Sunday, May 24, 2015

"The Holy Spirit Renews the Earth" – On Pentecost, The Church Is "Born"... And "Sent"

A liturgical feast on a par with Christmas – indeed, the moment which marks the commissioning of Christ's own as leaven in the world – on this Pentecost, Church, Happy Birthday to one and all.

Having spoken of the Holy Spirit's critical, daily role in ecclesial life with greater frequency and intensity than his recent predecessors, at a morning Mass in St Peter's for this 50th day of Easter, the Pope delivered the following brief, yet potent homily (emphases original):

“As the Father has sent me, even so I send you... Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:21-22); this is what Jesus says to us. The gift of the Spirit on the evening of the Resurrection took place once again on the day of Pentecost, intensified this time by extraordinary outward signs. On the evening of Easter, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and breathed on them his Spirit (cf. Jn 20:22); on the morning of Pentecost the outpouring occurred in a resounding way, like a wind which shook the place the Apostles were in, filling their minds and hearts. They received a new strength so great that they were able to proclaim Christ’s Resurrection in different languages: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). Together with them was Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the first disciple, there too as Mother of the nascent Church. With her peace, with her smile, with her maternity, she accompanied the joyful young Bride, the Church of Jesus.

The word of God, especially in today’s readings, tells us that the Spirit is at work in individuals and communities filled with himself; the Spirit makes them capable of recipere Deum [receiving God], capax Dei [with the capacity for God], as the holy Church Fathers say. And what does the Holy Spirit do with this new capability which he gives us? He guides us into all the truth (cf. Jn 16:13), he renews the face of the earth (Ps 103:30), and he gives us his fruits (cf. Gal 5:22-23). He guides, he renews and he makes fruitful.

In the Gospel, Jesus promises his disciples that, when he has returned to the Father, the Holy Spirit will come to guide them into all the truth (cf. Jn 16:13). Indeed he calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth”, and explains to his disciples that the Spirit will bring them to understand ever more clearly what he, the Messiah, has said and done, especially in regard to his death and resurrection. To the Apostles, who could not bear the scandal of their Master’s sufferings, the Spirit would give a new understanding of the truth and beauty of that saving event. At first they were paralyzed with fear, shut in the Upper Room to avoid the aftermath of Good Friday. Now they would no longer be ashamed to be Christ’s disciples; they would no longer tremble before the courts of men. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they would now understand “all the truth”: that the death of Jesus was not his defeat, but rather the ultimate expression of God’s love, a love that, in the Resurrection, conquers death and exalts Jesus as the Living One, the Lord, the Redeemer of mankind, the Lord of history and of the world. This truth, to which the Apostles were witnesses, became Good News, to be proclaimed to all.

Then the Holy Spirit renews – guides and renews – renews the earth. The Psalmist says: “You send forth your Spirit… and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 103:30). The account of the birth of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles is significantly linked to this Psalm, which is a great hymn of praise to God the Creator. The Holy Spirit whom Christ sent from the Father, and the Creator Spirit who gives life to all things, are one and the same. Respect for creation, then, is a requirement of our faith: the “garden” in which we live is not entrusted to us to be exploited, but rather to be cultivated and tended with respect (cf. Gen 2:15). Yet this is possible only if Adam – the man formed from the earth – allows himself in turn to be renewed by the Holy Spirit, only if he allows himself to be re-formed by the Father on the model of Christ, the new Adam. In this way, renewed by the Spirit, we will indeed be able to experience the freedom of the sons and daughters, in harmony with all creation. In every creature we will be able to see reflected the glory of the Creator, as another Psalm says: “How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth!” (Ps8:2, 10). He guides, he renews and he gives; he gives fruits.

In the Letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul wants to show the “fruits” manifested in the lives of those who walk in the way of the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22). On the one hand, he presents “the flesh”, with its list of attendant vices: the works of selfish people closed to God. On the other hand, there are those who by faith allow the Spirit of God to break into their lives. In them, God’s gifts blossom, summed up in nine joyful virtues which Paul calls “fruits of the Spirit”. Hence his appeal, at the start and the end of the reading, as a programme for life: “Walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:6, 25).

