Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Pope Francis: Joy of the Gospel
Community: Crisis of Communal Commitment

by Bishop William S. Skylstad, for the Inland Register

(From the June 19, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a five-part series of reflections on Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”).)

Periodically something happens in our world that pulls the human family together. Examples like the disaster of 33 trapped miners underground for almost two months near Copiapo, Chile, in 2010; flight MY 370; or the tragic abduction of almost 300 school girls recently in Nigeria are examples of how solidarity can touch people almost everywhere. Clearly for the first time in history the potential of coming together as a world community has never been greater.

Pope Francis is very direct when he talks about the forces that militate against community. He says we must say “no” to the economy of exclusion. Why is it that the drop of a few points in the stock market is much more newsworthy than a poor, starving, dying man on the streets somewhere in the world? We can be involved with competition and survival of the fittest. So often excluded are not only the exploited, but also the outcasts, the left-overs. The culture of prosperity deadens us.

We must say “no” to the idolatry of money. Sometimes the thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. We must say “no” to a system which rules rather than serves. We must say “no” to inequality which spawns violence and hardship.

Our age provides many cultural challenges. Many cultural supports of our faith from times past are no longer present. The negative pressures from social communication and the media sometimes threaten traditional values of marriage and the stability of the family. We are already aware of attempts to deny religious freedom. New persecutions of the Church have arisen. What is real has given way to appearances. “Priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional.” (#62)

The Catholic faith of many peoples at times today can be challenged by new religious movements – some tending to fundamentalism, while others appear to propose spirituality without God. Sometimes people deal with a spiritual vacuum in their hearts by looking to superficial teaching and/or false values. We live in an age of secularism which often can reduce religion to the private and personal. This reality especially causes disorientation in the young. Yet, we also must remember that secularism should and must be the object of our evangelization. As a spiritual writer recently commented, the evangelization of Western culture today is one of the toughest challenges the Church faces.

Yet, the Holy Father says the Church still seems to be credible. We are a Church of relationships, loving neighbors as ourselves. Yes, we have challenges to enculturate our faith. How do we pass on the faith to our young? How are we addressing the increased urbanization of our societies? We need to look to our cities with a contemplative gaze, a gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in our homes, on our streets, in our communities.

We must also be aware of and deal with our temptations. For instance, pain and hurt in the Church should not distract us from the bigger picture. Children of our age must deal with an increased standard of living and many other pressures as well. We should strive to grow in a spirit of missionary spirituality, always careful of heightened individualism, crisis of identity, and a cooling of fervor. These three together can provide a toxic mix to the human spirit. Skepticism, relativism, and cynicism are in no way helpful to our communitarian spirit.

In this section about the need for community, Pope Francis continues with our need to say “no” to selfishness and spiritual laziness, sterile pessimism, spiritual worldliness (who are our heroes?), warring among ourselves, and ostentatious preoccupation for appearances and careers. We priests must especially be aware of the need to be generous and humble servants, deeply in touch with the Lord and with the people we serve. The Holy Father is very direct: “Mary is more important than bishops. Even when the function of ministerial priesthood is considered hierarchical, it must be remembered that it is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members. Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of Eucharist” (#104). He concludes this second section of the letter with the need to pay special attention to youth as fellow companions on the journey of faith.

My feeling about all of the above is that it is a huge challenge, and I need to pray and reflect on my own personal response. I suspect all of you have similar feelings. And like the early Church that we have been hearing much about these days in this Easter season, may we move out, loving the Lord, building community, and be on fire with the joy of the Gospel!

(Bishop Skylstad is Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Spokane.)

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