Monday, October 20, 2014

The Church Welcomed Everyone Before and After the Synod

Pope St. Gregory the Great
On Monday of last week, the headlines exclaimed, "Bishops Welcome the Divorced and Gays!"  A few days later, the headlines read, "Bishops Take Back Welcome to the Divorced and Gays."  While it is unlikely that the secular press is ever going to present well the theological and ecclesiastical subtleties of anything that happens in the life of the Church, these headlines are not entirely (nor even, mainly) the fault of the press.  Responsibility for these headlines--and the confusion that they cause--rests primarily at the door of the Synod itself.

Today is Sunday.  Like priests all over the world, I was standing outside this morning welcoming people to Mass.  I welcomed them not because they were straight or gay, married or divorced, native born or immigrant, in the state of grace or in a state of mortal sin, or even because they were Catholic.  I welcomed them because they were human beings.  They are the human beings whom Christ came to save.  Each one of them is entitled to hear the Gospel of Christ.  Each one of them is embraced by the Church.  Each one of them is called to holiness.

Every Sunday morning for 17 years, I've stood outside of church and greeted people.  I presume in those seventeen years, I have welcomed just about every category of person you could imagine.  "Welcoming" people is not some recent invention.  Jesus welcomed people.  He welcomed sinners and ate with them.  But, this welcoming was not an end in itself.  The welcome that is extended to every person--in the Name of Christ--is also an invitation to turn away from sin and to be faithful to the Gospel.  We are welcoming people to hear the Gospel.  For each one of us, hearing that Gospel is going to be like branches being pruned.  It's going to hurt a bit.

The main storyline presented in the press about the synod was that the Church was debating whether to "welcome gay people and divorced and remarried people."  Frankly, that would be a waste of a synod because the Church does that already.  What alternative does the Church have?  Christ commanded the Church to proclaim the Gospel to every creature.  I think the question that we should be asking is what do we mean when we say, "welcome?"  To what are we welcoming people?

Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote a book entitled, "The Pastoral Rule."  In that document, Gregory describes persons of various temperaments and how properly to give sound pastoral guidance to each of them.  His presumption is that each person needs conversion and growth in holiness.  Like a good physician, the good pastor is able to examine each patient, diagnose his weakness, and provide the proper pastoral medicine.  Sometimes--and I think it would be intellectually dishonest to suggest otherwise--the "All Are Welcome" mantra is a thinly veiled code for, "We Will Never Bring Up Sin." The whole "welcome" language has become divorced from any true pastoral care.  True pastoral care is not simply about welcoming.  True pastoral care is helping people to grow in holiness.

In the Gospel, when Jesus welcomed people, he did so for the sake of bringing them to conversion.   When people complained about Jesus welcoming people, it was always about how he welcomed sinners.  And in response to these complaints, Jesus told parables about the conversion of sinners.  His welcoming was intimately linked to the further step of conversion.  "Welcoming" is not an end in itself.  Getting people to sit in the pews is not an end in itself.  Getting people to follow Christ, turn away from sin, and get to heaven is the reason for welcoming them.  An example of this is seen in the liturgy.  The first time someone is liturgically "welcomed" into the Church is on the path to baptism.  They are welcomed so that they can turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

Everyone ought to be welcome because everyone is need of conversion.  There are people who go to Mass every week who are attracted to people of the same sex.  Yes, we ought to welcome them, but not because they are people who are attracted to people of the same sex.  We ought to welcome them because they are human persons in need of conversion.  The priest who is welcoming them is a human person in need of conversion.  The married woman who reads at Mass is a human person in need of conversion.  The divorced and remarried woman bringing her children to Mass is a human person in need of conversion.  The single guy who took up the collection is a human person in need of conversion. 

When the secular press says, "Church opens its doors to gays and the divorced," what it means is  "Church says homosexual activity and divorce and remarriage are okay."  No matter what the Synod Fathers intended, that was the message that was received.  What most people took away from the headlines is that the Church was showing signs of signaling that while divorce and remarriage and sexual activity outside of marriage are "not ideal," it's really not too big of a deal.  The other thing that people took away is that "Truth" is not something that is stable and knowable.  Instead, it is subjective and dependent upon how many conservative bishops and how many liberal bishops happen to be on a particular committee.  One prominent Catholic wrote in today's newspaper in Boston, "Fundamental church doctrine does not change routinely," and he described the bishops as having "failed to adopt a more merciful approach to ministering to gays and divorced and remarried Catholics."  If even an educated and faithful Catholic is using this type of language, imagine how we must appear to those who are not faithful or who are not even Catholic.

