Close and Concrete: Pope Francis on how to evangelize a world in flux

Austen Ivereigh

Austen Ivereigh

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pope Francis’s evangelization strategy is born from the analysis of the modern world made by the Latin-American Church at its historic 2007 gathering in Aparecida, Brazil, when it called for a “pastoral and missionary conversion” in response to what it called a “change of era”. At the heart of document is understanding the current moment as a time of flux, in which technology-driven changes (liquidity, globalization) are eroding structures and institutions. Aparecida – whose main author was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis – called for a change in attitude and mindset on the part of the Church, which he summarises in two words: Vicinanza (closeness) and concretezza (concreteness).

“The Church is called to a deep and profound rethinking of its mission,” said Aparecida. “What is required is confirming, renewing, and revitalizing the newness of the Gospel rooted in our history, out of a personal and community encounter with Jesus Christ that raises up disciples and missionaries.” In the future, it noted, “a Catholic faith reduced to mere baggage, to a collection of rules and prohibitions, to fragmented devotional practices, to selective and partial adherence to the truths of the faith, to occasional participation in some sacraments, to the repetition of doctrinal principles, to bland or nervous moralizing, that does not convert the life of the baptized would not withstand the trials of time.” (See Aparecida document here)

  1. Technocracy

Francis spells out this “liquidity” in quite dramatic, even apocalyptic terms. He told the bishops in Brazil in July 2013: “A relentless process of globalization, an often uncontrolled process of urbanization, have promised great things. Many people have been captivated by the potential of globalization, which of course does contain positive elements. But many also completely overlook its darker side: the loss of a sense of life’s meaning, personal dissolution, a loss of the experience of belonging to any “nest”, subtle but relentless violence, the inner fragmentation and breakup of families, loneliness and abandonment, divisions, and the inability to love, to forgive, to understand, the inner poison which makes life a hell, the need for affection because of feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness, the failed attempt to find an answer in drugs, alcohol, and sex, which only become further prisons.”

He has spoken in the same vein recently about the future of Europe, about ideological colonization, in general about the loss of culture. In Santiago de Chile recently he warned: “Without the ‘us’ of a people, of a family and of a nation, but also the ‘us’ of the future, of our children and of fomorrow, without the ‘us’ of a city that transcends ‘me’ and is richer than individual interests, life will be no only increasingly fragmented, but also more conflictual and violent.”

He has highlighted the ambiguity of globalization: on the one hand drawing people closer, on the other, driving them apart. Laudato Si has many quotes from Romano Guardini’s 1950 work The End of the Modern World, especially in relation to the technocratic paradigm, Guardini’s concept of what happens when technology shapes our minds and hearts. Laudato Si’ confronts, head-on, this contemporary form  of atheism in which men and women are reduced to means rather than ends, mere cogs in a machine and dispensable; hence the throwaway culture. LS counterposes the false consciousness that follows the rupture of man and nature (technocratic paradigm) and the new consciousness that will be needed to restore gift and reciprocity (integral ecology)

  1. Anguish

Migration as deracination (desocialization) — uprooting: (1) spatially (harder to relate to physical spaces, as well as communities); (2) existentially, in the sense of having future projects, identity; (3) spiritually, in the sense of loss of transcendence — symbols connecting present with eternal. Response to this experience of loss, of uprootedness, is another experience, not an idea: the experience of perceiving the anguish of the other, and responding to needs — spiritual as well as physical, psychological (hard to distinguish). Heart of Gospel is to create an environment of welcome that incarnates God’s welcome, one that dignifies human beings.

There is a lot of fear, especially of failure. Plunging self-esteem, rise in depression, suicide, anxiety. Lack of strong families produces stress, lack of resilience. Increasingly shaped by, and trapped by, technology, hence addiction, distraction (distracted mind = unhappy mind). The effect of the technocratic paradigm on the psyche: avoidance, rigidity, rule-following. Health is learning to live with weeds and not to be controlled by them, rather than trying to uproot them. Technocratic paradigm seeks to uproot; seeks perfection, and when this can’t be  attained, there is a shutdown.

