Tag Archives: Pope Francis

Homosexuality and the Catholic Church…

22 Jul

Mackelmore Rainbow triangleWe can’t change, Even if we tried, Even if we wanted to

I am sure I’ll never forget where I was when I learned that the Supreme Court mandated that same-sex “marriage” was now the law of the land. I was driving to work when I heard Macklemore’s rap song, Same Love. It is that idolized pop song with the infectious hook sung by Mary Lambert, “I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to.” I thought it strange the playing of a so-last year song, so I flipped to NPR and sure enough they announced, “Supreme Court Declares Same-Sex Marriage Legal in All 50 States”. I realized that Obergefell v. Hodges is now my generation’s Roe v. Wade.

I lamented that nothing is going to be the same after this. What followed astonished me, a rainbow flag affirmation campaign that Kodachromed almost half my Facebook friends. Many of these rainbows were on Catholics from across the country and some even taught at Catholic schools. A significant number of Catholics approve of same-sex “marriage” and they think the Church should and someday will officially recognize and bless lesbian and gay sexual unions as the equivalent of man and woman marriage. These Catholics think their Church teaching on sexual morality can change. They think their Church will change. Ironically those who believe it is wrong to compel someone with same-sex attraction to change are trying to compel their Church to change.  While Catholic pastoral practice, the way we treat people who self-identify as gay and lesbian can and will likely change, Catholic teaching on the inherent immorality of homosexual sex will never ever change, because it can’t.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued in 2003 a great document for every Catholic to review on the question of legalizing same-sex unions called: Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons . They sum up the Church’s teaching on the nature of marriage in the second paragraph: “The Church’s teaching on marriage and on the complementarity of the sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognized as such by all the major cultures of the world. Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose. No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives.” Furthermore Pope Benedict taught that certain issues are NOT NEGOTIABLE and among the defence of life from conception to natural death he included: “recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family – as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage – and its defence from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role”. Popes often clarify the teachings of their predecessors in teaching the Faith but they never directly contradict. The media often spins Francis’ charitable remark of “who am I to judge?” as a sign that the Pope will contradict 2,000 years of moral teaching. Such a false hope confuses Catholics and the public because of a failure to understand that like Lambert’s sirenic voice chants Church teaching can’t change, even if Francis wanted it to.

Rainbow tinted Catholics who celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage really need to reflect upon the Catholic faith they purport to have. Each week as Catholics we each solemnly proclaim, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” To be an apostolic Church means you believe in the teachings of the Popes and the Bishops in union with them on matters of Faith and Morals, and that those teachings are never going to essentially contradict themselves across time. Pope Francis cannot proclaim that homosexual acts are good and admit same-sex couples into the holy sacrament of matrimony any more than he could add another person to the Trinity (even if he wanted to add the Virgin Mary). As Catholics we hold a radical belief. The belief that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ and that he established a Church with a perfect deposit of faith that cannot be amended. To deny this Church’s teachings is to that extent to deny Christ. With this Church he left a special gift of his Holy Spirit that the Pope and the bishops in union with him cannot teach error to the faithful regarding faith and morals. Since the Church for so long has clearly taught that homosexual acts (not people) are wrong, the Church cannot now bless or condone these acts. If as a Catholic you think the Church should change its core teaching on homosexuality, you will literally have to wait an eternity for this to happen.

So rather than frustrate your salvation and confound your parish family, what is a rainbow Catholic to do? Should you just leave? Oh Heavens no, please don’t jeopardize your salvation by jumping off the ark. However, now is the time for a serious revaluation of your Faith? Rather than subversively wait for the Church to become as “enlightened” as you and the church of what’s happening now, you should actively wait on the LORD and take this contradiction to God in study and prayer. The Catholic Church does not want us to be unquestioning robots that follow orders but rather actively engaged believers whose faith always seeks understanding. If you think the Church is wrong because you want to affirm your “gay” friends and relatives fine, but don’t just sit there, start wrestling with the angels. Start to question why you believe what you do and why the Church teaches what she teaches. One beautifully elegant question that is guaranteed to open you up to the guidance of the Holy Spirit is, “If the Catholic Church turned out to be right, how is that it could be true?” Study and pray till you see how you can stay and still be the person of integrity that God calls you to be. As Catholics we are not members of a club, we are disciples of Jesus Christ with his Catholic Church as our guide. Discipleship takes discipline and let’s be honest, this is hard. A faith that never engages a difficult teaching is not much of a faith at all.

