Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Tensions In Our Church Today

In every era, the Church has had its problems, from resolving the question of  whether Jesus is divine (Council of Nicea,  325) to whether some of the naked figures in Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel should be painted over because they were deemed by some bishops to be indecent (Council of Trent, 25th session, 1563).

Our day is obviously not an exception. Among the issues facing the Church in the post-Vatican II era are these (in no particular order of importance or priority):

Refugee crisis: It is reported that over the past five years more than 1.5 million war-weary Syrians have crossed into Lebanon. Some 300,000 Somalis are living in refugee camps in a tent city in Dadaab in Kenya. Every day Mexicans seeking jobs slip through the loose borders separating them from the United States. In his September 23, 2015,meeting with the US Bishops, Pope Francis urged them to welcome immigrants: “I am certain that, as so often in the past, thee people will enrich America and its Church.”

Priest pedophilia crisis: Sex abuse by priests and bishops has rocked the Catholic Church in the United States and around the world. Pope Francis’ June 4, 2016, motu proprio stipulates that any bishop who is negligent in response to sexual abuse by his clergy can be removed from office. The document says: “the diocesan bishop or the eparch or who has the responsibility for a particular church…can be legitimately removed from his position if he has, by negligence, placed or omitted acts which caused serious harms to others…”

Ordination of women as deacons: At a May, 2016, assembly in Rome of over 800 women religious (sisters and nuns),  Pope Francis was asked about the possibility of ordaining women as deacons, that is, admitting them to the status of clergy in the Church. He said he was open to establishing a commission to study the matter. Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he wants a greater role for women in the decision-making of the institutional Church.

Preaching the homily by lay people: Grass roots efforts are underway to encourage a change in the legal restriction of the homily at Mass to clergy alone. Some couch the matter in terms of women as preachers, but in fact the legislation applies to lay men as well. The US Association of Catholic Priests (AUSCP) addressed the issue at their June, 2016, assembly in Chicago, and overwhelming agreed to recommend that the United States Catholic Bishops ask for a change in the law, thus allowing lay persons to exercise the charism of preaching at Mass. The restriction against lay preaching of the homily rests on the idea that the homilist at Mass acts in persona Christi, which in some theologies is a designation restricted to the clergy. He who defines the terms wins the argument.

Other issues of discussion and contention:
Which comes first: catechesis or evangelization?
Women's roles in the Church
Shortage of priests
Closing or regionalizing parishes
Family Life Issues
Clergy: administrators or pastors?
Ordination of women as priests
LGBT rights
Poor celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy
English translation in the Roman Missal
Appropriate response to the poor, negelcted, abandoned
Gun control
John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”
Admission of divorced-and-remarried to Holy Communion
The environmental issues of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si
Married priests in the Roman Rite

From the start the Church has found it necessary to wrestle with conflicting opinions, theologies, and disciplines. The Church of our day is not an exception.. As it was in the beginning so now it is today – we need to pray for and listen to the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

To acknowledge that the Church (at least in its members) is deeply flawed poses no threat to our accepting its divine core. I think often of Pope Benedict’s remark about the Church’s having a disfigured face. Our troubles as Church come both from without and from within. Frank acknowledgement of our brokenness keeps us humble, militates against our being self-referential, and promotes ongoing openness to the Spirit which Jesus promised to send.


 We do not have all the answers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

We Need More Priests

We need more priests.

Several studies have been published over the past four decades, and the statistics in one of those reports indicate that the number of Roman Catholic priests in the United States has declined from 58,534 in 1981 to 38,275 in 2012.

Recent stats for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati list 487 priests: 261 are diocesan priests, 226 are from religious orders. Most of the priests in religious orders are not assigned to parishes, but have other ministries. Of the diocesan priests 163 are active in the diocese, 5 are active outside the diocese, and 93 are retired/sick/absent.

The Catholic population of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is 461,129 (out of a total population of 2,994,520).

The archdiocese is divided into 212 parishes, of which 149 have resident pastors and 63 are administered by non-resident priests.

Such a panoply of statistics can be mind-boggling, and somewhat impersonal. The “rubber meets the road,” however, when a parish is told, “You will now have to share a pastor with one or more of your neighboring parishes.”

