pondering a more centralized church


Pope Francis is promoting a more centralized church. In my latest PM article, I ponder the good and the bad of giving bishops more power.

A decentralized church is not always a good thing. What if your local church is ruled by iron-handed episcopal edicts, focused on creating a purer church? What if your bishop spends more time delivering judgmental diatribes than compassionate messages of gospel love and hope? Would you want your bishop to have even more decision-making power in your diocese?

Read more here, at the Prairie Messenger.

francis again shows he is a pastoral pope

More off the cuff remarks by Pope Francis are lighting up discussion boards and the blogosphere. The topic du jour is the reception of communion by Lutherans and Catholics. A more detailed report by Joshua J. McElwee can be found on NCR.

Ecumenical commissions have been taking place for decades, carefully dissecting doctrines in hopes of finding common ground for issues such as inter-communion. Doctrine is what divided us, so focusing on doctrine is a necessary starting point. Doctrine can also bring dialogue to a stand still.

Despite what the critics of Francis say, our pope is no light-weight theologian. The glaring difference between our current pope and his two predecessors is that Francis consistently chooses a pastoral approach over black and white rules and regulations. His comments yesterday model how to interpret church teachings in light of the needs of women and men in the pews. He nudges us to return to the core of the Christian faith journey.

“There are explanations, interpretations,” said the pope. “Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always make reference to Baptism.”

“‘One faith, one baptism, one Lord,’ Paul tells us,” Francis continued. “From there, grab hold of the consequences.”

“I will not ever dare to give permission to do this because it is not my competence,” he said. “One Baptism, one Lord, one faith. Speak with the Lord and go forward. I do not dare to say more.”

Francis knows he can’t simply offer a carte blanche eucharistic welcome for all Christians. Can you imagine the tangle of ecclesial lace he would face from bishops and priests who feel duty-bound to patrol their communion lines? The recent synod showed the disagreement among bishops around the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics and communion. It’s sadly ironic when the eucharist, the sacrament of unity, becomes a source of division; when doctrine trumps pastoral needs.

The key, I think, is in the words “Speak with the Lord and go forward”. The pope is acknowledging the role of individual conscience with the important caveat of discernment. An informed conscience requires the hard work of seeking deeper understanding so we can make a heartfelt assent in faith. Respecting this conscience is a sign of an adult church that treats women and men as adults, allowing for the grace of God to flow freely.

Communion is not a reward for the sinless and pure. If it was, our communion lines would be sparse indeed. Francis asks the important question,

“Is sharing the Lord’s Supper the end of a path or is it the viaticum for walking together?”

papal intention for november – dialogue!

Source: Pope’s general prayer intention for November is for dialogue (Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis wants us to pray for dialogue. This prayer intention, for the month of November, is timely and welcomed (at least by this blogger!) It comes as no surprise that dialogue is on the pope’s mind after the hard work – and sometimes craziness – of the October synod. Francis has a vision for a truly synodal church,

“a listening church, aware that listening is more than hearing. It is a reciprocal listening in which each one has something to learn.”

Listening is at the heart of dialogue. Constantly interrupting, or shouting down a speaker is not only rude. It shows an inability or lack of desire to listen to what the person is trying to say. The same is true for discussion board commenters who pull words out of context to attack a writer, while ignoring the main idea of an article.

Whether in speech or in writing, it takes more than a few words to express an idea. Listening is giving an other the sacred space to fully express themselves before engaging in a deeper discussion on the idea.

From the Vatican Radio article,

At a meeting in Brazil, Pope Francis said: “When leaders in various fields ask me for advice, my response is always the same: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.” He said, “It is the only way for individuals, families, and societies to grow along with the culture of encounter, a culture in which all have something good to give and all can receive something good in return.”

The goal of dialogue is not to reach a false sense of consensus by letting go of our beliefs. The article continues,

Dialogue does not mean denying objective truth, but rather respecting the dignity of the other person “in a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister to be welcomed and embraced.”

We may not have a seat at the table of global discussions, but we sit at many tables in our daily lives. These everyday tables offer the same challenges of diverse views and different personalities. Whether it is with family, friends, workers, teachers, students, or faith communities, difficult discussions can be seen as a call to dialogue. To listen deeply before speaking.

For greater dialogue in our church and in our world….We pray….