A series of reflections for the parish on Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel
Part 15: First Things First
34. If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key, this will also affect the way we communicate the message. In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message. We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.
35. Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing.
I’d like to share with you something about myself. Like many young people, and some not so young, I went through a period of time as a young adult when I had a lot of doubts about God and the Church. I wasn’t sure what was true or what I believed. Yet my heart was seeking for something true and good and beautiful to grab onto.
I thank God that people came into my life who shared with me what Pope Francis speaks of in the paragraphs above: the “heart of Christ’s message,” with all its “meaning, beauty, and attractiveness.” It was a message that was simple yet deep and true: that I was in need of a savior from the sin and confusion in my life, that Jesus is God come among us who loves me and can save me, and that I was invited to be part of his body, the Church, with other people in need of saving like me.
As important as the various “issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching” are, which I would learn more about as I matured as a disciple of Jesus in his Church, I’m glad that the Catholics I encountered were “not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed.” They realized that if they took that approach with me as someone seeking for Jesus, the simple and deep saving message of Jesus would run “a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects.” They knew that if they did first things first, to let me know that I was loved and belonged to Jesus and in his Church, I could then better open my heart to believe in him, and then see how that belonging and believing should have an effect on the way we live our lives and the choices we make.
That’s one story that exemplifies the principle Pope Francis is offering us in our mission as a parish: Focus on first things first in our mission, build the foundation on the “heart of Christ’s message,” and we’ll find we’re able to address the other important (but secondary) things in the best way.
Fr. Phil Hurley, S.J.