In his first visit to the province of Spain, Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, Father General of the Society of Jesus, highlighted three major challenges for the Church.
The first – the need for the Church to become the people of God, a lay Church, a community of communities, open to the Holy Spirit and able to discern. The second challenge is how the Church focuses more on the power of the signs than on the signs of power; and the third is the formation of universal citizens in an intercultural world.
The Church as a ‘community of communities’ resonates Pope Francis’ words in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium where he states that “the Church is a sanctuary, a community of communities, where the thirsty come to drink during their journey, a centre of constant missionary outreach”. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, worship and celebration. He laments, however, that “the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to the people, to make them environments of living communion and participation and to make them completely mission-oriented”.
Socio-political analysis, theological-pastoral reflection and discernment are required… to proclaim the gospel in new social situations
Pope Francis leads by example. He is a breath of fresh air against an often, right-wing clergy protecting their own interests. He authentically lives out the teaching of the gospel in humility and charity, along with promoting a pastoral programme that puts ministry before dogma. He gives hope for the introduction of practical changes in how the people of God move forward in the exercise of their mission.
The Church as a ‘community of communities’ needs to constantly support, network and gather together micro groups, like prayer groups, bible sharing groups and other communities, into the Church as one macro ecclesial community, while protecting their particular identity or gift. There is always the risk, St John Paul II asserts, that micro Christian groups are isolated from the ecclesial communion, as one body of Christ.
The second challenge is how the Church focuses more on the power of the signs than on the signs of power. What are the signs showing us?
Society is displaying a subtle inner emptiness masked by the pursuit of money, a career or success as the basis of one’s whole life. Inclinations toward arrogance, thirst for power and for riches are evident with serious consequences of environmental ruin and a gradual degradation of moral and ethical values.
Amid an exhausting and stressful life where ‘doing’ seems to be taking over ‘being’, people are thirsting for and questioning the true purpose of their existence, to make sense of the chaos the political powers have created and to which we seem to naively participate. Woe to a Church that is caught up in this struggle for power rather than humbly fulfilling its mission to be, in poverty, with the poorest of the poor, the emarginated, the outcast and the forgotten.
The third challenge is the formation of universal citizens in an intercultural world were “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few”.
In our rapidly changing world, the need to use socio-political analysis, theological-pastoral reflection and discernment are the three ingredients required to form workers for the harvest, to enable the Church to proclaim the good news of the gospel in new social situations.
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