As priests retire or are needed in other assignments, fewer priests are available to serve as full time pastors in one parish. As a consequence, many parishes share a pastor.

July 1 is the usual time in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for moving pastors and assigning new ones. For example, there is the Fort Recovery Cluster of Parishes (Mary Help of Christians Parish in Fort Recovery, St. Joseph Parish in St Joseph, St. Peter Parish in St Peter, and St. Paul Parish in Sharpsburg. They will need an associate pastor (aka parochial vicar).

Or there is a cluster made up of St. Joseph Parish, Wapakoneta, Immaculate Conception/St Lawrence in Botkins, and St John Evangelist Parish in Wapakoneta, with the pastor and an associate pastor covering seven weekend Masses. They will need an associate pastor.

And in the greater Cincinnati area is the pastoral region of St Anthony, St Cecilia and St Margaret/St John to be served by one pastor and one associate. St. Teresa, Covedale, and St. William, Price Hill, already share a pastor. St Vivian, Finneytown, and St Bartholomew, Cincinnati, share a pastor.  Years ago St. Peter and Paul, St Elizabeth, and St Matthew in Norwood combined to form Holy Trinity Parish.

Future plans call for St. Clare, College Hill, and Little Flower, Mt Airy, to share a pastor, and likewise for St Michael, Sharonville, and St Gabriel, Glendale.

These changes (forming pastoral regions or clustering under one pastor) are difficult for parishioners. The Mass schedules and other services to which they have become accustomed are likely to change.

Cincinnati Archbishop Karl J. Alter recognized back in the 1950s that his diocese was not ordaining enough priests to keep up with retirements and the increase in the Catholic population. And this forecast was made before the Second Vatican Council, which some Catholics have blamed for the growing priest shortage.

Happily the Archdiocese of Cincinnati celebrates this Spring the ordination of seven new priests. Their ministry is obviously needed.

The scarcity of  priests and the utmost importance of the Eucharist cry out for a change in the way we have been about the Father’s business. What are we to do?

The observation attributed to Albert Einstein comes to mind: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. And likewise the wisdom of Alfred Lord Tennyson: The old order changeth yielding place to the new, and God fulfills himself in many ways.

We need more priests. I wonder what Paul would do. Prayer is obviously appropriate but maybe it is not enough. Perhaps God is waiting for us to do something. What shall we do?


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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Can (May) Women Preach?

Articles in the March 1, 2016, issue of L’Osservatore Romano, generally regarded as a semi-official Vatican newspaper, raised again the question of whether women should be allowed to preach in the Catholic Church?

This issue differs from whether women should be ordained priests. In the Catholic tradition as opposed to many Protestant denominations “women as preachers” does not imply “women as ordained” ministers.

The question in the Catholic tradition is whether women can or may preach the Gospel, even in a church setting. Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People confirms that lay persons (men and women) have a role in the evangelizing mission of the Church.

Affirming the apostolate of the laity, the decree says, “the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers to draw them towards the faith, or to the faithful to instruct them, strengthen them, incite them to a more fervent life…” (Apostolicam actuositatem #6).

God gives a variety of gifts to the people, and each has “the right and the duty of exercising them in the Church and in the world for the good of human beings and the development of the Church…” (#3).

Experience amply demonstrates that some lay persons have the gift of preaching, and that some clergymen do not. Ordination does not necessarily confer the preaching charism on the one ordained.

If the question is “Can lay persons (men or women) preach?” the answer is that some have the manifest ability to do so and to do it well.

If the question is “May lay persons (men or women) preach?” the answer is that some have been authorized to do so and do so in accord with Church law.

Canon 766 acknowledges that “Lay persons can be permitted to preach in a church or oratory, if necessity requires it in certain circumstance or it seems advantageous in particular cases, according to the prescripts of the conference of bishops and without prejudice to canon 767.1.”

Commentators on this law explain that the diocesan bishop can give permission for lay persons to preach. Lay persons, for example, do legitimately preach retreats, parish missions and days of reflection.

Canon 767, however, insists that preaching of the homily at Mass is reserved to a priest or deacon. Commentators on this law interpret the wording to imply that homilies in other liturgical contexts are not necessarily reserved to priests and deacons.

