Monday, September 26, 2016

Pope Francis Repairs The Church

 Pope Francis says what’s on his mind., especially when he is talking to Church leaders.

On September 16, 2016, he addressed  a meeting of ninety-four recently ordained bishops who were called to the Vatican, according to custom, for training in their new responsibilities.

As reported by the Vatican website  Pope Francis  offered them a warm welcome, explained that he was sharing  what was on  his mind as Peter’s successor, and urged them to  preach mercy as the summary of what God offers to the world.

He described their ministry as "an icon of mercy,”  adding that mercy is the only force able to permanently attract the human heart.

He then told the assembly (the translation here is mine not the Vatican’s) that “the world is tired of enchanting liars,” and he included in that category “stylish priests and fashionable bishops.”

He said that people run away from narcissists, manipulators and promoters of their own crusades. Bishops, he said, must seek to satisfy God, not themselves.

He warned them to be more concerned about the quality of their seminarians than the quantity, adding that they should be wary of any seminarian who takes  refuge in rigid attitudes.

Pope Francis offered the Good Samaritan as a model for the episcopal  ministry, noting that the one who was neighbor to the man who fell in  with robbers put mercy into action. “Verbs, not adjectives,” he said.

He further urged them, “Be close to your clergy,” and asked them to offer their priests a hug from the pope and  an assurance of his appreciation for their active generosity.

Two days earlier, in a General Audience,  Pope Francis had said, “It is bad for the Church when pastors become princes, separated from the people, far from the poorest -- that is not the spirit of Jesus. Jesus rebuked these pastors, and Jesus spoke about them to the people:, saying ‘Do as they say, not as they do.’”

Early on in his pontificate, in a June 21, 2013 address to papal representatives, Pope Francis was emphatic about  whom they might recommend for ordination as a bishop: “You know the famous expression that indicates a basic criterion in the choice of the person who must govern: si sanctus est oret pro nobis, si doctus est doceat nos, si prudens est regat nos — if he is holy let him pray for us, if he is learned, let him teach us, if he is prudent let him govern us.

“ In the delicate task of carrying out the investigation required prior to making episcopal appointments, be careful that the candidates are pastors close to the people: this is the first criterion. Pastors close to the people….May they be fathers and brothers, may they be gentle, patient and merciful; may they love poverty, interior poverty, as freedom for the Lord, and exterior poverty, as well as simplicity and a modest lifestyle; may they not have the mindset of  'princes'

“Be careful that they are not ambitious, that they are not in quest of the episcopate. It is said that at an early audience Blessed John Paul II was asked by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops about the criterion for the selection of candidates for the episcopate, and the Pope said with his special voice: 'the first criterion: volentes nulumus'. Those who seek the episcopate.... no, they won’t do.”

It is reasonable to suppose that Pope Francis’ life story has contributed to his mindset about the clergy needed for today’s Church. He openly acknowledges the mistakes he made when he was at age 36 appointed in 1973 the Provincial Superior over all the Jesuits in Argentina and Uruguay.

Biographer Paul Vallely concludes that “something happened to Jorge Mario Bergoglio which changed him dramatically” when he was removed from the office of Provincial in 1987 and in 1990 was sent into a kind of exile in Cordoba, Argentina. In his two years there Father Bergoglio underwent a conversion.

Vallely says, “Before Cordoba his leadership style was that of a strict, severe, dutiful disciplinarian, authoritarian who rarely smiled…afterwards he became gentler, more forgiving, more concerned to preach mercy, more listening –and more anxious to empower the poor…”

Pope Francis’ ministry in many ways reflects the conversion and ministry of his namesake, Francis of Assisi. The founder of the Franciscan order said that one day in the chapel of San Damiano he heard a voice telling him, “Repair my church.” It is said that at first he thought he was to fix the church (which he did), but later herealized he was called to repair the Church!

Pope Francis is clearly working to make repairs, an overhaul –from the top to the bottom.

{Sources: Vatican website; Religion News Service article by Josephine McKenna (9/16/16); National Catholic Reporter online article by Robert Mickens (9/26/16), Pope Francis: The Struggle For The Soul Of Catholicism by Paul Vallely (Bloomsbury, 2015).}

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Mother Teresa Inducted Into Church's Hall Of Fame

Sunday, September 4, 2016, marks the induction of  Mother Teresa of Calcutta into the Catholic Church's Hall of Fame.

Known for her dedication to caring for "the poorest of the poor," Mother Teresa did not escape criticism. Journalist Christopher Hitchens insisted that she did not really believe in God and that her life was a charade.

At the time of her funeral Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Calcutta said that Mother Teresa was aware of the criticism against her, but she would simply reply, "While you go on discussing causes and explanations, I will kneel beside the poorest of the poor and attend to their needs."

Most people were surprised if not shocked to learn that Mother Teresa spent perhaps as many as thirty-five years struggling with the doubt that God loved her. In a letter to her spiritual director, she wrote, "Tell me, Father, why is there so much pain and darkness in my soul?"

On another occasion, at the direction of her confessor, Mother wrote a letter which she was told she should address to Jesus.She acknowledged, "In my heart there is no faith --no love --no trust --there is so much pain --the pain of longing, the pain of not being wanted...The work holds no joy, no attraction, no zeal...In the call you said that I would have to suffer much.--Ten years --my Jesus, You have done to me according to your will."

To Bishop Laurence Picachy she revealed both the darkness that she felt but also the consolation she was beginning to discover: "You must have prayed very fervently for me --because it is now about a month that there is in my heart a very deep union with the will of God. I accept not in my feelings --but with my will, the Will of God. --I accept His will --not only for time but for eternity. --In my soul --I can't tell you-- how dark it is, how painful, how terrible. --My feelings are so treacherous."

Christopher Hitchens wrote that Mother Teresa's secret acknowledgment that she felt abandoned by God was proof that she was a hypocrite. A cartoon in the magazine Christianity Today ridiculed those who were shocked at Mother Teresa's dark night of the soul; a news reporter is shown saying, "In other news, people of faith were shocked to learn that a woman who devoted her entire life to chastity, poverty, and caring for lepers had experienced some bad days..."

Those who know of Mother Teresa's ministry and respect her dedication applaud the Church's decision to declare her a saint. Such an honor was deemed inevitable long before she died. She herself had said, however, "If I ever become a saint --I will surely be one of 'darkness.' I will continually be absent from heaven --to light the light of those in darkness on  earth."

To say that our world needs the example and encouragement of a Mother Teresa is stating the obvious. Perhaps her canonization by the Church will serve as a reminder, challenge, inspiration that in some measure we are all called to reach out to those in need.

{The sources for this article include Mother Teresa, Faith in Darkness by Greg Watts (Lion Hudson, 2009); Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light, edited and commentary by Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC (Doubleday, 2007); Teresa of the Poor by Renzo Allegri (Servant Publications, 1998).}