Francis on Parishes

pope francisWhenever this pope opens his mouth . . . .  I know there are a lot of people saying that whenever Francis opens his mouth he causes trouble.  Unfortunately, I think those people are reading media reports, instead of what Francis actually says.  Whenever I read what he actually says, I find it outstanding.

 

Here’s part of his off-the-cuff talk with the Polish bishops.  So practical, so real:

 

True, the dechristianization, the secularization of the modern world is powerful, very powerful. But there are also those who say that while it is powerful, there are also clear indications of religiosity, of a reawakening of the religious sense. This too can be dangerous. I believe that in this highly secularized world we have also the other danger, that of a gnostic spiritualization. Secularization makes it possible for us to indulge in a spiritual life which is a little gnostic. We remember that this was the first heresy in the Church – the apostle John went after the gnostics, relentlessly! – it consists in a subjective spirituality, without Christ. For me the bigger problem with secularization is dechristianization: removing Christ, removing the Son. I pray, I feel… and that is all.  This is gnosticism. [. . .]

 

What would I advise? I would say – but I believe it is in the Gospel, where there is precisely the Lord’s own teaching – closeness. Today we, the Lord’s servants – bishops, priests, consecrated persons and committed laypeople – need to be close to God’s people. Without closeness, there are only disembodied words. Let us think – I like to reflect on this – of the two pillars of the Gospel. What are the two pillars of the Gospel? The Beatitudes and Matthew 25, the “criteria” on which all of us will be judged. Concreteness, closeness, touching, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

 

“But you are saying all this because it is fashionable to speak about mercy this year!” No! This is the Gospel! The Gospel, the works of mercy. It shows us the Samaritan heretic who is moved, does what he has to do, and even risks his money! To touch. Then there is Jesus, who was always with people, with the disciples, or alone with the Father in prayer. Closeness. Touching. This is Jesus’s life… And when he was moved, at the gates of the city of Nain (cf. Lk 7:11-17), he went over to touch the bier saying: “Do not weep…” Closeness. It is closeness to touch the suffering flesh of Christ. The Church, the glory of the Church, is of course the martyrs, but also all those men and women who left everything to spend their lives in hospitals and schools, with children and with the sick…

 

[…]

 

The works of mercy: to touch, to teach, to console, to “waste time”. To waste time. I was very pleased once: a man who went to confession was in a situation where he couldn’t receive absolution. He had gone with a certain apprehension, because he had been sent away several times before: “No, no, go away”. The priest listened to him, explained the man’s situation, and told him: “But you keep praying. God loves you. I will give you my blessing. Do you promise to come back?” This priest “wasted time” in order to draw that man towards the sacraments. That is what closeness means.

 

[…]

 

Then too, young people. Because we have to talk about young people during these days. The young are “a bother”! Because they always come and say the same things. “Here is what I think…” or, “the Church should do this or that…” We need to be patient with young people. I knew a few priests when I was young. Those were the days when people went to confession more frequently than now. Those priests spent hours listening to the young, or received them in the parish office to hear the same things over and over, but they did so patiently. And then, to take young people out into the country, to the mountains… Think of Saint John Paul II. What did he do with the university students? Yes, he gave them classes, but he also went with them to the mountains! Closeness. He listened to young people, he spent time with them…

 

There is one last thing I would emphasize, because I believe that the Lord asks it of me: grandparents, the elderly. You suffered under communism, atheism. You know that it was the elderly who preserved and passed on the faith. The elderly possess the memory of a people; they preserve the memory of the faith, the memory of the Church. Don’t waste the elderly! In this throwaway culture, dechristianized as it is, we discard whatever is not useful or helpful. No! The elderly are the memory of a people; they are the memory of the faith. To connect young people with the elderly: this too is closeness. To be close and to build closeness.