Although the articles in L’Osservatore Romano focused on women as preachers, legal restrictions about laity preaching a homily at Mass do not focus on “gender” or “the sex of the preacher,” but on whether the preacher is lay or clerical.

The question then is not whether women may preach, but rather whether  lay people may preach.

The issue of women as preachers, however, is of special concern to Dominican Sisters (two of the newspaper articles were by Dominican Sisters, Catherine Aubin and Madeleine Fredell) whose religious order is officially known as “the Order of Preachers.” The irony is palpable.

One argument against having women preach the homily is that lay preaching at that point in the liturgy violates the role of the priest-presider (or of the deacon) as one who preaches for the bishop. If women were ordained deacons then they could preach.

Another argument opposing women as preachers is that it would lead to ongoing and unwarranted feminization of the Church. Cardinal Raymond Burke has said that a radical feminist movement has strongly influenced the Church, leading to a complete collapse of the teaching of the faith and to rampant liturgical experimentation.

Some oppose the preaching of women in any church-setting basing themselves on 1 Corinthians: “As in all the churches of the holy ones, women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to speak, but should be subordinate” (cf 14:33-34).

Arguments in favor of women as preachers of the homily include the realization that some women have the gift for preaching, that women can add a female perspective to Scripture and Church life that may escape the male perspective, that lay persons in general may be better suited to preach to women and/or children given their varying life experiences.

Enzo Bianchi, author of the primary article on women as preachers in L’Ossrervatore Romano, noted that there was time in the history of the church that  “preaching by the laity was also authorized in the liturgical setting and that in the Middle Ages even some women received this authorization from the Pope.” He added that the ban on lay preaching by the laity was raised by Pope Gregory IX in 1228.

That the Vatican just a few decades ago approved of lay persons preaching the homily is obvious from the Directory on Children’s Masses  (Pueros Baptizatos, November 1, 1973): “There is no reason why one of the adults should not preach a homily to the children after the gospel, especially if the priest has difficulty in adapting himself to the mentality of the children” (#24).

That the issue of women as preachers was raised again in a semi-official Vatican newspaper suggests that Pope Francis might be open to a change in Church discipline about lay preaching. He has said that he wants women to have a greater role in the Church, and this may be one of the ways in which to further this goal.

His concern for good preaching, for orthodoxy, and for recognizing charisms given to the faithful undermine the fear that unqualified, unorthodox, ill-prepared lay people would be authorized to preach the homily.

Perhaps the time has come for a more intimate inclusion of the laity (men and women) in evangelization and preaching.

Vatican II acknowledged, “It is a fact that many men cannot hear the Gospel and come to acknowledge Christ except through the laymen they associate with” (Apostolocam Actuositatem, #13).

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Church's Paradigm Shift In Our Time

We must be wary of mixing religion and science. On the one hand, the seventeenth century conflict between Pope Paul V/Pope Urban VIII and Galilei Galileo over whether ours was a sun-centered or earth-centered universe exemplified the danger. As Galileo put it, “Holy Writ was intended to teach men how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

On the other hand, it is possible that students of religion and students of science can learn from one another.

Philosopher of science Thomas S. Kuhns explained in his 1962 work The Structure of Scientific Revolution that scientific progress is “a series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolution.”

He meant that there were eras when scientific theories gain acceptance and become the rule, but now and then there are times when new information challenges a strongly held theory and leads to a change in thinking. The paradigm shifts.

Commenting on Kuhns’ observation, science writer Simon Singh wrote in his book Big Bang that the shift in paradigms is often contentious, unfolding in several stages from one paradigm to another:

     1)     the shift requires that the new paradigm must be “properly fleshed out” in order to discredit the old paradigm;   2) the speed in the shift depends on “the weight of the evidence in favor of the new paradigm and the extent to which the old guard resists change”; 3)    the “older scientists, having invested so much time and effort in the old paradigm, are generally the last to accept the change, whereas younger scientists are generally more adventurous and open-minded" (p. 368).

Singh concluded, “The old paradigm might have prevailed for centuries, so a transition period that lasts a couple decades is still comparatively short.”

Perhaps that analysis of paradigm shift in the world of science is applicable to the world of religion, especially to the changes and potential paradigm shifts in the Catholic Church.

