Sunday, July 10, 2022
Apostles For Today
Dialogue in the Church and in the society
Currently, the synodal process proposed by Pope Francis is an excellent moment to re-examine issues like: community discernment, collaboration in the Church and society; but also - perhaps above all – that of the dialogue we live within our Church, community, or society. I must admit that, especially in recent years I’ve been observing what is happening in the world and I have the overwhelming impression that the word dialogue has become extremely popular in theory, as it sounds well in homilies, reflections, or speeches by politicians or famous personalities. However, if we take a closer look at this, it turns out that, apart from the façade of beautiful words, for many this topic becomes generally inconvenient when we see how it is practised in the daily life of a community, family, and society.
In the context of the Church, the word dialogue has become particularly popular in relation to the so-called interreligious dialogue, broadly understood as ecumenism. We can see it in the attitude of the Popes ofthe 20th century up to Francis, with whom interreligious dialogue today seems to get a special focus with the world of Islam. The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes even farther, with a very strong emphasis on dialogue with those who have not yet accepted the Gospel. We read: The missionary task implies a respectful dialogue with those who do not yet accept the Gospel (CCC 856). Looking with hope at the reality of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, we see that dialogue and collaboration were at the heart of the life of our Founder, St. Vincent Pallotti. Already during his time at the seminary, Pallotti had tried to promote the missionary and ecumenical activity of the Church; then it culminated in the Celebrations for the Octave of Epiphany, he organized for the first time in Rome in 1836.
Pallotti was a man of dialogue and collaboration, open to anyone and any possibility of doing good together, even with people who showed no interest in God. It should be particularly emphasized here that in Pallotti dialogue primarily began within the Church among those who constituted it on a daily basis, and as a consequence, or perhaps because of this foundation, his dialogue spread all over and beyond, reaching out to the peripheries of the world of his time. It was also the premise for the establishment of the Union, which has in its very name the feature of unity, dialogue, and collaboration from the very beginning. As we read: the Union was called the "Pious Union of the Catholic Apostolate; to emphasize that its main purpose is to zealously cooperate with works for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls” (cf OOCC I, 192). We can’t collaborate with zeal, if dialogue and openness towards others do not become part of our DNA, because, as our Founder says: Reason and experience demonstrate that the good done individualistically is usually lacking and of limited duration. Even the best efforts of individuals cannot be successful unless they are united and directed to a common goal (OOCC IV, 122). If we want to be effective, if we really and deeply want to be the salt of the earth, we have to remember that this salt can give flavor to every reality of life, including the reality we do not understand or is strange and unknown to us, and which, on the surface, may arouse a natural sense of human fear: fear of the unknown, of a different opinion, or perhaps of a challenging disagreement that shatters our apparent order.
So, we see that, in the depths of our charism, we are invited to be people of dialogue that leads to collaboration. In the first part, I mentioned that dialogue has become a trendy word, but not necessarily a practiced one. This is unfortunately the case. Let us leave for a moment society, which by its very nature “lives its life”, and let us try for a moment to look at our reality in the Church, which by its own very nature should be a place of dialogue. A few simple examples. Today in Poland, in every parish we have Parish Councils, but some of them do not function at all in practice, because everything is decided by the parish priest already. He has the first and the last say. In our communities we have priests or consecrated people who avoid difficult topics. They have no problem voicing unpopular opinions from the pulpit or through the media, but not necessarily they are keen to meet others who are looking for answers to difficult questions that may challenge our thinking or sometimes show the fragility of our testimony. Lay people are no better in this regard, as the pandemic has clearly shown us. For it has turned out that also in our social environments we are not open to dialogue and sometimes we cross out people when they do not fit into our thought pattern.
Perhaps they are unusual, or even their way of living is in opposition to what we believe. Dialogue does not mean that we agree on everything, that we accept whatever the world brings, but dialogue does allow us to remain open to others, to be there for them like the bread when it is needed, and to be ready to accept them with whatever they bring, even with what is inconvenient. Is this not what it is all about? It’s about changing the world, not running away from it and its problems, or building an atmosphere of exclusion.
