The Church in Outreach


A Church that keeps pace with change

The Holy Spirit's Time Line


Archbishop Giuseppe Petrocchi



At a meeting of Bishops Friends of the Focolare, Archbishop de L'Aquila from Brazil offered thoughts and suggestions, extremely relevant to the life and mission of the Church, in the light of her new mandate from Pope Francis – to be a Church that 'goes out'.  They are summarized here by Archbishop Giuseppe Petrocchi
 
As we know, everywhere in the world, our time zones are set by the Greenwich Meridian: when the clock strikes twelve o'clock midday here, it is around 6 am in Latin America, and 6 pm in the Philippines.
 
So, if a visitor to another country fails to adjust his watch, he would soon be in trouble! - turning up in the wrong place at the wrong time!  He would get a reputation for being disorganised and scatty!  Instead, he needs to adjust his watch to the right time, where God's Will has firmly planted him in the present moment! 
 
So it is with our 'ecclesial' and 'existential' clocks (cognitive, emotional, relational) We need to adjust them to the Holy Spirit's 'today': which means that we need to synchronise the way we think, feel and act, with the
'meridian of communion', indicated by the Lord, here and now; otherwise we will be 'disorientated' and a liability to ourselves and others.
 
Someone who is more 'traditionalist', shall we say, may miss out a little on the grace of 'kairos' (which means opportunity), because they are living in a different time zone,  not open to the new things the Holy Spirit is giving life to in the Church.  On the other hand,  someone who is less traditionalist, and keen to move on too quickly, is also living a different time line, with unrealistic ideas that may not be concrete or relevant enough to what is actually happening.
 
If we fail to reset both our 'inner' and our 'communitarian' clocks everyday, according to the 'now-time' in which the Spirit is moving, our vision may be blurred and fuzzy, effecting our judgements and choices.  An irregular spiritual heartbeat will inevitably cause inner and outer tensions, causing some to run too far ahead and others to put the brakes on and get left behind.   We will only be able to 'look forward' to a future filled with hope and a deeper understanding of truth, if we are firmly rooted in the present.  We must be true custodians of tradition, who hand on  precious patrimony to enrich the present; neither 'slowing the Church down' nor 'speeding it up'; nor shutting the door on the present, but opening it up to the dynamic and promise of a better future.  
 
As believers, we are to called to synchronise ourselves with the time line of unity, indicated by the Spirit. Consequently, we must be able to read the theological and cultural co-ordinates of our times, in order to arrive 'right on time' for our appointment with the history of salvation, determined by God for the Church and for the world.

We need to convert our hearts and minds if we are to be to be 'contemporaries' of the Risen Lord, as he walks through our history: words will not be enough nor superficial attitudes.  We certainly will not be able to do things on the cheap, because authentic conversion to the Gospel demands real effort.   Even Plato said that what is beautiful is difficult.  It is the Paschal mysteries of Jesus, that give us the key to unlock the door to all the 'surprises' the Holy Spirit wants to give us. When we pass through the mystery of the Cross into the joy of the Resurrection, where He who is Omnipotent One “makes all things new”. (cf. Ap 21,5), we reach
a place of communion, in the universe of the Trinity.
 

Today's questions

At this point, it is worth asking ourselves and one another certain fundamental questions:
 
What does this time line of the Holy Spirit in today's Church look like?  Are our souls truly synchronised with the 'meridian of communion'?  Do we really understand the time zone in which our world is living? Are we able to work out the co-ordinates of that whole section of humanity which lives without any reference at all to a Christian perspective, or, indeed, actively oppose it?
 
One thing is certain, that to live in the Church today means walking in step with Pope Francis. The 'time line of communion' passes through him.  So we must pay special attention to his words and to the paths he sets out for the whole People of God.  As we know, Pope Francis is urging us to be a Church that 'goes out', to the margins of society in this century.  To be the Church of today means to welcome his magisterium and walk alongside him encountering the hopes and triumphs as well as the difficulties and tragedies of our times. 
 
However, in order to carry out Pope Francis' plan,
we will need to connect two opposites, but each one is essential: namely, in order to project ourselves outwards, we will need to draw ourselves inwards to the heart of the Church-lived, the ecclesial community.
 
It is the logic of the Gospel where things flow the other way – we learn to live by dying (to our ego): we learn to climb by falling; to reach the heights of sanctity by descending to the depths of humility; to become free by serving, as Jesus did; and to be rich in the Kingdom of Heaven by being poor (detached from ourselves and from things). So it is that we learn to launch ourselves out by drawing ourselves in.  
 

