Summary: The Pope calls for a missionary conversion of the whole Church, especially the papacy.
Thursday of the 31st Sunday in Course 2014
Joy of the Gospel
The most pronounced conflict in the early Church was not a conflict with the Romans. Except for the persecution of the madman Nero, and a minor tiff with Claudius, the Church was pretty well left alone until close to the end of the first century. The biggest confrontation was with the Jews themselves. The Jewish leaders had conspired with Pilate to execute the upstart Galilean, Jesus, and they were constantly pushing back against the Apostles and their followers, even to the point of killing Christians. Paul was perhaps the most rabid of these Christian-haters. That’s why his conversion was such an earthquake for Jews and Christians alike. But, later, when Paul came into conflict with those Jewish Christians who disturbed Paul’s churches–like the one in Philippi–and said that Paul was not a very good Jew, Paul could rightly claim to have been the best Jew, the best Pharisee, of all. After all, hadn’t he even thrown Christians into prison? But because Paul knew Jesus Christ personally, had seen and heard the risen Jesus, he had thrown away every Jewish honor and embraced the cross instead.
St. Luke, then, who was one of Paul’s greatest disciples, and a Gentile himself, probably wrote the words of Jesus with Paul in mind. Paul was the lost sheep–the most lost of all the Jewish souls called to discipleship. Jesus appeared to Paul and they in a sense found each other. The result was the conversion of much of the Roman world, the first evangelical explosion.
So now all three of our recent popes have, following the exhortation of Blessed Paul VI, focused much of their attention to the Church’s missionary, evangelical purpose. Pope Francis is really calling for a new evangelical explosion, but an ordered one. In his letter, we have read him telling the bishops that each parish and each diocese must have a missionary conversion. It is a necessary cleansing of our organization and hearts and minds so that we may reach out to former Catholics and to those who are seeking deeper meaning for their lives. He also, however, writes of a necessary conversion of the papacy itself:
‘I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”. We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.
‘Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way”. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities. A proposal of goals without an adequate communal search for the means of achieving them will inevitably prove illusory. I encourage everyone to apply the guidelines found in this document generously and courageously, without inhibitions or fear. The important thing is to not walk alone, but to rely on each other as brothers and sisters, and especially under the leadership of the bishops, in a wise and realistic pastoral discernment.’
If we look at the missionary expansions of the past, especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the mid to late nineteenth centuries in the Catholic Church, we may understand why so much ink is being used to plan the Church’s new evangelization. The reason is that we must plan for a long campaign. The Great Awakenings in evangelical Christianity didn’t last very long, and they were fractioning, not unifying, periods. The reason, of course, is that evangelical Protestantism is centered around a Book–the King James Bible–and a number of charismatic persons. Each preaches Jesus in a personal and individualistic manner, and the converted are often more loyal to the person than to the person of Jesus Christ, and certainly more than to the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. In fact, many or even most are hostile to the one Church. So our evangelical effort must be centered on Christ and draw others to Him and to His Church. That’s why we are doing so much planning.