A look at lesser-known sections of the Apostolic Exhortation released recently by Pope Francis. This is the conclusion of a two-part report by Bill Schmitt, posted on the McGrath Institute for Church Life blog, published at the University of Notre Dame, on April 12, 2019.
You’ll find below a second batch of quotations from the March 25, 2019, document. They acknowledge but transcend digital-world challenges, focusing on robust community life in general. The pope wrote largely about young people called to be missionary disciples—evangelizing even as they navigate the distorted culture of social media. They can’t heal a polarized society alone.
As Francis wrote in his 2019 World Communications Day message, “God is not solitude, but communion.” The communion we experience in the Eucharist, in liturgy and in our parish activities, surrounded by people of different ages, backgrounds and gifts, but still affirming our unified mission with one “Amen,” remains our best model and motivation for communication that builds community, online or offline.
On the importance of grandparents and elders
“What do I ask of the elders among whom I count myself? I call us to be memory keepers. We grandfathers and grandmothers need to form a choir. I envision elders as a permanent choir of a great spiritual sanctuary, where prayers of supplication and songs of praise support the larger community that works and struggles in the field of life” (CV, 196).
This cross-generational invitation counters our digital culture’s obsession with spontaneous, emotive, knee-jerk reactions that leave little room for historical, contextual understanding. “We have to realize that the wisdom needed for life bursts the confines of our present-day media resources,” Pope Francis says (CV, 195).
On the centrality of witnesses
“Young people need to be approached with the grammar of love, not by being preached at. The language that young people understand is spoken by those who radiate life, by those who are there for them and with them” (CV, 211).
With this blueprint for evangelization, Pope Francis joins his two immediate predecessors in reaffirming the words of Pope Paul VI: “Contemporary man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, or if he listens to teachers, he does so because they are witnesses.” Information and formation go together, incarnated in flesh-and-blood experiences of truth and accompaniment over time.
On providing purpose and vision
“The experience of discontinuity, uprootedness and the collapse of fundamental certainties, fostered by today’s media culture, creates a deep sense of orphanhood to which we must respond by creating an attractive and fraternal environment where others can live with a sense of purpose” (CV, 216).
Many young people feel they have inherited “dreams betrayed by injustice, social violence, selfishness and lack of concern for others,” Pope Francis comments.
On community as family
“We need to make all our institutions better equipped to be more welcoming to young people, since so many have a real sense of being orphaned. Here I am not referring to family problems, but to something experienced by boys and girls, young people and adults, parents and children alike. To all these orphans—including perhaps ourselves—communities like a parish or school should offer possibilities for experiencing openness and love, affirmation and growth” (CV, 216).
Pastors, teachers, liturgists, catechists and all who advance Catholic values might determine to make their parish the world’s best orphanage, as well as the world’s best field hospital. Let’s cultivate environments of joy (abounding in good times and bad) along with beauty in art and music.
The communion we desire is incarnational
A recent Magis Center blog post asks: “Is God part of your social network? If not, did you know that laughter, singing and religious practices can lead you to him? Science is now confirming that religion—far from being an opiate of the people—is one of three keys to our ability to develop elaborate social networks.” These three habits of the heart lift us highest when we exercise them with others, reports author Maggie Ciskanik.
She’s talking not about mere “friending” or “liking,” but about flesh-and-blood community where God’s unique people come together for purposeful fellowship—sharing hopes, dreams, strengths and weaknesses, asking questions and solving problems. This is accompaniment that’s headed somewhere. If it is filled with Christ’s love and integrity, a vibrant parish can bring familial stability to us orphans.
Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation settles neither for comfortable, non-challenging proximity nor the technological illusions of disembodied, digital groupings. The pontiff, in his 2018 message for World Communications Day points us toward the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi. This outline of interactive, fully engaged communion makes us instruments of peace and communicators of hope.
The McGrath Institute Blog congratulates author Bill Schmitt whose book, When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer?, last month received the Seal of Approval of the Catholic Writers Guild.
Photo credit: Catholic Church England and Wales, Flickr, some rights reserved