Pope John XXIII’s Second Vatican Council may be considered the start of a major paradigm shift in the Church. Vatican II was the first ecumenical council that was primarily pastoral in style, truly representative of a “world Church” (to use Karl Rahner’s term), and affirmative of the role and dignity of the laity in the modern world.

Although the Council’s meetings took place more than 50 years ago, the outcome, the vision, the direction and the dynamism are still fresh, still inviting reflection and still urging implementation.

Those who have been analyzing the papacy of Pope Francis recognize that a clear-cut shift in paradigm is taking place right now, in our time.

Austen Ivereigh titles his biography of Pope Francis: The Great Reformer. David Willey‘s book is The Promise of Francis, subtitled “The Man, The Pope, and the Challenge of Change.” Massimo Faggioli’s latest is Pope Francis – Tradition in Transition. Richard Gaillardetz has published An Unfinished Council, with the sub-title “Vatican II, Pope Francis, and the Renewal of Catholicism.”

Cardinal Walter Kasper provides theological and pastoral perspectives in Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love. Kasper maintains that “the challenge of this pontificate is far more radical than most suspect. It is a challenge for conservatives, who don’t want to let themselves be surprised any more by God and who resist reforms, just as it is for progressives, who expect feasible, concrete solutions right here and now” (p.92). He describes Pope Francis’ revolution in one word: “It is a revolution of mercy” (p. 93).

Although it is Gaillardetz’s thesis that Vatican II is as yet “an unfinished council,” he acknowledges, “I do not wish to diminish the extent to which Pope Francis’ postconciliar predecessors were ‘popes of the council’…However, no postconciliar pope, in my view, can match Pope Francis’s comprehensive and integrated retrieval of not just one teaching or another but of the council’s deeper reformist impulse” (p. 135).

Faggioli describes Pope Francis’ election as “an unprecedented step toward the fulfillment of what the German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner called “the world Church,” that is, a third macro-period of its history (after the Judeo-Christianity of its origins and the church of Hellenism and of Greek-Latin culture) with the self-realization of the Church as a church in the global dimension through the incarnation of Catholicism in different cultures” (p. 61).

Willey notes, “The Pope’s vivid language is unlike anything heard coming out of the Vatican during recent papacies. It may not please some Catholics, and it is certainly causing a degree of consternation among the Vatican administration accustomed to running things their way” (p. 11).

Ivereigh recalls remarks Pope Francis made to retreatants when he was Cardinal Bergoglio, criticizing the Church for failing to evangelize, saying that the problem is “we have Jesus tied up in the sacristy.” Ivereigh writes, “Citing a verse from the Book of Revelation about Jesus standing at the gate, calling, Bergoglio said he had come to see that it wasn’t about Jesus knocking to be let in, but about Jesus being trapped on the inside, asking to be let out” (p.347-48).

We in these first decades of the 21st century are experiencing a paradigm shift in religion and most especially in the Catholic Church. It is likely that the stages of scientific paradigm shifts as described by Singh will be reproduced in the paradigm shift of religion and Church. Recent history suggests it is so.

It took a long time (and great conflict) to overcome science's earth-centered paradigm replacing it with a sun-centered one. Pope Urban was sure that  he was right and that Galileo was wrong, but in the end the truth won out.

Despite the conflicts in the present age of the Church, we have confidence that the true direction and balance for the Church will emerge, perhaps without violent revolution, resulting in a new paradigm not of dogma but of pastoral care, in being less European and more world-inclusive, in employing lay ministry as well as the hierarchical.

It is reported that after re-canting (at the pope’s insistence) his conviction that the earth revolves around the sun, Galileo murmured, “Eppur si muove!” –“and yet it moves!”

Despite the conviction of some that the Church must not, cannot change, there remains the God of surprises, the movement of the Holy Spirit, the direction set by Vatican II, and the evidence that “Eppur si muove!”


Friday, March 4, 2016

Praying For Priestly Vocations

I believe in praying for vocations to the priesthood.

After all, according to the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke, Jesus said, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few, so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

Though the laborers in this saying are missionaries, not specifically identified as priests, Church usage often applies Jesus’ request to the priestly vocation.

Some have charged that the Second Vatican Council and its after-math are the reasons for the decline in vocations to the Roman Catholic priesthood, but others offer some evidence that the decline really began because of the societal and cultural changes which followed World War II.