The world needs men and women who are not closed in on themselves, but filled with the Holy Spirit. Closing oneself off from the Holy Spirit means not only a lack of freedom; it is a sin. There are many ways one can close oneself off to the Holy Spirit: by selfishness for one’s own gain; by rigid legalism – seen in the attitude of the doctors of the law to whom Jesus referred as “hypocrites”; by neglect of what Jesus taught; by living the Christian life not as service to others but in the pursuit of personal interests; and in so many other ways. However, the world needs the courage, hope, faith and perseverance of Christ’s followers. The world needs the fruits, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as Saint Paul lists them: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22). The gift of the Holy Spirit has been bestowed upon the Church and upon each one of us, so that we may live lives of genuine faith and active charity, that we may sow the seeds of reconciliation and peace. Strengthened by the Spirit – who guides, who guides us into the truth, who renews us and the whole earth, and who gives us his fruits – strengthened in the Spirit and by these many gifts, may we be able to battle uncompromisingly against sin, to battle uncompromisingly against corruption, which continues to spread in the world day after day, by devoting ourselves with patient perseverance to the works of justice and peace.
* * *
As a coda to the above, the events of a (liturgical) year ago today bear recalling – the moment when, before an ecumenical gathering of 50,000 Charismatic Christians at Rome's Olympic Stadium, Francis knelt to be prayed over in the Spirit, tongues included....

...and amid which, the Pope offered the following spontaneous prayer:

Lord, look upon your people as we await the Holy Spirit.

Watch over our young people, watch over our families, watch over our children, watch over our sick, watch over our priests, consecrated men and women, and us bishops.... Watch over us all. And grant us that holy inebriation, the drunkenness of the Spirit, which enables us to speak all languages, the languages of charity, ever close to our brothers and sisters who need us.

Teach us not to quarrel among ourselves to get a little more power; teach us to be humble, teach us to love the Church more than our own 'team,' than our internal squabbles; teach us to have a heart open to receive the Spirit.

Lord, send forth your Spirit upon us! Amen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Be Pastors, Not 'Pilots'" – For the Bishops, The Pope's "Global Vision"

Once upon a time – indeed, not all that long ago – the most crucial and in-depth speechifying a Pope would routinely offer was the ad limina addresses to the endless groups of bishops making their five-yearly visits to the Home Office, each talk meticulously crafted with an eye to the state of the church on their own turf.

Now, of course, the scene has been upended, and the daily flood of homilies, messages, spontaneous gestures and off-the-cuff Francisims has scattered the focus of papal communication far from their traditional programmatic core. Even so, when the Bishop of Rome has some words for the bench he gets to watch up close – the Italians whose primate he is – attention must be paid. Accordingly, at the start of the CEI's annual spring plenary last night in the Synod Hall, Francis' brief remarks gave a further glimpse of the standard he seeks in the 5,000-odd shepherds of the local churches and, needless to say, the successors he names in their stead.

In the Italian context, the headline of the talk was yet another papal push for the prelates to be neither "afraid nor useless in [working to] denounce and defeat a widespread mentality of public and private corruption, which without any shame manages to impoverish families, retirees, honest workers, Christian communities, and throws away the young."

Much as Francis' latest domestic bomb-drop on 
public graft and organized crime served to further his campaign among the cause's necessary ground-troops, it was but one paragraph of a wider, potent reflection on the "ecclesial sensibility" required of bishops – both as individuals and a collective – which, the Pope said, served to comprise a "global vision," returning to emphasize "not just Italy: global" thanks to the "countless encounters" he's had as pontiff with the national leaderships of the wider church. (Here, it likewise bears recalling that Francis is the first Pope who's served as president of an episcopal conference, having been elected to lead the Argentine bench during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires.)

In ministry today, Francis said that "our Christian and episcopal vocation is that of going against the current: to be joyful witnesses of the Risen Christ in transmitting joy and hope to others. Our vocation is to listen to what the Lord asks of us: 'Comfort my people, says your God.'

"In fact, to us comes being asked to comfort, to help, to encourage, without any distinction, all our brothers and sisters oppressed by the weight of their crosses, to accompany them, without ever tiring of working to lift them up anew with the strength that comes only from God."

