THE CHURCH’S MISSIONARY TRANSFORMATION
POINT NO. 5 : “ TO GO FORTH ! ”
19. “ ‘ Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you ’ (Mt 28 :19-20). ”
20. “ The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in Him ‘ to go forth. ’ ” In the past, Abraham, Moses, Jeremy, today Jesus, “ all of us are asked to obey His call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘ peripheries ’ in need of the light of the Gospel. ”
21. The sign whereby the Gospel has been announced and bears fruit is the joy : that of the seventy-two disciples on return from their mission (Lk 10 :17), that of Jesus Himself seeing that His revelation reached the poor and the little ones (cf. Lk 10 :21). This joy, however, “ involves keeping pressing forward in our sowing of the good seed. The Lord says : ‘ Let us go on to the next towns that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out ’ (Mk 1 :38). ”
22. “ The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk 4 :26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the Word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and plans of action. ”
Do they for example surpass Vatican II’s plans of actions ?
23. Yes, of course ! “ In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all : to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. ”
24. What does ‘ to go forth ’ mean ?
To begin with, it means “ ‘ Primerear ’, to take the first step. ” The Pope asks us to forgive him for this “ neologism ! ” It expresses a communicative enthusiasm born in the Heart of Jesus Who came forth from the bosom of His Father Whose love has preceded ours (1 Jn 4 :10). Like Him, with Him, prompted by Him, we must “ move forward, ” “ boldly, ” go “ to others, ” to those “ who have fallen away, ” and “ at the crossroads welcome the outcast. ”
It is all the more convincing and rousing because for nine months the Pope has been setting the good example. The Church is caught in ‘ a cyclone named Francis : ’
“ Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy […]. Consequently, the Church is able ‘ to become involved. ’ ”
“ Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. The Lord gets involved and He involves His own, as He kneels to wash their feet. He tells His disciples : ‘ You will be blessed if you do this ’ (Jn 13 :17). An evangelising 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. ”
This has nothing in common with the “ cult of man ” !
“ An evangelising community is also supportive ” and acts with boundless patience so much so that it takes on the “ smell of the sheep. ”
“ Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also ‘ bears fruit. ’ ”
In fact, “ the Lord wants it to be fruitful, ” each member going so far as “ to put his whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ. ”
“ Finally an evangelising community is filled with joy ; it knows how to rejoice always. It ‘ celebrates ’ every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelisation. Evangelisation with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy. ”
“ Taking the first step, being involved and supportive, bearing fruit and rejoicing … ”
POINT NO. 6 : A WONDERFUL PROGRAMME !
25. “ I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. ” What is important is that “ all communities ” should “ devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion that cannot leave things as they presently are. ”
26. Does it mean that “ the call to renewal ” expressed by Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council has remained a dead letter ? Pope Francis does not say so… But…
27. “ 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 channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation… ” that of Vatican II’s ‘ achievements ’.
Let us get to the heart of this renewal. The three key words are : parish, diocese, Rome. They represent a staggering novelty !
POINT NO. 7 : LONG LIVE PARISHES !
(cf. our Point 39 : The Parish, a Christian Community)
28. “ The parish is not an outdated institution ” on condition that it not become “ a prolix structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s Word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. ” This is Proposition no. 26 of the post-synodal apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laïci of December 30, 1988. It remained a dead letter under John Paul II and Benedict XVI… whose pontificates saw parishes disappear.
29. “ Other Church institutions, basic communities and small communities, movements, and forms of association are a source of enrichment for the Church, raised up by the Spirit for evangelising different areas and sectors. Frequently they bring a new evangelising fervour and a new capacity for dialogue with the world whereby the Church is renewed. It, however, will prove beneficial for them not to lose contact with the rich reality of the local parish and to participate readily in the overall pastoral activity of the particular Church [cf. our Rule of the Little Brothers of the Sacred Heart, article 42 : “ They will remain attached to the bishop and the clergy of the localities where they settle, and be prompt to help them as far as their meagre circumstances permit. ” ]. This kind of integration will prevent them from concentrating only on part of the Gospel or the Church, or becoming nomads without roots. ”
Hint, hint : I shall not name the institutions that the Pope has in his sights.
