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.

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.