In his address to new bishops, Pope Francis addressed mystagogy, a fascination since my grad school days. I find a lot of meat in the Holy Father’s words to groups to which I do not belong. I’ve made a resolution to read more of these particular addresses, and not bypass them because my groups haven’t been included.
After emphasizing the joy of the Gospel they preach, Pope Francis’s second point invited the bishops to consider the lost. And if the lost are to be considered, the rest of us, the non-bishops, might ponder it too:
I have recalled “the baptized persons who, however, do not live the exigencies of Baptism.” Perhaps it has been presupposed for a long time that the earth, in which the seed of the Gospel fell, was not in need of care. Some have moved away because they were disappointed by the promises of the faith or because the way to reach it seemed too exacting. Not a few have left banging the door reproaching us for our weaknesses and seeking, without succeeding altogether, of convincing themselves of being deceived by hopes that in the end were denied.
Two reasons for wandering off come to mind. In my last parish, one grad student found himself frustrated with RCIA. He completed the process, but had hoped for some intellectual rigor. Smart guy, and that made sense. I didn’t find out about his concerns until a year or two after he was received into the sacraments. According to his wife, he didn’t attend extra lectures we sponsored on campus. What I didn’t mention (because it seemed water long passed under the bridge) is that I could think of a few parishioners–even myself–who would have welcomed that intellectual discussion hoped for.
And of course, there are many Catholics who, over the years, have the experience of the Church leaving them rather than they leaving the Church. Issues of institutional morality, weak ministers, but most often, the lack of a basic welcome. Hope dashed, sometime in believers who otherwise had stuck things out for decades.
This was what struck me in the address most significantly, imitating the Lord who walks with the disappointed. Is it necessary to change our appearance to meet people?
Be Bishops capable of intercepting their path; make yourselves also apparently lost wayfarers (Luke 24:13-35) asking what happened in the Jerusalem of their life and, discreetly, letting them pour out their cold heart. Do not be scandalized by their sorrows and their disappointments. Illumine them with the humble flame, guarded with trembling, but always capable of illuminating one who is reached by its limpidity, which, however, is never blinding.
At our parish’s music ministry retreat this past Saturday, we reflected on the Emmaus reading. While our topic was mainly the basic encounter with Jesus, letting oneself be encountered and being free to pour out one’s story, the pope’s approach strikes me as appropriate not only for bishops, but anyone in ministry.
I ask myself, do I take time to walk with the lost?
Spend time meeting them on the road of their Emmaus. Dispense words that reveal to them what they are still incapable of seeing: the potentialities hidden in their own disappointments. Guide them in the mystery that they bear on their lips without at this point recognizing its strength. More than with words, warm their heart with the humble and interested listening to their true good, so that they open their eyes and can change their course and turn to Him from whom they have distanced themselves.
This paragraph implies that every lost believer has the tools at hand to turn around. With the witness of more such persons in our parishes, the way won’t seem so daunting to others, and also, it will give life and joy to most of those who welcome them home:
Remember, I beg of you, that they already knew the Lord. Therefore, they must rediscover Him because, in the meantime their eyes have been darkened. Help them to recognize their Lord, so that they have the strength to turn to Jerusalem. And the faith of the community will be enriched and confirmed by the testimony of their re-entry. Watch so that the arrogance of the “older children” does not insinuate itself dangerously in your communities, which renders one incapable of rejoicing with the one who “was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).
The “older children” also need accompaniment, and recall the Father was ready for it. But we must be on guard against arrogance. Certainly our own. But it does not deter the faithful disciple from seeking out the lost. That was the mission of the Lord when he came.
Let’s end with a great cover of the Bob Hurd piece.