So Catholics in our quest to not appear homophobic let’s not become Christophobic by outright rejection of the teachings of our Church. Macklemore is right that “If you preach hate at the service, those words aren’t anointed. That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned “. However, how hateful is it to tell a lie to someone who wants to be lied to by confirming that person into a sinful practice. If the homosexual act is really a sin then we are loving no one by its encouragement. For, “when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.” (James 1:15) As Catholics we must seek and preach the truth in love or then we really do risk poisoning our holy water.

 

 

Pope’s Intentions for July 2014

1 Jul

Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Francisprecious blood for the month of July, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Sports. That sports may always be occasions of human fraternity and growth.
  • Lay Missionaries. That the Holy Spirit may support the work of the laity who proclaim the Gospel in the poorest countries.

July is also the month traditionally dedicated to the Precious Blood of Our Lord. Father Faber describes why we honor the Blood of Christ in Precious Blood: The Price of Our Salvation.

The Precious Blood of Jesus deserves special honor because of its close relation to Our Lord’s Passion. From the beginning the Apostles praised its redeeming power. Some biblical examples:

  • Romans 5:9 “we are justified by His blood”
  • Hebrews 13:12 “and so Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people by His blood, suffered outside the gate”
  • 1 John 1:7 “and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin”

Pope’s Intentions for June 2014

2 Jun

umemployedFollowing are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Francis for the month of June, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Unemployed. That the unemployed may receive support and find the work they need to live in dignity.
  • Faith in Europe.That Europe may rediscover its Christian roots through the witness of believers.

This month we honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus—not so much with our words but with our actions. For by our actions we show that our hearts are one with the Heart of Jesus.

What are the thoughts and feelings of Jesus’ Heart? In the Gospels we often read that the Heart of Jesus was “moved with pity” for the poor and suffering people who flocked to him (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32). Over the centuries the crowds have not diminished. They’ve increased. People continue to wander like sheep without a shepherd looking for relief. Now we, the Body of Christ, united in prayer with the Vicar of Christ, must hear their cries and respond as Jesus did.

Pope Francis cares about people who are left destitute “by unemployment which takes away their dignity as breadwinners.” He has said that this “physical destitution” often leads to the “moral destitution” of slavery “to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or pornography.”

At a conference last November, Pope Francis pointed out that the unemployment rate for young people under twenty-five is 40 percent or more. “This is a mortgage,” he said; “it is a mortgage on our future. And if it is not resolved soon, it guarantees a rather weak future—or no future at all.”

We share Pope Francis’ concern for individuals who are unemployed and robbed of their dignity. We are concerned for the future of our world if this affront to human dignity is not corrected. We share the love of the Heart of Jesus, “a love which is grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved” (2014 Message for Lent). May the unemployed find support and may the causes of their plight be removed.

For reflection: How does unemployment relate to my duty to respect human life from conception to natural death?

 

Pope’s Intentions for May 2014

1 May

BVM iconFollowing are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Francis for the month of May, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Media. That the media may be instruments in the service of truth and peace.
  • Mary’s Guidance. That Mary, Star of Evangelization, may guide the Church in proclaiming Christ to all nations.

Regarding the second intention, the Apostleship of Prayer offers us this reflection:

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus’ turning water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana was the first sign of His divinity. The miracle “revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him” (2:11). Mary played a key role in this miracle. She told the servers, “Do whatever he tells you” (2:5). Today she says to us: “Do whatever he tells you.” What Jesus is asking of us now is to carry on His work of spreading the good news of God’s love wherever we go.

Pope Francis often refers to Mary as the one who guides the Church in the work of evangelization. He called her “the star and compass that leads to Christ” and the “bright star of our Christian walk.”

Speaking to the Pontifical Mission Societies, he quoted Pope Paul VI’s words: “May the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the Good News not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient, or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ, and who are willing to risk their lives so that the Kingdom of God may be proclaimed and the Church established in the midst of the world.”

