Prognosis and Prophetic Possibilities

Polarizing Divisions

Jesus

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us so, that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21) 

Pandemic COVID-19 has taught harsh lessons regarding prognosis, the most difficult act of medicine. The constantly evolving virus has seen second, third and fourth waves of infection after victory has been celebrated. It has also changed with new and more toxic variants affecting new populations..not considered at risk. Some from complacency; some denial; some tragedy fatigue…

Prognosis is the most difficult and risky of the acts of medicine. Elements of healing: recognition of need, correct diagnosis, effective and accessible treatment, compliant patient and supportive environment.

Hope and trust in the power of the Holy Spirit is essential.

As Pope Francis wrote:

“every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need. This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does… To see things as the Lord does, to be where the Lord wants us to be, to experience a conversion of heart in his presence.”(2018 Letter to the People of God)

Polarizing Divisions

Tragically, in this time when we all need desperately to be committed to healing and renewing the Church, the Eucharist itself has become a source of division rooted in a failure of reception of the reforms of Vatican II. In July 2007 Pope Benedict XVI issued the “motu proprio”, Summorum pontificum, allowing priests of the Latin Rite to celebrate the pre Vatican II liturgy He choose a hermeneutic of continuity linked to the medieval Mass not continuity with Jesus’ Last Supper and the practice of the early Church.

We must reject polarizing differences and repair the unity of the Body of Christ. Polarizing divisions are more than legitimate differences arising from time, place and culture. Polarization is about opposing and irreconcilable beliefs, and the organization of all life around the belief. The poles identify themselves against each other and judge right or wrong, holy or sinful according to the party line, and not according to “the mind of Christ.” These often vicious divisions in the Church manifest deep pathology in need of healing.

They threaten schism. (George Weigel 2019) ….Vigano…

In his closing remarks at the 2019 Summit, Pope Francis noted:

“To achieve that goal [healing], the church must rise above the ideological disputes … that often exploit, for various interests, the very tragedy experienced by little ones.”

Cardinal Raniero Cantalemessa, official preacher for the papal household made a passionate appeal for unity at the Good Friday service. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin in an April 2021 radio interview for the Spanish Catholic radio COPE

The traditional marks of the Church are that it is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Unity is the first mark. There, are, and always have been, differences of opinion about how to be a disciple and a Church in the world. The Church’s unity is that of a communion of difference that witnesses to the catholic dimension of God’s grace which is neither divisive nor oppressive but gathers up genuine difference in an inclusive wholeness.

Vatican II divisions What happened at VatII ref

John Cornwell, 2021,Church, Interrupted Havoc & Hope: the tender Revolt of Pope Francis Chronicle Prism, San Francisco, CA

Repent

Repentance and atonement is central. There is work needed to make amends in the care of those harmed and in the repair of toxic culture and practices. We must “undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform” (E.G. 27). Conversion of minds and hearts to the mission, words and witness of Jesus is necessary or “Changing structures without generating new convictions and attitudes will only ensure that those structures will become, sooner or later, corrupt, oppressive and ineffective. (E.G. no.189).  

Pope Francis and the Prophetic Call

Pope Francis acknowledges:

The Church loves all her children as a loving mother, but cares for all and protects with a special affection those who are smallest and defenseless. This is the duty that Christ himself entrusted to the entire Christian community as a whole. Aware of this, the Church is especially vigilant in protecting children and vulnerable adults. (Pope Francis, As a Loving Mother, 2016)

Tragically, this call comes at a time when many have left the Church.  

Pope Francis reminds us that there are obstacles to the prophetic:

Narcissism makes you look at yourself constantly in a mirror; discouragement leads to complaining and pessimism to thinking everything is dark and bleak. These three attitudes close the door to the Holy Spirit. (Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, 2020, Jun 29). Can we resist these obstacles and trust in the power of the Spirit?

This is indeed a Calvary time for the Church. What has atrophied and corrupted must die in order for the new life of the Resurrection can heal. The love of God in the Body of Christ will endure for we know that our Redeemer lives.