One anecdotal piece of evidence to support a pre-Vatican II shortage is Cincinnati Archbishop Karl J. Alter’s pointing out in 1959 (well before Vatican II) that there was a “threatening shortage of priests for the immediate future” (cf Faith and Action: A History of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati 1821-1996 by Roger Fortin, Ohio State University Press, 2002, p. 283).

Alter’s concern was based on the age of the clergy and the increase of the Catholic population; he estimated that the archdiocese would need to ordain 100 priests over the next ten years just to replace the current number of priests, “but to meet expanding growth, the number should be nearer 150 priests, or a rate of 15 ordained each year” (ibid).

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati expects to ordain seven men to the priesthood in May of 2016. Given the number of pastors who currently are pastoring more than one parish, the newly ordained class is welcome but far less than adequate in numbers to meet current need.

I’ve been wondering what St Paul would do if he were to make a missionary visit to an area of a diocese and find that two or more parishes were sharing a pastor. It is pure conjecture on my part, but my hunch is that Paul would seek out in one of the parishes a man of suitable quality and appoint him as pastor.

When I stand at the altar as presider at Sunday liturgy I often see one or more men in the congregation who could easily be doing what I am doing.

In the rite for ordination of a man to the priesthood, the ordaining bishop reviews the qualities and responsibilities expected of the candidate, namely that he be resolved to discharge the office of priesthood in the presbyteral order as a conscientious fellow worker with the bishops, that he faithfully and religiously celebrate the mysteries of Christ, that he exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, that he consecrate his life to God for the salvation of his people.

I think I see in the Sunday morning assembly men who meet those criteria.

Vatican II described the priest as one taken from among men and appointed for them in the things that appertain to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins, to live with the rest of men as with brothers (Presbyterorum Ordinis, #3). And the qualities expected in priests “are goodness of heart, sincerity, strength and constancy of mind, careful attention to justice, courtesy and others which the apostle Paul recommends” in Philippians 4:8 (ibid).

A number of lay married men in the congregation exemplify those virtues, and could be chosen for the Sacrament of Holy Orders, especially in those parishes where the people of God are deprived of the celebration of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation.

Is it the rule of celibacy that prevents such ordination? Back in 1987 a non-Catholic professor at Vanderbilt University asked me point blank, “When will your Church decide which is more important: celibacy or Eucharist?”  

I believe in praying for vocations to the priesthood, but I must admit that sometimes I think I hear the Lord say in response, “I have called men to such service, but they have not yet been chosen.”


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Communal Absolution and the Mercy of God

The Year of Mercy is underway, and among Pope Francis’ hopes for this Jubilee Year is “placing the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the center once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands. For every penitent it will be a source of true interior peace” (Misericordiae Vultus, #17).

He also proposed that “The initiative of  '24 Hours for the Lord'  (an opportunity for celebrating the Sacrament of Penance) to be celebrated on the Friday and Saturday preceding the Fourth Week of  Lent, should be implemented in every diocese” (17).

“Bishops,” he continued, “are asked to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation with their people so that the time of grace offered by the Jubilee Year will make it possible for many of God’s sons and daughters to take up once again the journey to the Father’s house” (18).

I had hoped that the Holy Father’s invitation to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation would include permission to use the third form of the sacrament more freely, that is, “The Rite For Reconciliation of Penitents With General Confession and Absolution,” or more popularly known as “Communal Absolution.”

The Second Vatican Council called for a revision of the rite and formulas of Penance “so that they more clearly express both the nature and effect of the sacrament” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #72).

The final revision offered three sacramental possibilities: 1) private confession and absolution; 2) communal service with private confession and absolution, and 3) the communal service with general absolution.

In his book The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Liturgical Press, 2001) Father David Coffey, STD, refers to a commentary by Father Franco Sottocornola, secretary of the second commission charged with revising the sacrament, which indicates that the committee expected the third form of the rite (communal celebration/general absolution) would be the one used most often.

Coffey provides his translation of Sottocornola's assessment of the three forms: ""The first better favors personal conversion...The second permits the development of a critical conscience in the community as such, a communal engagement...The third permits a more frequent reception of the sacrament than would otherwise be possible..." Sottocornola's article appeared in 1974, "Les nouveaux rites de la penitence commentaire," Questiones liturgiques 55.