The language spoken of in that quote suggests that the Church is some sort of club and that we should expand our membership criteria in order to let more people in.  This type of mentality actually contradicts Pope Francis' own image of a field hospital.  In order to get into the hospital, you have to be sick or wounded.  "Welcome" for the Church must always mean, "All Are Sinners in Need of Grace and Mercy."  The Church is most successful in drawing others to herself and to Christ when she proclaims the kerygmatic truth that Christ came to save sinners.

There would be no point in going to the hospital if you thought you were completely healthy.  Equally pointless would be to go to a hospital that had no capacity to offer you healing.  Sometimes, the impression is given that the way to welcome those who are attracted to people of the same sex is to give the impression that there's nothing sinful about same sex actions.  Similarly, sometimes the impression is given that the best way to welcome those who are divorced and remarried is to give the impression that there's no problem with that either.  This is neither evangelization nor is it mercy.  Evangelization is to say that we have a need and Christ is the answer to that need.

Maybe the way to welcome gay people and divorced and remarried people to the Church is to say something like this:  "All of us are sinners.  God loves all of us and wants all of us to be saved.  All of us are called by Christ to turn away from sin and to be faithful to the Gospel.  Sometimes, we find ourselves in very complicated and difficult situations.  Your pastors and your brothers and sisters in the faith are here to accompany you along the path to holiness.  We would like you to accompany us on our path to holiness.  Conversion means dying to yourself.  Dying to yourself is hard.  All of us are in the same boat.  All of us need help."  

I would say those words to them not because they are attracted to people of the same sex or because they are divorced and remarried.  I would say those words because those are the words that every human being needs to hear.  Those words are spoken to all of us.  Those are the words that I need to hear.  They are an invitation to follow Christ, to take up our Cross and to be his disciple.  The call to people with same sex attraction, the call to people who are divorced and remarried, the call to married people, lay people, priests and religious, the call to young and old, rich and poor, sick and healthy . . . the call is the same.  This invitation is filled with love and with mercy.  It is the call that Christ extends to all: "Come and follow me."  

This invitation is filled with love and with mercy.  It contains within it an assurance of Christ's Presence.  It is not a moralistic command.  It is an invitation to a new life in Christ.  This is an invitation that every human heart needs to hear.  The invitation of Christ is filled with promise.  We should not hesitate to extend that invitation--in all of its dimensions, demands and promises--to every human person.  

The headlines were all wrong.  The hospital is open to all who are sick and in need of healing.  Not every patient has the same diagnosis.  Each patient must be treated differently, according to his or her condition.  But everyone who places himself into the hands of this Divine Physician will find healing and life.

The Church would appear more welcoming to others if those of us on the inside of the hospital were more convinced that we are patients and not club members.  The Gospel was spread throughout the world by men and women who were convinced that alone and unaided they were doomed.  We would do well to remember that the healthy do not need a physician.  The sick do.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Priesthood: Closeness to the People

On October 15th the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila.  I'm not exactly sure why, but I'm pretty good at associating particular events with particular feast days.  In other words, I remember somebody's birthday or anniversary because I think to myself, "Ah . . . today's the Feast of St. Nicholas.  It's Joe's birthday today."

So yesterday when I recalled that it was St. Teresa of Avila, I remembered a young man whose birthday is on that feast.  The photo that I've included on this post is that young man on the day of his First Communion.  He's twenty now.  He's grown since then.  In fact, most of the time that he was my altar server, he towered over me.  On many Sunday nights for many years, I had dinner with him, his parents, his four sisters, and his two brothers.  They are a great family.  From the friendship that I shared with his family, other friendships grew, and our parish grew and strengthened.

I sent a text to his mother and father asking how is it possible that this son of theirs is twenty now?  Seems impossible.  But, I'm grateful that I got to see his parents raise him and his siblings from toddlers to young adults.

