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.

taking on the smell of sheep


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.