In the conclusion of “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis writes: “Mary let herself be guided by the Holy Spirit on a journey of faith toward a destiny of service and fruitfulness. Today we look to her and ask her to help us proclaim the message of salvation to all and to enable new disciples to become evangelizers in turn.”

During this month dedicated to Mary, we ask her help in the work of evangelization. Following her direction, let us offer ourselves to Jesus every day, praying that we may do everything he tells us. In that way, the water—the ordinary events of our lives—will be transformed into the wine of the Kingdom of God.

How has Mary been a guiding star in my life? How may she help me do what Jesus asks of me?

Pope Francis’ Intentions for April 2014

1 Apr

Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Francis for the month of April, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
  • Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Since the 16th century Catholic piety has assigned entire months to special devotions. The Church has traditionally recommended an increased devotion to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist during the month of April.

“The Church in the course of the centuries has introduced various forms of this Eucharistic worship which are ever increasing in beauty and helpfulness; as, for example, visits of devotion to the tabernacles, even every day; Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; solemn processions, especially at the time of Eucharistic Congresses, which pass through cities and villages; and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament publicly exposed . . . These exercises of piety have brought a wonderful increase in faith and supernatural life to the Church militant upon earth and they are re-echoed to a certain extent by the Church triumphant in heaven, which sings continually a hymn of praise to God and to the Lamb ‘Who was slain.’” –Pope Pius XII

“The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church. . . . It is the responsibility of Pastors to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ present under the Eucharistic species. . . . This practice, repeatedly praised and recommended by the Magisterium,is supported by the example of many saints. Particularly outstanding in this regard was Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who wrote: ‘Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us.’The Eucharist is a priceless treasure: by not only celebrating it but also by praying before it outside of Mass we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace.” –Blessed John Paul II

Star of the New Evangelization

31 Mar

Pope and BVMWe now come to the final installment of our series on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”).

As is typical of many papal documents in recent memory, the Holy Father concludes with some reflections on the Blessed Virgin Mary and a prayer seeking her maternal intercession for the “new evangelization” (EG 284-88).

The Pope describes Mary as being singularly present in the midst of God’s people. As at Pentecost, her prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit gives birth to “the Church which evangelizes” (EG 284). We look to her to understand the spirit of the new evangelization, for which we fervently desire a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Father continually stresses the close connection between Mary, the Church, and each individual believer. At the foot of the Cross, at the moment of the new creation, Jesus entrusted the Blessed Virgin Mary to John—and to us! The Church would never have to journey in this world without a mother (EG 285).

I found some of the titles for Mary at the conclusion of EG to be quite interesting and revealing. She is called the “Mother of the Living Gospel” and “Star of the New Evangelization.” She is the model of both contemplation (cf. Luke 2:19, 51) and pastoral concern for others (cf. John 2:5). She teaches us about a different sort of strength, one rooted in love, humility, and tenderness. The Pope calls upon the Church to embrace this Marian “style” of evangelization (EG 288), so that the joy of the Gospel may truly reach to the end of the earth, especially to God’s little ones.

Spirit-Filled Evangelizers

24 Mar

Pope Francis 4In the final chapter of his apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), Pope Francis exhorts us to be bold, Spirit-filled evangelizers. He calls all of us to proclaim the Gospel “not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence” (EG 259). To that end, he shares with us his thoughts on the proper spirit of the new evangelization (EG 260), yet recognizing that his words of encouragement can only go so far. We must allow our hearts to be set on fire by the Holy Spirit! (EG 261).

The Holy Father offers some reasons for a renewed missionary impulse in our time. He is looking for a new generation of evangelizers who are truly willing to “pray and work” (EG 262). He especially encourages Eucharistic adoration, but then he expects the faithful to leave the adoration chapel ready to be a blessing to others in their need.

Every period of history poses its own unique challenges to those who would be missionaries. Yet there is much that we can and must learn from the saints of previous generations, “who were filled with joy, unflagging courage, and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel” (EG 263).

The Pope emphasizes that the primary reason for evangelization is the love of Jesus—a love that urges us to love Him more deeply in return and to share that love with others (EG 264). We need to implore His grace daily, begging that our love may not grow cold or lukewarm. We must spend time with Jesus. In that regard, the Holy Father especially encourages us to slowly contemplate the pages of the Gospel, reading it from the heart.

