Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
Now that things are settling down a little bit, I’ve begun reading Pope Francis’s new publication Amoris laetitia. There is a very simple logic to what he writes—really, to everything that he writes—that makes it accessible and obvious. I often find myself thinking how Pope Francis puts into words the basic truths that we all know, but sometimes find hard to express. In this Apostolic Exhortation he does it again.
He talks about simple processes of just being a human being and his words take us by surprise. It is startling.
His insight touches on the foundation of our life and faith, how we express the faith that we have to other people. It is the process of the Gospel, evangelization in its purest form. Especially today when the so-called “new evangelization” is necessary because there are so many people who have either left the church, or don’t understand the treasure of faith that they have received, we must learn to use our gifts of reaching out, touching others: So many people floating, seeking, maybe even sitting next to us in the pews (if we are lucky) waiting for something to happen, trying to make it all make sense. Many people are “stuck” because there have been generations of faithful who have not realized that the core of everything we do as Catholics must have its origin in that personal relationship with God. One generation cannot pass on to the next something they, themselves, did not receive.
Pope Francis says we discover the relationship first of all in the moment of encounter that we have with one another.
In order for an encounter to happen you must be open. Where is my heart when I encounter another person? The people I like? —and the people that I don’t like? Toward people that agree with you, as well as for people who do not agree? What about those whose lives might not reflect the perfection of the faith that we would like to see in ourselves? Our hearts must be open for that encounter to take place.
The next step after encounter is dialogue. Dialogue, by its nature, requires an openness to communication—you might say, as have the previous popes, that any true interest in giving and receiving in dialogue necessarily requires an openness for both parties to change. This does not mean that Catholics have to become non-Catholics—it doesn’t even mean that non-Catholics have to become Catholic. But the encounter with truth in one another, in the communication of that truth, forms the basis of learning about one another. Misunderstandings are resolved. We grow deeper in our own faith, in our own identity, our learning about one another. In dialogue, we must be honest, we must be who we are, and we must accept one another as we identify ourselves for a real conversation to begin.
Once dialogue is underway, the final step of this process is relationship. We come into relationship with one another having learned about one another. True knowledge always is the open door to love in any relationship, a mutual respect, a reverence for the truth and beauty that are the seeds of God’s life we find in each other.
Relationship is not real without a commitment.
So, having studied this dynamic of human relationship from the point of encounter through dialogue, we now can understand more deeply the process of relationship that we seek with God. God wants exactly the same from each of us. We encounter him with openness, we dialogue with him in prayer and he speaks to us through his Holy Spirit, and finally we enter into a relationship with a commitment for him to the best of our ability—though imperfect as that may be, knowing that his commitment to us is perfect.
It is said that perhaps 60% of Catholics who practice their faith today—not the ones who don’t practice, but the ones who do—don’t believe that such a personal relationship with God is possible. The same studies have shown that the sense of emptiness of this meaningful relationship is also the greatest factor that causes people to go seeking—often outside our Catholic Church—or simply to drift away, becoming inactive with no actual religious affiliation. This is the most powerful ministry in the Church for you, lay people—to be witnesses of your joy and fulfillment through faith, shown to others through a greeting, a sharing, a walking together.
Let the love of Christ be the love behind the smile, the welcome, and begin the encounter.
God bless you.