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.”