Fortunately, recent years have also borne in examples of beautifully conducted dialogue full of respect and love. The number of parishes where laity and priests are together, listen to each other, and where they sometimes disagree but in a healthy way, is constantly growing. Yes- they can disagree. In our Pallottine spirituality we speak of our diversity, of the variety of vocations, sometimes also of our different opinions, and although this can be difficult sometimes, if used well, it allows us to serve better, live better and be more humble. Dialogue requires humility and a deep awareness that I am not perfect, that I have flaws and also that I am often wrong. Pope Francis, in the Evangelii Gaudium, made it very clear: Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way” (Evangelii Gaudium 33). Doesn't dialogue make us open our horizons to new forms also in the field of evangelize? In our communities, let us answer the question: how do we live? Are we able to give up our habits and routines? Do we, like Jesus, do not exclude those who are different, but open ourselves to their voice? Do we have the courage to live a pure Gospel which shows that it is possible to be so close to
Him, and yet so distant from Him? Or apparently so distant, and yet close - like the tax collector in the Gospel. In the following part of Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis, writing about the Christian ideal, says: The Christian ideal will always be a summons to overcome suspicion, habitual mistrust, fear of losing our privacy, all the defensive attitudes which today’s world imposes on us. Many try to escape from others and take refuge in the comfort of their privacy or in a small circle of close friends, renouncing the realism of the social aspect of the Gospel. For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command. Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their
pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness
(Evangelii Gaudium 88).
I invite you and myself to take the risk of meeting others, to be open to dialogue and to constantly listen to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who blows as he wills, and not as we will.
Friday, April 22, 2022
Apostles for Today
Theme: Journeying Together
In the last two years, the whole world has been marked by a series of crises and situations, the likes of which we were not used to in our daily lives. We have lived through times of uncertainty, anxiety, fears, bereavements, unemployment, challenges, and preoccupations. How does one face up to all these consequences that the pandemic has brought to the world?
Pope Francis proposes to us and at the same time he challenges us to live the synodal spirit: that is, to journey together on this road of life. At the beginning of Christianity one of the terms that described the Christians was: the followers of the Way.
Once again, today, this reasoning makes a lot of sense: Jesus is the Way and we walk that way, not stationary and merely gazing up at the sky, but with a profound desire to walk the roads of life in order to transform them in signs of the Kingdom of God.
It’s true that we do not walk on our own; we meet many people on the way. On that road we meet people who teach us, who ask us for our help, who question us, who comfort us, who test our patience, persons who we love, and others whom we have difficulty in loving.
Our fidelity to the way of Jesus is that which will determine our attitudes towards these people. To walk along the way of Jesus, and to look at the world with the eyes of Jesus, to have the right attitudes, to fight so that the Gospel values do not disappear from the world. Sacred Scripture, namely the Gospel of Saint Luke chapter 24, verses 13 to 25 is the foundation that makes us reflect on the necessity to journey together.
The Gospel shows us the disciples going to Emmaus. They journey together but they are discouraged, asking themselves whether it was worth the effort to hope, because they had followed a Master who had died on the cross, crucified between two thieves. They felt as if they had chosen the wrong road and that they were alone, no longer having a direction in life.
Jesus met with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He walked with them and he asked them what was the reason for the sadness and the delusion that they were experiencing. In telling their story, they shared questions.
Jesus helped them to remember all that they already knew, showing that there is already enlightenment in the Word of God that gives hope in the face of difficult realities. Emmaus was not an isolated event, it was an experience that the community of believers knew well, something that they continued to experience on their life journey. Our current situation is precious, not because it is beautiful or perfect, but because it is where God is revealing Himself, our God, Who, despite everything, does not abandon us to the caprices of history.
The conversation on the road was a preparation for what would later take place. The companion on the journey is invited to supper. The conversation on the road has re-awakened a sense of welcome for the unknown fellow-traveller, and in what follows he is recognized in the blessing and the breaking of the bread.
We are a Church that recognizes herself as a community of followers of Jesus that gathers around the Eucharistic Bread. Our ecclesial identity is marked with the sign of the presence of the Lord.
The presence of the Risen One is that which brings the Church to birth. A Church nourished by the Eucharist that enables us to journey on the way. A Synodal Church: of communion, participation and mission (theme of the Synod of Bishops).
It is necessary to remember that the Synod is not only an episcopal assembly; it is also a journey for all the faithful. And it is not just an event; it is also a process, a journey, a real and true synodal experience.
