updates and apologies

Dear friends,

It is time for yet another MEA CULPA! Before Christmas, I was on a roll with reflections on Evangelii Gaudium. I so enjoyed pondering and writing on the hope-filled words of Pope Francis, and hope to return to them soon. But, life took a few unexpected turns in December. If you remember, we already had to deal with some kaka back in September. Well, hubby was back for a second eye surgery just before Christmas. Thanks to a wonderful surgeon and the prayers of many, the procedure went well. But, there was more time off to recover, office renovations to work around, and Christmas to plan for. The days after Christmas were a time for doing glorious nothing!

This month, I am busy with last minute preparations for the International Meeting of Marianist Lay Communities in Lima, Peru. The theme of the meeting is Faith of the Heart in the Heart of the World. The meeting will also mark the end of my term as President of the Marianist Lay Communities. I know I will have much to write about when I come home. 

In the meantime, please know that I have not abandoned this blog. In fact, having more time to write is something that I look forward to very much. There is so much happening in our Church at the moment. The fresh breezes of hope and change are all around us. 

So, here’s to 2014 and all the blessings to come!

we must not speak more about law than grace

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 15

First, it needs to be said that in preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained. (Evangelii Gaudium, 38)

Pope Francis is giving a simple piece of practical advice for preachers but it is applicable to all our evangelizing efforts. He uses a concrete example. If you give ten homilies on temperance, but only mention charity or justice two or three times, then there is an imbalance that must be righted. We cannot “speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.”

I knew a pastor once who never missed an opportunity to preach about Sunday Mass obligation. Sadly, he was preaching to half empty pews. It was not only annoying for those of us who were there, we were getting fed up with the guilt trips that he laid on us. It was our fault if our family members and friends were missing and what were we going to do about it?

Threats of mortal sin and hell fire no longer draw good men and women through the doors of the church. Finger wagging tirades about doctrinal, liturgical and moral indiscretions will probably turn away many who are already there.

Yes, sin exists and Pope Francis never shies away from preaching about it. But, and here is where the proportion is balanced, it must always be preached with a good dose of God’s loving mercy. First and foremost, we must come to know and love God on a personal level. We must hear and embrace the gospel message of Jesus; a message of love, justice and peace. We must be on fire with that message in order to truly live it in the world.

Christian morality, according to Francis, is “not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults. Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others.”

pastoral ministry in a missionary key

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 14

Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. (Evangelii Gaudium, 35)

Catholic doctrine and teachings are too often presented out of context. Pope Francis reminds us that we must “not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.”

We cannot demand obedience or belief without understanding. We cannot promote morality as a long list of “thou shalt not’s” with no connection to the gospel message of love and mercy. We cannot expect a message to be accepted unless the inherent beauty and wisdom of the message is understood.

Francis is calling us to simplify the message “while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becoming all the more forceful and convincing.” He also models how to do this. His words are clear, simple, and few. He uses images that are recognizable and nudge us to better assimilate the message. He does not couch his talks in dense theological musings. And, surprisingly enough, the world seems to be listening.

excessive centralization complicates the church’s life

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 13

The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. (Evangelii Gaudium, 32)

Pope Francis believes that it his duty as the Bishop of Rome to “be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization.”

Vatican II called for a greater collegiality among the pope and bishops as well as a greater sense of subsidiarity for episcopal conferences. Francis is now calling for a renewed effort to make this a reality. He believes that “Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.”

These are rumblings of a major paradigm shift about to happen. Whenever there are rumblings, there will be those who fear the uncertainty that comes with change. For some, it will require a major letting go not only of old ways of doing things, but of a leadership structure of elitism and privilege that will be hard to give up. Francis won’t have much trouble convincing many Catholics on the ground of a more horizontal style of leadership. The tougher sell will be among the “princely” leaders of the church.

more pope francis bishops please!

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 12

The bishop must always foster this missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). (Evangelii Gaudium, 31)

Pope Francis encourages all bishops to foster pastoral dialogue, “out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply those who would tell him what he would like to hear.” The focus of forming this active and practical spirit of communion is not ecclesiastical organization, but “the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone.”

This missionary aspiration is not always apparent, or it is presented in ways that lack compassion and charity. Reading Catholic news both here in North America and around the world, we see a diversity of bishops. Some are loud, cultural warriors seeking the media spot light to rant and rail against the evils of the world. Some are quiet pastors. Some rule their dioceses with a strong doctrinal arm, with a bevy of faithful minions ready to snitch on those who stray from the black and white lines of orthodoxy. Some focus their efforts on local and national social justice issues. Some revel in ecclesiastical honors and glory. Some live humbly, walking the streets to be with the people; taking on the smell of the sheep.

Francis calls bishops to a new style of leadership. At times, he says, a bishop will “go before his people, pointing the way and keeping the hope vibrant.” At other times, he “will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence.” And, sometimes “he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths.”