 

That is how I would respond to the question. There are no easy answers, but we have to get our hands dirty. If we wait for the doorbell to ring, or for people to knock on the door… No, we have to go out and seek, like the shepherd who goes out to seek the lost sheep. Anyway, that’s what I think…

 

[…]

 

“A parish is exhausting if it is well organized. The renewal of the parish has to be a constant concern of bishops. How is this parish doing? What is it doing? What is its religious education programme like? How well is catechesis being presented? Is the church open? So many things… I think of one parish in Buenos Aires. Whenever an engaged couple arrived to get married, the secretary would immediately begin by saying: “Here are the prices”. This is wrong, parishes like this are wrong. How do we greet people? How attentive are we to them? Is someone always in the confessional? In parishes – not those in the country but in city parishes and those on the highways – if there is a confessional with the light on, people always come. Always! A welcoming parish. These are the questions we bishops should be asking our priests. “How is your parish doing. Do you go out? Do you visit the imprisoned, the sick, the elderly? What about the children? Do you have a place for them to play? What about the oratory? The oratory is one of the great parish institutions, at least in Italy. There kids play and learn a little catechesis. They come home tired, happy, and a good seed has been sown.

 

So the parish is important! There are those who say that the parish is no longer relevant because this is the hour of the movements. That is not true! The movements help, but the movements must not be an alternative to the parish. They must help in the parish, contribute to the parish, like the confraternities, Catholic Action and so many other groups [that is: in the past, too, there were organizations that helped parishes]. To want to innovate and change the parish structure? What I am saying may seem heretical, but it is how I see things. I believe the parish structure is analogous to the episcopal structure, different but analogous. The parish cannot be touched; it has to remain as a place of creativity, a reference point, a mother, all these things. It is where that inventiveness has to find expression.

 

Replacing Marxism

pope francisPeople say Francis is a Marxist, but he says something more interesting.   He says Marxism stole away a traditional Catholic issue.  (I defy you to find a canonized saint who wasn’t radically “poor and for the poor.”)  Marx has it wrong, because he doesn’t think like a Christian.  We have to recover the Christian view.

One of Francis’s addresses from his recent trip to Latin America gives a good starting point.

The piece is clearly organized.  The first section says, “we want change” in society.  The second says, “you are sowers of change.”  The third talks about what kind of change.  One large section talks about an economy at the service of people, the second opposes kinds of “colonialism,” and a third short section mentions the environment.

***

When he says, “we want change,” he lists various forms of exclusion.  The problem isn’t exactly poverty or income inequality.  The problem is the hopelessness of feeling like you are not even part of society: not part of the educational system, not equally protected by the laws, not wanted.  I think of inner city black kids.  Poverty is one thing; exclusion is much worse.  Previous Popes have said this, Francis says it more directly.

This is hard reading for some religious Americans, because Marx talked about exclusion too, and we tend to expect that the kind of change he proposes must be Marxist change.

But Francis quickly makes one of his central points, and it is anti-Marxist: “Yet there is an invisible thread joining every one of those forms of exclusion,” he says.  “An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind.  Capital becomes an idol.”  This is, in fact, the language of Scripture and the Tradition, though we don’t like to hear it.

Much of our political dialogue is about how to get money: either through the free market or through government redistribution.  Francis’s answer is that both are wrong, because both focus merely on material acquisition.  The real problem cuts through the human heart.

The real problem requires conversion, from love of money to love of neighbor, and love of God.  That’s Gospel stuff.  Marx does not tell you to love your neighbor.  He tells you how the poor can steal money from the rich.

***

The second section, “you are sowers of change,” adds a key point.  It is not government that can cause this cultural change.  We are not looking for new laws – though a converted society would have new laws.  What we are looking for is cultural conversion.  And that begins at home, and with the people around us.  We are talking about evangelization and repentance, not politics.

He says, “don’t expect a recipe from this Pope.”  He is not proposing public policy.  He is proposing “genuine interpersonal encounter” with our neighbor and “daily proximity to their share of troubles.”  One of his examples is “working generously in the fields of health, sports and education.”  Sports!  Working to make a happier, more human world, by the way we treat our neighbor.  Also helping them make a home, founding “cooperatives”, “favoring businesses.”  This isn’t Marxism.  It’s working together, loving our neighbor.

***

In the third section he talks about economics.  “The economy should not be a mechanism for accumulating goods, but rather the proper administration of our common home.”  Those are strong words, but what do they mean?