Our enthusiasm for evangelization is based on the conviction that the Gospel responds to a universal hunger for God (EG 265). We must sustain this conviction by constantly renewing and savoring our own friendship with Jesus. The Pope pointedly notes that a true missionary never ceases to be a disciple. Further, he warns that “a person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain, and in love will convince nobody” (EG 266). A missionary must be willing to set aside all other motivations and agendas and “evangelize for the greater glory of the Father who loves us” and who sent His only Son to redeem us (EG 267).

God saves us as a people, and His love extends to all. Evangelization must entail entering others’ lives. We simply can’t be evangelists if we don’t have a passion for God’s people (EG 268). Rather than keep ourselves at arm’s length, Our Lord wants us “to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others” (EG 270).

The Holy Father stresses that we must truly become men and women “of the people” (EG 271) and not their critic or enemy. He quotes several Scripture passages that exhort us to live humbly and peaceably with others, always seeking to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Living this way is not an “extra” or part of our “job,” but rather part of our deepest identity 24/7 (EG 273). Every person has inestimable dignity and value, and therefore every person is eminently worthy of our giving (EG 274).

We must avoid getting caught up in the pursuit of selfish comforts or pleasures, which the Pope says can easily occur when we do not have a deep spiritual life (EG 275). When that happens, we lose hope and are fooled into believing that things are not going to change—even though Jesus Christ has definitively triumphed over sin and death!

Instead, Christ must always be the wellspring of our hope. We do well to remember that the Resurrection is not merely an event in the distant past, but rather is an ongoing reality that has power in the present (EG 276). If we rely on our own steam rather than the power of the Resurrection, we will grow weary and eventually give up (EG 277). While we don’t always see tangible results from our evangelistic labors, the Pope says we have an interior certainty that God is always mysteriously at work, allowing our efforts to bear fruit in His good time (EG 279-80).

The Pope concludes this section with some reflections on the missionary power of intercessory prayer, through which we seek the good of others (EG 281). Authentic prayer opens us up to others, leading us to be grateful for the gift of others (cf. Romans 1:8), as we become more conscious of what God is doing in their lives. Our prayer frees us from self-absorption and opens us to others’ needs (EG 282). Our prayers of intercession allow God’s power, love, and faithfulness to shine ever more clearly in the midst of His people (EG 283).

Dialogue, Peace, and Evangelization

11 Mar

Pope Francis5Pope Francis devotes a section of his apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”) to the role of social dialogue in the promotion of peace (EG 238-58). He considers this a significant part of the Church’s overall mission to carry the Gospel out to all the world. He cites three specific areas of dialogue: with states, with society (including cultures and sciences), and with believers who are not members of the Catholic Church (EG 238).

The Church supports the efforts of the State to promote peace in ways that respond to the dignity of the human person and promote the common good (EG 241). While this may sound too grandiose for the average believer, the Holy Father also reminds us that every baptized person is called to be “a peacemaker and a credible witness to a reconciled life” (EG 239).

Dialogue between science and faith is also part of the work of evangelization at the service of peace. The Holy Father calls for a synthesis of empirical science and other areas of knowledge, especially philosophy and theology. The new evangelization must be attentive to scientific advances and “shed on them the light of faith and the natural law” (EG 242). The Church delights in the progress and potential of science. Problems occur only when science—or faith—exceeds the limit of its respective competence. At that point, the issue is not one of truth, but of ideologies that can only block “the path to authentic, serene, and productive dialogue” (EG 243).

When the Holy Father speaks of “other believers” (EG 238) he is referring to both ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. He sees ecumenism as “a contribution to the unity of the human family” (EG 245). He is painfully conscious of the counter-witness of division among Christians, especially in Asia and Africa. In light of the vast numbers of people who have not received the Gospel, “our commitment to a unity that helps them to accept Jesus Christ can no longer be a matter of mere diplomacy or forced compliance, but rather an indispensable path to evangelization” (EG 246).

Pope Francis accords Judaism a special place among non-Christian religions. After all, the Church looks upon the Jewish faith as one of the sacred roots of our own Christian identity (cf. Romans 11:16-18). The Holy Father cites our current friendship with the Jewish people as well as our bitter regret for past persecutions and injustices (EG 248). While we must always proclaim Jesus as Lord and Messiah, we continue to share the Hebrew Scriptures with them as well as many ethical convictions (EG 249).