Priesthood is lived close to the people.  Without that closeness, it all becomes a theory.  I'm grateful for that closeness.  That closeness teaches me how to be a priest.  I learn how to be a priest from eighty year olds, seven year olds, and twenty year olds.  Wouldn't trade it for anything.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Thinking About the Church--As It is Meant To Be

St. Paul writes in his letter to the Phillippians: "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things" (Phil 4:8).

As I conclude my day today, I am taking St. Paul's advice and am thinking about these things.  I am thinking about the three men who came to the BU Catholic Center this evening and gave a witness about living their life as Catholic men in the work world.  There was a lawyer, a finance guy, and a doctor.  They shared their experience and their Faith to 40 or so students.  These three men--after a day of work--came to witness to their life in Christ for the sake of their younger brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am thinking about hearing confessions today and about offering Mass for twenty of our students.  I am thinking about the beautiful friendships that I witnessed today among our students and staff. 

I am thinking about the way in which our students and staff pray together and develop programs for the Catholic Center.

I am thinking about hearing one young man say about another young man, "He's the reason I am here at the Catholic Center."

I am thinking about two Jesuit seminarians (one of whom was ordained this weekend as a deacon) who serve the Catholic Center and who fill me with a sense of joy and hope.

I am thinking about how the friendship of the Church is so beautiful.  I am thinking how Christ reaches me through the people with whom he surrounds me.  I am thinking how beautiful it is that even after seventeen years of being a priest, I am still surprised by the love of Christ made manifest in the people whom I shepherd.  I am thinking about how I am moved and educated by people half my age.

I am thinking about the way in which the people I am surrounded with every day love each other and share the joy of the Gospel with one another.

I am thinking of all of the new faces who came to our spaghetti dinner tonight.  I am thinking about people living something beautiful together.  

I am grateful because my need for the Church and its friendship is great.  I would find it impossible to  live priesthood as someone who comes in to do a professional job.  I need to be moved by fellow pilgrims and to live the Christian life within a friendship.  In this fellowship of friends I am the priest, but this priest needs to be moved by the witness of others.  It is in this companionship that Christ continues to move me and to convince me of Himself.  In the face of these witnesses, I recognize again my need for Christ and am filled with renewed gratitude for his saving Presence.

St. Paul advises us to think about such things because they convince us all over again about Christ.  I spent today surrounded by what the Church is meant to be.  I spent today surrounded by what the Church is.  St. Paul is right.  It is good to think about these things.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Church's Media Strategy: Witnesses More than Press Releases

Christ the Bridegroom
It's been a while since I last posted, so this is probably two or three posts combined into one.  

As news stories and commentaries about the Synod of Bishops continue to flood the Catholic world, I have felt myself a little bit sad about the amount of turmoil and contention that has been stirred up as a result.  I'm not sure if it is intentional or accidental, but the flood of leaks, interviews, and commentaries haven't done much to build up communion in the life of the Church.  Instead, so far, it has only caused deeper divisions.  I hope that the end results of the Synod do something about building up the communion of the Church, but right now, if there is some sort of ecclesial media strategy going on, it certainly isn't effectively building up the communion of the Church.

Like most priests, I've dealt with a lot of Catholics who have divorced and remarried.  I hope that they would all say that I've loved them, offered them solid pastoral care, and have treated them with dignity and respect.  

Some of the greatest Eucharistic Faith that I have ever witnessed has come from people who abstain from receiving the Eucharist at one time or another.  When I see a couple who attend Mass every Sunday, but because of their marital status do not receive the Eucharist, I am moved by their devotion and love for the Eucharist.  While I am moved with tremendous sympathy for them, I also want them to know that God is using their suffering to help others.  Perhaps many of us have had moments where we have marched up to communion with no examination of conscience.  When I see these couples who devoutly attend Mass, but who do not come up to receive, my inclination is not to judge them.  My inclination is to judge me!

Similarly, I am often impressed by the students who come to Mass here at Boston University.  Fairly often, various students come to daily or Sunday Mass but abstain from receiving the Eucharist.  When I see this, I am moved by their faith in and their love for the Eucharist.  Their decision not to receive the Eucharist on a given day becomes a beautiful witness to Christ.  They are not refraining because--as some would like people to believe--the Church's pastors are trying to lay heavy burdens upon them.  Instead, these young people recognize that their life needs to be consistent with the one Whom they are receiving.  When I see a young person refrain from coming to communion, I think, "Isn't it beautiful how they love the Eucharist?"  Their example helps me.

