The significant movements of a calendar are instants of change that bring uncertainty for a future not clearly seen, and looking into that future, Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan of Vietnam, preaching at the 2000 Lenten Retreat to the Roman Curia, foresaw a new millennium for our Catholic Church as a Holy Door always open, as a church that is “Word” preaching the Gospel, as a church that is Eucharist, as a church of unity, as a church on a journey filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit, and as a church that gives witness to hope and love. Whether the millennium was a wish or a dream, we can all give witness to its rocky start.
The early years of the 2000’s have been fraught with global and local violence, unprecedented economic disruptions, political mayhem, a systemic failure of leadership in an abuse scandal, and a global shifting of the social and religious structure marked by suspicion, confrontation, and change. Recently the institutional church of the Cardinal’s high expectations has found itself standing, often uneasily, witnessing the onset of the none-too-subtle adaptation of Catholic society and belief from the conservativism of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to the progressiveness of Pope Francis. Joining the Church with a large “C” in this experience of change has been the church of the laity, the church of the small “c,” the body of Christ, you and me.
Raised within the boundaries of faith - rules and regulations, standards and punishments - we are now being challenged by Francis to think outside of the box, and it is a challenge indeed. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ and it comes to us without boundaries. We have been conditioned over decades to “fences” that circumscribed our Catholic life with prohibitions, rituals, social taboos, pecking orders, authority, and hierarchy. For many in my generation fences not only make good neighbors, they also make good Catholics, people of faith who live comfortably within limits that are visible and give a sense of belonging to something tangible. Now, as we journey through Lent, we are called to stand in an open field, being urged by the faith of Francis in a new journey to Emmaus. Oh, come Holy Spirit!
Pope Benedict XVI, in a September 2012 Angelus address, recalled the words of Jesus in Mark 7:31-37 as he healed the deaf mute. Jesus, “looking up to the heavens, with a deep sigh said, ‘Ephphatha,’ which means “be opened.” And immediately the man began to hear and speak fluently. Pope Benedict spoke of the inner closure of man, which covers the deepest core of the person, the heart, and taught that Jesus comes to “open, to liberate, and to enable us to live fully a relationship with God and with others.” In our sinfulness, our fears, and our frustrations, Jesus opens us to the voice of God, the voice of love speaking to our hearts, and he teaches us a new language of love to communicate with God and others. This is the dream of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan for our church; and this is the faith of Francis.
Let your “fenceless” Lent be open, be a dreamer, and when you come to the end of all that you know remember the wisdom of the Psalmist, “God will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in his presence,” and then let yourself step off confidently into the darkness of what is new, knowing that Jesus will be there to teach you how to fly.
Ted Furlow is Director of Pastoral Planning in the Diocese of San Bernardino.