Category Archives: local

Peace and Unity

One of my favorite parts of Evangelii Gaudium is Francis’ study of peace and unity. As we celebrate Pope Saint John XXIII, whose best-known encyclical is Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), and whose best-known anything was convening the Second Vatican Council, which paved the way for any number of steps toward Christian and interreligious signs of unity, the timing isn’t bad to look at this.

Peace and unity among Christians is an essential part of our witness, our evangelization. “I especially ask Christians in communities throughout the world to offer a radiant and attractive witness of fraternal communion. Let everyone admire how you care for one another, and how you encourage and accompany one another.” (99)

But it’s in one of his last sections, after most of us have nodded off or flipped on TV, that Francis outlines some really good thoughts on what peace is and isn’t. “Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others. Nor does true peace act as a pretext for justifying a social structure which silences or appeases the poor.” (218) “Nor is peace ‘simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day towards the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect justice among men.'” (179) (quoting Paul VI’s Populum Progressio

So where does true peace come from? Francis offers four principles. 1) “Time is greater than space” (222-225), which means playing the long game, taking the long view, focusing on the process and not the immediate results. This only happens with Christian hope that God is in charge. It is here that Francis invokes the parable of the wheat and the weeds.

2) “Unity prevails over conflict” (226-230). Francis rightly assesses that when faced with conflict, we tend to choose from three options: ignore it, embrace it, or resolve it. That last option (the right answer, if you weren’t clear), requires perspective-taking in which parties seek to understand each other and work toward resolution. It approaches diversity not as discord but as a potential for greater harmony.

3) “Realities are more important than ideas” (231-233) (can you imagine Benedict XVI ever saying that?) Francis worries that too many leaders get so caught up in thoughts that are disconnected from real life that what is logical triumphs over what is practical. He does not use the phrase “keeping it real,” but he well could.

4) “The whole is greater than the part” (234-237) What’s most interesting here is that Francis isn’t elevating globalization over localization here (because that would promote ideas over realities). But he is calling for solutions that take everyone into account, not just those that society thinks count.

I can’t do justice to this section. It’s worth the read.

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A church that is local, personal, externally focused, communal (and poor), part 2

Wow, would the world be a better place if this was the attitude of every Christian: “We need to help others to realize that the only way is to learn how to encounter others with the right attitude, which is to accept and esteem them as companions along the way, without interior resistance. Better yet, it means learning to find Jesus in the faces of others, in their voices, in their pleas. And learning to suffer in the embrace of the crucified Jesus whenever we are unjustly attacked or meet with ingratitude, never tiring of our decision to live in fraternity.” (91)

I am tempted to let Francis drop the mic and walk off the stage with that one at least on this theme, but he has other treasures on the need for the Church to be local, personal, communal, focused outward. I won’t quote it (you can always get a link to the doc from my “About” tab), but in paragraph 95 he does a great job of pointing to the internal, careerist, organization-building tendency in the Church (and, sociologists would argue, in every human institution). In 97 he says about this temptation: “We need to avoid it by making the Church constantly go out from herself, keeping her mission focused on Jesus Christ, and her commitment to the poor.”

There is, you have to admit, a leaning toward clubbishness in the Church, a tendency to focus on keeping the holy safe from the outside world. Francis won’t have it. “The salvation which God has wrought, and the Church joyfully proclaims, is for everyone…Jesus did not tell the apostles to form an exclusive and elite group. He said: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.'” (113)

There is a lot in the middle section of the exhortation on the kerygma – the basic kernel of the Gospel (see the earlier post on the essential message). I’m ashamed to say that in all my years as a Christian, I haven’t spent a lot of time practicing how to talk about that message, but many who have seem to articulate it as a solely individual one about your personal relationship with Jesus. But Francis says that isn’t complete. “The kerygma has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others.” (177) “To believe in a Father who loves all men and women with an infinite love means realizing that ‘he thereby confers upon them an infinite dignity…to believe that Jesus shed his blood for us removes any doubt about the boundless love which ennobled each human being.” (178) He concludes in 180: “Both Christian preaching and life, then, are meant to have an impact on society.” And thus he is off to talk about poverty and peace.