POINT NO. 8 : LONG LIVE THE BISHOP !
(cf. our Point 38 : The Diocesan Church)
30. “ Each particular Church, as a portion of the Catholic Church under the leadership of its bishop, is likewise called to missionary conversion. It is the primary subject of evangelisation, since it is the concrete manifestation of the one Church in one specific place, and in it ‘ the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative. ’ It is the Church incarnate in a certain place, equipped with all the means of salvation bestowed by Christ, but with local features. Its joy in communicating Jesus Christ is expressed both by a concern to preach Him to areas in greater need and in constantly going forth to the outskirts of its own territory or towards new sociocultural settings. Wherever the need for the light and the life of the Risen Christ is greatest, it will want to be there. To make this missionary impulse ever more focused, generous and fruitful, I encourage each particular Church to undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform. ” In other words, a process of Counter-Reformation, a process that goes ‘ against the tide, ’ as the Holy Father likes to repeat.
31. “ 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. Ac 4 :32). To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, 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 mission of fostering a dynamic, open and missionary communion, he will have to encourage and develop the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law, and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear. ”
POINT NO. 9 : LONG LIVE THE POPE !
(cf. our Point 37 : The Church Is Roman)
32. “ Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions that can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning that Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelisation. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding ‘ a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation. ’ We have made little progress in this regard. ” Rather we have regressed !
“ The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position ‘ to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realisation of the collegial spirit. ’ Yet this desire has not been fully realised, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences that would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. ” Pope Francis offers to provide for it.
33. “ I encourage everyone to apply the guidelines found in this document generously and courageously, without inhibitions or fear. ”
All the same, these guidelines must not go against the divine constitution of the Church. Not long ago, Benedict XVI recalled that the episcopal conferences do not have, as such, a theological status that imparts doctrinal authority to them. The authority in a diocese is constituted by the bishop responsible before the Pope and not before the episcopal conference !
As for these conferences, the most recent experience shows just how much confidence can be placed in them : the German episcopal conference has just announced its intention of deciding on whether to admit remarried, divorced persons to the sacraments, even though at the same moment the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took up the opposite stance !
POINT NO. 10 : A TOTAL MISSION !
34. Just so, “ in today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. ”Concerning the previous point, for example, and other “ issues that are part of the Church’s moral teaching, ” it is necessary to “ relate what we say to the very heart of the Gospel that gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness. ”
35. “ The message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing. ”
What is the message, so that we can make it our own ?
POINT NO. 11 : MISERICORDIA NOSTRA !
36. “ All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. ”
37. “ St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the Church’s moral teaching has its own ‘ hierarchy, ’ in the virtues and in the acts that proceed from them. What counts above all else is ‘ faith working through love ’ (Ga 5 :6). ”
For example, faith comes before obedience.
“ Works of love directed to one’s neighbour are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit : ‘ The foundation of the New Law is in the grace of the Holy Spirit, Who is manifested in the faith that works through love ’. St. Thomas thus explains that, as far as external works are concerned, mercy is the greatest of all the virtues : ‘ In itself mercy is the greatest of the virtues, since all the others revolve around it and, more than this, it makes up for their deficiencies. This is particular to the superior virtue, and as such it is proper to God to have mercy, through which His omnipotence is manifested to the greatest degree. ’ ”
38. Here is the practical application : “ If in the course of the liturgical year a parish priest speaks about temperance ten times but only mentions charity or justice two or three times, an imbalance results, and precisely those virtues that ought to be most present in preaching and catechesis are overlooked. The same thing happens when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word. ”
39. “ Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured ! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have ‘ the fragrance of the Gospel. ’ ”
POINT NO. 12 : KERYGMATICS.
