By Fr. Joseph Bragotti, mccj
I have it on good authority that the Catholic Church is not a museum of Christian antiquities, but rather the living body of believers in the resurrected Christ, deeply imbedded in this world, totally involved in a universal missionary outreach which knows no boundaries.
My source? The man whom the Holy Spirit chose to guide the Church through the troubled waters of the early 21st century, Pope Francis. By now his vision of the Church is as clear as spring water – a source of joy for many and a source of consternation to some. This vision is contained in that wonderful exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, which lots of Catholics in the United States still do not know.
A refreshing message
Pope Francis has surprised us numberless times with a refreshing view of the Church, of humanity and of the planet. He has made it clear that love comes before the law. He has mingled with the poor and the rejects of society, and he has actively brokered peace among nations. Members of other religions, atheists and agnostics have been welcomed guests. Both the young and the old have found a strong advocate for their needs.
At the same time, Pope Francis has often been very direct in his comments to those closest to him, such as members of the clergy and of religious life. He told seminary educators not to raise “little monsters,” he made it clear that clericalism is a disease and that hiding behind an office desk is no longer an option. New ideas and a lot of courage are needed to change ingrained systems that no longer work. In simple words, we do not need managers of institutions, but “shepherds who smell like the sheep.”
The Church of today, led by the Pope of today, immersed in the world of today, is either a “missionary Church” or else it runs the risk of being a dead piece of antiquity. Old timers complain that there is a lot of confusion in the Church. It’s actually a positive sign. It means that it is part of the world, which is a messy place to begin with. Aren’t we supposed to be the “leaven” and the “salt” of the earth? Safely tucked away under glass in an exhibit, both salt and leaven are totally useless.
A hope-filled visit
And now Pope Francis is coming to the United States. I am sure that he will embrace friends and foes with the same radiant smile and he will speak in plain words. He will be the perfect herald of the Gospel of life in all its aspects, from the dignity of the unborn to the sacredness of creation.
The official reason for his coming, of course, is the Catholic World Congress on the family. I would be very surprised if he were to proclaim the supremacy of Canon Law over the needs for a compassionate and loving pastoral approach to the family of today. Dogmas never change, but dogmas are fewer than we think.
He will speak to a joint session of the United States Congress. Hardly anyone in that body shares fully the Pope’s pro-life vision, but all of them need to be encouraged to promote whatever little snippet of it they profess to believe in, whatever it may be.
To the dismay of a number of so called “religious” people, Pope Francis will be a welcome guest at the White House. Pope Francis and the president share several concerns that resonate with our Catholic social teaching. This meeting will strengthen the common ties and perhaps create new ones.
At the United Nations Pope Francis will have an unparalleled opportunity to link with the world. There he will fulfill his deep desire to appeal for peace and dialogue. He will be able to show his appreciation for the good that is contained in all cultures and religions across the planet. That’s where our faith joins with the other “seeds of the kingdom of God” already present in the world.
Hopefully, this visit will help the Church in the United States to close some of its “museums.” We cherish tradition, but we are alive today and we are building for tomorrow. ***
The Path of Life Over the Path of Politics
by: Fr. Joe Bragotti, mccj
Recently I answered a quiz on Facebook which was intended to define my political leanings. Naturally, I answered all the questions according to my longstanding Catholic beliefs, including a totally Pro-life vision of the universe, religion and society. Well, it turns out that I belong not to one, but to seven political parties! I didn’t even know we have that many.
The Path of Illusion
I was still chuckling over the discovery when I read a page by a well-known columnist in which he seriously wondered whether, in the long run, the “policies” of Pope Francis will benefit the Democrats or the Republicans. Are we kidding? I couldn’t decide whether I was shocked by his ignorance or by his arrogance.
First of all, have we fallen so low as to believe that the world and the future of our religion rotate around what Washington, DC thinks? After all, we are only about five percent of the world’s population and, in God’s eyes (and the Church’s), the poorest beggar in Bangladesh and the richest oil tycoon in Texas have the same value. Does that help you gain some perspective?
Secondly, there isn’t one political party in the world that can even begin to presume to represents the entire body of what we believe. So, if you are smart, look for honest politicians who are not after money, but who want to represent the common good. They will certainly do some good along the line and, if they agree with some of our beliefs, consider it an extra bonus. Happy hunting.
The Path of Life
Be hopeful! Why? Because Pope Francis is leading the Church on an unprecedented adventure of global dimensions. Often repeating what previous Popes have said (but no one ever listened to!) he is leading us on a straight, enlightened and joyous path to living the Gospel values in a radical way.
Because it is a straight path, the world’s political, economic, sectarian and crooked ways will occasionally cross paths with the Gospel and even go along with it. Count it as a blessing. At other times they will part ways. Bid them many happy returns.
Because it is an enlightened path, thanks to the light of the Holy Spirit, it will shed light on many dark corners. When that happens, all kinds of strange creatures will crawl out of the woodwork. So that, the Pope, the Church and all those who follow this path will be attacked from the left and from the right, from within and from without by crass money worshippers and dreamers alike, by anti-clericals and Cardinals dressed in “fancy stuff,” by those who worship the “law” and by total anarchists. Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun!
Because it is a joyous path with the Savior as our companion, the faithful cannot afford to live as “sad sacs” bemoaning the past, being overly “clerical” (remember, it’s a disease) and stuffy. Seminary educators need to keep this in mind: give us missionaries, not clerics. We need cheerful communities that will attract by example, not by catechism courses.
The Path of Unity
As we, the Church of today, move along this path, something wonderful will happen – actually it is already happening. It has to do with the fact that the Kingdom of God is bigger than the Church. This means that there is a lot of good happening around the world, there are lots of people of good will making it happen – these we often call the “countless points of light.”
At closer inspection, it turns out that we are all moving in the same direction without distinction of race, creed or nationality. We all want justice, we all want peace, we all revere life, we all crave for solidarity with the most unfortunate, we all crave for something beyond the passing misery of the present world. In a variety of ways, whether we know it or not, we are all doing the will of God.
Let today’s Pharisees judge, let the money worshippers gloat, let the wimpy fret, the ignorant continue teaching and the hateful spit venom. By ourselves we may be weak, we may be poor, but with God’s help and the forward progress of the People of God we are unstoppable!