In order to live this Synodal journey, one must first welcome the other with his/her questions, his/her challenges, just as Jesus did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Therefore, it is necessary to walk together, to listen to our brothers and sisters and their reality.
The listening has to be reciprocal and transformative in order to make possible the pastoral conversion that creates new paths where ALL (laity, men and women, consecrated persons, deacons, priests, bishops) can discern the direction in which the Lord is calling them. To journey together has to be a journey of authentic growth towards communion and the mission of the Church.
Pope Francis, in his discourse on the occasion of the opening of the Synod on Synodality on October 10th 2021 warns us not to fall into the risks or traps of:
1. Formalism: reducing the Synod to an event which is formal and which is done to fulfil the requirements.
2. Intellectualism: to turn the synod into a kind of study group, but which is disconnected from the reality of the People of God.
3. Complacency: summed up in the expression: “we have always done it this way.” The last risk or trap is perhaps the gravest because such an attitude leaves people stagnant, immobile in the face of present reality and does not accept the new challenges that call for changes to be made. The Gospel of Jesus is the same, yesterday today and forever, but in order to proclaim it today it is important to find the right language, the right way of proclaiming the Gospel in our time.
To journey together is a journey of holiness. Therefore, all our efforts to listen to and to discern that which is better for living the Gospel helps us to become the missionary and the synodal Church.
Let us call on God that He may bless us, that Jesus protect us, that the Holy Spirit give us wisdom and discernment, that the Queen of the Apostles cover us with her Divine Mantle, that Saint Vincent Pallotti encourage us in the mission and that the Pallottine Blesseds accompany us on our journey towards holiness.
Dayse da Conceição Barros da Conceição
President of the National Coordination Council in Brazil.
Thursday, January 6, 2022
2022, a New Year and a new start for us all.
Apostles for Today, our monthly reflection and prayer bulletin, reminds us in a timely fashion of our call and vocation to be Apostles of Jesus Christ, in the Church and in the world. The General Secretariat of the UAC proposed that we reflect and pray throughout this year on Synodality, the theme for the next Synod of Bishops which will be held in 2023. The Secretariat has prepared an outline of twelve (12) topics on Synodality which will be the material for reflection each month. Pope Francis has chosen Synodality as he believes that it is really at the very foundation of the Church and of her life and, as such, is deep in his heart.
In the Preparatory Document we read that “The Church of God is convoked in Synod. The path entitled ‘For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission’”; it is significant that it is described as ‘path’, an indication that it is a journey and a way and not only a theme. The word Synod indicates to us what is involved, it comes from the Greek and is a composite of ‘syn’ meaning ‘together with, jointly, at the same time’ and ‘hodos’ which means ‘a way, path, road, journey’. The path and the process in the Document are formulated as “journeying together”. From a reflection on the word ‘synod’ we can understand what is envisaged, that we, the members of the Church are consciously and reflectively journeying together as God’s people and identifying how this takes place in our own lives, in our church life and on all the levels of the life and mission of the Church today.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be an ever-present reality for us and certainly here in the northern hemisphere it impedes our coming together and enjoying full in-presence communion, and we are challenged to find means of consciously and meaningfully walking together. There are essential elements of our path to the Synod and the first of these is ‘Together’: the material prepared and circulated by the General Secretariat of the Synod places great stress on this as we are intrinsically connected and linked to one another, we belong one to another; we share life on earth together and we will share eternal life together. A phrase used several times by Pope Francis while writing on “Temptations faced by Pastoral Workers ”in Evangelii Gaudium, is “Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of ...” (EG 80, 83, 86, 92, 97, 101); the repetition of this exhortation comes to mind now in this pandemic as there is much that isolates us and keeps us apart from one another. There are things that can create division and distance and can ‘rob us’ of essential elements of our common Christian journey.
Perhaps a question can be put here, can I, can we, identify what creates distance between us and others in the UAC? Are we being “robbed of” the opportunity to journey together?
A second element is ‘Walking or journeying' and signifies onward movement, it is not a static state; we are always going towards God.
In Advent we reflected on journeys in the Nativity scenes, Mary journeying over rough terrain to be with Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph travelling to Jerusalem to comply with the census, Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus journeying into Egypt. In our Christian life we are journeying deeper and deeper into God and into the mystery of God, in Jesus. What is my/our sense of journeying or walking?