We return to the love of money vs. the love of neighbor.  Obviously we need to make enough money for our families.  But obviously, too, we can think about our jobs only in terms of how much stuff we can get, or we can think instead about how we can serve.  Don’t think about how high taxes should be.  Think about your job.  Your friends’ jobs.  How can we make our work into a way to make the world a better, more loving, more beautiful place?

Think to about our neighbor’s needs: “those needs are not restricted to consumption.”  We don’t serve merely by being “economically productive.”  We serve by treating people well.  This requires “being creative. You are social poets,” says the Pope.  Government can’t do that.  It’s about us using our jobs and free time well.  (Though he does say we should ask for laws that allow that creativity.)

***

Finally, he talks about “colonialism.”  This sounds like Marxism, but again, his answers end up being anti-Big.

One of his examples is “communications media,” which create a kind of “cultural uniformity.”  We lose the richness of local culture.  We lose the richness of being outside with our neighbors, and sharing our creativity.  That’s what he means by “colonialism.”

He talks about the dangers of “transnational companies.”  This is something Pope Pius XI was saying in the 1930s: huge corporations just can’t exercise that “social poetry” like small businesses and “local economies” can.

Neither can Big Government.  He talks about distant powers who trample on local people’s “culture, their language, their social processes and their religious traditions,” which ought “to be respected”

It is true, he says, that we live in a world of “interdependence.”  We can’t wish globalization away.  Interdependence means big businesses, too – some things require the complicated cooperation that Big Business and even Big Government is good at.  “Interaction, however, is not the same as imposition.”  Just because we have cooperation doesn’t mean we have to stamp out local creativity.

***

We should work for that local creativity, local color, local cooperation.  We should work, above all, for a world where neighbors promote one another’s whole good – not only economic, but also social and cultural and religious.  Only neighbors can see what that good is.  Only neighbors can love one another.

That affects how we vote, yes; we want governments that allow neighbors to love one another.  But this isn’t about government programs.  Fundamentally, it’s about repentance – and the richest kind of repentance, from the mindlessness of mere acquisition into the creativity of loving our neighbors.

Where do you see people creatively loving their neighbors?  What could you do?

Laudato Si and Romano Guardini

Lake Como, "Bellagio 2" by Joyborg - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Como, “Bellagio 2” by Joyborg – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

A key to understanding Pope Francis’s new encyclical on the environment is Romano Guardini’s book The End of the Modern World.

Guardini was a major writer on Catholic spirituality and culture in the first half of the twentieth century.  Though his parents were Italians, his father was a diplomat, so Guardini grew up in Germany, and became a priest and professor there.

His importance to Francis is obvious to anyone who knows the biography of this pope.  Then-Fr. Bergoglio wanted to write a doctoral dissertation on Guardini in Germany in the 1980s, though he did not finish the degree.

But Guardini was important not only to the not-so-academic Pope Francis.  He was also a major influence on the professor-Pope Benedict.  In the introduction to one of Josef Ratzinger’s most important and influential books, The Spirit of the Liturgy, he says the book is named after Guardini’s The Spirit of the Liturgy, and credits Guardini with being the key player in launching the “liturgical movement” that culminated in Vatican II.  Ratzinger says one of his greatest hopes is to relaunch that movement.

It is no surprise, then, that Guardini first appears in a papal encyclical in that “work of four hands” (on two keyboards), Lumen Fidei, partly the last encyclical of Pope Benedict, partly the first of Pope Francis.  It is hard to say which pope added the Guardini footnotes.

***

The great popularizer Fr. Robert Barron wrote a helpful piece explaining Laudato Si in light of Guardini’s brilliant and accessible piece Letters from Lake Como.  In that book, Guardini talks about a trip to his ancestral homeland, in the lake country in the north of Italy.  The old architecture blends in with nature.  The new architecture jars against nature.

Guardini sees this as a metaphor for modernity.  Once we understood that we were part of God’s creation.  Now we see ourselves as conquerers.  From gay marriage to contraception to ugly architecture to deforestation, modernity can be defined as the great rebellion against Creation, the great rejection of Nature and Nature’s God.  That doesn’t mean deforestation is the same kind of sin as sodomy – but it does give insight into the deeper loss of vision.