Francis sees people wanting to see Jesus, to experience an encounter with God. Impatient with sentimental, or vague spiritualities; they are TIRED OF WORDS — world is saturated with words— and in need of authentic experience. Bergoglio in 2001 called this una pastoral de encuentro – a pastoral outreach based on encounter.

What do people hunger for? (1) To reconnect with creation as creatures of God, and to experience His love and mercy. (2) To experience family: bonds of trust and unconditional love that will build resilience, character, self-esteem etc. (3) To find sanctuary: place of privacy and prayer outside technocratic paradigm.  To learn contemplation.

There is a search for proximity and experience. The Church is called to be close and concrete in response to the cold abstraction and instrumentalism of the technocratic paradigm.

  1. Pastoral Conversion

Benedict XVI spotted the problem in 2005 when he wrote: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” This is repeated in Aparecida, and in Evangelii Gaudium Francis says he “never tires of repeating it”.

The crisis of evangelization in the western Church was partly the result of the Church responding to the threat of relativism / secularism / individualism with an ethical response focussed on the errors of modernity and the truth of what the Church had to offer. But that religion seem like an idea, rather than “the encounter with an event, a person” – an experience. The institution had become distant. The Church was no longer evangelizing but talking to itself, focussed on preserving itself.

Francis nailed the issue in February 2015 in addressing the new cardinals. “There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost. Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking. The thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person, and the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.”

The Church’s institutional failure – that is, its failure to evangelize, to convince, to create culture – is also its path to pastoral conversion, as Pope showed in his address to clergy in Chile. “A Church with wounds can understand the wounds of today’s world and make them her own, suffering with them”, he said. But this requires putting Christ at the centre, and receiving His mercy, as St Peter did after the Crucifixion. (Transition from Peter the failed disciple to Peter on fire as an apostle).

  1. Close and Concrete

This is how God saves us. They are two words of the Incarnation. Close and concrete are incarnational words: it’s how God is. So emphatic is Francis on this point that you see that this for him is at the heart of the Gospel, the contemporary spiritual battle: between what is incarnate and what is dis-incarnate. This is something Bergoglio had been saying at least since 1997, when as an auxiliary bishop he had spoken at the synod on the Americas about the “disenchantment” of the contemporary world. Faced with a lack of hope, he said, “the Lord is moved, comes down, and gets close … We must rediscover His way of coming near in order to evangelize. The key word is ‘proximity’. Encounter, conversion, communion and solidarity are the categories that express the proximity … that opens the way to hope.”⁠

To the Polish bishops in July 2016 he said: “What would I advise? I would say – but I believe it is in the Gospel, where there is precisely the Lord’s own teaching – closeness. Today we, the Lord’s servants – bishops, priests, consecrated persons and committed laypeople – need to be close to God’s people. Without closeness, there are only disembodied words. Let us think – I like to reflect on this – of the two pillars of the Gospel. What are the two pillars of the Gospel? The Beatitudes and Matthew 25, the “criteria” on which all of us will be judged. Concreteness, closeness, touching, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. But you are saying all this because it is fashionable to speak about mercy this year!” No! This is the Gospel! The Gospel, the works of mercy.”

Evangelii Gaudium is all about how the Church can become close and concrete, drawing alongside contemporary humanity as a pastor, servant, healer, enabling an encounter with the living God of mercy as experience, not as an idea. And how this involves a refocussing out onto the peripheries. And a very strong rejection of the temptations or distractions that prevent that: neo-Pelagianism, Gnosticism, an obsession with certain ethical issues, the mentality of it’s always been done this way, etc. etc.

The Church evangelizes through closeness and concreteness: being close to people in their concrete realities. Without closeness, the Church’s moral and ethical proclamation will seem distant and unattainable. Hw told the Bishops of Brazil: “Today, we need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the “night” contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture.”

