At vespers at Notre-Dame de Quebec Cathedral on Thursday, Pope Francis invites bishops, clergy, religious and ministers in Canada to face the challenges that hinder the proclamation of the joy of faith and asks for forgiveness for the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable individuals by some members of the Church.
By Benedikt Mayaki, SJ
Pope Francis presided over Vespers with bishops, clergy, consecrated persons, seminarians and pastoral workers at Notre-Dame Basilica in Quebec on Thursday evening, the fifth day of his apostolic journey to Canada.
during his sermon At the event, the Holy Father underlined the importance of meeting in the cathedral of the church whose first bishop, St. François de Laval, opened the seminary in 1663 and dedicated his office to priestly formation.
Noting that readings at Vespers speak about elders (presbyters), he noted that St. Peter urged them to be willing to shepherd God’s flock, and so church pastors are invited to show “the same generosity in shepherding of the flock, in order to express Jesus’ concern for all and his compassion for the wounds of each.”
Shepherds, a sign of Christ
Shepherding the flock, the Pope said, should be done “with devotion and tender love” – as Saint Peter urges – guiding them and not letting them be led astray, because “we are a sign of Christ”. Chaplains should do so voluntarily, not out of duty like professional religious or ministers, but “zealously and with a pastoral heart”.
The Pope pointed out that pastors are also “cared for” by the merciful love of Christ and feel the closeness of God. This, he emphasized, is “the source of the joy of service and, above all, of the joy of faith.”
“Christian joy is about experiencing a peace that remains in our hearts even when we are struck by trials and tribulations,” said the Pope, “because then we know that we are not alone but of one God be accompanied, who is not indifferent to our lot.”
He explained that this is not “cheap joy,” as the world sometimes suggests, or for wealth, comfort, and security, but “it is a free gift, the assurance of knowing that in each one we are loved, carried, and embraced by Christ become life situation”.
Dangers to the Joy of Faith
Reflecting on the joy of the Gospel in our communities, the Pope pointed to secularization as one of the factors that “threaten the joy of faith and thus risk reducing it and endangering our life as Christians”.
He laments that secularization has profoundly affected the lifestyles of today’s men and women, who put God on the back burner. “God seems to have disappeared from the horizon and his word no longer seems to be a compass that guides our lives, our fundamental choices, our human and social relationships,” said the Pope.
Considering the surrounding culture, Pope Francis warns against “falling victim to pessimism or resentment and immediately resorting to negative judgments or vain nostalgia.” Rather, he works out two possible ways of looking at the world: the “negative view” and the “discriminating view”.
Negative vs. challenging views
The first view – the negative one – is “often born of a faith that feels attacked and sees it as a kind of ‘armor’ that defends us against the world,” the pope said, adding that this view laments that “the world is evil, sin reigns supreme” and risks clothing himself in a “crusade spirit”.
The Pope warns that this is “not Christian” and “not the way of God”. He states that God abhors worldliness and has a positive view of the world, blessing our lives and incarnating in historical situations to “give growth to the seed of the kingdom where darkness seems to triumph.”
We are called “to have an outlook similar to that of God, who knows good and perseveres in seeking, seeing, and cultivating it. This is not a naïve point of view, but a naive one recognizes reality‘ Pope Francis said.
secularization and secularism
In order to refine our discernment of the secularized world, the Holy Father recommends that Paul VI who saw secularization as “the effort, just and legitimate in itself and in no way incompatible with faith or religion”, to discover the laws that govern reality and human life implanted by the Creator. Paul VI also distinguished between secularization and secularism, which produces subtle and varied “new forms of atheism,” including consumer society, pleasure held as the supreme value, the desire for power and domination, and discrimination of all kinds.
As a Church and as shepherds of God’s people and pastoral workers, the Pope therefore says that it is up to us “to make these distinctions” and “to make this distinction”, adding that we risk sending the wrong thing if we give in to the negative view – as if the critique of secularization masks “the longing for a sacralized world, a bygone society in which the church and its ministers had greater power and social relevance”.
Secularization: a challenge to our pastoral imagination
Secularization, the Pope continued, “requires that we reflect on the changes in society that have affected the way people think about and organize their lives” – not the church’s shrunken social relevance.
Hence “secularization challenges our pastoral imagination’ and ‘an opportunity to restructure spiritual life into new forms and to find new ways of being.’ Thus, ‘a critical look motivates us to develop a new passion for evangelization, to seek new languages and expressions, certain pastoral priorities to change and to concentrate on the essentials”.
impart joy of faith
Pope Francis goes on to emphasize the importance of bringing the Gospel and the joy of faith to the men and women of today, stressing that it is a proclamation of “a testimony full of gratuitous love” that is “made in a personal and church lifestyle should take shape that can reignite longing for the Lord, awaken hope and radiate trust and credibility.”
Pointing to three challenges that can shape prayer and pastoral ministry, the pope said the first is to “make Jesus known” and return to the original preaching, amidst the spiritual deserts created by secularism and indifference became. He added that we must find new ways to proclaim the Gospel to those who have not yet met Christ, and this requires “a pastoral creativity capable of reaching people where they live and Finding opportunities for listening, dialogue and encounter”.
A cause for conversion
The second challenge—witness—requires us to be credible as the gospel is effectively preached “when life itself speaks, revealing the freedom that liberates others, the compassion that asks nothing in return, the mercy that is silent speaks of Christ.”
In this sense, the Pope thought of the Church in Canada, which was set on a new path after being hurt by the evil committed by some of its sons and daughters. The Holy Father also spoke about the scandals of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people.
To overcome the culture of exclusion, Pope Francis advocates that bishops and priests should start with themselves and not feel superior to our brothers and sisters. Likewise, ministers should “understand service as power.”
Fraternity, the third challenge, means that the church “will be a credible witness of the gospel, the more its members embody communion and create opportunities and situations that allow all who approach the faith to encounter a welcoming communion who are able to listen and engage in dialogue and foster quality relationships.”