In his focus on pastoral ministers, Francis has spoken often about the evils of clericalism in the church. Eugene Cullen Kennedy has written a satirical but, sadly, too true piece for the National Catholic Reporter called, The envelope, please, for the 2013 Clericus Maximus Award.

In the almost fifty years that I’ve spent in my current diocese, there has only been one bishop that I would nominate for this award. He is long gone, but his memory and the hurts he left behind remain. We are thankful for the many good bishops in our church, and pray that more will follow in the steps of Pope Francis.

rejoice, it`s gaudate sunday!

Isabella R. Moyer:

Dear friends,
Gaudate Sunday is a perfect liturgical opportunity to ponder the joy of the gospel! Here’s a blog post I wrote back in 2011.
Advent joy to all!

Originally posted on catholic dialogue:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4-5) Entrance Antiphon for the Third Sunday of Advent.

Catholics love their liturgical symbols and colors. Green for ordinary time. White for solemnities like Christmas and Easter. Red to signify both the blood of martyrs and the Holy Spirit. Purple for the penitential time of Lent; with a subtle change in tone to violet for Advent. And, tucked in the back of many parish vestment closets is a joy-filled rose number. Okay, it’s pink!

The liturgical pink makes an appearance but twice a year, on Gaudate and Laetare Sundays; the Third Sunday in Advent and the Fourth Sunday in Lent. They both signify a time to focus on joy in the midst of penance and waiting. (Gaudate means rejoice.)

Many parishes no longer have rose-coloured vestments. Liturgical garments aren’t cheap, and you don’t get…

View original 316 more words

parishes require flexibility, missionary creativity

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 11

The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and community. (Evangelii Gaudium, 28)

For many of us, the parish is our most tangible experience of being church. It is a great blessing to be part of a vibrant, prayerful and life-giving parish. Good energy begets good energy. Growth happens, both personally and communally. But, if we are part of “a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few” (in the words of Francis), then we can expect a well beaten path to the door.

The freedom for a parish to seek its own unique path depends not only the pastor and the community. It also depends on the good will and trust of the local bishop. Freedom always demands that some power is relinquished, and some bishops aren’t ready to do this. A micro-managing bishop is not comfortable with flexibility or “different contours.” Some are threatened when a parish becomes too popular or successful. Allowing “openness and missionary creativity” means letting go of visions of cookie cutter parishes molded to the ideological preferences of the current leadership.

Flexibility. It’s not a word that we are used to hearing in our church. But then again, many of the words of Pope Francis have a refreshing and much welcomed tone.

no to a church of self-preservation

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 10

I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for self- preservation. (Evangelii Gaudium, 27)

Pope Francis nails it! For those who fear that this new pope is about to overturn all the customs and traditions of the Church, carefully re-read the above paragraph. He is not asking us to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. But, he is asking us to consider changing the water as needed. We are called to transform and refresh what exists so we may more effectively answer our greatest call; that of evangelization. The “baby” remains safe…and cleaned up and sweeter smelling too!

The classic example of focusing on self-preservation rather than on suitability for evangelization is the New Roman Missal. The rationale was to remain more faithful to the original, Latin translation. The language is pleasing for those who prefer the more traditional worship styles of the past. But, the modern tongue stumbles in speaking the words. Modern ears strain to hear and understand. Is this a good evangelizing tool?

Church as self-preserving sanctuary, or a risk taking missionary? It’s clear which is the choice of our pope.

fewer mission statements and more mission work

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 9

“Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 25)

OK…hands up if you’ve ever answered the call to give of your time and talents to parish life. Have you ever sat on a pastoral or diocesan committee? Have you belonged to a church based organization or movement?

Next question. If you answered yes to any of the above, how many hours have you spent in meetings…in discussing strategies…finances…budgets….minutes….recruiting drives….

All good works require some organization and administration. Sadly, we can easily lose site of our goals amid mountains of paperwork. We give more importance to task-filled agendas than simple relationship forming and community building. We spend more energies on marketing and nice sounding mission statements than being actual missionaries.

We cannot underestimate the radical nature of Evangelii Gaudium. Francis is warning us that expending too much effort on ecclesial structures can “hamper efforts at evangelization.” We are being called to advance “along a path of a pastoral and missionary conversion.” This is a major paradigm shift, one that requires a deep reform

What would your particular ministry in the church look like if it was truly driven by a “new life” and an “authentic evangelical spirit”?

taking on the smell of sheep


An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 8

Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. (Evangelii Gaudium, 24)

Pope Francis has already used this term to describe the role of priests. Here, he is using the term to describe the responsibility we all share,

An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. (EG, 22)

Again, Francis is preaching a major message of reform using the most simple of images. Can you think of a clearer way to describe the need to leave the four walls of the church and go out into the world? This image goes beyond the traditional one of dumb sheep obediently following their shepherd. The shepherds are to go out and BE with the sheep.

You cannot lead when you have allowed a chasm to form between you and those you serve. Dialogue cannot take place if you plant your feet firmly on mountains too high to hear or be heard. Compassion and healing require a physical presence and a physical touch.