Priests are not only asked asked questions about past sins, but also about future ones.  "Father, if I don't go to Mass next Sunday because I want to go golfing, is that a sin?"  In these instances, it is necessary to talk about not presuming upon God's mercy.  Much of the debate about communion for the divorced and remarried centers around those who find themselves already in this situation.  But, let's not forget about those who are thinking about committing adultery or those who are considering abandoning their families.

Let's suppose that those who argue for reception of communion for the divorced and remarried were successful.  What is a parish priest supposed to say when one of his parishioners comes to him and says: "Father, for the past year or so, things have been kind of dry in my marriage.  About two months ago, I met a woman and I think she is really my soul mate.  She's taking a job out of state and I feel like if I don't go with her now, I will never be happy.  I just want to be sure I understand the rules.  If I divorce my wife and leave her and my kids and go marry this other woman in a civil ceremony, I can still receive the Eucharist, right?"

Or, what about the man who decides to have a girlfriend on the side?  He doesn't leave his wife and kids, but feels like having another woman who "really understands" him, will really help him to be happy and will make him better able to remain in his marriage.  Can he continue to receive communion?  He sincerely believes that this approach will actually help him to be a better husband and father.  In this instance, isn't he doing something better than just abandoning his spouse?  In his mind, he's living in two committed relationships.

In my experience of working with a lot of couples who have experienced marital problems, I am struck by how cruelly one spouse can treat another.  The answer to these pastoral situations doesn't seem to be making divorce easier and less painful.  It means reiterating and teaching all over again the importance of the vows.  It means helping people to see that in entering a marriage, they are truly responsible for the other spouse.  

The proposal just to give people communion is not a solution to their situation.  What they need is a friendship, a lived communion, a pastor, a companionship.  Instead of pretending that there really isn't a problem, let's surround these suffering members of our church family with love and support.  Some of our brothers and sisters are carrying a heavy cross.  Let's acknowledge it and walk with them.  Let's stay close to them. That's true mercy.  And maybe, their suffering somehow helps the rest of us who too glibly approach the Eucharist with little self-examination.  Perhaps these witnesses--by not approaching Holy Communion--are doing far more to catechize the rest of us than any bishop or priest is doing.  

Perhaps, we are looking at this situation in the absolutely wrong way.  Maybe these brothers and sisters of ours are turning our attention to the truth and beauty of marriage and the truth and beauty of the Eucharist.  Their suffering is an eloquent testimony to the truth about marriage and the Eucharist.  Maybe in His mysterious way, God is using these suffering friends to strengthen the rest of us in our Faith in marriage and the Eucharist.  If so, God is using these people to show the rest of us mercy.  

In many ways, the public face of the Synod has become another example of the Church attempting--but failing--to become media-savvy.  Pope Francis often refers to the problem of the Church being "self-referential."  I would argue that this problem is particularly evident in a new obsession with media.  Instead of using media as a means to promote the Gospel, oftentimes Catholic institutions seem too willing to employ "savvy" media at the expense of the Gospel and of the Truth.  The use of the media in advancing the Gospel is awesome.  But, too often, we appear as though we are cheapening the Gospel in order to sell ourselves and increase membership.  We sometimes look like we are pandering rather than witnessing.

The Church's first media strategy is worth a second look: "Come see a man who told me everything I ever did" (JN 4:29).  "One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see" (JN 9:25).  "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15).  "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in him might not perish, but might have eternal life" (JN 3:16).  "We are fools on Christ's account . . . we have become the world's rubbish, the scum of all" (1COR 4).

The first media strategy employed by the Church was to send out sinners who had encountered the love and mercy of Christ and whose lives had been changed because of that encounter.  That strategy got Peter crucified, Stephen stoned, and Paul beheaded.  And, the Church grew.  Spending tons of time trying to make ourselves look good in the media is probably a big waste of time.  Christianity is always a personal encounter.  I'm guessing that 99.9% of conversion stories do not begin with, "So, I read this article in the newspaper . . . ." 

