Editorial by Andrea Grant, Mission Leader
Recently Erica Pegorer and I attended a seminar titled ‘Leading for Mission and Catholic Identity: Insights from Vatican II’, organised by BBI (The Australian Institute of Theological Education). It gathered 80 Leaders from Catholic agencies across the country, to discuss how the spirit innovated through the Second Vatican Council is being brought to life in the post-modern age under the leadership of Pope Francis. It was a valuable opportunity to discuss the challenges and opportunities for all of us involved in mission leadership, in dialogue with the secular world.
In particular the presentations offered by internationally renowned theologian Professor Massimo Faggioli offered much material for reflection and hope. Prof Faggioli spoke of the significant shifts to a Post-Vatican II Catholicism, highlighting the watershed opening address of Pope John XXIII as closing the ‘long nineteenth century’. This term summarises the Church’s prevailing negativity towards modernity, lasting from the French Revolution to the Second World War and cast aside by ‘the Good Pope’ in his call for ‘aggiornamento’, or an updating of Church practices.
It may seem strange for those of us living in this era of rapid change to be reflecting on an event of 5 decades ago. After all, our students and families would scarcely recognise technology from the 1990s let alone the 1950s! However, as Prof Faggioli pointed out, the Church is still utilising structures developed in the previous hallmark Council held in Trent in the 16th Century. This is not an institution that embraces rapid change; in and of itself that is not a bad thing. We trust our Church leaders to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit and to maintain integrity to deeply held truths, grounded in the Gospel.
Nonetheless, the world we live in demands of all its institutions greater transparency, accountability and relevance. In the words of Pope John XXIII urging the Church to behave more like the servant Christ than a political institution, we hear the emerging voice of Pope Francis calling for a shift from the toll house to a field hospital. What does this mean for those of us taking up lay leadership in mission?
If we are to embrace the example of Pope Francis, drawing on the legacy of Pope John XXIII, it means a deeply theological and pastoral approach that embraces the “joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age” (Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II). The phrase of Prof Faggioli’s that struck me the most was his simple summary that the kind of church we are should say something about the kingdom we expect.
The absolute commitment of Pope Francis to redefine the institutional church as inclusive is not without its challenges, especially in our world of porous boundaries and growing tendency towards tribalism. While most within the Church recognise the need for change, there are competing narratives on a spectrum from liberalism to conservatism. Liberals who identify with Pope Francis have to be critically obedient without silencing those conservatives in dissent. Conservatives have to learn how to be critical of a Pope who is on solid ground theologically. This is new space and has given rise to a degree of uncertainty in the leadership of Catholic ministries.
It is not on Pope Francis’ agenda to mould himself as the ‘liberal Pope’; in fact very few would consider him liberal by western standards. He is far more interested in mission leadership grounded in mercy:
¨ Mercy is the church dealing with reality at a practical level without being forced to define that reality;
¨ Mercy can only be relational; it is not an idea, it’s an act which changes both subjects involved;
¨ Mercy is always experiential, a transcendent act which cannot be explained with rational or utilitarian arguments;
¨ Mercy is by its nature inclusive and cannot be used to shape exclusivity;
¨ Mercy is a corrective to the idea that Christianity is a series of doctrinal statements to be applied unerringly; rather,
¨ Mercy allows us to experience Christianity as something much bigger and more encompassing of the reality of human experience.
Erica and I found the 2-day symposium rich with learning and conversation, and will spend considerable time reflecting on how the work of Kildare Ministries enacts the vision of the ‘kingdom we expect’.