Tuesday greetings on a clear Autumn day here in Chicago.
I just finished reading a report about Pope Francis' address yesterday to a national assembly representing the Catholic Church in Italy. Pope Francis spoke at the cathedral in Florence to about 2200 people gathered there from all over Italy. Before the address, he spent fifteen minutes in the baptistery of the cathedral. I stood in that baptistery just a little over a year ago and took a photo that graces the cover of my book You Have Put on Christ: Cultivating a Baptismal Spirituality.
Here is a photo of the exterior of the cathedral, where Pope Francis spoke.
He was laying out a vision for how the Catholic Church must adapt and change. I found his remarks stunning and inspiring. Some excerpts.
"Before the problems of the Church it is not useful to search for solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of obsolete conduct and forms that no longer have the capacity of being significant culturally."
"Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, interrogatives--but is alive, knows being unsettled, enlivened. It has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and grows, it has a soft flesh: it is called Jesus Christ."
"The reform of the church then, and the church is semper reformanda . . . does not end in the umpteenth plan to change structures. It means instead grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, leaving yourself to be guided by the Spirit--so that all will be possible with genius and creativity."
Semper reformanda--always reforming. I remember learning this term when I was in the seminary back in the 1980's. Being immersed in the liturgical reform for most of my adult life, I have watched this reform unfold and fill the Christian people with a sense of hope each time we celebrate the paschal mystery at Mass. Frankly, however, there have been times when I felt that the reform had become frozen or, worse, reversed, moving toward what Pope Francis calls "obsolete conduct and forms that no longer have the capacity of being significant culturally." I realize Pope Francis was not speaking directly about the liturgical reform, but I can't help but wonder if this is at least part of what he was referring to in his address.
As I travel and see the face of the American and Canadian Church, I see a renewed movement to place Christ at the center of all our activity. Catholics in general, I find, have difficulty articulating who Christ really is for them; they have difficulty expressing what their own personal relationship with Christ is. I find the words of Pope Francis moving us in the right direction. His description of Christian doctrine inspires me because he roots it all squarely in Christ: Christian doctrine "has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and grows, it has a soft flesh: it is called Jesus Christ."
I am reminded of paragraph 65 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father's one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything, there will be no other word than this one."
Pope Francis' words are drawing me closer to this Word.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.