As I write this, 25 kids from the BU Catholic Center are spending a few hours together, apple picking.  They'll come back, bake apple pies, and bring them to some homeless shelters.  Later on tonight, those kids will do what they do every Monday night.  They will come to Mass and adoration.  They live a friendship together.  That friendship is lived in mercy, in prayer, in laughter, and in charity.  This is the encounter.  I'm convinced that if the Church spent more time witnessing to who we are rather than trying to appear as others would like us to be, we would be in much better shape.  

There's a young man who comes to Mass every Sunday at Boston University.  If he misses a Sunday, he comes to weekday Mass to make up for it.  Of course, doing that would not make up for missing his Sunday obligation.  But, this young man is not obliged to go to Mass on Sunday.  He is not Catholic.  In fact, he is not baptized.  But, he comes every week to Mass.  What is going on in that young man's soul is--as Pope Benedict said (and as Pope Francis often repeats), "not because of an ethical decision or a great idea, but rather because of an encounter with an event, with a Person, who gives new horizons to life, and with that, a decisive orientation.”  

Instead of spending an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to appear good according to someone else's standards, we ought simply to share the good news of what Christ is doing in the lives of people.  We ought to show forth the friendship of the Church and our communion.  This might mean giving up on the idea of mass media conversions.  It might mean spreading the Gospel one encounter at a time--as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Have in You the Same Attitude that Is in Christ Jesus

This weekend, I was on retreat with students from the Boston University Catholic Center.  The title of the retreat was "Encounter."  The second reading for this Sunday said, "Have in you the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus."

This weekend I encountered the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus everywhere I looked.  The priests who drove two hours to come and hear confessions?  That's the attitude of Christ Jesus.  The three young people who gave witnesses on the retreat--the attitude of Christ Jesus.  Our Office Manager and her husband who give up a weekend every year to cook all of the meals for the retreat?  Attitude of Christ Jesus.  The grad student who gave up a weekend to work in the kitchen?  Attitude of Christ Jesus.  The priest who came to give the retreat and who was continuously moved by the example of the students on retreat?  Attitude of Christ Jesus.  The students who served on the retreat team and who planned the retreat?  Attitude of Christ Jesus.  The music ministry who poured themselves out in praising God throughout the weekend?  Attitude of Christ Jesus.  The interns who never stopped for the whole weekend?  Attitude of Christ Jesus.  The FOCUS team joyfully staying close to the students?  Attitude of Christ Jesus.  The priest who covered the 10pm Mass for me so I could crash after the retreat?  Attitude of Christ Jesus.

All around me, I saw young people loving each other, caring for each other, serving each other, praying with each other, encouraging each other, worshipping with each other, and helping each other to go to confession.  

The retreat was entitled "Encounter" because we talked about encounters that Christ had with people in his day.  But, it was also called "Encounter" because the weekend was intended to be an opportunity to encounter Christ.  With so many people having the attitude of Christ Jesus, it was difficult not to encounter Christ.

I hope the young people who came on the retreat encountered Christ.  I know that I did.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Spiritual Fatherhood and Spiritual Childhood

Twenty-four years ago, after my freshman year in college seminary, I travelled to Vanceburg, KY to a farm run by the Glenmary Home Missionaries.  It was a service trip.  Today, I received an email from a guy who was on that service trip with me.  We've kept in touch for twenty-four years.  He's married now, has a couple of kids, and on two or three occasions during those twenty-four years, he's passed through Boston and we've met up.  It sounds strange to say it now, but when we first met and for the first dozen or so years of that time, email didn't exist.  Or, if it did exist, I certainly didn't know or understand anything about it.  We would write an occasional letter to one another.  (The same is true of another guy that I met on that trip.  We've kept in touch for the past twenty-four years--here and there--but we've never seen each other since).

I have to admit, the passage of time makes my memory of those events twenty-four years ago less vivid.  But, I do remember hanging out with this fellow, laying on a dirt road, smoking cigarettes (I was never really a smoker, but in the midst of Vanceburg, Kentucky where we were surrounded by Tobacco, that seemed like the thing to do), and talking about life.  

I've been ordained seventeen years. It makes me really happy to feel like I'm still learning.  I'm just a kid when it comes to priesthood.  I was in one of my assignments for 13 years.  Sometimes other priests would say, "By this point, you must be getting stale."  To me, I was just beginning!  I feel like I am always learning about the priesthood, about discipleship, about the Church.  While I may wake up here and there and dread a particular meeting or a particular event, I still wake up every day fully expecting that something new is going to happen.

