a) Mission of the Church Today

By Dinah Roe Kendall

“The Church, despite all of the sluggishness, infidelities, errors and sins that are committed and are still being committed by her members, has no other meaning or purpose than to live and witness to Jesus: he who has been sent by Abba, “to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19)

—Pope Francis (Letter to a non-believer: Pope Francis responds to Dr Eugenio Scalfari, journalist of the Italian newspaper ‘La Repubblica’ From the Vatican, 4 September 2013)

“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.

The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.

How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbour. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin.

The structural and organisational reforms are secondary — that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude.

The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.

Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.”

— Pope Francis in his first lengthy interview, August 2014, as reported here from the Vatican website; the interview was given to Fr Antonio Sporado and released to many Jesuit magazines/newspapers around the world

“The renewal of the Church and our mission to witness to Jesus Christ demands that we become more and more a Church which reaches out. The Church has to become, more and more, a Church which has two-way doors. We need Church doors through which people, young and old, feel the call to enter and encounter Jesus Christ as someone who can change their lives. We need doors through which those who enter then go out enthusiastically into the realities of day to day living and into society, witnessing to that message of Jesus in their lives.

We are called to renew the Church and we called to bring renewal to the society in which we live. The lay Christian has a special calling to bring the message of Jesus into the realities of the world in which we live, not as a representative of the bishops, but as the fruit of a specific Christian calling and commitment, in the light of that great document of Vatican II on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes.

Ensuring the presence of the Christian message in the complex mechanisms of today’s world is a task particularly for lay men and women. It is not a task of prosyletism. It is not a task of just making statements, much less of simple condemnations. It is a task of animation from within.”

— Archbishop (of Dublin) Diarmuid Martin’s homily notes for Mass at opening of Episcopal Conference Meeting, Maynooth, Ireland, 30 September 2014, downloaded 1st October 2014 from http://www.dublindiocese.ie/content/homily-maynooth-meeting

“There is an ancient rule for pilgrims, which St. Ignatius adopts—and that is why I know it! In one of his rules he says that the person accompanying the pilgrim must walk at his or her pace, not going on ahead or falling behind. In other words, I envisage a Church that knows how to walk with men and women along the path. The pilgrim’s rule will help inspire us.”

— Pope Francis, as quoted by Fr Laurence Flynn on page 7 of ‘The Pilgrim’s Friend’, a ‘Friends of Lough Derg Newsletter’ Autumn/Winter 2017 printed edition. See LoughDerg.org for more.

The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don’t even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live crushed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.

— Pope Francis in his wide-ranging interview of September 24 2014 with Eugenio Scalfari, an avowed atheist, for the Rome daily ‘La Repubblica’

“We evangelize not with grand words, or complicated concepts, but with “the joy of the Gospel”, which “fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus….

Evangelization does not consist in proselytizing, but in attracting by our witness those who are far off, in humbly drawing near to those who feel distant from God and the Church, those who are fearful or indifferent, and saying to them: “The Lord, with great respect and love, is also calling you to be a part of his people” (Evangelii Gaudium, 113).”

— Pope Francis in his prepared homily for the Mass for the Evangelization of Peoples, Quito, Parque Bicentenario, 7 July 2015

“Like Mary, we want to be a Church which serves, which leaves home and goes forth, which goes forth from its chapels, its sacristies, in order to accompany life, to sustain hope, to be a sign of unity. Like Mary, Mother of Charity, we want to be a Church which goes forth to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation. Like Mary, we want to be a Church which can accompany all those “pregnant” situations of our people, committed to life, to culture, to society, not washing our hands but rather walking with our brothers and sisters.”

— Pope Francis in his homily in Cuba at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Santiago, 22nd Sept 2015, as reported by Vatican Radio

“The Catholic Church requires lay man and women whose faith enables them to dare to hope and who will challenge us to expand the parameters of our hope beyond the narrow confines that each of us individually and as communities consciously or unconsciously fix for ourselves. The Church has to re-find its ability to form leaders in an Ireland which is facing new challenges culturally economically, politically and religiously.

Where do we find these new leaders who will be in the forefront of the presence of the Christian message in the society of tomorrow?  How will they be educated and prepared for their task? Where are the points of contact between the Church and the new culture of Irish society?

We have men and women who take this task on in the media world. Much of our Catholic punditry is as ideological as much of the punditry of the other side. Catholic punditry of this kind will only appear to the other side as narrow defensiveness, while the analogous secular punditry will be perceived as entrenched anti-Catholicism. Why is it that the type of mature dialogue between believers and atheists and non-believers that we find in other European societies – in the academic world, in the media and indeed in Churches – does not happen in Ireland?”

— Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, 24th April 2013, in a lecture in New York (The Russo Family Lecture: ‘Catholic Ireland: Past Present and Future’; Fordham Centre of Religion and Culture) (downloaded 6th January 2021)

It is necessary that the mission of the Church be adapted to the times and use the modern tools that technology makes available. It is a matter of going to the modern arenas to proclaim God’s mercy and goodness. It is necessary, however, to be alert. We must use these means, especially the Internet, without becoming servants of the means. We must avoid becoming hostages of a web that ends up capturing us, instead of “fishing for fish”, that is, attracting souls to bring them to the Lord.”

— Pope Francis, 28 June 2019, at the 175th anniversary of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (downloaded 18th Feb 2020)

Be keen on this: the heart of the Church’s mission is prayer. We can do many things, but without prayer, they will not work. The heart of it is prayer.”

— Pope Francis, 28 June 2019, at the 175th anniversary of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (downloaded 18th Feb 2020)

Wherever someone is reaching out, asking for a helping hand in order to get up, this is where our presence – and the presence of the Church which sustains and offers hope – must be.”

— Pope Francis at canonisation of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 4th September 2016

  • “The word ‘mission’ comes from the Latin word ‘sent.’ The Church is called ‘missionary’ because it does not exist for itself; by its very nature, it is for others.” (p.35)
  • Church schools and hospitals are like bread when—while remaining faithful to Jesus’ life-giving values—they take their place among other similar institutions, not looking for special privileges, fighting to prove they are better or competing with others for space.
    The Church must not look for spectacular or instant results. It works from the bottom up, starts small and lets things develop at their own pace, like salt, leaven, a mustard seed planted in the ground—like bread and like Jesus.” (p.38)

— Michel de Verteuil CSSp, ‘Eucharist as Word’, 2001, Dublin: Veritas Publications ISBN 1 85390 519 4, page 35

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