The Pope says that “interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as for other religious communities” (EG 250). Here he stresses the close relationship between dialogue and proclamation. We need to be clear and joyful regarding our own convictions and identity, while also being open to understanding those of other faiths in a spirit of candor and goodwill (EG 251). Pope Francis singles out dialogue with Islam as especially important in our time. One comment he made that I found especially eye-opening was this: “[O]ur respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (EG 253).

The Holy Father concludes this section with some consideration of religious freedom, a fundamental human right that includes “the freedom to choose the religion that one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public” (EG 255).  Redefining religious liberty as a right that only applies in private consciences and inside church buildings is “a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism” (EG 255). Respect can be given to non-believers without silencing the convictions of the believing majority. Such a heavy-handed approach can only feed resentment, not  tolerance and peace.

In all of this, the Holy Father is relentlessly stressing the social dimension of the Gospel, which beckons all of us to “get our shoes dirty”—to boldly bring the Gospel to the world in words, attitudes, and deeds (EG 258).

The Cry of the Poor

23 Jan

pope francis 6As mentioned in our last installment of our series on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), the Holy Father believes that the inclusion of the poor in society is an urgent issue for the Church today. He therefore devotes an entire section of this document (EG 186-216) to this most significant topic.

Pope Francis begins by pointing to our faith in Jesus Christ, who was always close to the poor and outcast, as the basis for our concern for the most forgotten members of society (EG 186). He also quotes several Scripture passages that impel the people of God to hear the cry of the poor in our midst (EG 187). He emphasizes that compassion for the poor is not the concern of only a few, but rather flows from the grace working through the entire body of believers, leading us to think in terms of the good of others and the good of the wider community (EG 188).

What the Pope is calling for is an authentic solidarity that is not only open to the renewal of social structures, but even more to the renewal of our convictions and attitudes (EG 189). He speaks with particular force and urgency regarding the cry of entire peoples: “the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity” (EG 190). And the goal is not merely “dignified sustenance” for all, but their welfare and prosperity, which includes education, access to healthcare and, above all, employment (EG 192).

We hear the cry of the poor when we are moved by the suffering of others. This must elicit mercy from us (EG 193). “Blessed are the merciful, because they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). One concrete, biblical expression of mercy toward the poor is almsgiving (cf. Tobit 12:9; Sirach 3:30).

Pope Francis stresses that the Gospel is simple and clear when it comes to our responsibility to be just and merciful to the poor (EG 194). Doctrinal orthodoxy is of no avail if we don’t take to heart this teaching.

For St. Paul, the key criterion of a Christian’s authenticity is whether he remembers the poor (EG 195; cf. Galatians 2:10). The Pope challenges us to “remember” and not allow ourselves to become distracted by the consumerism that surrounds us (EG 196).

God has demonstrated a special love for the poor throughout salvation history, culminating in the coming of the Savior’s embrace of poverty (EG 197). The Church’s tradition bears witness to the fact that the “option for the poor” holds a place of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity. For that reason, the Pope declares “I want a Church which is poor and for the poor” (EG 198). In saying that, the Holy Father is not calling for mere activism, but for loving attentiveness and identification with the poor. When we don’t welcome the poor, the proclamation of the Gospel loses its compelling resonance (EG 199). The Pope also emphasizes that the preferential option for the poor includes spiritual care, which sometimes is lacking (EG 200), and that no one is exempt from the concern for social justice (EG 201).

Pope Francis then discusses the economy and the just distribution of resources. He calls inequality the root of society’s problems. While welfare programs provide temporary solutions, we must address the sources of inequality (EG 202). Clearly economic policies must be based on the dignity of the human person and the pursuit of the common good. We cannot be indifferent toward these concerns, nor can we exploit them through recourse to empty rhetoric (EG 203).

Gone are the days in which we can trust in the “invisible hand of the market” (EG 204). Rather, we must be intentional when it comes to bringing about necessary reform. Therefore, the Pope prays that Lord will grant us politicans who realize that charity is not only inter-personal, but also the principle that must govern our life in society (EG 205). He stresses the value of governments working together, as economic decisions in one part of the world have repercussions elsewhere (EG 206).