A Church that is 'more-Church'

That is why a Church that 'goes out' must become even 'more-Church'.
Otherwise, it will eventually fold in on itself, and be incapable of reaching out to the poor (old and new); it will become unstable, or drift, fleeing away from itself.  But if
we are anchored to the very 'centre' of the Church, experiencing that unity which is both trinitarian and missionary then we will be able to reach the 'existential peripheries'.
We will discover that 'communion generates mission' and 'mission generates communion'. Christ's love will be a 'powerful force that generates cohesion internally as well as expansion externally'. The Church will not fall into the error of becoming too introspective.
 
Growing in communion and mission will depend very much on how we share the talents and resources the Lord has given us (cf Mt 25, 14-30). 
A patrimony that is both spiritual and material, which does not bear fruit, not only impoverishes the Church but also the person who possesses those gifts, because God's gifts are given for the good of all (cf 1Cor 12,7).  So, in order to be a Church that keeps pace with change, we need to 'invest' a great deal in formation and pastoral care, carried out 'together'. By doing things together, our 'we' is always present, even when we act individually; when unity is real it is an expression of the Church as 'we'.
 

Mary as mother and model

Mary was perfectly in tune with the Wisdom of God, and His intervention in history.  We too must learn to 'synchronise' our thoughts and our actions more and more with the action of the Holy Spirit. Mary can teach us this; she is our model.  Just as the pendulum swings to keep time with the Will of God, so too must our soul. 
 
Allow me to explain here, the uniqueness of the Marian dimension: it is the only one within the Church that is universal in its vocation, that encompasses every other vocation. Every vocation is universal in terms of destination (in that it benefits others), and yet each one is specific. Even the apostolic service of sacred orders, although it may have a universal purpose, has an individual calling; although its ministry is at the service of everyone, it is not 'for' everyone (not everyone is called to the priesthood). Therefore, in itself, it is not universal.  The same with the sacrament of marriage, it has a universal 'destination': the family is the fundamental cell of society and of the Church, but not everyone is called to marriage.  But when we come to the Marian profile, it is different. It is the 'common denominator' of all charisms, because it belongs to everyone and it reaches everyone.  So, in mathematical terms, if vocations were fractions, the Marian profile of the Church would be the 'common denominator', and the other specific vocations would be the 'numerator'.
 

To venerate is to emulate

Mary precedes all of us along the way of sanctity: therefore, we can say, “the Marian dimension of the Church precedes the Petrine dimension”, illuminating it and guiding it. Benedict XVI reminds us that the “Marian profile includes the Petrine profile”.  Mary, who is immaculate, exemplifies the unspoilt 'essence of the Church'.  She, like the Fathers of the Church, teaches our souls to be 'ecclesial', so that, in the words of St Paul, we too may become' holy and faultless in the sight of the Lord as He has desired since the beginning of time” (Col 1, 22; Eph 1,4)

If we see Mary in this way, then the process of evangelisation, which we undertake in ourselves as a gift for others, could also be understood as a process of “marianisation”, of becoming “Marian”. We must re-live Mary's 'yes' as the basis of our Christian identity, in order to live out our missionary calling.  In a special way, those who are called to the priesthood, must learn to fuse a Marian-identity, which is open to all, with their own apostolic- Petrine ministry.

The Marian dimension has always existed in the Church, but mainly through expressions of devotion. The spirituality of love of the Gospel, however, teaches us that
in order to venerate Mary, it is not enough to be in admiration of her as the masterpiece of the Holy Spirit: nor is it enough to invoke her as Mediatrix of Graces; what is needed is to emulate her, to re-live her.  Veneration in the Christian sense is synonymous with emulation.
 
We are living in times overshadowed by dramatic events, yet, at the same time, full of opportunity in which to do good. 
In everything except sin, Mary is alongside humanity, whom she serves, placed there by the Son whom she has generated.  Only by following Mary can we become effective builders of a civilisation of love; a society that is more open to God, and as such, more worthy of being human. It cannot be otherwise, since she is the living icon of someone who is completely fulfilled: every personal, social and cultural victory, therefore, reflects her and is a re-living of her.  That is why, on a theological level, John Paul II could write so ardently:  “If, from the point of view of faith, there can be no human progress unless it is progress towards our salvation, then we must also affirm, that there is no progress without Mary”.