Whole Jubilee of Mercy was attempt to bring about this pastoral conversion: a God who is close and concrete, not distant and abstract. How can the Church better walk with people who have experienced marriage breakdown? Where is God’s grace active in their lives? The three great words of Amoris Laetitia — ACCOMPANIMENT, INTEGRATION AND DISCERNMENT — are “close and concrete” words. They are designed to point to the actions that the Church is called to carry out in the world.

  1. Reconciliation / return

The work of the Church on the earth is essentially God’s work of creating and reconciling. Evangelization involves both; being close and concrete involves both. Work of Landings is a great work of evangelization through reconciliation. As Francis said to the bishops in Brazil, “a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return.”

This requires a joint discernment in which we are all converted. Task of accompaniment, integration and discernment involves the pastoral conversion of the Church. For this, lay people are fundamental as “missionary disciples” (hence Francis’s horror of clericalism, which prevents this).

The call to Landings is to create ecology in response to technocracy, not as an idea, but as a praxis. To rebuild community, the bonds of belonging in parish, family and the environment in general, at the heart of which is the experience of the mercy of Jesus Christ.

That is Francis’s vision, drawn from Aparecida, of how you evangelize a world in flux.

Landings lecture 2018

‘Close and Concrete: Pope Francis on how to Evangelise in a World in Flux’

Tuesday March 6th at 7:00pm

Dr Austen Ivereigh, papal biographer and Catholic Voices co-founder will reflect on the theme.

Mass in the church at 6:00pm; buffet reception to follow. All most welcome.

Farm Street Church Hall, 114 Mount St, London W1K 3AH

To book a place please contact Mr Scott McCoombe at farmstreetoffice@rcdow.org.uk or on (020) 7529 4829

Welcoming the wounded: Becoming the Church of the Good Samaritan

The Landings Lecture by Fr Christopher Jamison OSB, 7th March 2017

Image: Weenson Oo/picture-u.net

1.    Who are we talking about?

Let’s begin by recalling the main characters in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The traveler, the bandits who beat him up, the priest and the Levite who pass by on the other side, the Good Samaritan and the inn keeper. This evening let’s focus firstly on the traveler as representing those beaten up by the world and, most distressing of all, those beaten up by the Church; secondly we’ll focus on the Samaritan, the unlikely person who, together with the inn keeper, offers healing and hospitality.

So in order to be the church of the Good Samaritan, we need first of all to have some sense of who is lying by the roadside and how they have been beaten up.

The groups I have in mind as the scope of this presentation are not Catholics no longer connected to the Church through simply lapsing; Landings already has resources and examples of how to welcome them. This evening I want to focus on those who are wounded either by our culture or by the Church itself.  I appreciate that the distinction between the simply lapsed and the wounded isn’t clear cut. We’re looking at a spectrum with simply lapsed at one end and deeply wounded at the other with plenty of lapsed and wounded people in the middle. So let’s simply agree that this evening we’ll look at the deeply suffering end of the spectrum.

For example, some older people describe their experience of being at a Catholic school as a nightmare. They’re deeply upset by the memory. What can we offer them? Or the unmarried mother with a partner who rarely goes to Mass but is looking for spiritual help. Or the transgender Catholic trying to find how they fit into the Church and the parishioners who find this difficult to handle.

What strikes me about these examples is that nowadays, no matter what our Catholic teaching says, more and more people no longer see their lives as fitting classic categories: married/unmarried, male/female, loyal Catholic/lapsed Catholic. English society’s daily life used to be built upon a traditional Christian values system; even when people’s church attendance diminished, the basic structure of English life remained unchanged. Part of the bed rock of the Catholic Church in England was the traditional English culture and that Christian culture of family life supported the Catholic Church’s culture. But the old categories have now dissolved and in London especially there is no longer any such thing as normal. This has impacted the English Catholic Church. In order to understand how local churches can help the wounded, we need to understand how the Church itself has changed in the last 50 years.

