As I have noted in the past, I write a monthly column for the American Catholic Council Newsletter under the heading “Eye on Francis”. I work with something Papa Francesco has said or done in recent weeks and apply it to our lives as lay Catholics in our parishes. Hope you enjoy reading these as much as I enjoy putting them together……Reyanna
Eye on Francis
July 1, 2015
Fear is what “happens in Christians, happens in the Community, in the entire Church, in the parishes in many Christian communites.” In fact, “there are fearful communities, who go always on the safe side: ‘No, no we can’t do this….No, no, you cannot do this, this you cannot’”. At that point what “it seems that they have written on the entry door is ‘Forbidden: everything is forbidden from fear’”. Thus “when you enter into that community the air is stale because the community is sick: fear sickens a community: lack of courage sickens a community”……
From homily of Pope Francis at Mass at Casa Santa Marta, May 15, 2015 as reported in L’Osservatore Romano
Pretty strong words from Papa Francesco on fear! He also said that “Fear is an attitude that hurts us, weakens us, reduces us, even paralyzes us”. He further says that a person who is afraid does nothing and doesn’t know what to do and that fear brings on a selfish egocentrism, especially when it involves one’s spiritual life. He spoke about people who are afraid of doing anything because they look at everything from the standpoint of being afraid it might be a sin. That kind of fear is different from fear of God as he explained later in the homily, which is holy, is awe, is adoration of God. That does not paralyze us but on the contrary makes us courageous to go ahead toward the mission that the Lord give us. He says the best word for a Christian is joy and we will have it with true fear of God.
When I look at what Papa Francesco has done in the two and a half years he has been in office, I would have to say he is a living model of someone who lives without fear, has fear of the Lord and is certainly joyful. Everything he says and does exudes those kinds of attributes. He says these are gifts of the Holy Spirit and this is what gives us joy because “the Lord has looked at me and has sent me and has given me His grace and He made me a son (or daughter) of the Father”. That last quote could almost be PF’s mission statement!
The quote at the very beginning of this article is telling me what he thinks many Catholic Christian communities have become. I would guess many of you know of such communities where there is that kind of invisible sign on the door he speaks about: “Forbidden!!” How much the Catholic Church has become the church of “No!” over the last 30 or so years! For me it is so sad to see. The list of no’s is long: no to holding hands during the Lord’s prayer, no to girl altar servers in many parishes, no to the presider coming out to greet the people at the sign of peace, no to understandable language for out Eucharistic celebrations, no to bread baked by parish members for use at the Eucharist, no to any kind of altar vessels that do not have a gold lining, no to communal celebrations of Reconciliation without oral confession to a priest (the 3rd Rite of Reconciliation), no in some dioceses and parishes to communion in the hand or while standing or under both forms. The list could go on and on. Many of our communites are “stale” because the community is sick from fear and lacks courage.
How do we live the kind of parish communities that I think Papa Francesco has in mind? We must be “senza paura” as he said in this homily, “without fear”. We each need to learn to be as PF quoted from the second reading when it said that “Jesus says to Paul: ‘Don’t be afraid, continue speaking.’ We need to find the courage to know when we need to speak up and continue speaking if we want to see change in our parish communities, our church. Many, many of us need to “continue speaking”. When the local reform group I work with, Concerned Catholics of Montana, was first forming around discussion groups of a series of DVD’s we watched of the speakers at the meeting in Detroit several years ago organized by the American Catholic Council, one of the fellows in the group spoke about fear but posed a very pertinent question: “What can they do to us? Take our birthday away from us?” Good question! What are we afraid of? No one can take away from me my deep relationship with Jesus or can tell me I am no longer a Catholic. They may think they can but they really cannot take that away from me and have no right to even think they can.
Papa Francesco doesn’t want to see signs on the entry doors to churches that say “Forbidden!” In fact, I would say he wants to see those church doors flung wide open with a big sign over the door saying “Welcome!”. He said in this same homily “also a community without joy is a sick community, because when there is no joy there is emptiness”. If we agree and we want to see our parish communities not be “stale” and “sickened” , we need to be “senza paura”, “without fear” and continue speaking. And we need to know deep down that kind of joy that Papa Francesco speaks about when he says “the Lord has looked at me”. Good to remember when we begin to be fearful. And remember they can’t take our birthday away from us…..