Rise and Go

Pope Francis recently had some harsh words for parishes that don’t proactively reach out to evangelize those in their community and others whom they encounter.  Here are some excerpts from the Vatican synopsis of the Pope’s homily:

Pope Francis called for a Church that “does not remain seated”

[…]

“Rise and go”. The Spirit “does not say: ‘remain seated, at ease, in your home’. No! In order to be ever faithful to the Lord, the Church must be on her feet and on the move: ‘Rise and go’”. In fact, Pope Francis continued, “a church that does not rise, that does not journey, becomes sick and ends up closed with much psychological and spiritual trauma, closed within a world of gossip, of things … closed, without horizons”. The invitation, however, is clear: Rise and go; get on your feet and get moving.

“The Lord carries us on his shoulders…”

In his homily at daily Mass yesterday, Pope Francis provided an excellent teaching on maintaining our joy in suffering, and the true meaning of patience during times of trial.  I am not very good at this.  I am still far too focused on myself, on my security, on my comfort.  I often look to blame someone for my difficulties.  Mostly I blame myself, at times I blame others, and sometimes I cry out to God questioning His lack of intervention on my behalf.

However, I was strongly convicted of my self-centeredness when Pope Francis said “The Lord carries us on his shoulders, with a lot of patience.”  How easily my self-absorption causes me to forget that God is always there, always near.  The foundation for all growth in holiness is remembering that God first loves us, and understanding the depth of God’s love for us.  God wants us to freely love Him in return, especially by trusting Him.  I should be increasing that love and trust of God in my own life by remembering the sufferings of Jesus (and uniting my own sufferings to them, and offering them for others), by taking time to recall with deep gratitude the ways in which God provides for me and protects me (and my loved ones) each day.  I need to encounter Jesus every day in heartfelt personal prayer based upon Sacred Scripture.  This will help my selfishness to diminish, and enable me to live in patient joy during difficult times.

The primacy of gracious speech

In his otherwise very good homily at Holy Mass on Thursday, 09-January-2014, Pope Francis (commenting on the first Reading from 1 John 4:11-18) said something which could be misleading:

There is a question we must each ask ourselves: “If I abide in Jesus, if I abide in the Lord, if I abide in love, what do I do for God – not what do I think or what do I say – and what do I do for others?”. Therefore, he said “the first criteria is to love with deeds, not with words”. “The wind carries away our words: today they are here and tomorrow they are gone”.

In his zeal to see a more visibly loving Church, it is clear that Pope Francis significantly underestimates the importance and the power of words.  Most often, the first encounter of other persons with us will be their hearing of our words.  The way in which people express themselves in words has been seriously corrupted by our culture, as well as by our lack of knowledge of Sacred Scripture.  Ordinary conversation is now laden with negativity, complaining, sarcasm, slander, gossip, hypocrisy, falsehood, vulgarity, lack of eye contact, no smile, feeble efforts at humor in order to mask insecurity, and fear of mentioning our Lord and anything related to Him.  Our disordered desire for isolation has produced people who increasingly neglect to acknowledge others with a simple, friendly greeting.  The first impression we make on someone will likely be with our words, and contrary to Francis’ belief that “the wind carries away our words,” that first impression is often one which is lasting.

If we are truly disciples of Jesus, we should be seeing the face of Christ in everyone we encounter.  We should also be striving to have whatever we say to others be born of self-giving love.  Our speech should be filled with friendliness, affirmation, gratitude, truth and graciousness:

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one. (Colossians 4:6)

Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another….No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.  (Ephesians 4:25,29)

The LORD loves the pure of heart; the person of winning speech has a king for a friend.  (Proverbs 22:11)

Opportunities to do loving deeds for those we encounter in daily life are relatively infrequent.  In contrast, every one of those encounters offers us the opportunity to speak words in a loving manner.  Loving actions can often be impersonal, and therefore easier to perform.  It’s possible to “love with deeds” and not actually be in the presence of the person who is the recipient of your love.  However, many of us find it intimidating and uncomfortable to look someone in the eye and, with a smile, affirm them, express our gratitude to them, or gently correct them.  One-on-one conversation is a very personal encounter.  This is precisely why it is so enduring.

Do not underestimate the primary importance of expressing our love with words, especially in our families!!!

Effective communication

MagiIn his homily for Epiphany, Fr JN recalled the diligence with which the Magi followed the star.  He pointed out that the star in our lives is Jesus, and that we should each have a personal relationship with Jesus evidenced by our lives of prayer and service to others.  I was elated to hear such a clear Christocentric challenge (Thank you, Father!).  However, I also recalled a time when such words would have been meaningless to me.  As a lukewarm (or less) Catholic in my early 20’s, those words would have gone in one ear and out the other.  I was not seeking the Lord at that time.  I was filling my life with my own selfish pursuits.  I’m sure there were some Catholics at this Mass who are just like I was back then.  In communicating to the Magi, God used a language that they (wise men; astrologers) could readily understand — the star.  When I had the renewal experience which led to my personal encounter with Jesus, it changed my hearing.  Words which were previously meaningless to me were now filled with meaning and challenge.  Fr JN’s words were clear and simple.  They were quite possibly the ideal words to use.  The question is:  How can we best help people to open their hearts more to God, so that such clear and simple words prove to be inspiring and motivating to them, instead of being largely ignored by them?