***

In Laudato Si, though, Francis does not quote from Letters to Lake Como, but several times from Guardini’s The End of the Modern World.

The title might sound apocalyptic at first, but that isn’t the point.  Guardini is not talking about the end of the world; he’s talking about the end of “modernity” – and the beginning of a “post-modernity.”

Unfortunately, the book is a bit of a slow go.  In order to make his point in the second half, he spends the first half trying to explain what he means by “modernity”.  And in order to do that he begins by trying to explain how modernity was different from the ages before it.

His point is that modernity, roughly the period from 1500-1900 – or from Columbus to World War I – was a time of wild optimism about the powers of man.  Human reason could do no wrong.  We were the victors, the conquerors, the improvers.

The twentieth century blurred that optimism.  Oh, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is still a “modern” in this sense, confident that anything we think up must be wonderful.  But from the trenches of World War I to the gas chambers of World War II, the nuclear terror of the Cold War, and the torching of Vietnam, from the devastation of the sexual revolution (do you ever talk to your clerks, Justice Kennedy?) to the banality of pop culture, we are slowly realizing that human reason seems more likely to create a hell on earth than a heaven.

“The End of the Modern World” is the end of that optimism.  What comes next?

***

Guardini’s answer is a line Spiderman picked up: with great power comes great responsibility.  The power is now in our hands.  To an extent unthinkable in former ages, we can do whatever we want.  We can walk away from our families and communities, reshape our landscape, immerse ourselves in visual worlds of our own creation.  The pre-modern world had its own problems – but the reality of creation was always clear.

The strange thing about our post-modern world is that people think there is no such thing as human nature, even no such thing as reality.  Modernity taught us that we can create our own world.  Post-modernity realizes that we can create our own hell.

Guardini’s answer is responsibility.  Yes, the power is in our hands.  No longer does sex have natural consequences, most of the time.  No longer are we forced to live in community.  No longer do we have to spend more time in reality than in the imaginary world of our screens.

Now we have to choose it.

And that’s not such a bad thing.  It just makes more obvious what was always the case: the choice is ours.

***

Laudato Si is not an encyclical about global warming – in fact, global warming is a pretty minor part.  Laudato Si is an encyclical about responsibility, about choosing to embrace creation rather than to destroy it, choosing to embrace God’s beautiful, wise plan rather than replace it with our own, choosing to find ourselves in God’s wisdom rather than substitute our own foolishness.

Like Guardini’s Letters from Lake Como, and like Benedict XVI, it uses the language and imagery of nature.  But environmentalism is just one part of this vision.  The bigger point is not just that our architecture fits into the landscape, but that our behavior fits into our own nature.

In what ways do you see the world forgetting the reality of Nature?

Pope Francis on St. Joseph the Sleeper

Speaking to families in the Philippines, Pope Francis gave this little meditation on St. Joseph.  I love it!  The basic organization is: Joseph sleeps; Joseph rises; Joseph gives witness.  And we families should be like Joseph!

 

pope francisThe Scriptures seldom speak of Saint Joseph, but when they do, we often find him resting, as an angel reveals God’s will to him in his dreams. In the Gospel passage we have just heard, we find Joseph resting not once, but twice. . . .

It is important to dream in the family. All mothers and fathers dream of their sons and daughters in the womb for 9 months. They dream of how they will be. It isn’t possible to have a family without such dreams. When you lose this capacity to dream you lose the capacity to love, the capacity to love is lost. I recommend that at night when you examine your consciences, ask yourself if you dreamed of the future of your sons and daughters. Did you dream of your husband or wife? Did you dream today of your parents, your grandparents who carried forward the family to you? It is so important to dream and especially to dream in the family. Please don’t lose the ability to dream in this way. How many solutions are found to family problems if we take time to reflect, if we think of a husband or wife, and we dream about the good qualities they have. Don’t ever lose the memory of when you were boyfriend or girlfriend. That is very important.

annunciation-to-josephJoseph’s rest revealed God’s will to him. In this moment of rest in the Lord, as we pause from our many daily obligations and activities, God is also speaking to us. He speaks to us in the reading we have just heard, in our prayer and witness, and in the quiet of our hearts. Let us reflect on what the Lord is saying to us, especially in this evening’s Gospel. There are three aspects of this passage which I would ask you to consider: resting in the Lord, rising with Jesus and Mary, and being a prophetic voice.

