taking on the smell of sheep

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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.

the unruly freedom of God’s word!

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 7

God’s word is unpredictable in its power…The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking. (Evangelii Gaudium, 22.)

What a glorious description of God’s word. Unpredictable in its power! Unruly freedom! How would our own faith journey change if we truly embraced the word of God as an extreme adventure, a challenge with a surprise around every corner? This can happen when we put aside preconceived images and well known interpretations and dare to open our ears and hearts to newness.

One of the easiest and best ways to do this is through the practice of lectio divina. The Advent season is full of rich scriptural readings. Take a look at today’s readings. Stop….ponder….chew them over…and just sit in the solitude and listen. Let the unruly freedom and unpredictable power of God’s word take over!

decentralizing the papacy

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 6

Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. (Evangelii Gaudium. 16)

Don’t tell me what to do. I mean it! When faced with a question in life, big or small, I need time to wrap my own brain around it. I need to ponder it, turn it around and inside out. Yes, I seek the wisdom of others. But, than I need to measure that wisdom against what my own mind, heart and gut are telling me.

For me, the days of doing things just because the Church or the Pope “says so” are long gone. I believe in freedom of conscience. I also believe that this conscience must be carefully formed and informed. Morality is not a free for all, but it is also not always clearly discernible in black and white answers. We must be willing to do the hard work in seeking the truth in our own lives.

Two main themes of Vatican II are collegiality and subsidiarity. Collegiality calls for a more horizontal style of leadership that is collaborative and more participatory. Subsidiarity states that decisions shouldn’t be made on a higher level if they can be made more effectively on a more local level. Collegiality and subsidiarity respect the wisdom of us all. They do not impose unreasonably or expect blind obedience.

Pope Francis writes,  “It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization’.”

This is big…really big! We have seen the harm that an increasingly centralized leadership in the church can bring. One example is the recent translation of the Roman Missal. The men in Rome threw out the version worked on by the English speaking bishops and imposed their own, stilted translation with no regard for the wishes of the local churches.

Ghandi famously said “be the change you wish to see.” Francis is already doing this in modelling a simpler style of life. I have hope he can also do this by modelling a new style of leadership.