Pope to Priests: “Go to the outskirts!”

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Source Whispers in the Loggia.

From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn to a consideration of activity, action. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. The ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into prayer. The prayers of the people of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men.

We need to “go out,” then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.

A priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, our people take our oil from us anyway –misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, become sad priests, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties – instead of being shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep”, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men. True enough, the so-called crisis of priestly identity threatens us all and adds to the broader cultural crisis; but if we can resist its onslaught, we will be able to put out in the name of the Lord and cast our nets. It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.

Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.

Dear priests, may God the Father renew in us the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed. May he renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those “outskirts” where our faithful people most look for it and most appreciate it. May our people sense that we are the Lord’s disciples; may they feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments and that we seek no other identity; and may they receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us. Amen.

FROM THE HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS HOLY THURSDAY CHRISM MASS ST PETER’S BASILICA 28 MARCH 2013.

 

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The Philosopher, the Artisan and Our Life in Christ

We are by nature social creatures. As a creature I am absolutely dependent upon the God Who creates me and sustains my existence. While this dependence on God is absolute is not exclusive. Because my nature is social I am, in a relative sense, dependent upon others. It is within the convergence of these two dependencies that I live and come to discover myself. I am only fully myself in and through that life of mutual self-offering called love.

Tragically, frustratingly, in fallen world love is often marred by egoism, by the many large and small acts of selfishness with which we are all familiar in others if not always ourselves. While love’s absence is always deadly, it is never as deadly as when it is absent in those entrusted by God with the care of others. Whether they are in a position of civil, pastoral or familial authority, the absence of love in those called to lead others harms not them alone but the whole community.

This is the situation in which Israel finds itself in the reading from Isaiah for the 6th hour on Thursday of the first week of Great (Isaiah 3:1-14). God has reduced Israel to material poverty:

For behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts,
Takes away from Jerusalem and from Judah
The stock and the store,
The whole supply of bread and the whole supply of water (v. 1).

Dire though their situation is, it reflects a more fundamental failure—the community’s loss of internal unity. The Chosen People are in disarray. Rebelling God they find themselves now at odds with each other.

The people will be oppressed,
Every one by another and every one by his neighbor;
The child will be insolent toward the elder,
And the base toward the honorable.” (v. 5)

Their leaders have been taken from them; they have lost the “mighty man and the man of war.” Gone are both the “judge and the prophet” as well “the diviner and the elder” (v. 2) In addition to the loss of the wise, they have lost the practical men who once lived among them, the “captain of fifty and the honorable man.” Gone too are the “counselor and the skillful artisan [and] the expert enchanter” (v. 3).  To borrow from Greek thought, they have lost both sophia and techne, the philosopher and the artisan.  Material poverty and cultural decadence have come upon Israel and while both are ultimately rooted in it is the latter which is the cause of the former. Continue reading

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Making a Difference?

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We talk a lot about making a difference in people’s lives but do we actually do that? Do we preach to transform or do we preach to survive? Do we stay clear of controversial topics , so we do not upset the apple cart, or do we take them straight on? Are we working to break the cycle, or are we just contributing to it?

Fr. Peter Michael Preble

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Part III: To Know & Believe: Intellectual Formation, Gratitude & Humility

Here’s the conclusion to yesterday’s post on intellectual formation. I hope to have the last post on pastoral formation and the whole essay available by the middle of next week.
In Christ,
+FrG

HighPriest21The Personal Awareness of Grace. Just as I can’t live a Christian life without the grace of the sacraments, I can’t live this life without at least some subjective awareness of God’s presence in my life. It is here, in my subjective or personal, awareness of God that my intellectual formation becomes important. While not unrelated to academics, intellectual formation prepares me for joy. Undertaken in the right spirit, my studies are a preparation for the enduring experience of happiness that is essential to a wholesome human and holy Christian life. How does this happen? Continue reading

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Part III: To Believe & to Know: Intellectual Formation & Joy

HighPriest21The Presence of Joy. Other projects have distracted me and kept me from continuing with my earlier series of posts on formation (you can read them here, here and here). I want now to pick up where I left off in July and look briefly with you at the intellectual formation of clergy (and by implication, of the laity).

Recently there has been a series of essays on natural law. What makes these essays especially interesting to me is that the series was inspired by the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart‘s rejection of natural law in an article in First Things (here, with follow-up pieces here and here). While I admire the beauty and elegance of Hart’s language, I find myself agreeing with his critics. There are to be sure various theories of natural law but the Christian (and after reading Levinas’s (1969, 1987) work, I would say the biblical) understanding of natural law is rooted in a careful attention to human experience. Hart, like the Greek Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras (1984), rejects natural law as such but a natural law rooted in ontological abstraction. Natural law in the biblical sense does not seek to draw ethical conclusions from abstract ontology speculation but from human experience.

Attending to my experience I realize that I only want to be happy. Looking a bit more closely at myself I realize that some things make me happier than other but that sometimes even the best things can leave me feeling empty. I also realize some things bring me only a temporary feeling of happiness—they make me happy for the  moment—while other things have the ability to bring me a lasting happiness. The Christian tradition calls this latter, lasting happiness, joy. So my experience tells me that not only can I be happy I can be joyful. There are thoughts and actions that bring me a kind of happiness that is not dependent on circumstances event. The paradox of joy is that it transcends the very circumstances that revealed it  to me. My thoughts and actions embody what Paul Ricoeur calls a “surplus of meaning” (1976). Sensitivity to this surplus of meaning, to the transcendent dimension of human experience, is essential to a wholesome human life and especially to the Christian life.

