Posts Tagged ‘Pope Francis’

Encounter and Evangelization

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

In this time of rapidly shifting cultural values — usually not for the better — the Church and Catholics are struggling to find the right way to proclaim the Gospel and live according to our faith.  The public witness of the Church and Catholics is becoming increasingly difficult, as our government and secularized culture becomes more hostile to us.  Each new day seems to bring a new challenge, and everyday Catholics are confused, uncertain, and frequently upset.

I think that in times like these, it’s crucial to make sure that we remind ourselves of the fundamentals.

The entire purpose of the Church is not to decide who can attend what dinner, or who can be part of a parade. The mission of the Church is to bring people into a loving encounter with Jesus Christ. That means we have to bring people to the real Jesus, and the model for this is the story with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11).

That meeting involved two things — compassion and conversion. Both are essential, and can never be separated. The woman was treated with compassion and mercy by Jesus, and thus was open to his call to conversion. If we fail to present both aspects of the encounter, we are lying to people and presenting a false Jesus — he’s not just about mercy, and he’s not only about conversion (and he’s never about condemnation). The real Jesus simultaneously says “I love you even when you’ve sinned”, and “come, follow me”.

I think our Holy Father and our own Archbishop have realized that there are significant impediments in our culture to hearing the Gospel message, and thus people are unwilling to come to meet Jesus.  In the minds of all too many people, we are not seen as merciful and compassionate, but judgmental and condemnatory.  In response, our leaders have decided that we have to emphasize the message of mercy, so that people will be more open to hearing the message of conversion. In his closing remarks to the young men and women who attended World Youth Day in Rio, Pope Francis said this:

Every one of you, each in his or her own way, was a means enabling thousands of young people to “prepare the way” to meet Jesus. And this is the most beautiful service we can give as missionary disciples. To prepare the way so that all people may know, meet and love the Lord.

This is the task of the New Evangelization, and of the Church.  We have to make sure that when people encounter us, they’re encountering Christ, and feel both his compassion and his call to conversion.  When they see his face in our face, we will be fulfilling our mission.

The Holy Father Puts First Things First

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

The Holy Father recently gave a lengthy interview to a Jesuit journalist, and it has now been published around the world.  The secular media, once again displaying their strange ideological obsessions (and their habitual failure of reading comprehension), has cherry-picked some quotations on their favorite topics, resulting in some serious misinformation about what the Pope really said.

The interview itself is long, and very rich in content.  I urge everyone to read the original, and not the New York Times version.  I actually think that it will take several readings to get the full impact of our Holy Father’s thoughts.

One thing that’s clear is that the Pope is not changing any Church teaching, nor is he criticizing the way that the Church has taught about the “hot button” issues of abortion, contraception, and homosexuality.

It really is a beautiful and evangelical interview — the Holy Father does a wonderful job of expressing the essence of the New Evangelization.  To read his words, you clearly see his vision of the Church’s mission — to proclaim to the world that the Church is open to everyone who wants to come to God, even with all our imperfections.  So, for example, he says this:

This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful. It must be.

As for his comment about the “hot button” issues, Pope Francis said this:

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing….

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

He’s right, of course.  We can’t reduce Church teaching to just the issues of abortion, contraception and homosexuality.  It’s about so much more than that — the essence of the Christian life is to have life and love in communion with God and each other, not just to follow rules.  The irony is that the world makes just that same error that they accuse us of — they think that we’re all about those issues and nothing else.  But that just means that they’ve missed the point of what the Holy Father was talking about.

The key point is that the Holy Father wants us to put first things first:

We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.  The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

That means that our focus must always be on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his mission to us sinners and his offer of peace and healing and redemption.

If only the media would focus on this section of the Pope’s interview:

I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.

The message of the Holy Father continues to engage and attract the world.  May his words lead more and more people to the beauties of the Gospel and to the love of God.

An Easter Message of Hope

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Easter has come!  He is Risen!

Easter is the great feast of faith, hope and love — but particularly of hope.  This is a great consolation for people like me, who frequently feel troubled and lost, weighed down by life’s disappointments and struggles.

In his homily at the Easter Vigil, Pope Francis reminded us beautifully that Easter is the perfect time for us to turn to God and have hope:

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him…

Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.

I pray for hope, for the courage to take the risk to trust God, and to welcome the Risen Lord into my life.

Have a blessed Easter!

A Missionary, Not a Functionary

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

I sat with a group of my colleagues in the Family Life Office Conference room, filled with excitement as the white smoke rose from the chimney.  We all awaited our new Holy Father with great anticipation.  And when Pope Francis finally came out on the loggia, we were all filled with joy and we joined with our brethren around the world in welcoming our new Supreme Pontiff.

Now, having had a few days to learn more about Pope Francis, I am still excited and filled with anticipation.  This has the promise of being an amazing papacy.

If you read the secular media, you would think that the greatest challenge facing the Church is the reform of the Roman Curia — the bureaucracy of the Holy See.  It’s funny.  I think that 99.99999% of Catholics have no idea what the Curia is and does.  Honestly, after almost twenty years of working in the Archdiocesan chancery (our local version of the Curia), I don’t really have much of an idea of what the Roman Curia does, nor can I identify a single instance in which the Curia has had any impact on anything that I’ve ever done.

Most Catholics innately understand that the focus of the Church isn’t inwards, on administrative matters.  We all know, in our hearts, that the Church is always a missionary, going out to the regular people, walking with them in their joys and sorrows, and offering them the hope of a personal loving friendship with Jesus Christ, and life eternal in the loving embrace of the Trinity.

That’s why we have so quickly fallen for Pope Francis — he is that kind of man.  Humble, ordinary, straightforward, uncompromising on teaching the truth, and unstinting in his care and concern for poor people.

He also sees very clearly that the mission of the Church is outward, not inwards.  That we must take the Gospel — and the Cross — with us to the ends of the world.  His first homily at his Mass with the Cardinals says this loud and clear:

We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO [non-government organization], but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord. When we are not walking, we stop moving. When we are not building on the stones, what happens? The same thing that happens to children on the beach when they build sandcastles: everything is swept away, there is no solidity….

When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

My wish is that all of us, after these days of grace, will have the courage, yes, the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s Cross; to build the Church on the Lord’s blood which was poured out on the Cross; and to profess the one glory: Christ crucified. And in this way, the Church will go forward.

Our new Holy Father is a missionary, not a functionary.  Thanks be to God.