During vespers at Notre-Dame de Québec Cathedral on Thursday, Pope Francis invites bishops, clergy, religious and pastoral workers in Canada to overcome the challenges that stand in the way of proclaiming the joy of faith, and he asks forgiveness for the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people by some members of the Church.
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Pope Francis presided over vespers with bishops, clergy, consecrated persons, seminarians and pastoral workers at the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec on Thursday evening — the fifth day of his apostolic journey to Canada.
During his homily during the event, the Holy Father emphasized the importance of the meeting in the cathedral of the church, whose first bishop, St. François de Laval, opened the seminary in 1663 and dedicated his ministry to the formation of priests.
Pointing out that the readings at Vespers speak of elders (presbyters), he noted that St. Peter exhorted them to shepherd the flock of God willingly, and so the pastors of the church are invited “to show that same generosity in the tending the flock, in order to show Jesus’ care for all and his compassion for the wounds of all.”
Pastors, a sign of Christ
Herding the flock, the Pope said, should be done “with devotion and tender love” – as St. Peter urges – guiding and not being led astray, because “we are a sign of Christ”. Pastors should do this willingly, not as a duty, like professional religious personnel or sacred officials, but “diligently and with a shepherd’s heart.”
The Pope pointed out that the shepherds too are “concerned” with the merciful love of Christ and feel the closeness of God. This, he affirmed, is “the source of the joy of ministry, and above all the joy of faith.”
“Christian joy is about the experience of a peace that remains in our hearts even when we are pelted with trials and torments,” said the Pope, “for then we know that we are not alone, but accompanied by a God who is not indifferent to our fate.”
He explained that this is not “cheap joy” as the world sometimes presents, or that it is about wealth, comfort and security, but rather “it is a free gift, the certainty of knowing that we are loved, supported by Christ. and embraced in every situation in life.”
Threats to Joy of Faith
Reflecting on the joy of the Gospel in our communities, the Pope pointed to secularization as one of the factors that “threatens the joy of faith and thus risks diminishing it and endangering our lives as Christians”.
He regrets that secularization has greatly influenced the lifestyle of modern men and women who have relegated God to the background. “God seems to have disappeared from the horizon and his word no longer seems like a compass that guides our lives, our fundamental decisions, our human and social relationships,” the pope said.
Given the environmental culture, Pope Francis warns against “falling prey to pessimism or resentment, and immediately turning to negative judgments or vain nostalgia.” Rather, he elaborates on two possible views of the world: the “negative view” and the “distinctive view”.
Negative v. critical views
The first view — the negative one — is “often born of a faith that feels attacked and sees it as a kind of ‘armor’ that defends us from the world,” the Pope said, adding that this view laments that “the world evil, sin reigns” and risks dressing himself in a “crusade spirit”.
The Pope warns against this, because it is “not Christian” and “not the way of God”. He notes that God abhors worldliness and has a positive view of the world, blesses our lives and incarnates himself in historical situations to “grow the seed of the Kingdom in those places where darkness seems to triumph.”
We are called “to have a vision comparable to that of God, discerning what is good and constantly seeking it, seeing it and nourishing it. This is not a naive view, but a view that distinguishes realityPope Francis emphasizes.
Secularization and Secularism
To refine our discernment of the secularized world, the Holy Father recommends drawing inspiration from Paul VI who saw secularization as “the attempt, just and legitimate in itself and in no way incompatible with faith or religion” to discover the laws that rule reality and human life implanted by the Creator. Paul VI also distinguished between secularization and secularism, which generates subtle and diverse “new forms of atheism,” including consumerism, enjoyment of the highest value, a desire for power and domination, and discrimination of all kinds.
Therefore, as a church and as shepherds of God’s people and pastoral workers, the Pope says it is up to us to “make these distinctions” and “make these distinctions”, adding that if we give in to the negative view, we risk the wrong message – as if the critique of secularization “masks the nostalgia for a sacred world, a bygone society in which the Church and her pastors had more power and social relevance”.
Secularization: A Challenge to Our Pastoral Imagination
Secularization, the Pope continued, “demands that we think about the changes in society that have affected the way people think about and organize their lives” — not the diminished social relevance of the church.
Consequently, “secularization” poses a challenge to our pastoral imagination”, and “an opportunity to restructure the spiritual life into new forms and new ways of being.” A critical view “thus motivates us to develop a new passion for evangelism, to search for new languages and forms of expression, to change certain pastoral priorities and to focus on the essentials.”
Communicating the Joy of Faith
Pope Francis further stresses the importance of communicating the gospel and the joy of faith to the men and women of today, emphasizing that it is a proclamation of “a witness rich in free love” that must be expressed in “in a personal and ecclesiastical lifestyle that can rekindle the desire for the Lord, give hope and radiate confidence and credibility.”
Listing three challenges that prayer and pastoral service can pose, the pope said the first is to “make Jesus known,” returning to the original proclamation, amid the spiritual deserts created by secularism and indifference. He added that we need to find new ways to preach the gospel to those who have not yet met Christ and this calls for a pastoral creativity capable of reaching the people where they live, and opening up opportunities. find to listen, dialogue and encounter.
An Opportunity to Repent
The second challenge -witness- said the Pope, requires that we be credible, as the gospel is effectively preached “when life itself speaks and reveals the freedom that sets others free, the compassion that asks for nothing in return, the grace that silently speaks of Christ.”
At this remark, the Pope thought of the Church in Canada that has embarked on a new path after being hurt by the evil perpetrated by some of her sons and daughters. The Holy Father also spoke about the scandals of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people.
To defeat the culture of exclusion, Pope Francis advocates that bishops and priests start with themselves and not feel superior to our brothers and sisters. Likewise, pastoral workers must “understand service as power.”
Fraternity, the third challenge, means that the Church will be “a credible witness to the Gospel, as its members more embody the community and create opportunities and situations that allow anyone who approaches the faith to encounter a welcoming community capable of to listen and engage in dialogue and foster quality relationships.”