Saturday, 19 October 2013

Gospel Mission - People First, Always!

Brother Juniper O'Brien, 1925-2013
When he was in Brazil in July Pope Francis met with the bishops there and posed a fundamental question: “I would like all of us to ask ourselves: are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?”

Hearts are warmed by love, by compassion, by a presence that accompanies with understanding and wisdom.

On Sunday 20 October the Church celebrates World Mission Day and Francis marks out a path for that mission to our contemporaries.

“Today, we need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the ‘night’ contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture.”

Writing recently in the Washington Post, Michael Gerson focused on the priority that Francis gives to the person.

“This personalism is among the most radical implications of Christian faith. In every way that matters to God, human beings are completely equal and completely loved.

Their dignity runs deeper than their failures.

They matter more than any cause; they are the cause.

Francis knowing that he has been criticised by some over his comments about gays, observed in his interview for Jesuit publications: ‘Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.’

While the Pope's views on moral topics are orthodox, his critique of legalism is radical and unsparing. The Church must be more than the sum of ‘small-minded rules.’ ‘We have to find a new balance,” he said, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards.’

This teaching - to always consider the person - was disorienting from the beginning. The outsiders get invited to the party. The prodigal is given the place of honour. The pious complain about their shocking treatment. The gatekeepers find the gate shut to them. It is subversive to all respectable religious order, which is precisely the point. With Francis, the argument gains a new hearing.”

The photo with this blog is that of Brother Juniper O’Brien who went home to the Lord on 13 October in Harare in his 89th year. A Dublin man he had spent 49 years as a missionary in Zimbabwe where he was deeply loved and respected by both the friars and people. He spent his days building churches, missions and schools, training apprentices, plumbing and painting, whatever was needed. And when his strength decreased he raised turkeys and gardened.

To my knowledge Brother Juniper never preached a homily in his life. However in the witness of his life of prayer and service, in his humble, cheerful way of being with people Christ’s love was proclaimed strong and clear.

Loving concern for the individual comes first, always. Or as the Pope puts it: “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.”

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Stripping in Assisi!

During his visit to Assisi on the feast day of St Francis, one of the first places Pope Francis visited was the “Sala della Spoliazione” - the room is the site where Francis stripped himself of his clothes before his father, the bishop and the townspeople, saying, "From now on I can truly say: Our Father who art in heaven.”

When forced to choose by his father – Francis chose the call of God and sonship in Christ.

A radical turning point in his, at times, painful journey of conversion

Pope Francis used this evocative setting to speak a strong message on “the cancer of worldliness.”

He did not read the address he prepared, choosing to speak off the cuff. He began by pointing out that in recent days the newspapers “fancied” how the Pope would “strip” the Church in Assisi, the habits of the Bishops, the Cardinals, and himself. He said that this was a good occasion to invite the Church to strip herself of worldliness.

However, all of us are the Church, beginning with the baptized. “We must all go on Jesus’ path, who followed the path of despoliation of himself,” recalling that Jesus made himself slave, servant, he let himself be humiliated to the Cross, he added. The Pope reminded those present that “if we want to be Christians there is no other way.” He also warned about the danger of being “pastry shop” Christians, nice cakes but with no real substance.

“What must the Church strip herself of?

Pope Francis stressed emphatically the danger of worldliness, “a very grave danger that threatens the whole Church,” a worldliness that leads to vanity, arrogance, pride. “This is an idol, and idolatry is the strongest sin,” he noted. Once again he said that all of us are the Church and that it “is sad to meet a worldly Christian.” As he has already stated on other occasions, the he warned that "one cannot work for both sides: either one serves God or one serves money.”

Francis addressed those present: the poor people assisted by Caritas. He said that many of them have been “stripped by this savage world that doesn’t give work, doesn’t help and is not concerned if people die of hunger, who flee seeking freedom, with so much sorrow we see that they meet with death, as yesterday in Lampedusa. Today is a day of mourning. These things  are done by the spirit of the world.”

He ended by reminding us all, “the strength of God is what pushed Saint Francis to strip himself and I invited you to pray for the grace to have the courage to strip yourself of this worldliness that is the cancer of society.”