This guy who emailed me today reminded me of the beauty of the Church.  It's been twenty-four years since we met.  But, I have confidence that we met because Christ has a plan.  When I became a pastor, it was at a moment when in the Archdiocese of Boston, the whole thing was blowing up.  Christ surrounded me with all of these beautiful lay men and women who, by their openness, desire for true communion, and charity taught me so much about being a priest.

Tomorrow, I leave for a weekend retreat with a group of college students from Boston University.  I'm beginning my second year with them.  I know that I'm the priest and the spiritual father of our community.  And yet, they teach me.  They teach me about the Catholic life and they teach me about priesthood.  This is one of the most beautiful things about the Church to me.  I'm educated daily by the communion of life that I share with the others.  

The people that I encounter in the Church are not all perfect saints.  But each of them--as a member of the Body of Christ--is a gift to me.  They offer me some encouragement in following Christ.  Whether they be 18 years old or 80 years old, whether they be the daily communicant or the person who doesn't even go to church, whether they be the married man, the single woman, or the discerning young person, these people teach me.  They encourage me and educate me.

As a priest, I am a spiritual father.  And at the same time, I am a spiritual child.  For me, one of the best parts of being a priest is that I am continually surprised (like a child) by what Christ does in my life.  Hearing the confessions of college students, watching a father raise his children or a mother tending to the needs of an ill child, or seeing a young person on fire for Christ--all of this surprises me.  It leaves me thinking, "Who am I that I should witness such things?"  

In seventeen years as a priest, I've been surprised a lot.  As I've witnessed various persons whom the Lord has placed in my life this week--people whom I met 24 years ago and people who weren't born 24 years ago, something struck me.  An important part of being a spiritual father--at least for me--is being a spiritual child.  Both as a parish priest and now as a college chaplain, I feel like I'm the one who is learning the most!  I'm the one who is most surprised every day.  I am the one who is being educated the most. 

Both in the parish and in the university, I feel like I give the least and receive the most.  Every day is a surprise for me.  The witness I have to offer to others is this: Despite all of my weaknesses, God surrounds me every day with a host of Christian witnesses.  I need these witnesses and am grateful for them.  By virtue of ordination, I am a spiritual father.  But, that fatherhood is vivified by the constant surprise that comes from being a spiritual child who is loved and cared for by the Good Shepherd.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Priest's Modest Proposal for the Synod on Families: Resolve to Act Like a Family

During the past few weeks, the Catholic blogosphere has been lighting up over a host of controversial topics.  Some of them have to do with the assignments of bishops and cardinals--who's winning in the ideological battles and who is losing.  Depending upon one's point of view, the good guys are being banished and the bad guys are taking over.  Or, from another perspective, the bad guys are finally being overthrown and the good guys are coming in to shake things up.

Besides personnel matters, there are doctrinal matters.  The Pope has called for a Synod on the Family and one of the hot button topics is the issue regarding communion for the divorced and remarried.  If the press reports are accurate, there are major battles shaping up in the College of Cardinals, one cardinal even speaking of a conspiracy of other cardinals against him.

All of this might make for good press, but I just want to speak from my very small experience as a priest who serves regular people every day.

Maybe . . . just maybe . . . what we need is a little less shake-up and a little more continuity.  Maybe we need a little less controversy, innovation, and change and a little more communion, familiarity, and stability.  I'm not talking about changes that might be good for pastoral governance--like reforming Vatican dicasteries, adapting annulment procedures, and directing the Church towards living the New Evangelization.  I don't mean the kind of change that moves people toward greater holiness, greater apostolic zeal, or greater virtue.  I mean the kind of change that just tends to stir up things in the lives of the Faithful and makes their life more tumultuous.

In the last fourteen years, just in my Archdiocese, we have gone through the sexual abuse crisis wherein scores of priests were accused, found guilty, and removed from ministry, the resignation of the archbishop, a round of parish closings that was basically a disaster, the closing of many Catholic schools because of lack of enrollment, the sale of almost our entire seminary property, a second round of parish reconfiguration, the resignation of a pope, a new liturgical translation, and now very public battles being waged in the blogosphere concerning bishops and cardinals and doctrinal matters pertaining to marriage and the Eucharist.  I understand that controversy and change have always been part of the life of the Church.  But, in today's age, controversy is more quickly spread through the Internet.  There can almost be a constant sense of controversy due to the rapid dissemination of news and opinion. 

