Friday, September 20, 2013

After the Interview

In the immediate aftermath of the Pope's amazing interview, attention will inevitably be focused on what the Pope may have said or implied about the controversial issues that define the Catholic Church in the perception of the secular media - and in the perception of some Catholics who congregate on the political extremes on these issues - for some of whom St. Paul's description in today's 1st reading of those with "a morbid disposition for arguments and verbal disputes" [1 Timothy 6:4] may apply! It will be interesting to watch how advocates on opposite sides will each endeavor to spin the Pope's comments.
Which is why it is so very important for people to read the entire interview and actually hear for themselves what the Pope is attempting to call the Church to. The Pope's appealing image of the Church as a "Field Hospital" is certainly a good place to start. I thought of it as I was proclaiming today's Gospel reading about the "women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities," who accompanied Jesus and the 12 and "provided for then out of their resources." [Luke 8:2-3]. So often we speak of mercy, healing, reconciling, etc., as activities of the Church, things that the Church does - and that is certainly true. But, as today's Gospel succinctly suggests, it is mercy, healing, and reconciling that gather the Church together in the first place. It was as recipients of God's mercy, healing, and reconciliation that Mary Magdalene and the other women came together as a new community; and it is as recipients of God's mercy, healing, and reconciliation that we too are brought and bound together in the Church. Hopefully, having personally experienced mercy, healing, and reconciliation, we then become, as Mary Magdalene and the others did, collaborators in the Church's mission of mercy, healing, and reconciliation. In that sense, having all started out ourselves as patients in the Church's "Field Hospital," it is our mission now to serve as nurses in the same "Field Hospital."

But even that powerful and challenging image of the Church as a "Field Hospital" does not exhaust the life-lessons we may take from the Pope's words.
Of particular interest to me as a member of a religious community is how the Pope experiences his ministry in the context of his religious vocation as a Jesuit. (It will be very interesting to see what effect the Pope's approach to his office will have on Jesuit vocations! My guess is that they will se an increase! Hopefully, some of that may rub off on the rest of us too!)
The Pope has some very specific things to say to those of us who have embraced community life in the Church within the framework of the evangelical counsels. Personally, I was struck by the importance the Pope places on religious community - an experience that resonates well with my own vocational journey. "I was always looking for a community. I did not see myself as a priest on my own. I need a community." For religious priests, brothers, and sisters to make their proper contribution to the Church's evangelizing mission, it seems to me they must highlight the distinctively communitarian dimension of their ministry and life - something contemporary individualism may increasingly inhibit. And, when it comes to religious community life, the Pope's take on the evangelical counsels - while hardly original with him - speaks very directly to the challenges facing religious life today. Religious men and women, the Pope says, "have chosen a following of Jesus that imitates his life in obedience to the father, poverty, community life and chastity. ... The vow of chastity must be a vow of fruitfulness. In the church, the religious are called to be prophets in particular by demonstrating how Jesus lived on this earth, and to proclaim how the kingdom of God will be in its perfection."

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