2.    Past Church

To understand the Church in this country, we need to recognize the decline of the totally catholic culture (TCC); along with all total cultures, this began to die from 1960s onwards. This is the world of the parish providing Catholic families with schools, youth clubs, football teams, social clubs etc; I grew up in this all embracing Catholic culture and, and unlike some people, I found it a very positive experience. But along with all total cultures, TCC began to die from 1960s onwards. The 60’s was the time when the young no longer took their values from just one place; with the era of TV and mass tourism, new vistas opened up and the young embraced them with enthusiasm. No longer could people be brought up within one culture and we saw the decline of Jewish and Anglican culture as well.  The final blow to the TCC was the failure of the church to deal properly with abusive clergy. The effects of the death of the TCC are seen in the statistics; between 1980 and 2000, the numbers at Mass on Sunday halved from around 2 million to around 1 million. In the new millennium, faith is no longer inherited but chosen. Catholic families and schools now pass on the possibility of faith to the young, which is a great gift in a world that is stunningly ignorant of religion. This possibility is passed on so that young people may become the adults who pass on the faith to other adults. We now have intentional Catholics in Church or they aren’t there at all. But one of the problems is that many of the million wonderful people at Mass on Sunday think that the storms of the last 50 years will pass and a version of the TCC will return. That isn’t going to happen. The Catholic Church is now no longer supported by English culture nor can the faith be passed on simply as a family inheritance.

3.    Future Church

So what will be the distinctive features of local communities in the Catholic Church? (Local communities is the term I’ll use to cover parishes, chaplaincies and religious communities.)  The TCC delivered people to church on Sunday and those in need knew where to find support within the culture. By contrast, most people are now brought up at a distance from all religion or distance themselves from it. So the first task of a local community is to shrink the distance between most people and the church. We have to work hard to enable people to approach the Church. That means a key feature of the church in future will be hospitality. If you take away nothing else this evening, take away the thought that to be the church of the Good Samaritan means being the church of hospitality. Pope Francis wants parishes to be field hospitals and that’s a great image for a parish that wants to care for the wounded. But in the parable, the Good Samaritan takes the wounded man to an inn not a hospital so I will leave to one side the medical image and stick with hospitality. Running an inn is less daunting than running a hospital!

While welcoming people to the liturgy is important, Sunday Mass is the culmination of Christian hospitality not the starting point. Offering hospitality in its fullest sense is in itself a service not simply an exercise in keeping people coming to Mass. Nowhere is this clearer than in my own monastic tradition. In the Rule of St Benedict for monasteries, the chapter on receiving guests (ch 53) says that ‘all guests are to be welcomed as Christ.’ They are to have their feet washed and be shown ‘every kindness’ which translates the Latin word humanitas literally humanity. What a challenge: for a Christian community to show humanity to all. Benedict continues: ‘great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because n them more particularly Christ is received.’ The theology of hospitality must be the foundation of the Church of the Good Samaritan. To receive the wounded is to receive Christ himself and it is to offer healing in the simple act of hospitality.

4.    Future Parish

So what does all this mean for local communities? Risk is the quality that moves us forward so I now want to describe what this risk looks like on the ground. How can a local community offer hospitality to new groups of wounded people? And in doing so I’ll show how a parish becomes the church of the Good Samaritan, focused around a culture of hospitality and healing. It means that the primary focus of a future parish will move away from trying to recreate the now passed TCC and move to fostering a culture that looks outwards with unrelenting energy. The parishioners will reimagine themselves as the creators of a place of outreach to welcome two groups of people: firstly, those at a distance from the church who want to learn about faith; secondly, those who need help with wounds of all kinds. These two activities are more closely linked than many realise because faith heals. With projects like Landings and programmes such as Alpha, together with so much social support activity much work is being done already in our parishes. So I want to highlight three groups of wounded people that a parish looking to be a hospitality parish might consider for special attention. They are: wounded citizens, wounded Catholics and wounded souls.