Maybe we've had enough things shaken up for a century or so?  Maybe we should be looking at allowing the People of God to have a moment to regroup, to hold their Faith in peaceful possession, and to set aside controversy for a while?  While there is so much clamoring for changing things in the Church, is there not a sense that what some people might need--for the good of their souls--is more stability?  In an age when marriages and families are collapsing, perhaps instead of mimicking that same kind of family disunity, the Church ought to be striving to live in deeper communion.  In an age when people are starving for the stability of a family, perhaps the Church should focus on being a stable force in people's lives.  Instead of feeding the frenzy and provoking controversy--which people deal with in all other aspects of their lives--maybe we ought to strive to be a refuge for our people.  Maybe we ought to strive towards living our ecclesial life in such a way that it is not worse than what people experience in their families and workplaces.  

Priests and bishops love to quote Pope Francis.  So do I.  But, the Church needs to be more than just a bunch of quotes.  The Holy Father has said that the Church needs to be a field hospital where wounds are treated.  What are the wounds that many people experience today?  Is it not the wounds of despair, the wounds of disunity, the wounds of alienation, the wounds of cynicism, the wounds of a lack of security and stability?  People's families are collapsing and their jobs--if they have them--are at risk.  Spouses abandon one another at alarming rates.  If these are the wounds, why aren't we treating those wounds?  Instead of infighting and constant upheaval, perhaps we should display a humble and stable communion of life.  If there is machine gun fire coming from inside the field hospital, it's unlikely that patients will want to check themselves in.  If people already feel like their lives are in turmoil, why would they ever go someplace for refuge where there is even more turmoil?

The Church is always on the move.  It is in its nature to be a pilgrim people.  But, maybe we could move with a little more deliberateness and calmness.  Maybe we could move like a people on pilgrimage and not like the Hebrews being chased by Pharaoh. There are times when we may have to move like that, but let's not make that our standard mode of travel.  Maybe we could move like people being led by the Holy Spirit.  Yes, people being moved in love and in joy; moved to evangelize and to make disciples.  People moved to follow Christ more ardently. People moved towards poverty, chastity, and obedience.  People moved to love the poor and to reach out to those on the outside.  But not people who are simply tossed about.  Maybe instead of more committees, controversies, factions, programs, and activities, we need a little more charity, closeness, prayer, and forgiveness.  

I've served in a parish and now I serve as a college chaplain.  Admittedly, my experience is very small, so I understand that the experience of others might be different.  But my experience is that people are looking for a place to experience true communion.  Do we need to reach out to the divorced and remarried, the same-sex attracted, and the secularist?  Absolutely.  We should do so with zeal, tenderness, and joy.  But, what makes us so deluded to think that any of those people are going to want to come to the Church if the rest of us are all at war with each other?  We can't replace discipleship with controversy.  Well, we can, but it is going to lead to even more bleeding of the Christian faithful.  We should focus our efforts on preaching Jesus Christ.  We tend to talk about everything else, presuming that we've got the whole Jesus thing figured out already.  Maybe what is ailing the Church is a lack of focus on Jesus Christ and being his disciples.  

The impetus right now in the life of the Church--particularly ignited by Pope Francis--to reach out to others and to draw in those who feel abandoned or ostracized is absolutely beautiful and necessary. But, we need to find ways of doing that that do not constantly make people feel like the Church is being tossed back and forth between bickering ideologies.  Let's show mercy towards the divorced and remarried, the same-sex attracted, and whomever else feels ostracized.  But, let's also show mercy on the people who feel tossed about from one change to the next.  Let's all have mercy on each other.  Let's be generous in our mercy towards each other---even if we can't agree on how to move ahead on certain questions.  But let's not provoke situations--in the media and in the halls of ecclesiastical power--that makes the Church look like it is going through a pathetic and nasty divorce. 

My modest proposal for the Church's Synod on the Family?  Let the Church's pastors and people resolve to live like a true Christian family and thus provide the world a shining example of what the family is.  That's when the hospital will truly be open for business.