Resting in the Lord. Rest is so necessary for the health of our minds and bodies, and often so difficult to achieve due to the many demands placed on us. But rest is also essential for our spiritual health, so that we can hear God’s voice and understand what he asks of us. Joseph was chosen by God to be the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary. As Christians, you too are called, like Joseph, to make a home for Jesus. You make a home for him in your hearts, your families, your parishes and your communities.

To hear and accept God’s call, to make a home for Jesus, you must be able to rest in the Lord. You must make time each day for prayer. But you may say to me: Holy Father, I want to pray, but there is so much work to do! I must care for my children; I have chores in the home; I am too tired even to sleep well. Maybe I should try a saatva mattress. If we do not pray, we will not know the most important thing of all: God’s will for us. And for all our activity, our busy-ness, without prayer we will accomplish very little. . . .

Next, rising with Jesus and Mary. Those precious moments of repose, of resting with the Lord in prayer, are moments we might wish to prolong. But like Saint Joseph, once we have heard God’s voice, we must rise from our slumber; we must get up and act (cf. Rom 13:11). Faith does not remove us from the world, but draws us more deeply into it. Each of us, in fact, has a special role in preparing for the coming of God’s kingdom in our world. . . .

Finally, the Gospel we have heard reminds us of our Christian duty to be prophetic voices in the midst of our communities. Joseph listened to the angel of the Lord and responded to God’s call to care for Jesus and Mary. In this way he played his part in God’s plan, and became a blessing not only for the Holy Family, but a blessing for all of humanity. With Mary, Joseph served as a model for the boy Jesus as he grew in wisdom, age and grace (cf. Lk 2:52). When families bring children into the world, train them in faith and sound values, and teach them to contribute to society, they become a blessing in our world. God’s love becomes present and active by the way we love and by the good works that we do.

-Pope Francis

Pope Francis on Being Evangelized by the Poor

The following words from Pope Francis take us to the heart of the “preferential option for the poor.” They are a brilliant challenge.

Francis points out that the poor are not only to be recipients of our largesse. They should teach us. We need to see in their faces what suffering really means – especially us middle-class Americans who are so isolated from true suffering. He contrasts an “activist” way of approaching the poor with a “contemplative” one.

The latter part of the quotation urges the importance of including the poor in the Church. Think of all the pastoral initiatives you know: how many of them are not directly focused on the rich and powerful – missions to lawyers, to intellectuals, to colleges, to people online, through middle-class white pop culture, etc.? But if we need to contemplate the poor, what happens to us when we exclude them? What happens to our witness if we only go to those who can materially benefit us?

Notice, by the way, that the harshest, most challenging words here on the centrality of the poor to our apostolate are quotations from St. John Paul II.

pope francisThis is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei [i.e., they too have insight into the meaning of our faith], but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them.

The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.

Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programmes of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other “in a certain sense as one with ourselves” (St. Thomas). This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good.

This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances: “The love by which we find the other pleasing leads us to offer him something freely” (St. Thomas).

The poor person, when loved, “is esteemed as of great value” (St. Thomas), and this is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest. Only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor on their path of liberation.

Only this will ensure that “in every Christian community the poor feel at home. Would not this approach be the greatest and most effective presentation of the good news of the kingdom?”(JP II) Without the preferential option for the poor, “the proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications” (JP II).

Since this Exhortation is addressed to members of the Catholic Church, I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith. Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care.

-Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

Pope Francis on the Renewal of the Church

The following paragraphs are from Pope Francis’s address to the young people of Korea and Asia. He gives a vision for rediscovering the heart of the Church.