Pope Francis here returns to the Church community, and says that the Church has to do its part in reaching out to the poor in action, and not through “unproductive meetings and empty talk” (EG 207). The Holy Father uses strong language through must of the exhortation, which he acknowledges in EG 208, but he affirms his affection for all and his desire for the good of all apart from any personal or political interest.

In the last part of this section, Pope Francis says that since Jesus the Evangelizer identified with the vulnerable, so too must we in our apostolic outreach (EG 209). He then refers to several classes of people who are particularly vulnerable in our present-day circumstance. He mentions the homeless, addicts, refugees, the elderly, and many others. He mentions the particular challenge posed by migrants, noting that he is “the pastor of a Church without frontiers” (EG 210).

The Holy Father expresses particular love and concern for unborn children (EG 211). He says that “it is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life” (EG 212). In a very pastoral manner, he also affirms that the Church must do more to accompany women in difficult situations, such that abortion does not appear to be the best or only solution in those circumstances.

He concludes by affirming our role as stewards over all of creation (EG 215), and in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi calls us to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, as well as its inhabitants (EG 216).

Going Deeper

7 Jan

Pope as CatechistAfter a Christmas hiatus, it is time to continue our overview of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter on the new evangelization (Evangelii Gaudium, or “GE”).

When most people think of “evangelization,” they think of the initial proclamation of the Gospel (the technical term is “kerygma”), that invites people to a new relationship with Christ.

Yet, as Pope Francis points out, when Christ sent out His apostles as missionaries, He gave them this instruction: “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). The Holy Father sees in this instruction the need for ongoing formation and maturation, what we traditionally call “catechesis” (GE 160), which is part of the larger process of evangelization.

For those of us familiar with CCD and School of Religion programs, we must admit that sometimes we think of catechesis as primarily intellectual formation—a “class” that one has to attend. Yet the Holy Father is clear that catechesis is not primarily doctrinal, but about growing in grace and virtue (GE 161), recognizing that it is always the Lord who initiates the process (GE 162).

Pope Francis acknowledges the normative role of Church teaching on catechesis (GE 163), but offers further reflections that are significant for our time. One point of emphasis is the heart of the Gospel, the kerygma, which is both Trinitarian and Christ-centered. Just because it comes “first” doesn’t mean it can be forgotten later (GE 164). Rather, all catechesis must continually circle back to the heart of the message, which means that God’s saving love must be stressed ahead of religious and moral obligations (GE 165).

Pope Francis emphasizes the role of mystagogic catechesis, which is catechesis that is liturgical and involves the entire community (EG 166). This is just one more way that the Pope is emphasizing the need for catechetical formation that affects the entire person (not just a “head trip”) and one’s environment or culture. Like Pope Benedict, Pope Francis emphasizes the role of beauty in catechesis, including new forms or modes of beauty that are meaningful to today’s seekers (cf. EG 167). Catechesis also has a moral component, and the Holy Father decidedly prefers a joyful, positive approach that presents the moral life as the quest for authentic wisdom, self-fulfillment, and enrichment (EG 168)

Perhaps the most striking insight that the Holy Father gives us in this section is his call that all members of the Church be initiated in the “art of accompaniment” (EG 169), which in some ways reminds me of some of the writings of Blessed John Paul II, especially Crossing the Threshold of Hope.  This simply means that the Church needs people who can help lead others closer to God (EG 170). Those who serve as spiritual mentors must be good listeners (EG 171), fostering spiritual growth and the development of virtues in a spirit of patience and compassion (EG 171-72). Also, spiritual accompaniment isn’t an end in itself, but is part of the Church’s never-ending mission to bring the Gospel to the world. As the Holy Father says, “Missionary disciples accompany missionary disciples” (EG 173).

Pope Francis ends this section of the apostolic exhortation by stressing that Sacred Scripture is at the heart of all Church activity (EG 174). The Church evangelizes only to the extent she continually allows herself to be evangelized through the ministry of the Word. For that reason, the Pope invites all believers to become intimately familiar with Scripture, which he calls a “sublime treasure” (EG 175).