Soul searching

I came across this statement recently in a post by Adrianplass that has me wondering :

“The world is filled with desperate people.  They need Christ, not Christianity.”

Some soul searching going on here.   Am sure I have been one of those who has contributed to separate Christ from Christianity !!

Thank God for the reminder  which I hope will stick with me.   And  thank God for people like Pope Francis who helps us to refocus/re-align with the merciful Christ.

The world needs Jesus, not systems. A real person among real people doing real things. Informal, sometimes bewildering, often captivating and exciting, not very religious, frequently alienating.

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Vatican II, Synod on the Family … two Popes

And Guadium et Spes  or The Church in the Modern World. (document of Vatican II).  

Three months after his election,  Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli,  the new Pope John XXIII surprised the world by convoking the Second Vatican Council.

There had not been a Council in nearly 100 years … and this was to be an Ecumenical Council with  the Bishops of the universal church in attendance, not just European and Italian prelates.

His famous words open these windows and let the fresh air in’,  were a prelude to the historic event that has been  pivotal for the Catholic Church.

Opening the windows would no doubt raise the dust of centuries that had settled on the Church. There was, as can be expected, opposition and prophets of doom!

Prophets of Doom

Despite all naysayers, this great visionary inspired the Universal Church to reflect on how she could build and strengthen the faith in the cultural changes following two World Wars. The Council Fathers were inspired by two principles:

aggiornamento (Italian for “updating”) and ressourcement (French for “going back to the sources”).   So the reforms either returned to more ancient practices or took on modern practices and approaches.

The deep introspection and sharing that was the spirit of Vatican II, led to many changes in religious practices so that the light of Christ could shine out visibly.  The pot in which the seed of faith had been transplanted from Rome to distant lands was broken so that the seed could germinate, be in-culturated in,  and draw its nourishment from the local soil

In essence, St. John XXIII believed in the sacramental nature of the church as a sign and instrument of communion with God and unity amongst all men.

It is the same spirit and belief which our beloved Pope Francis carries vocally and visibly in his core message :

“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. … And you have to start from the ground up “

I pray that the Spirit that led to the convening of this Synod, and the declaration of a Year of Mercy, will continue to guide all Bishops in their decisions.

On this October 11 anniversary of the commencement of the Council, also declared as the Feast of St. John XXIII,  I wish to honour his memory by recalling his words as he lay dying on his bed in May 1963 :

Today more than ever, we are called to serve mankind as such, and not merely Catholics; to defend above all and everywhere, the rights of the human person and not merely those of the Catholic Church…’

‘It is not that the Gospel has changed: it is that we have begun to understand it better … the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead. “

Thank you beloved Papa John XXIII  for giving us Vatican II   … and thank you Papa Francesco for the Synod on the Family.  May the Spirit continue to lead you in steering  the barque of the Church into Kingdom waters.

Opening - Synod on the Family 

Synod on the Family, Rome October, 2015.  Source : www:catholicnewsagency.com

It seems to me a strange thing mystifying

That my Lord came to this earth “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4.18)

And yet we who call ourselves Christians because we wish to follow him, do the very opposite.

We get into our ivory castles where we are beyond reproach, and from the safety of this castle we throw stones at those who are not like us in religiosity, in piety, in following the letter of the law.

We are in fact, following the Pharisees rather than following Jesus.

In a recent homily, Pope Francis  exhorted that we ask ourselves the reason the doctors of the law (the Pharisees) did not understand the signs of the times and invoked an extraordinary sign. And he proposed several answers:

The first was “because they were closed. They were closed within their system, they had organized the law very well”. It was “a masterpiece. All of the Jews knew what one could and could not do, where one could go. It was all organized”. But Jesus caught them unprepared, by doing “curious things”, such as “going with the sinners”, and “eating with the publicans”. And the doctors of the law did not like this, they found it “dangerous”, putting at risk “the doctrine which they, the theologians, had been making for centuries”. This happens, said the Pope,  when you forget that you are people on a journey:

“when one is on journey  one always finds new things, things one does not know. And in the law, they had to accept these things in a heart faithful to the Lord”. But, also in this case, “a journey is not absolute in itself, it is a journey toward an end point: toward the definitive manifestation of the Lord”.

For this reason,  Pope Francis explained, Jesus defined them as an “evil generation”, inasmuch as “they did not understand that the law they protected and loved was a pedagogy toward Jesus Christ”. Indeed, “if the law does not lead to Jesus Christ, does not bring us close to Jesus Christ, it is dead”.

And this is why Jesus scolds the members of that generation “for being closed, for being incapable of recognizing the signs of the times, for not being open to the God of surprises, for not being on a journey toward the Lord’s triumphant finale”, to the point “that when he explains it, they think it is blasphemy”.

We who live in ivory towers, closed to the signs of the times, need to reflect on Pope Francis’ words:

Am I attached to my things, to my ideas, closed? Or am I open to the God of surprises?”.

“Am I a stationary person or a person on a journey?”.

May we lose no time  in seeking to bind up open wounds and to rekindle hope in so many people who have lost hope, in setting captives free, and doing the ‘curious things’ that Jesus did as we follow our Master and not the Pharisees.

“A heart that loves the law, for the law is God’s”, but “which also loves God’s surprises”, for his “holy law is not an end in itself”: it is a journey, “a teaching which leads us to Jesus Christ”.

Bible-Verses-About-Mercy

Excerpts (re-arranged with comments) from a homily by Pope Francis on 13 October 2014 on the God of Surprises.