WelCom May 2019:
Bishop Charles Drennan, Bishop of Palmerston North
Leadership and purpose or kaupapa are hot topics in the Church at the moment. That should not surprise us. The Church is by nature perennis reformatio, and naturally enough some people are more attracted to the brake and others to the accelerator.
But that pedal metaphor can miss the point. The primary agent of reform in the Church is the Holy Spirit. So, growth in insight about who we are and how we should be is always a spiritual journey before it is an administrative one.
Journalists love to label Pope Francis as a reformer Pope. That’s not a radical point of difference. All Popes contribute to the magisterium of the Church – our official teachings and interpretations of Scripture, from which we contribute to public debate or read the signs of the times – and so all Popes have been reformers.
Undoubtedly, though, what has appealed to many as ‘different’, is Pope Francis’ gestures. Well before his first pastoral visit overseas, and well before his first encyclical, remember how he had entranced the world through his deeds. Yet, those deeds were ordinary not exceptional to the life of a Christian, a priest. He paid his bills, he visited a rest home, he called in to Regina Coeli prison a couple of kilometres from where he lives, and he washed feet on Holy Thursday at a penitentiary for young people.
The Chrism Mass of Holy Week magnificently reminds us that those deeds or actions should be our daily ordinary work: the oils of the Sick, of Catechumens, and of the Chrism, draw us outwards to the poor, to prisoners, to the sick and institutionalised, the stumbling or weary, the enquiring, and the frail and infirm.
So, the pressing question of Church leadership and our kaupapa today is this: how do we get out from behind our desks into our streets with, literally and figuratively, the sacred oils of God’s workshop. Some might think that’s a gross simplification. Maybe it is, or just maybe it is an intense demystification reminding us of our true work, freed of other people’s agendas, which easily distract us or our own muddling of what is truly important.
For Francis, the jump from a public-transport using Archbishop to Pope was in some ways a small one. His strategy to ensure the jump didn’t widen has been as simple as it is unsettling for some: bypass any bureaucratic layers that prevent, distract or muddle his mission to follow the risen, active Christ alive today leading us to the people and places in need of healing strength and purpose.
Balancing his distrust of bureaucracy has been his trust of young people and their insights. This is not some gimmicky cult of the youth. For Francis, ‘youth is more than simply a period of time; it is a state of mind’ (Christus Vivit n. 34) which must vivify every initiative of the Church. Indeed, in his just published document following the Synod on Young People and Faith, Pope Francis himself chose to quote a young Samoan participant who had said: if the Church is a canoe then we need the elderly aboard to help us keep course following the stars and we also need the strength of the young to row us onwards, imagining what waits ahead (cf. n. 201).
Strengthened and sure in purpose, may we pick up an oar and steer our faith communities into the midst of the beckoning waters the Holy Spirit lays before us.