Confronting the Problems

Do we worship the Lord? Last Sunday, visiting the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls (the site of the Apostle’s tomb), Pope Francis posed that question during his homily. The topic of his message was: fearless and joyful witness to Jesus as Lord. Reflecting on the sudden transformation of the Apostles after encountering personally the risen Jesus – from whom they got their newfound courage and joy – he proposed the same personal relationship as the base of our security as individual Christians and as the Church.

Drawing upon Peter’s bold proclamation in the face of religious and political persecution – “we must obey God rather than men” – Pope Francis challenged both pastors and faithful to dethrone the idols which, consciously or unconsciously, usurp the Lord’s rightful place on the throne of our hearts. He did not mince words. A “Christianity” that by word or example regards Jesus as anything less than the center of our lives, to be worshipped and followed, robs the Church of credibility. He goes on to mention some of the idols: ambition, careerism, a taste for success, placing ourselves at the center, the tendency to dominate others, the claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are bound, and many others.

In this context is best understood the announcement on the previous day of the formation of a council or advisory commission of eight cardinals to advise the pope in universal Church governance and revising the constitution and modus operandi of the Roman Curia. The move has already sparked commentary on the council’s membership. Consisting of men who, witnessing with the courage and joy of the Apostles, have not been known for avoiding difficult decisions or evading controversy, the council is another hopeful sign of the pope’s commitment to lead by example, to challenge us to practice what we preach.

As Pope Francis commented last week during a workers’ Mass at the Domus Marthae, the Apostles facing practical issues did not hesitate to confront them, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The first reaction is often one of “whispered criticism and gossip,” but “this does not give solutions.” The first step is that when there are difficulties, “we need to look closely at them, and confront them and speak about them. But never hide them.”

The pope offers hope and consolation to both pastors who are wary or hesitant about seeking the counsel of competent and committed parishioners in the pastoral and temporal stewardship of their parishes as well as the faithful who are shy or frustrated in offering advice and support. The source of trust and confidence is from our fidelity to Jesus as the Lord of our lives, not the idols of power, position, political intrigue, popularity, personal attractiveness – or even time itself.

In our own diocese, if the tenure of pastors is itself in review every six years as a rule, it seems reasonable that all who serve, whether clergy or laity, be expected to give an account of their stewardship on a systematic basis and to allow the gifts and talents of new persons and teams to emerge. With all due respect for the continued involvement of those who have worked long and hard in the vineyard, pastors should not hesitate to engage new advisers and collaborators and to re-evaluate, and even reform, long-standing parish ministries and societies.

Keep in mind the pope’s words and example. The first step in facing practical issues is always frank and open confrontation of difficulties. The source of our courage and joy in doing so is our worship of Jesus alone as our Lord.

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