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.

from conservationists to missionaries

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 5

Along these lines the Latin American bishops stated that we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”; we need to move “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry”. (Evangelii Gaudium, 15.)

The words quoted by Pope Francis come from the Fifth Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops at Aparecida, Brazil in 2007. I followed the Conference with special interest. The Bishops invited many lay representatives to the first days of the conference, including some members of our Latin American Marianist Lay Communities. They came back with glowing reports.

The final document from Aparecida spoke of the need to be in permanent mission. It spoke of the preferential option of the poor. It spoke about keeping Christ at the center of our lives and all our works. And, it spoke of the need to go out to the periphery to meet the people of God where they are. Does this all sound familiar?

It is not surprising that the words of Francis and those of Aparecida sound one and the same. He was elected by his fellow bishops to chair the committee that drafted the final document. (See the America Magazine article – On the Trail of Aparecida)

The call to go beyond being church conservationists to being missionaries is truly prophetic. Several years ago, I heard a priest preach that the most important place in the world for us is “inside the four walls of this church.” The message was echoed in guilt ridden “ministry drives” that pressured us into signing up for various parish tasks. The focus was on keeping the parish community alive, for the sake of the parish. There was no talk about outreach or acknowledgement that our energies might be better spent outside the church walls.

One parish community that truly “gets it” is Sacred Heart in Camden, New Jersey. I have never been there, but I have good friends who are not only active parishioners, Joanne and Ray are two of Sacred Heart’s best PR persons. The love and energy they have for their parish is contagious. It makes you “want what they have.” Sacred Heart is in the second poorest city in the USA, yet is a thriving beacon of prayer and social action. Check out their list of social ministries.  It will blow your mind! (Good luck with the Toy Store next week, Joanne! 🙂 )

To often, we get bogged down with building, renovating, and maintaining our church buildings. Yet a building does not make a church. We spend our energies on “community building”, but building community for whom? Just for us? We work tirelessly to have beautiful liturgies, but lose sight of the real purpose of our prayer.

Prayer is meant to be the nourishment, the spring-board for missionary action. The Eucharist is not merely an elite gathering of believers on a Sunday morning. It is the Body of Christ and each one of us, as part of that same body,  offering the fullness of ourselves to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

horizons of beauty and delicious banquets!

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 4

Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction”. (Evangelii Gaudium, 15″)

How many parishes and dioceses answered the call for a new evangelization by rolling out new catechetical programs? How many times have we heard priests and bishops emphasize doctrine over the joy of a personal relationship with our loving God? How many times have we used the Eucharistic table (our most treasured banquet) as a tool of judgment and exclusion? And, we wonder why so few want to join us…and why so many are leaving.

From the moment he stepped out on the balcony at St. Peter’s, Pope Francis has shown himself to be more concerned with being a loving pastor than a doctrinal watch-dog. He lives the old adage that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Again, it goes back to joy. Preaching a message filled with “thou shalt nots” will only draw the fearful and guilt-ridden; or the judgmental who love to point fingers at those who are doing the things they shalt not be doing!

Francis does not water down the gospel message. This man who preaches joy never tires of challenging us to follow in the footsteps of the compassionate Jesus. He speaks of sin, but always in the same breath as God’s mercy. He challenges us while pointing to horizons of beauty and delicious banquets.

Attractive? Indeed!