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.