Later, in his talk about unity and dialogue, he has a great section 231-233 on the need for the world of ideas to be ever-grounded in reality (which, if my doctoral professors had adhered to, I might have taken a different path, by the way).

It’s easy to see community simply as the field of mission, and not it’s end, but that is incomplete. “Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people…we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm in others, we are committed to building a new world.” (269)

This is the Church Francis wants.

When the lights go down in the city

Just had to throw in that Francis has a beautiful reflection on the challenges and beauty of city life in this document. In para. 71: “It is curious that God’s revelation tells us that the fullness of humanity and of history is realized in a city. We need to look at our cities with a contemplative gaze, a gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their homes, in their streets and squares. god’s presence accompanies the sincere efforts of individuals and groups to find encouragement and meaning in their lives. He dwells among them, fostering solidarity, fraternity, and the desire for goodness, truth and justice.”

“In cities, as opposed to the countryside, the religious dimension of life is expressed by different lifestyles, daily rhythms linked to places and people.” (72)

It’s ironic that I was in a group discussion of the Joy of the Gospel, and when the subject of the city came up, the participants, especially the older ones, completely missed this point. “Cities are where all the bad things happen,” was what they got out of the reading. To be fair, Francis does talk at length about the challenges of city life in 74 and 75. But it is a nuanced picture.

A church that is local, personal, external, communal (and poor), Part 1

Here’s why I said in a recent Facebook post that Pope Francis may be using the same consultants as my employer. As we at AARP figure out how best to help people, a theme that has emerged is the need to be local and personal in communities, something that we have as a thread of our history but aren’t primarily known for. As the only membership organization larger than us in the US, it appears the Catholic Church has identified the same strategy.

Early on (15), Francis cites John Paul II stating that “the missionary task [spreading the good news] must remain foremost” and asks, “What would happen if we were to take these words seriously? We would realize that missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity. [italics in text]. He then quotes the bishops of Latin America as saying that the a church “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church building.” To spread the good news, we must be externally focused.
Later, he says “it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear.” (23) Externally focused.

It’s not just enough for Christians to be out in the world; to be effective, we need to be involved in people’s lives. “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives…it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizer a thus take on the “smell of the sheep”…[such a community] is also supportive! standing by people at every step of the way.” (24)

While Francis defends the parish (what we think of as a church community) as an institution that hasn’t outlived its usefulness (and outlines the functions of a parish along the lines I mentioned in the last post), that defense is dependent; “This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few…In all it’s activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers.” (28)

People often think of a Church building as a place that is protected from the riff-raff. That isn’t what Francis has in mind: “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door…Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacrament be closed for simply any reason…The Eucharist…is to a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” (47)

A local and personal Church is not the same as a private one; local and personal is also communal: “The individualism of our postmodern and globalized era favours a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds. Pastoral activity needs to bring out more clearly the fact that our relationship with the Father demands and encourages a community which heals, promotes and reinforces interpersonal bonds.” (67)

In the call to community, the built environment often works against us. In cities, “Houses and neighbourhoods are more often built to isolate and protect than to connect and integrate,” frets the pope (75). And social media doesn’t help: “Today, when the networks and means of human communication have made unprecedented advances, we sense the challenge of finding and sharing a ‘mystique’ of living together, of mingling and encounter, of embracing and supporting one another, of stepping into this flood tide which, while chaotic, can become a genuine experience of fraternity, a caravan of solidarity, a sacred pilgrimage. Greater possibilities for communication this turn into greater possibilities for encounter and solidarity for everyone.” (87)

The Church has to be communal, like it or not: “Many try to escape from others and take refuge in the comfort of their privacy or in a small circle of close friends, renouncing the realism of the social aspect of the Gospel. For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command. Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction.” (88)

So put your smart phone down and look around.

And poor: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” (49). “The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor.” (58)