Concerning reform and renewal, Winston Churchill once said: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” And St. Augustine of Hippo agreed that “Ecclesia semper reformanda est (The Church is always reforming)” and we, the Church, should always keep this in mind.
As an old Gaelic proverb goes, “There is an ebb to every tide, except the tide of God's grace.” Toward us God's grace is ever at high tide. Or to echo the Psalmist, it will always be true that “the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord” (Ps 33:5).
Pope John XXIII remarked: “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”
Again Pope Francis states: “In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them” (Evangelii Gaudium, #43).
Changing in Order to Remain the Same
With the election and ministry of Pope Francis, we seem to be coming back to the true spirit of Vatican II. As a Church, we must change in order to stay the same. The gospel should always be “gushing up” life-giving water and bold refreshment.
The new commandment Jesus gave was “love like God loves (‘as I have loved you’).” Jesus loves us as God loves us. Likewise we should love with all the unconditional love and forgiveness that God shows to us. The fact is that God isn’t done with us yet!
Reforming and Renewing
Renewal is going back and doing something over again. Reforming can also mean “breaking new ground”. The meaning behind the words of Jesus in Matthew 13:52 is that “the scribe... instructed in the kingdom of heaven knows both the teaching of Jesus (the new) and the law and prophets (the old) and provides in his own teaching both the new and the old as interpreted and fulfilled by the new.”
We need to refocus ourselves on the historical Jesus because we have come perilously close to losing him. The doctrinal area of the Catholic Church before Vatican II concentrated on the Apostles Creed, not on Jesus himself. The old Baltimore Catechism left out his actual life, as inspirational as it is! The Rosary basically shaped our Christology.
Pope St. John Paul II brought forth the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, which are centered on the actual life-events of Jesus.
The person of Jesus of Nazareth is the center of our faith; that is, the Jesus of history. According to the renowned American scripture scholar, Fr. Daniel Harrington, S.J., “The unconditional love of God is the center of our faith. We have to bring our faith back to the gospels.”
Our Call to Renewal of Faith
We need to “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfector of faith” (Heb 12:1-2).
Many good-intentioned Catholics have been caught in the attitude of “Christonomism”; that is, the “me and Jesus” mentality. We all need to be renewed and refreshed with a renewed vision of our faith.
Julian of Norwich, and English anchoress and Medieval Christian mystic (1342-1416) explains: when we’re so worthy of blame, why does God the Father not blame us? “Because when the Father looks at you he sees the unspoiled humanity of his Son, who is your prototype.”
In his homilies, his writings and his wonderful off-the-cuff comments, Pope Francis continues to help us center our faith on the Good News of Jesus.
What Needs Reform and Renewal?
What areas of Church life need reform and renewal? In my own opinion there are five areas of urgent need:
The first is full participation of women in the church – complete equality;
The second is make sure that all the baptized have a full voice in the Church. In other words, we need to develop responsive accountability and true transparency in the life and ministry of the Church.
The third is to open the priesthood to all believers who have the charisms, thus spelling the demise of any remaining elements of clerical culture; we need a true metathesis (Greek); that is, a change, a reordering.
The fourth is to ensure that the Church is compassionate, just and open. Remarking that many people today complain about the Church, Pope Francis urged Catholics to ask themselves several questions: 1) How much do I love the church? Do I pray for it? Do I feel part of the church family? 2) What do I do to make the church a community where everyone feels welcomed and understood, everyone feels the mercy and love of God who renews life?
The fifth is that we need a Catholic catechesis which brings not only “life to Faith” but also “Faith to life”. In our catechesis we must persuade rather than coerce, be convinced rather than demand things from others. We must not proselytize (convince another) but evangelize (share your faith with another).
In the event on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), Christ showed us how to catechize. He began simply with their own lives and then brought them to Faith. He blessed and broke the bread as he did so often... and they recognized him present there among them.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The sage and saint, Pope John XXIII, once said (about changes in the Church): “”See everything; change a little.” In other words, progress slowly but surely. We must look, listen, hear the words and ponder the examples of Jesus. Live them and act on them. And in Jesus’ own words, simply love God, and our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 2:37-39). And God will lead us home.
And finally, Pope Francis reminds us that:
“The Church never fails to be amazed at “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom 11:33)... Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world. Every form of authentic evangelization is always “new” (Evangelii Gaudium, #11, emphasis added).
(This article is based on notes taken from an Adult Education Conference given at Boston College by Dr. Thomas Groome in Lent of 2013)