A series of reflections for the parish on Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel
Part 17: A Mother with an Open Heart
46. A Church which “goes forth” is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way. At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it.47. The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.
48. If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, “the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel”,* and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.
*Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Brazilian Bishops in the Cathedral of Sao Paulo, Brazil (11 May 2007)
Pope Francis entitles the last section of chapter 1, “A mother with an open heart…” He is speaking of the Church as mother. He is speaking of the physical doors of a particular church, but more deeply he’s talking about the “doors” that could be called welcome, hospitality, accompaniment and service. These paragraphs above can read like an examination of conscience for us as a parish. Some of this we do well. Some we do not do so well. Always the Lord leads us to the magis – to live our mission more deeply and authentically.
One thing is for sure: at a parish the size of St. Raphael, for us to live these values better, we need more missionary disciples. There’s no way just the clergy, or just the staff, or even a small percentage of parishioners serving as dedicated volunteers can reach all the people in our parish (meaning not just the registered parishioners, but all the people in the area of North Raleigh that is our parish territory) in the way the pope describes.
Lord, show us the next steps to help more people encounter you personally, become your missionary disciples, and become laborers in the vineyard…
Lead us, Lord Jesus…
Fr. Phil Hurley, S.J.