A third element is awareness of being part of the living Church; we tend to hark back to the early Church and the experience of lived communion as related in the New Testament, we can think of this as the ‘ideal’ experience; I have often thought how wonderful it would have been to live in that church in such close connection to the earthly life of Jesus. However, over the years I have realized that we are just one step away from the experience of the early Church, the Church is, and the Church is new in every generation as we receive a lived faith, make it our own and pass it on to the next generation. Can I/we come up with an image that reflects a sense of being part of the living Church?
The fourth element is one that is central to our Pallottine spirituality: Communion and cooperation are words which run through all the writings of our Founder. He experienced himself as in communion with God and with all creatures in God; he was conscious of the call to cooperation with God in all his works and in particular in the salvation of souls; “... the most holy, noble, august and divine of all divine works is the work of cooperating with the merciful designs, wishes and desires of God for the salvation of souls.”(OOCC IV).
St Vincent was ‘an apostle of a spirituality of communion’(cf. St Vincent Pallotti, Prophet of a Spirituality of Communion”, Fr Franco Todisco, SAC).In the UAC we are called to live a spirituality of cooperation and of communion which is rooted in the love of the Holy Trinity and it is part of our Pallottine heritage. What is my/our sense of living communion and cooperation in the UAC? For mission: we the members of the Pallottine family, in the condition and state of life we are in, are all called to cooperate in the mission of Jesus Christ in the Church. The General Statutes affirm that “...the multiple forms of personal vocation and the diversity of life styles, of commitment and of service are united by the founding charism, by a common spirit and mission and by the communion of the members...” (GS 6).
We are for mission; our mission is to live the Gospel in the day-to-day activities and engagement; to proclaim the Gospel and to facilitate access to the Gospel in accompanying others in their quest. How do I/we see the mission today? How do I/we see the mission in the circumstances in which I/we find ourselves?
Personally, I am excited and enthused by the path proposed to us by Pope Francis and the Secretariat of the Synod; enthused because there is no fixed agenda, nomaster-plan already laid out which we are asked to study, understand, accept and implement. The point of departure for the path is to gather together, to be together, and to talk, share, meet each other where we are and share what being Church is to us, and together share where we think God’s Spirit is leading us; what God’s Spirit wants of us. In the Vademecum prepared by the Secretariat for the Synod it is stressed that “The Synodal Process is first and foremost a spiritual process” (Vademecum 2.2). The path is exciting because something new will be born of our encounter, something which we will create together in God; the Vademecum warns against gathering with a sense of positions already taken and with viewpoints to defend or to impose; it also urges a leaving behind of prejudices and stereotypes, of ‘the virus of self-sufficiency’; to avoid temptations of ‘wanting to lead ourselves instead of being led by God’, of focusing on ourselves and our immediate concerns, on ‘problems’ and on structures. It is to be a spiritual process leading to discernment. WhileI reflected on the request to prepare this number of Apostles for Today I thought of what attitudes might facilitate my participation in the process and I came up with the following:
- A conscious awareness of the continuous call to communion, to communion with God, to communion with all others in God.
- A recognition that I/we are all protagonists in the process because I/we all have faith and my/our experience in faith and the convictions that grow out of it are valid.
- •My/our vocation is that of the Church, a vocation to evangelize which is our mission; daily reading of the Gospel will throw light on the here-and-now of the mission.
- Listening with an open ear and mind, Pope Francis gives the impression that he is listening attentively and he responds, sometimes he may trip up in his response, but he continues onwards on the path he sees as being the one the Spirit is indicating.
- In the Union of Catholic Apostolate I/we have experience of ‘walking together’ through my/our experience of being in communion in the charism of St Vincent Pallotti; my/our experience is valid and can contribute to the discernment of the Church on Synodality.
I will conclude with a quote from Lumen Fidei, Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis, and make it my prayer for our participation in the Synodal path: “The experience of love shows us that a common vision is possible, for through love we learn how to see reality through the eyes of others, not as something which impoverishes but instead enriches our vision. Genuine love, after the fashion of God’s love, ultimately requires truth, and the shared contemplation of the truth which is Jesus Christ enables love to become deep and enduring.” (Lumen Fidei 47).
-Fr. Derry Murphy, SAC.