Continue reading

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It’s An Ill Wind That Blows No Good

Economist John Baden writes:

“Happy New Year” may seem an inappropriate cry as America balances on the edge of governments’ financial cliffs. We’ve been edging toward this danger for two generations. The reason is simple; politicians have strong incentives to provide current benefits and promise payments in some distant future. That future is ever closer.

The politics of this financial process are complex and uncertain but a few things are clear. First, governments have diminished financial flexibility as past promises come due. This means they lack sufficient funds to address new and current social and environmental problems.

This situation strongly implies that social entrepreneurs, individuals operating in the voluntary sector, will become increasingly important. America’s economic and social problems will surely grow while governments face ever-tighter constraints. Bankrupt cities and states near default have little discretion to implement new programs and difficulty funding existing ones.

People of strong conscience and good will increasingly look toward innovative solutions. We face tighter limits on governments, increased skepticism as to their efficacy, and greater knowledge of favoritism toward special interests. I predict we will see greater interest in and respect for social entrepreneurs.

He continues and says that

If we are fortunate over the next few years, and probably decades thereafter, the contributions of such creative individuals will be increasingly important. The primary reason is clear; governments will be ever more limited in their capacities to address problems. Here’s why.

America’s governments at every level are facing tighter financial constraints as bills, bonds, and promised benefits come due. Concurrently, accretions of dysfunctional regulations limit adaptive responses. Further, we see erosion of civic and cultural capital, especially among the former working class. Parasitic and opportunistic behavior follows.

Among socially responsible citizens conscience compels actions. However, the above problems strongly imply a shift toward the voluntary sector. The reasons, governments have diminished capacity and people have less confidence in them.

The conclusion Baden draws from this is interesting. He challenges his readers and asks that

As you consider your New Year’s resolutions please recognize the value of organizations created by social entrepreneurs. Then become a financial supporter or volunteer. You have many opportunities among a large number of organizations.

The successful social entrepreneur creates roads down which people deliver their good intentions.

(You can read the whole of Baden’s essay here.)

One of the (justified in my view) complaints of those who advocate a limited government is that as government has expanded it has (among other things) crowded out churches and other religious and fraternal communities who historically in America have worked to meet a wide range of human needs.

Any advocate of the free market will tell you, your competitors loss of market share is potentially good news for you. As government at all levels faces the loss of financial resources this frees up, as Baden points out, the philanthropic market place for religious and non religious social entrepreneurs. While the economic hardship and human needs are real Christians especially shouldn’t be blinded to the equal real opportunity we have to re-assert ourselves in education, philanthropy, health care and other areas where historically the Church has offered evidence for the truth of the Gospel.

The question now is whether we are will to take the opportunity offered us by divine grace and the economic situation. A willing and generous “Yes!” is especially important to hear from those Christians who (as I said above) have advocated for the smaller government that the economy will likely bring us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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The Good Shepherd: A Model for the Faithful

When the Lord had explained what these bad shepherds seek, he also said what they neglect. The defects of the sheep are widespread. There are a very few healthy, fat sheep – that is, those that are made strong by feeding on the truth, by God’s gift making good use of the pastures – but they are not safe from the bad shepherds. Those shepherds not only do not look after the sick, the weak, the wandering and the lost, but they do as much harm as they can to the strong and sleek among the flock. Those sheep survive – by the mercy of God they survive – but the bad shepherds do what they can to kill them.

You may ask how they do this. By living badly, by setting a bad example. There was a reason why the servants of God, eminent among shepherds, were told “In everything you do make yourself an example to them of working for good,” and “Be a model for the faithful.” Often even a strong sheep, seeing its leader living a wicked life, will turn from contemplation of the laws of the Lord to the behaviour of the man and say to itself, “if my leader lives thus, who am I that I should do things differently?” In that way the shepherd is killing the strong sheep: and if the strong, then what of the rest? Even if their strength did not come from his care – even if they were strong and healthy before he saw them – still he is killing him by his evil life.

I say this to your loving kindness, I say it again: even if the sheep are living strong in the word of the Lord, even if they follow what their Lord has told them: “Do what they say; but what they do, do not do yourselves,” whoever lives wickedly in the sight of the people is a murderer in so far as he is able. Let him not flatter himself that his victim is not dead. The victim is not dead but the man is still a murderer. When a man lusts after a woman then even if she remains chaste he is still an adulterer. The Lord’s judgement is clear and true: “If a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He has not come to her in his bedroom but in the interior bedroom of his heart he is already in the throes of passion with her.

And so it is that anyone who lives wickedly in the sight of those over whom he has authority is killing them, even the strong ones, as far as he is able. Whoever imitates him dies and whoever does not imitate him lives, but as far as he himself is concerned he is killing them all. As the Lord says, “You are killing the fattest sheep but you do not feed my flock.”

St Augustine, On Pastors

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