Pope presides at Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

Jan. 1  Pope celebrates Mass on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, in St. Peter’s Basilica at 10 a.m., and prays the Angelus at noon; Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva sworn in as Brazil’s president; Fr. Mike Schmitz’s “Catechism in a Year” podcast begins.

Have a happy feast of St. Peter Canisius.

-- Luke

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