Coffey notes, “The frequency which Sottocornola anticipated for the celebration of the third rite in the average parish was once a month" (p. 168).

However, the  new Rite of Penance was promulgated with rubrics which  insisted that individual, complete confession and reception of absolution was the sole, ordinary means for reconciliation with God and the Church. The only exceptions to this rule were if there existed some moral or physical impossibility to use the sole, ordinary means.

The Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship in protocol number 800/73 decreed that, “Unless there is a good reason preventing it, those who receive pardon for serious sins through general absolution are to go to individual confession as soon as they have the opportunity before any further reception of general absolution” (Rite of Penance, #34). Thus if conditions of moral or physical impossibility should exist, the penitent must have the resolution to confess in due time any serious sins according to the sole, ordinary means.

Coffey writes, “At a time when the number of clergy was already dwindling, and when, as a result of the reform, personal confession had become more demanding than it had been before, it was envisaged that the majority of people would settle for the third rite as their normal way of receiving the sacrament, with the first (private confession) received occasionally according to spiritual desire or need and preceded by a more intense period of preparation” (p. 167).

I had hope that Pope Francis would allow the use of the third form during this Year of Mercy. In the very least the third form, I believe, would be appropriate for youngsters who are expected to go to confession before First Communion.

If we wish to give expression to Christ’s mercy in this Jubilee Year, the third form of the rite would joyfully demonstrate the prodigality of  God’s forgiveness, mercy and love.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Pope Francis' 2015 Pre-Christmas Address to the Curia

Despite his not feeling well (he acknowledged that he has been suffering from a cold), Pope Francis addressed the staff of his Curia on Monday, December 21, 2015.

Giving his reflections while seated (he apologized for not standing), Pope Francis recalled his address last year when he  listed some illnesses or temptations that Curia staff must face. On that occasion he developed an examination of conscience, urging his audience to be careful not to give in to such things as being too busy, becoming hard-hearted, failing to coordinate with other members, spreading gossip, failing to smile.

This year he offered what he termed “curial antibiotics” which could help treat some of the diseases he listed last year, diseases which became evident during the past year and which, he said, caused “no small pain to the entire body, harming many souls, even by scandal.”

Reiterating the dictum  “Ecclesia semeper reformanda” (the Church is always in need of reform), Pope Francis assured his staff that “the reform will move forward with determination, clarity, and firm resolve.”

Despite these diseases and even scandals, the Holy Father quickly added his heartfelt gratitude and needed encouragement “to all those good and honest men and women in the Curia who work with dedication, devotion, fidelity and professionalism.”

He then listed for them a number of virtues which he urged them to embrace and put into practice.

He presented this year’s list following an acrostic for the Latin term misericordia (mercy) which does not easily transfer into English. But using each letter of misericordia, Pope Francis recalled virtues, attitudes, and actions which he urged his staff to put into practice.

He began with “M” –and related that letter to “missionary” spirit, reminding the gathering that all who are baptized are called to be missionaries endowed with  pastoral sensitivity.

His address further urged the staff to be wise and creative, fulfilling their jobs with intelligence, insight, and appropriateness. Pope Francis recalled the need for a spirituality which keeps a person human and not robotic. He asked them to set a good example, to avoid emotional excesses, to have a spirit of determination but capable of restraint from impulsive, hasty actions.

He encouraged them to practice charity, to be truthful , humble, diligent, alert, and accountable.

Pope Francis put all these virtues in the context of the Year of Mercy, noting that mercy is the virtue of those who choose to put on the heart of Christ.

“And so,” he concluded, “may mercy guide our steps, inspire our reforms and enlighten our decisions. May it be the basis of all our efforts. May it teach us when to move forward and when to step back. May it also enable us to understand the littleness of all that we do in God’s greater plan of salvation, in his majestic and mysterious works.”

Pope Francis is a man of many talents, a multi-faceted leader who knows when to push and when to ease the pressure. He is resolute but patient. He sees reality but does not give in to discouragement. We have a man of deep, practical faith in the role of St Peter, and we who listen to him, admire him, support him must not neglect to respond to his constant request, “Pray for me.”