Wounded citizens: Parishes can identify the places where government has retreated from people with wounds. The clearest example of where this has already happened is food banks; local Christian communities are the back bone of these sadly necessary schemes. The fruitfulness of such initiatives should encourage us to look around for new opportunities.  e.g. detached work with alienated youth. Local authorities have reduced youth work provision and there are too few people out on the streets engaging with young people at risk from a variety of dangers, dangers that include being literally beaten up on the road by gangs. For some young people, the Good Samaritan story isn’t a parable, it’s a documentary. To prevent that, we need to walk with them along the road, inspired by another bible story, Jesus on another road, this time to Emmaus. A group of us have been working with a pilot parish to devise safe ways for parishioners to fulfill the role of Christ on the road to Emmaus. With training, parishioners can become the stranger who walks alongside disheartened people and goes with them into the inn to share hospitality. A road, a stranger and hospitality. The pattern found on the roads to Jericho and Emmaus is walking the road and offering strangers hospitality at the inn. That is the biblical model for the hospitality parish of the future.

Wounded Catholics. We can also identify the places where there are too few people providing welcome to Catholics with certain wounds e.g. transgender Catholics who feel isolated. More widely, you’ll be familiar with Catholics who stopped going to Church when they got divorced. Or single parent mothers who stopped going to Church when they became pregnant outside marriage. This situation can be turned round. There is a remarkable documentary made for BBC THREE some years ago called Kizzy: Mum at 14. This tells the story of 13 year old Kizzy who became pregnant, was mocked by her peers and received little help from her school which she left. When the baby was born, she asked not only for the baby to be baptized in a Catholic church but she asked for her own baptism too as did the child’s grandmother. When asked why, Kizzy said ‘because the Catholics were the only ones who were nice to me.’ The power of hospitality.

Wounded souls: Prof Peter Tyler is a psychotherapist and theologian who sees in the myth of Parsifal a model of the spiritual life of the young person[1]. He cites evidence from his own practice and from research that between the ages of approx.12 and 25 everybody has a religious experience. Like Percival when he finds the Holy Grail, they ask: what does this mean for me?[2] This is the wrong question. Because most young people are spiritually ignorant, especially today, they can’t handle the religious experience and like Percival they carry the wound of the mishandled spiritual encounter into middle age. The right question is: ‘whom does the Grail serve?’ or ‘whom does this religious experience serve?’ The purpose of spiritual accompaniment is to help people ask the right questions; in time we can help them ask the right Holy Grail question: whom does the Grail serve? And in God’s time they can come to know the answer: Jesus Christ is the one whom the Grail serves. This Holy Grail experience is a touch of the transcendent in the midst of life; it is the experience of the fundamental and innate human vocation to love. I know a good number of young people who have gone to visit a developing country or even just a care home and it changes their life as they meet the call to love, the Holy Grail moment. But how many people are just confused by that experience and see it as simply something weird. We need to see evangelism as an offering of healing to the wounded. Yes evangelism not only evangelization, because what those who carry the Grail wound lack is somebody who can explain faith and offer theme a language with which to make sense of their spiritual experience. Most young people in England today are born and bred as atheists. We need to offer them hospitality to help them process their Grail experience and heal the Grail wound.

Conclusion

This is a lot of wounded people and you could probably describe even more. Pope Francis finds a new group to embrace and welcome almost every day. So these are offered as examples for you to consider not as a comprehensive programme. If you are here tonight, you are probably already engaged in many projects like this. So this is to encourage you and to embolden you. If you want to see how a diocese is embracing this approach there is the programme called Love in Action being rolled out across Westminster diocese. The wonderful web site is www.stepforwardinlove.org In our discussion I look forward to hearing about your experiences of becoming the church of the Good Samaritan.