That heart is in love: love of God leading to love of neighbor, and God’s love for us. True love of God causes us to draw close to one another, and close to those who are most in need of God’s love. We cry out, “Lord, help me,” and as we receive his love, we learn to reach out to those who cry out for help.

This doesn’t mean setting aside beautiful liturgy, hard moral teachings, or anything else that marks “conservative” Catholicism. It means finding the heart of those things, which is in love of God and love of neighbor. Love draws us to worship. Love draws us to live the fullness of the moral law. But fancy worship and stern moralism without love simply isn’t Christianity.

Let us attend to the details – but also to what is essential.

pope francisAs young Christians, whether you are workers or students, whether you have already begun a career or have answered the call to marriage, religious life or the priesthood, you are not only a part of the future of the Church; you are also a necessary and beloved part of the Church’s present! You are the Church’s present!

Keep close to one another, draw ever closer to God, and with your bishops and priests spend these years in building a holier, more missionary and humble Church – a holier, more missionary and humble Church! – a Church which loves and worships God by seeking to serve the poor, the lonely, the infirm and the marginalized.

In your Christian lives, you will find many occasions that will tempt you, like the disciples in today’s Gospel, to push away the stranger, the needy, the poor and the broken-hearted. It is these people especially who repeat the cry of the woman of the Gospel: “Lord, help me!”. The Canaanite woman’s plea is the cry of everyone who searches for love, acceptance, and friendship with Christ.

It is the cry of so many people in our anonymous cities, the cry of so many of your own contemporaries, and the cry of all those martyrs who even today suffer persecution and death for the name of Jesus: “Lord, help me!” It is often a cry which rises from our own hearts as well: “Lord, help me!”

Let us respond, not like those who push away people who make demands on us, as if serving the needy gets in the way of our being close to the Lord. No! We are to be like Christ, who responds to every plea for his help with love, mercy and compassion.

HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS

CLOSING MASS OF THE SIXTH ASIAN YOUTH DAY

HAEMI CASTLE

17 AUGUST 2014

Pope Francis on Hearing the Cry of the Poor

Pope Francis reminds us that charity is practical. It means hearing the cry of those in need, and actually responding. It is important to make sure our spirituality is pulled out beyond looking into the mirror into loving our neighbor, especially our neighbor in need.

It is important, too, what he says at the end: we are not looking just to hand people bread – though the hungry need that, too. We are looking to help people find dignity, which includes real employment. Let us have the courage to daydream about real ways we could use our skills to help others find that dignity.

pope francisSometimes it is a matter of hearing the cry of entire peoples, the poorest peoples of the earth, since “peace is founded not only on respect for human rights, but also on respect for the rights of peoples”. Sadly, even human rights can be used as a justification for an inordinate defense of individual rights or the rights of the richer peoples. With due respect for the autonomy and culture of every nation, we must never forget that the planet belongs to all mankind and is meant for all mankind; the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity.

It must be reiterated that “the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others”. To speak properly of our own rights, we need to broaden our perspective and to hear the plea of other peoples and other regions than those of our own country. We need to grow in a solidarity which “would allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny”, since “every person is called to self-fulfilment”.

In all places and circumstances, Christians, with the help of their pastors, are called to hear the cry of the poor. This has been eloquently stated by the bishops of Brazil: “We wish to take up daily the joys and hopes, the difficulties and sorrows of the Brazilian people, especially of those living in the barrios and the countryside – landless, homeless, lacking food and health care – to the detriment of their rights.

“Seeing their poverty, hearing their cries and knowing their sufferings, we are scandalized because we know that there is enough food for everyone and that hunger is the result of a poor distribution of goods and income. The problem is made worse by the generalized practice of wastefulness”.

Yet we desire even more than this; our dream soars higher. We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity”. This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use.

-Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

Aparecida: An Introduction

brazil-popeOn Wednesdays we have been exploring how we live out our faith, through meditations on the capital sins, the sacraments, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

This week we begin a new approach to this question: a reading of “the Aparecida document.”

