Fr. Greg's Pastoral Letter-October 7, 2018

Dear Sisters and Brothers –

Last week we had our Parish Picnic–and it was a glorious day for our faith community.  Our special guests at Mass were the family of refugees that we and St. Agnes Parish are accompanying as they make their way through the legal system’s process for asylum in the U.S.  The mother thanked us for the difference we are making in their lives through our emotional and practical support.  They then joined us at our picnic, which was beautifully done; we had a wonderful time.

I think Sunday was a balm for our collective soul.  In the midst of the agonizing situation we face in the Church at the moment, seeing how our lived response to the Gospel is having concrete effects in people’s lives and having time to enjoy one another’s companionship was refreshing and perhaps even a bit healing.

I am so grateful to everyone–and there were a lot of “everyones”–who volunteered in any capacity,including to sign up volunteers after Mass the prior Sundays!  One prospective volunteer told me that everyplace she showed up to help, there were more than enough people, so she meandered through the crowd saying hello. Thank you to all of you who provided a lovely day for our community.

I’d like to call out one of the USF sororities who helped cut and chop, slice and dice, and the USF baseball team who helped set up tables, chairs and umbrellas.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Barbara and Stephen St. Marie, and EJ and Terry Potente who took on the burden of organizing and coordinating the rest of us–without their time, it simply may not have happened.  Thank you very much.

On another note, the joint evening of prayer and reflection about the sexual abuse crisis that we shared with parishioners of both St. Agnes and St. Ignatius Parishes on Wednesday, September 26, was fruitful, judging by the comments we have heard.  After a bit of reflection, we broke into small groups and talked about how we each felt about the crisis in the church.  Then we came back together and shared with the whole group.  The feelings we heard seemed to echo from group to group: anger, concern, fury, helplessness,frustration, embarrassment, betrayal, violation, "here we go again," and more.  Some expressed relief that things are now out in the open.  Some, having newly entered our faith, spoke of disillusionment having this crisis so soon after becoming a Catholic Christian. And every group spoke about taking action.  Please see the full write up of the minutes from our first meeting HERE.  I hope that you will join us at our next meeting.

I have some thoughts about how we might proceed in these conversations. I am speaking not about procedure in a technical way, but about our frame of reference, the disposition of our hearts and minds.  My hope is that our frame of reference is rooted in our common Baptism.  As members of the Church, we each have been baptized “priest, prophet, and king,” as the rite says; we have been baptized into the ministry of Jesus.  Our Baptism is our fundamental and primary identity as members of the Body of Christ.

This Body of the Baptized includes five-month-old Charlotte, whom I baptized two weeks ago.  It includes our 7th and 8th graders preparing for Confirmation and the 86-year-old man coming to the end of his life, whom Fr. Paul anointed last week. It includes the USF student’s confession I heard recently, and Presbyterians, Methodists, Greek and Russian Orthodox, and Baptist Christians.  We all belong to the People of God.  All of us together constitute the Body of Christ. We are the Body of the Baptized.

It is here, in this identity, that we need to root ourselves as we go forward.

As we root ourselves in our Baptism, we also must be faithful to our other identities, the other roles we have in the world because they are essential to moving forward.  For example, as one of the Baptized, I am also a Jesuit and a priest, I have my family of origin, and I am a US citizen.  And maybe you are a college student from Los Angeles or Wisconsin, Poland or Asia.  Or you are a married woman with grown children or a gay father with two youngsters.  Or a part-time employee or an entrepreneur, a convert or a cradle Catholic.  Or you are a woman who feels called to Holy Orders or a teenage boy who wonders about being a priest.  Or a Filipino grandfather or his bi-racial granddaughter. All of these sub-identities are essential to our moving forward because we each experience life differently–we have different wounds and failures, different joys and hopes.

When we value our diversity and listen to one another carefully, we can begin to understand how the Body of the Baptized is suffering in the midst of this current crisis.  Other’s experiences are a gift because they help us to get the full picture of how the Body of the Baptized has been injured.  With this first step, enriched by that broader understanding, we have genuine hope for healing.  This is what Pope Francis means when he speaks of “a culture of encounter.”

In short, what I propose to be our ground rule as we move forward in our conversations is that we each bring the particulars of our individual lives to our gatherings, so that we learn about the nature of the wound by seeing it from our many different perspectives.  Yet, at the same time, as we speak about our particular experiences and listen to those of others, we stay grounded in our common Baptism, in our identity as the Body of the Baptized.  St. Ignatius calls us to the magis, to the greater good, to that which more leads us into deeper relationship with God.  This is our shared magis, our vision as we move forward.

In my homily/pastoral letter this last month, I shared that I was having trouble holding all the pieces at once, but I also said to you, “I trust you as fellow members of this Body, of the People of God.  I trust that your deep goodness and good will, your holy woundedness, your righteous anger, your hard-earned wisdom will lead us through all this.” I know from our first meeting with parishioners at St. Agnes that we trust this in one another.  This is a great and beautiful gift.

I also referred to a prior homily, in which I pointed to the powerfully beautiful crucifix above the tabernacle and said that we all know how that story ends.  It ends with an empty tomb.  The Church needs each of the baptized to bring about its resurrection and new life, and I trust us to get us there.  That remains true.

The meeting a week and a half ago was a first step and, for me, an exciting, energizing, and, ultimately, hopeful one. I could feel the sense of the ownership of the Church by the Baptized.  Though we don’t know where this is going, I trust the Holy Spirit will guide us.

Please join us and this conversation.  The Body of the Baptized needs your participation.  So does Charlotte, newly baptized, so that the Church she grows up in is whole and holy, good and just, the Church that Jesus imagined when he founded it, his Body, alive and ever new.

As soon as we have it, we will send the date, time, and place of our next meeting.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Finally, a reminder that Archbishop Cordileone is holding five listening sessions throughout the Archdiocese to hear what the Body of the Baptized has to say about this important issue.  I encourage you to attend, if you can.  HERE is a link to his letter listing the dates, times and locations of those meetings.

Oremus pro invicem.

Fr. Greg