Archbishop feeling uncomfortable and challenged!

When Pope Francis delivered a strongly worded speech to the Mexican bishops during his recent visit, I felt both uncomfortable and challenged as a bishop in the United States.

Mar 04, 2016

By Archbishop Stephen E. Blaire
When Pope Francis delivered a strongly worded speech to the Mexican bishops during his recent visit, I felt both uncomfortable and challenged as a bishop in the United States. I heard clearly that we, as bishops, cannot just preach the Gospel and then remain on the sidelines while injustices prevail. As spiritual leaders of the Church, we must be engaged in promoting the common good, more than just guiding others to do so. I realized that, as a bishop, I also must pick up the victim of robbers, pour oil and wine over his wounds, bandage them and bring him to the inn.

I recalled the words the Holy Father spoke in St Matthew’s Cathedral this past September when he reminded the bishops gathered that we needed to be “lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world,” and that we must “realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed.” In other words, we have to be in the midst of the fray.

It is a message for the Church to be engaged in the great work of human development, for peace and justice that respects the dignity of the human person and promotes the common good. This is a work of God. Articles nine and ten in the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World propose that, as human beings, we “co-operate in tackling the main problems facing today’s world.”

The Church respects the political, social and economic orders. It is not our mission to structure these arenas of human endeavour nor to give them an ideology. While individual members of the Church are integral parts of these endeavours and have a civic and human responsibility to be so, as participants they maintain an autonomy that is enhanced by their professional, educational and experiential training. The Church respects their autonomy and their freedom to act in accord with their consciences.

However, this does not mean that the Church must sit on the sidelines and simply offer spiritual platitudes. The Church has a mission to offer the light of Christ to the world. Jesus has redeemed all creation. The Gospel speaks to every dimension of human existence and to each and every arena of human striving. The political, the social and the economic orders of the world exist to serve the wellbeing of each and all. In the last 50 years, the four issues identified in articles nine and ten of the Pastoral Constitution remain alive today. Developing nations still need to share in the political and economic benefits of modern civilization, the place of women still needs to advance, agricultural workers in many places still need to be set free from inhuman conditions, industrial workers being replaced by machines still need new opportunities.

The Gospel is primary in the formation of conscience. The Church speaks to the responsibility of political leaders to promote the dignity of every human person, especially the poor and most vulnerable, and to create, promote and protect the common good. The Church calls for a social order built on solidarity among all peoples and calls for right relations that respect honesty, truth, human rights and freedom, especially in the practice of one’s religious faith. The Church speaks of the economy in terms of serving the human person and speaks against the greedy accumulation of wealth to the detriment of the poor and an unfair and inequitable distribution of the goods of the earth. The earth and its goods belong to the human family and are entrusted to our care.

Indeed, the Church’s mission is to reflect the light of Christ in the world, but her mission is more than that. “Be doers of the word and not headers only” (Jm1:22). However, when the tire meets the road, when the Church becomes engaged in the real issues of life, this is where you begin to hear, “The Pope can speak on spiritual matters but he does not have any authority to speak on economic or political issues.” Or, “The Church certainly should give alms and feed the poor and care for those who are suffering, but stay out of the structural issues of politics, the social order and economics.”

It is true that the Church respects the autonomy of the various arenas of life and that her members certainly should engage in the various realms of human endeavour. But it must also be said, in accord with Vatican II, that the Church’s mission is to do more. --America

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