Another aspect of the Pope's desired sensibility, he said, is a "concreteness," a part of which which "manifests itself in our pastoral choices and the preparing of documents – our own – where the abstract technical-doctrinal aspect should not prevail, so much that our guidelines aren't intended for our people or our country, but only for some scholars and specialists." (Ostensibly as a model of his desired kind of collective statement, Papa Bergoglio would likely have in mind the widely-acclaimed 2007 Aparecida Charter of CELAM – Latin America's continental mega-conference – whose drafting he led.)

On the second facet of the attribute, Francis said a "concrete" ecclesiology is found in "reinforcing the indispensable role of laity prepared to take on the responsibilities within their competence.

"In reality," he said, "the laity who have an authentic Christian formation shouldn't need a pilot-bishop, nor a monsignor-pilot, nor clerical input to assume their own tasks at every level, from the political and social spheres to the economy and the legislature! Instead, they need a Pastor-Bishop!"

The other key quality laid out was "collegiality," something the Pope said was in a state of "widespread weakness" in "some parts" of the global church. Among other examples, Francis cited the habit of arranging "a conference or event that, giving the floor to the same old voices, drugs [orig.: "narcotizza"] the community [into] approving the same choices, opinions and people.

"Instead," he added, "let us be transported toward those places where the Holy Spirit is asking us to go."

Closing the talk, Francis voiced his hope that the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy would "grant us the grace to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which we're all called to give consolation to each and every man and woman of our time."

*   *   *
While Papa Bergoglio hasn't yet had a shot at naming a new head to any of Italy's major dioceses, Francis has still upended the native bench with his unprecedented delivery of three voting red hats to the "peripheries" of the Bel Paese, including now-Cardinal Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento, whose "last in line" Sicilian archdiocese includes Lampedusa – the land's end destination for African migrants seeking entry into Europe, tens of thousands of whom have died making the journey, where Francis chose to make an emotional first trip outside Rome following his election.

In the process, the Pope has bypassed the traditional "cardinalatial sees" of Turin, and above all Venice, whose patriarch's chair served as the springboard of no less than three 20th century pontiffs (Saints Pius X and John XXIII, and John Paul I). In addition, given the uniquely Italian custom of the conference's president serving not by election, but papal appointment, while Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa formally remains at the CEI's helm, the B16 pick is widely thought to have been eclipsed as the body's premier figure by its new secretary-general, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the longtime parish priest who Francis plucked for the post in late 2013 from an obscure diocese in the country's Mafia-racked southern tier.

Meanwhile, given a 400-man Stateside bench whose response to this pontificate ranges from exuberance to exasperation and everything in between, last night's remarks just help set the stage for what could well be considered the most significant ad intra moment of the coming American PopeTrip: Francis meeting with – and, yes, speech to – the US bishops, which is currently set to take place on the visit's first full day, 23 September, in Washington's St Matthew's Cathedral.

Even if much of the six-day itinerary has gradually emerged over recent months – topped by the announcement of a first-ever papal address to a joint meeting of Congress – after two separate tours of proposed DC, New York and Philadelphia stops by Vatican advance teams in late February and March, the trip's full schedule is expected to roll out sometime in June.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

"The Church Which 'Goes Forth'...."

Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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). In these verses we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth.

The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him “to go forth”.... The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, that he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. 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.

Let us try a little harder to take the first step and 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 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. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance. Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time. Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear. The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.

I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”....

There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling,” any new structure will soon prove ineffective.

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 her [own] self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself.
–Francis, Bishop of Rome
Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel")
24 November 2013
On this feast that established the church's missionary character at the core of its being in every age, a Blessed Ascension Day to one and all – at least, for those in the Northeast, Nebraska and Vatican City itself.

As for everywhere else, buona... um... Thursday – just read this again on Sunday. Whatever the date in this schizoid scene, though, its paramount lesson lies elsewhere: that when said "missionary impulse" is ignored, neglected or merely given lip-service, it quickly becomes evident in the sight of the world.


Tuesday, May 05, 2015

"Lord, You've Taught Us To Be Merciful...."

As what's likely to be the cornerstone ad intra initiative of the Rule of Francis gains steam toward its December opening, at a noontime briefing this Tuesday in the Holy See Press Office, the following prayer for the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy – penned by the Pope – was released (line-breaks as provided in text)....
Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.

We ask this through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy,
you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.