Aparecida is the great Marian shrine of Brazil, where an image of Mary appeared to two poor fishermen. In May of 2007 the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean gathered there to discuss pastoral strategy. This was the fifth such gathering since Vatican II. At Vatican II the bishops discovered the great gift that comes from gathering together to speak about mission and pastoral care. They brought that home to gatherings on their own continent.

This conference, however, was different, because this time they gathered at a great Marian shrine. They were surrounded, inspired, and supported by the faith of real pilgrims. They were themselves immersed not in media or fancy hotels, but in a place of prayer. They met in a hall underneath the shrine, where they could hear the pilgrims singing above. And they placed themselves under the protection of Mary. What emerged was a deeper experience of pastoral zeal.

***

Another thing that emerged was a great leader, a certain cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who six years later would be elected pope and take the name Francis. It was he who led the composing of the final document, based on the three weeks of discussions.

The “Aparecida document,” he said, presents a great “harmony,” a spiritual wisdom of the bishops gathered at that Marian shrine. But the great visionary of that harmony was Bergoglio-Francis himself. He saw how to fit it together – and, more importantly, he would say, he was the one who learned the most from this movement of the Spirit.

Our approach to the document will be precisely to look for this synthetic vision. We will not dig into particulars, but we will review the outline of the document at various levels, in order to discover how it all fits together: the harmony of Aparecida.

***

The insights of Aparecida are particularly for Latin America. But they speak to us in the United States, as well. They speak to us first because we too are Americans, part of this new world. There are great differences between the North and the South, especially our much greater wealth, and our country’s decidedly Protestant heritage. But we are all relatively new countries, founded by Europeans, but displaced Europeans, remaking their world. We share the same intensely immigrant, new-world experience.

It is amusing to think sometimes of Francis, bull in a china shop, as a cowboy American, with our decidedly American willingness to challenge convention. It is significant that Europe speaks not of seven continents, but five: Antarctica doesn’t count, and from their perspective, America is one.

We can also learn from the differences. How would we innovative Americans think about pastoral work if our culture was Catholic from its inception? The Latin Americans can teach us. And how do Americans think when they are not immersed in material wealth, that great opiate that replaces faith? The poorer countries can teach us. Indeed, this is the experience of many Americans (unfortunately, not myself) who have gone on “mission” trips, and come back renewed by the freshness of Latin America’s deep Catholicism and rich poverty.

***

We should always be aware of the danger of “creeping infallibility”: the Holy Spirit protects the Church when the Pope teaches, but sometimes we are tempted to treat as Church teaching everything ever said by someone who would later become Pope. Whether Francis, Benedict XVI, John Paul II, or Pius X, what they wrote in their friends’ high school year book is not a revelation from God.

That said, Cardinal Bergoglio’s insights at Aparecida are important to us. In a very real sense, it was the man of Aparecida who was elected Pope. The Cardinals are not infallible, but they saw in this man the pastoral insights that the Church needs in our age.

Our reading of the Aparecida document will give us insight into who Francis is and how he thinks. But more importantly, Francis aside, they manifest some of the greatest pastoral thinking of our age. We read this not as part of Francis’s magisterium, but as a great movement of the Holy Spirit, encouraging us to think deeper about how to rediscover the life of faith in this modern world.

Pope Francis on Solidarity with the Poor 

pope francisToday let us pause from our considerations of the Holy Spirit and consider what Scripture, the Tradition, and the Magisterium all insist is a central expression of true Catholic spirituality: love of the poor.  There are no saints who did not actively love the literal poor.

Francis makes two important points here.  The first is about a change of mindset: you cannot be truly Catholic without this change of mindset – but we cannot hope for a society that cares for the poor without this conversion of heart.  Structures matter, but they are the result of changed hearts.

Second, in the last paragraph below, he nicely makes a key point about private property.  The Church has always condemned socialism. Private property is necessary – so that fields will be well cultivated, so that we can truly care for our neighbor.  In that one sentence is a world of Catholic social thought.  But it also expresses what we said in the previous paragraph: it’s not about eliminating property, it’s about changing hearts, creating Christians who use their property to love their neighbors.

 

Let us recall also how bluntly the apostle James speaks of the cry of the oppressed: “The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (5:4).