40. “ Within the Church countless issues are being studied and reflected upon with great freedom. Differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow, since all of them help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word. For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. In fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel. ”
One might think that this passage is inspired from Fr. de Nantes’ theological thought : “ The theology of our time needs to be kerygmatic. The preaching (kérugma) of the Word of God today should be the frank, unvarnished and paradoxical proclamation of evangelical Salvation, without the rationalist, universal and timeless mediation of a philosophical system. Its locus should be in the particularity of human situations and in the questions raised by the listener who, whilst acting as the interrogator, will in turn find himself interrogated and pressed to reply to this Word that upsets his existence and his plans. ” (CRC no. 63, December 1972, p. 8)
41. Unfortunately, a quotation from John XXIII’s Opening Address to the Council, of October 11, 1962, introduces the Modernist principle according to which “ the deposit of the Faith is ‘ one thing… the way it is expressed is another. ’ ” A quotation from John Paul II, taken from the encyclical ‘ Ut Unum Sint, ’ succeeds in giving full force to this mortal principle : “ ‘ The renewal of these forms of expression becomes necessary for the sake of transmitting to the people of today the Gospel message in its unchanging meaning. ’ ”
To counter this formal heresy, Fr. de Nantes demanded that the Pastors “ teach and protect the Catholic Faith. ” This is what Pope Francis’ weekly catecheses and his daily preaching are doing. There is no doubt about it. Moreover the Pope immediately rectifies :
POINT NO. 13 : EVANGELICAL MODIFICATION.
(cf. our Point 19)
42. “ Of course, we will never be able to make the Church’s teachings easily understood or readily appreciated by everyone. Faith always remains something of a cross ; it retains a certain obscurity that does not detract from the firmness of its assent. Some things are understood and appreciated only from the standpoint of this assent, which is a sister to love, beyond the range of clear reasons and arguments. We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness. ”
43. Moreover, if the dogma is unchangeable, “ customs ” change, as well as certain “ rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the Apostles gave to the people of God ‘ are very few ’. Citing St. Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation ‘ so as not to burden the lives of the faithful ’ and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas ‘ God’s mercy has willed that we should be free ’. This warning, issued many centuries ago, is most timely today. It ought to be one of the criteria to be taken into account in considering a reform of the Church and her preaching that would enable it to reach everyone. ”
POINT NO. 14 : POSITIVE PURETY.
44. Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council, the ambition of which was to reform the Church, what is the import of “ considering a reform of the Church and her preaching that would enable it to reach everyone, ” other than an admission of the failure of the conciliar ‘ reformation ’ and the acknowledgment of the need of proceeding with a Counter-Reformation ?
A Counter-Reformation has to begin in “ the confessional, ” which “ must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy that spurs us on to do our best… the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings. ”
Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary ! The Blessed Virgin also placed confession as the first article of the practice of the First Saturdays of the month. It only requires your recommendation, Most Holy Father, to give full success to your plan !
45. With the practise of the sacraments, there is nothing better than the meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary in view of “ the task of evangelisation ” that “ constantly seeks to communicate more effectively the truth of the Gospel. ”
POINT NO. 15 : A CHURCH WITH DOORS WIDE OPEN.
46. This does not mean that it is a question of “ rushing out aimlessly into the world, ” but rather of “ being like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it. ”
47. “ The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church ; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament that is itself ‘ the door ’ : baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prise for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. ”
A footnote quotes St. Ambrose and St. Cyril of Alexandria :
St. Ambrose : “ I must receive it always, so that it may always forgive my sins. If I sin continually, I must always have a remedy. ”
“ Those who ate manna died ; those who eat this Body will obtain the forgiveness of their sins ” … and will never die ! (cf. Jn 6 :49-51)
St. Cyril of Alexandria : “ I examined myself and I found myself unworthy. To those who speak thus I say : when will you be worthy ? When at last you present yourself before Christ ? If your sins prevent you from drawing nigh, and you never cease to fall – for, as the Psalm says, ‘ What man knows his faults ? ’ – will you remain without partaking of the sanctification that gives life for eternity ? ”
The Pope ends this paragraph with an admission : “ Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. The Church, however, is not a tollhouse ; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems. ”
48. This message “ has to go forth to everyone without exception. ” The privileged people to whom it is addressed are “ the poor. ”
49. “ Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. ”
“ At our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us : ‘ Give them something to eat ’ (Mk 6 :37). ”