 

[1] The Disciples’ Call ed Christopher Jamison, ch 11 The Psychology of Vocation: nurturing the Grail quest P Tyler

[2] “Every youth blunders his or her way into the Grail castle sometime around age 15 or 16 and has a vision that shapes much of the rest of their life. Like Parsifal, they are unprepared for this and do not have the possession to ask the question that would make the experience conscious and stable within them.” (Me: Understanding Masculine Psychology R. Johnson 1989)

 

Welcoming the Wounded © Christopher Jamison OSB

Inaugural Landings Lecture: London

By Helen Carvalhido-Gilbert

Welcoming the Wounded:
Becoming the Church of the Good Samaritan

Tuesday 7th March 2017 at 7pm

Fr Christopher Jamison, OSB
Monk, Writer and Broadcaster

How can a Catholic parish welcome the spiritually wounded? What does it take to be a place of healing?

 

Farm Street Church Hall, 114 Mount Street, London W1K 3AH

To book a place please contact Mr Scott McCoombe at farmstreetoffice@rcdow.org.uk or on (020) 7529 4829

Recommended donation: £7

Research uncovers more Landings parishes

By Kevin McDonnell

We are using contact details from original Landings parish communications, some dating back to 2003, to get in touch with parishes that invested in Landings. This exercise is enabling us to build a picture of the status of Landings in the UK in 2017. We are learning that, down the years, there have been many changes of Landings people across the country, that Landings has died in some parishes, that it is alive and thriving in other parishes and that there is a desire out there to either revisit Landings or look at it for the first time. We are also learning that Landings has made a quiet but very positive difference where it has taken root.

This piece of work will enable us to develop a strategy to reinvigorate Landings. Within this strategy we will use our improved Landings materials, greater teamwork exploiting today’s communication vehicles, the knowledge that we have gained from our experiences, the skills that we have built up throughout the UK and publicity for Landings’  achievements.

If you know of a parish offering Landings, that does not appear here, then please let us know.

Landings taster workshop in Beaconsfield: Saturday 19th March, 10am

By Ian Johnson

This workshop will offer a  taste of Landings and demonstrate the power of the Landings process and how it helps returning Catholics. All welcome – potential returners or ‘welcomers’ alike, or those simply interested in recommending Landings to others.

Saturday 19th March at St Teresa’s, Beaconsfield, starting at 10 am and finishing between1-1.30 pm with a mid-morning break for refreshments.

No commitment will be asked for but, if you are thinking of attending, please phone or e-mail so we can gauge numbers. Please call Maggie or Ian on 01753 482496 or mail maggiemillrain@icloud.com.

A brief history of Landings at St Joseph’s, Epsom

By Kevin McDonnell

We started Landings in our parish in June 2003 when 3 of us, 2 lay people and a nun, attended a short introduction to Landings course at Ealing Abbey.  In the weeks following the course we used the Landings literature to help us set up our own Landings programme. Our parish priest gave us the names of people that might be interested in joining our Landings team and after a few weeks we had a team of 5 lay people and a nun ready to help absent Catholics return to the church.

Our lay people consisted of a Police IT support technician with a wife and three young children, a qualified teacher – currently a home maker – with a husband and three young children, a human resources manager, a retired IT manager and a retired teacher. We advertised our Landings programme to the parish with articles in the parish newsletter, leaflets at the back of the church and the occasional verbal reminder from the parish priest at the end of Mass.

Continue reading “A brief history of Landings at St Joseph’s, Epsom”

Megan’s Story

By Megan

I grew up in a small Australian town, attended a Catholic primary school and was influenced by my parents’ beliefs.  When I left home for University, Church didn’t take top priority in my life.  I was busy pursuing my goals, working part-time jobs and forming relationships.  There may have been the odd hang over to contend with too.  I began teaching in Catholic schools, and attended mass as part of the school community on an irregular basis.  I stopped attending mass altogether when I moved to the UK.  There was too much to do in London.  Between work, travel, going out with friends, plus the day-to-day stuff, religion didn’t seem to have a high priority in my life.

Continue reading “Megan’s Story”