“You have been taught that when we were baptized in Christ Jesus we were baptized into his death; in other words, when we were baptized we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life. If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. “(Romans 6:3-6)

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see,  has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Pope Francis:

When the Gospel overturns certainties, prophecy arises. Only someone who is open to God’s surprises can become a prophet. (Homily, June 29, 2020)

Pope Francis Vision and Call for Prophets

I have loved and prayed for Pope Francis from the moment he stepped out onto the balcony in Rome; greeted the crowds; and bowed his head and asked for the blessing of the crowd before he gave them the revered Pontifical Blessing.

I knew he was something different and an answer to my prayers for a pastoral Pope. Since that day he has been a remarkable witness to humility and care and concern for the vulnerable and those on the peripheries, not the wealthy and powerful. He has freed the Church from its white European constraints and reinvigorated ecumenism. Pope Francis has been a powerful force for refounding the Church in the model of servant leadership for a global community – most powerfully in Fratelli tutti, where he condemns racism, the exclusion of persons with disabilities and the elderly, and the rejection and mistreatment of migrants and refugees.

His encyclical Laudato si’, has had more impact on the environmental crisis than have governmental bodies. He revived the teaching of Vatican II and freed moral teaching for a new balance between law and mercy.

His 2016 exhortation, Amoris laetitia, rejects gender inequality and gender violence.

His response to the 2019 Amazonian synod did not follow up on the ordination of married men and ministries for women.

He has spoken encouraging words on the importance of dialogue and synodality in the Church. The 2022 Synod on Synodality

Francis has also provided brilliant diagnosis of many of the pathologies in his identifying of the temptations of the Church and diseases of leadership.

However, he sets the tone for a time of atonement, healing and rebuilding. Pope Francis has made it clear that conversion of mind and heart should precede structural change. He knows

well that without this conversion, no policies, protocols or structures can create faithful disciples. He has also called for:

a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation!

(Evangelii Gaudium, no. 27)

The history of meaningful reform in the Church demonstrates that such conversion needs theological discernment AND reform of organizational structures and relationships.

The Church needs action while Francis is Pope because the resistance to conversion and reform is powerfully present in the Church. His successor will be a crucial element in the next chapter of our story of faith. Audacious hope and trust in the power of the Holy Spirit are needed as never before.

Prophetic Imagination

Discernment regarding the transformation of structures, policies and practices with the “mind of Christ” is crucial so as to not enshrine new pathologies as we move into the future. Prophetic imagination allows us to see new ways of being the People of God in the circumstances of our time.

Can you imagine:

A revitalization of faith and prayer leading to new commitment to discipleship in the post–COVID-19 Church?

Breaking silence and denial on ecclesial sin with a new culture of openness and practice of meaningful dialogue and synodality at all levels of the Church?

Active atonement for harm to the vulnerable through practices of safeguarding and restorative justice?

The renewal of moral theology and the revival of the revered tradition of formation of conscience and formation in virtue?

The restoration of the Incarnational aspect of the Eucharist and the full, active participation of all and a new flourishing of parish and liturgical life characterized by hospitality, inclusion and the ministry of care?

A new culture of vulnerability and servant leadership replacing a culture of power and control in the Church?

A restoration of relationships in the Church based on the recognition of the gifts of all and our mutual need?

Practical changes in the appointment of lay women and men to the College of Cardinals and other leadership positions?

The elimination of mandatory celibacy for priests of the Latin Rite and new support for bishops and priests?

New approaches to the formation of priests and laity together?

Church witness to rejecting sexism, racism and white supremacy?

Revitalization of the Church’s role in the defense of the poor and vulnerable through the principles of Catholic social teaching?

Renewed theology of sexuality

Lessons

 

Key Readings

Pope Francis Let Us Dream (2021)…\

John Cornwell 2021, Church Interrupted Havoc & Hope: the Tender Revolt of Pope Francis, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA

Brian P. Flanagan 2018 Stumbling in Holiness: Sin and Sanctity in the Church Liturgical Press Collegeville, MN.

Richard R. Gaillardetz & Edward P Hahnnenberg eds.2015, A Church With Open Doors: Catholic Ecclesiology for the Third Millenium, Collegeville Press, MN.

  1. Ivereigh, Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic ChurchNew York: Henry Holt, 2019.

George Weigel 2019 How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform, Basic Books, NY

Vat II refs pg 174 Still Unhealed

For Discernment