* Pope Francis’ Pastoral Vision
I have been reading a number of books and articles about Pope Francis this summer, as well as his own writings. I continue to be fascinated (and amazed) at how his vision for Church and society remains steady in the face of massive criticism, much of it from within the inner circles of the Church. I find it an exciting vision because it recognizes that we do not have all the answers and have to remain open to the Holy Spirit to guide us into a new future. Although the Pope believes in all of the doctrines of the Church, his vision relies less on repeating doctrinal certitudes and more on inviting us to accompany persons in their real struggles to live integral human lives. He recognizes that too often the focus on doctrines first leads the Church to not only assert certitudes but to condemn those who do not hold the same certitudes. Instead, he calls us to walk with those who are struggling in any way and to find ways to minister to them, even if their lives do not perfectly conform to Catholic teachings. This calls for a conversion of mind and heart on our part, rather than simply thinking we have the truth to which others have to convert. We do have a wonderful vision to share, but we do so in dialogue with other people’s visions calling all to mutual conversion.
In re-reading some of his writings, I began to appreciate better the significance of his early Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) which he issued in 2013. If you want to want to understand this Pope, go back and read this document. I have put a link to it on our website under “News/News Briefs.” He calls us to be a Church “always on mission.” That vision and language is rooted in the Second Vatican Council’s idea of the Church as the “pilgrim people of God.” If we are a pilgrim people, always on mission, then no historical era has a lock on embodying the fullness of God’s truth. We have the core, an essential piece of that truth, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Eucharistic people that flows from that Paschal Mystery. But because that vision is embodied always in historically limited ways, it must be renewed and re-proclaimed and re-embodied in each era and culture. Our role as a Church is not primarily that of police who catch people who are not living up to the standards, or of judges who issue sentences of punishment for failing to live those standards. Our role as a Church is to re-root ourselves in the Gospel and to find ways to live that Gospel in today’s world, to live that Gospel with joy so that others might be attracted to its message.
In paragraphs # 222-237, while discussing peace in society and the common good, Pope Francis lays out four “pastoral principles” that guide his vision. I am calling them pastoral principles because they can be applied not just to peace in society but also to our life as a Church and communities of faith. In fact, if we (especially bishops and priests) would truly embrace these four principles in our own pastoral approach, I am convinced we would be a much more authentic, humble, attractive, joyful and dynamic Church. More next week.
* Update on the Use of Facilities and COVID-19
In last week’s bulletin I published the updated guidelines. Basically, except for Communion ministers at the time of distributing Communion, the use of masks/face coverings is optional and full capacity is allowed in our spaces. We have maintained an “every-other-pew” set up for the farthest sections but have taken down the ropes elsewhere. We ask that you not use those farthest sections unless you have been vaccinated or are wearing a mask, so that those who need to be more cautious about social distancing can worship with us in a way that will not cause undue anxiety.
Our next step will be to re-introduce the hymnals into the pews and begin using hymnals again. When we do this, we will no longer be spraying the pews after each Mass. Although people are encouraged to use hand sanitizer as often as they need to, the CDC guidelines do not consider sharing a pew/chair or a hymnal from one Mass to another to be a likely source of virus spread. This is made even safer, as more and more people get vaccinated. No one is forced to get a vaccine, of course, but either wearing a proper mask or getting a vaccine is a way to support the health and well-being of everyone. Any of the vaccines currently approved for use can be received without any moral qualms. I have a short “Faith Byte” video on this topic that you can look at on our website under “News/News Briefs.”
Some have asked about the school and what the policy will be for children in the school when they come back at the end of summer. It is too early to tell. The Archdiocese has a task force working on guidelines and both the local county health department and local school district will also weigh in. As we know more, so will you. We are planning for in person education starting from day one of the school year.