Francis and Philip (Update)
In his homily this morning, during Mass with bishop, priests, religious, and seminarians, Pope Francis urged them: "Be servants of communion and of the culture of encounter!"
It brought to mind the letter sent ten years ago by the late Monsignor Philip Murnion to the Bishops of the United States – literally as he lay dying. Philip wrote:
A spirituality of communion and dialogue is as demanding in its asceticism as a spirituality of the desert or the cloister. Like them, it also requires its own appropriate structures. The Catholic tradition knows well that spirituality and structure are not opposed. Here, as elsewhere, it affirms the "both/and" of charism and institution, invisible grace and visible embodiment. Both are essential, though only one is eternal. We can ill afford to be less Catholic than the pope himself who insists: "The spirituality of communion, by prompting a trust and openness wholly in accord with the dignity and responsibility of every member of the people of God, supplies institutional reality with a soul."
The Pope Philip was quoting was John Paul II. Francis seems to be implementing the program.
Update: In a blunt and programmatic address to the leadership of the Latin American Episcopal Conference Pope Francis laid out his vision of renewal in the Church. Many of the themes have appeared piecemeal over these weeks; but here they form an integral whole.
He said for example:
In practice, do we make the lay faithful sharers in the Mission? Do we offer them the word of God and the sacraments with a clear awareness and conviction that the Holy Spirit makes himself manifest in them?
Is pastoral discernment a habitual criterion, through the use of Diocesan Councils? Do such Councils and Parish Councils, whether pastoral or financial, provide real opportunities for lay people to participate in pastoral consultation, organization and planning? The good functioning of these Councils is critical. I believe that on this score, we are far behind.
And in a succinct statement of his passionate persuasion:
Missionary discipleship is a vocation: a call and an invitation. It is given in the “today”, but also “in tension”. There is no such thing as static missionary discipleship. A missionary disciple cannot be his own master, his immanence is in tension towards the transcendence of discipleship and towards the transcendence of mission. It does not allow for self-absorption: either it points to Jesus Christ or it points to the people to whom he must be proclaimed. The missionary disciple is a self-transcending subject, a subject projected towards encounter: an encounter with the Master (who anoints us as his disciples) and an encounter with men and women who await the message.
Hold on – the next months will be quite a ride. Or, better, as he would insist: go forth and share the Good News!
About the Author
Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.