For a Church that usually changes very slowly, our modern challenge is often how to cope with the rapidity of change – the experience of every one of us as technology makes today’s inventions redundant tomorrow. As a result, a week can be a long time in the life of the Church especially when people of good will who are accustomed to change want more change.
Last week I mentioned the ‘disconnect’ some experience in their encounters with the Church. This is often associated with our greater awareness of shortcomings in the Church which have been compounded by an unhealthy clericalism, limitations of the hierarchical model, a culture of silence, at times a too simplistic outlook on the world, slowness to change, attitudes to women, failures of our leaders and some of those we admired but who failed badly in ministry.
Keeping things in perspective is a major challenge and I draw great hope from the emphasis of Pope Francis on the theme of Joy in his Apostolic Letters: Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel; Amoris Laetitia – The Joy of Love – on Love in the Family; Gaudete et Exultate – Rejoice and Be Glad – on the Call to Holiness; Laudato Si – Praise be To You – on Care for Our Common Home; Christus Vivit – Christ is Alive! – on Ministry to Young People.
Francis’ most recent Apostolic Exhortation Querida Amazonia, Beloved Amazon, is worth reading. Many expected significant change in the Church’s position on ordination of married men in local communities, also mentioned for remote areas here such as the Diocese of Broome. The Pope did not agree to this at this time, for some a missed opportunity. He did emphasise the Church’s role at the side of the oppressed, the urgent need to care for the environment and to avoid ‘a consumerist vision of human beings’ that can destroy cultures and damage nature.
His call to ‘develop a Church with an Amazonian face’ reminds all of us that the Church must engage with the local culture, no less true for ourselves as we adjust to an increasingly diverse and secular society here in Australia and a multicultural Church which depends on foreign-born priests for celebration of the Eucharist.
The Church in the Amazon draws remarkable energy from the work of laity in evangelisation even though many communities are deprived of regular Eucharist, certainly a contradiction of who we are and what we are called to be as the Body of Christ. Francis affirms the expansion of lay ministry, particularly the ‘strength and gift of women’, but rejects the ‘clericalization of women’ in favour of developing new feminine roles that guarantee greater influence in decision-making.
That having been said, I’m sure this conversation will continue… and it must!