Pope Francis has transformed the Church – it’s time the Church stopped stifling groups who embrace that transformation 

There are times in all our lives when an event is transformative, when something happens that makes a difference; there is a step-change and the person we were before is radically different from the person we become. There is no going back.
Such a step-change occurred in the life of the Church in March 2013 with the election of Francis as Bishop of Rome. The present successor to previous holders of that office is within the tradition of the Church, there is no argument with that. He has however shown us a willingness to break new ground through his evident easy relationship with people. Over recent months the internet has been littered with his examples of a simple life style that seems natural to him and puts others at their ease.
One key word must be dialogue, not just the dialogue of words but also of relationships. In recent years, groups have been formed in various parts of the world seeking dialogue, bringing together people whose commitment to the Church is faithful, but who also recognise real problems that cannot, must not, be ignored.
Such groups should not be seen as a threat, for their giving voice to current issues is all part of their pilgrimage as Christian people. They often meet with resistance from many directions, from those who seek the holy comfort zone of what used to be, or are fearful of where we might be heading.
Richard Rohr, in his recent book, Falling Upward, puts it this way. “This resistance to change is so common, in fact, that it is almost what we come to expect from religious people who tend to love the past more than the future or the present”.
Because some people are willing to take the risk of a journey, to question where we are and where we might be going, that should not make them the subject of suspicion. Their courage in leaving home should be applauded.
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in Ireland has raised serious questions over the last three years and have often been castigated for it. In the US, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who met this week, who live out their vocation in a real and messy world, has had its integrity challenged by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Here in the United Kingdom, the establishment of the group a Call to Action (ACTA) in 2012 following a gathering at Heythrop College in London raised concern in some quarters when the only wish of those involved was to establish open dialogue for the good of the Church.  Likewise, the Movement for Married Clergy, MMaC, has since 1975, sought an honest discussion on the “necessary” relationship between ordination and celibacy. Sincere discussion should be welcomed by both the hierarchy and the laity, for the good of the Church.
In the early days of August, we celebrated the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. We should remember that, now and then, we too are transformed, transfigured even, and the dwelling of God in us is allowed to shine through. Others see it, and are grateful for our being alongside them. Others feel it, in the gentleness of our touch or the carefulness of our hug. Others value it when we truly listen to their words of joy or pain and share with them times of great personal happiness or the darkness of desolation.
We mustn’t be afraid of challenging voices from whatever quarter they come, but ask only questions of their sincerity and then be willing to dialogue a way forward together.

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  1. Pope Francis hasn’t exactly transformed the church – not yet, as the rest of the above article reveals. A recent news item carried the remark by an Irish bishop that he encountered seminarians who are not happy with this pope. One wonders what they are being taught in their (Irish?) seminary. Or perhaps they just grew up with the idea that the pope should dress up more, be more aloof and pontifical, whatever that is. It’s curious that a word derived from the Latin for “bridge” now carries strong connotations of pomposity : to pontificate. At last Sunday’s Mass I observed a deacon standing beside the priest. I found myself asking the question ; “What is the deacon actually doing?” : Getting used to standing on a platform? Breathing in the rarified air which he will have to breath when ordained? Getting used to dressing up in vestments? Enjoying the wearing of vestments? Exposing himself to the admiration of the congregation? Reinforcing the idea that ritual is all important and is a saving force? Taking his first step on the hierarchical ladder mentioned in another contribution to this site?
    Watching a dozen priests concelebrate Mass has often induced similar reflections. Does the repetition of the prayers of consecration by a dozen voices rather than one make the consecration any more stronger, more effective. Or are they there at the front mainly for show or because they cannot think of anything better to do? Is all this really about impressing the laity in the pews by putting on a display? Does the kind of practice and ceremony which the church employs really touch the lives of people? We have heard in another contribution of the woman whose only human contact during the entire week (not at all surprising to hear) has been the exchange of greetings (sign of peace) during the Mass, which some consider optional. But in all my years going to church I have never heard any priest leading in this matter of visiting the lonely, actively putting arrangements and teams of active church members in place whereby those who are sick or lonely are identified and are visited as an essential and central part of the church’s work and worship, creating an inclusive and caring community. Pope Francis has set out to make changes and has been behaving in a very human manner. The church it would seem needs to become much more human. It would be a huge transformation of attitude and culture in the Catholic church.

  2. I agree completely with the comment above by JohnM. I had the great good pleasure to read a short book called The Rural Gentleman which is fundamentally about the type of priest JohnM spoke about. I do not know the author or if it is on sale in Ireland but my how refreshing it was to read of a priestly priest who tackles the issues most relevant to ordinary people.

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