The Church has realized that the need to heed this plea is itself born of the liberating action of grace within each of us, and thus it is not a question of a mission reserved only to a few: “The Church, guided by the Gospel of mercy and by love for mankind, hears the cry for justice and intends to respond to it with all her might”. In this context we can understand Jesus’ command to his disciples: “You yourselves give them something to eat!” (Mk 6:37).

It means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter. The word “solidarity” is a little worn and at times poorly understood, but it refers to something more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. It presumes the creation of a new mindset which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few.

Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property. The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them.

These convictions and habits of solidarity, when they are put into practice, open the way to other structural transformations and make them possible. Changing structures without generating new convictions and attitudes will only ensure that those same structures will become, sooner or later, corrupt, oppressive and ineffectual.

-Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

Pope Francis on Priestly Joy

pope francisToday I would like to share some of Francis’s comments from the Chrism Mass, on Holy Thursday.  Francis spoke about priestly joy.  There is something for all of us here.

In the first section I’ll share, he says priestly joy is “guarded” by the faithful that the priest himself is sent to guard.  Sometimes I’m tempted, as a lay person, to stress only one side of this: the priest finds his joy in serving us.  But the laity have a responsibility here, too: if we don’t share that joy with our priests, if we are bitter and complaining, as I too often am, our priests too will be joyless, bitter, and complaining.

 

Priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy. Our anointing is meant for anointing God’s holy and faithful people: for baptizing and confirming them, healing and sanctifying them, blessing, comforting and evangelizing them.

And since this joy is one which only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock (for even in the silence of his prayer, the shepherd who worships the Father is with his sheep), it is a “guarded joy”, watched over by the flock itself. Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us, in those moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life (and which I too have experienced), even in those moments God’s people are able to “guard” that joy; they are able to protect you, to embrace you and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy.

A “guarded joy”: one guarded by the flock but also guarded by three sisters who surround it, tend it and defend it: sister poverty, sister fidelity and sister obedience.

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to poverty. The priest is poor in terms of purely human joy. He has given up so much! And because he is poor, he, who gives so much to others, has to seek his joy from the Lord and from God’s faithful people. He doesn’t need to try to create it for himself. We know that our people are very generous in thanking priests for their slightest blessing and especially for the sacraments. Many people, in speaking of the crisis of priestly identity, fail to realize that identity presupposes belonging. There is no identity – and consequently joy of life – without an active and unwavering sense of belonging to God’s faithful people (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 268). The priest who tries to find his priestly identity by soul-searching and introspection may well encounter nothing more than “exit” signs, signs that say: exit from yourself, exit to seek God in adoration, go out and give your people what was entrusted to you, for your people will make you feel and taste who you are, what your name is, what your identity is, and they will make you rejoice in that hundredfold which the Lord has promised to those who serve him. Unless you “exit” from yourself, the oil grows rancid and the anointing cannot be fruitful. Going out from ourselves presupposes self-denial; it means poverty.

 

This is a call to us, too!

Then he talks about obedience.  What I like best here is his description of Mary at the Visitation as “Our Lady of Promptness.”  It’s not about following rules.  It’s about generosity.  And here too, the laity can learn much by standing with our priests.

 

vianney2Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to obedience. An obedience to the Church in the hierarchy which gives us, as it were, not simply the external framework for our obedience: the parish to which I am sent, my ministerial assignments, my particular work … but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood. It is likewise an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always and as best I can, following the example of “Our Lady of Promptness” (cf. Lk 1:39, meta spoudes), who hastens to serve Elizabeth her kinswoman and is concerned for the kitchen of Cana when the wine runs out. The availability of her priests makes the Church a house with open doors, a refuge for sinners, a home for people living on the streets, a place of loving care for the sick, a camp for the young, a classroom for catechizing children about to make their First Communion… Wherever God’s people have desires or needs, there is the priest, who knows how to listen (ob-audire) and feels a loving mandate from Christ who sends him to relieve that need with mercy or to encourage those good desires with resourceful charity.

 

Dear readers, I share this with you because too often I do not see the priests in my life this way.  I pray for a change of heart, for a way of life that gives us joyful priests!