Archbishop Kurtz hits the right notes in opening talk to U.S. bishops

Archbishop Kurtz hits the right notes in opening talk to U.S. bishops


             Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, USCCB president

The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, gave an important talk on the first day of the U.S. bishops’ annual meeting in Baltimore today. I was impressed by the tone and points of emphasis, especially when he spoke about how the church evangelizes:

“We all strive to be faithful pastors, so we know what this looks like. Think of the home visits we've all done in parishes. When I'd come to someone's home, I wouldn't start by telling them how I'd rearrange their furniture. In the same way, I wouldn't begin by giving them a list of rules to follow.

Instead I'd first spend time with them, trying to appreciate the good that I saw in their hearts. I'd acknowledge that, like them, I was in the process of conversion toward greater holiness. I would then invite them to follow Christ and I'd offer to accompany them as we, together, follow the Gospel invitation to turn from sin and journey along the way. Such an approach isn't in opposition to Church teachings; it's an affirmation of them. Our call as bishops is to bring the Good News to others as true missionary disciples, inspiring them to go forth and do the same.”

It seems to me that Archbishop Kurtz was deliberately tuning in here to the approach of Pope Francis, who has said that in spreading the Gospel, the church needs to emphasize patience, dialogue and accompaniment, and not focus on doctrinal rules. As Kurtz put it, quoting the pope, the church today should be “a place of mercy freely given.”

Just before Archbishop Kurtz took the floor, the bishops heard from the Vatican’s representative in the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who among other things told the bishops: “We must not be afraid to walk with our Holy Father.”

Kurtz himself cited the pope’s call for church leaders to be “joyful messengers” of the Gospel and its challenging proposals, to serve the voiceless and the vulnerable, and to “go out into the streets and manifest God’s love.” (That last phrase, by the way, was identified in a footnote as a quotation from the pope’s Twitter feed – a first in my experience.)

So much of what the bishops discuss at these annual meetings is preordained by prior agendas. I’m hoping those agendas going forward will reflect what Archbishop Kurtz enunciated in his first such address as president of the conference. In delivering a separate report, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain said his committee was discussing specifically how to take Pope Francis’ ideas and “work them into our strategic planning.”

The Francis effect is clearly on the bishops’ minds. The question is how deeply it will affect their priorities in the months and years ahead.


4 comments (Add your own)

1. Peter wrote:
All well and good--Christ first walked with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus before he said a word.

But also this: now as the Synod on the Family takes a breather until the concluding session in October 2015, the first question in the wings might not be a likely contradiction between doctrine and practice, but a predisposing, new, and potentially ambiguous image of the Church.

As a “field hospital” the Church surely must simply continue to open its arms to all as a compassionate move toward a world of unprecedented primal and global turbulence—also at the brink, we are told, of World War III. An ominous message, this “sign of the times” recalls World War I: “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime” (Edward Grey, British politician).

But can the center post of the Church-as-hospital stand in the winds that blow if at the periphery we pull up the tent stakes? How to avoid endorsing sacrilegious access to communion—the Real Presence at the center--while still maintaining a truly Eucharistic Church? How to be respectful of persons without unwittingly conspiring with the exploitive media to look like we are playing into the gay culture and agenda? How can the New Evangelization of proximity remain fully “inclusive”, that is, fully inclusive of sacramental, doctrinal and moral, and societal integrity and consistency? Chesterton reminds us that the Church liberates us from "the degrading slavery of being a child of our age." It is not as if the Church has been excessively and comprehensively doctrinal these past decades.

At the very opening of the Second Vatican Council the scripted working drafts were abruptly rejected; the drafting commissions were reconstituted; and the “real Council” began. Now we see an abrupt departure in the current synod from Cardinal Kasper’s “introduction” of last February. Surely this surprise, too, is equally the work of the Holy Spirit! The lasting benefit of the current synod must include freedom from the media-sustained “virtual Council” and instead a catching up with the authentic “gradualism” of recent decades, e.g., the whole of Humanae Vitae, plus Veritatis Splendor, and the still timely and rarely read Familiaris consortio.

Yes to the proximity of the living room encounter with real people in the real world, but eventually and also where is the light on a lamp stand? How to distinguish the smell of the sheep from the smell of something else in sheep's clothing?

Looking ahead, in late 2015 will the transcribers of the Synod's wisdom presume to “complete” the final report by re-inserting malleable wording where—as courageous protection against, what?—the full assembly prudently withholds its two-thirds vote and remains (too unguardedly) silent?

Upon his election, the Holy Father in his beautiful simplicity offered that he was "naive" and asked for prayers that he “not make mistakes.” Likewise for the synod. What is the precise difference between a real field hospital and just another a big tent? The task of getting this right is the challenge, and we trust that it is in good hands...Mt 10:16.

Tue, November 11, 2014 @ 11:59 AM

2. Mary wrote:
Yes, as Archbishop Kurtz says....he wouldn't begin with the rules. But that statement implies that what he does begin with...walking alongside them 'where they are' has an end in view. That end is consistent with and embodied in the theology and philosophy which has given rise to the 'rules'. The 'rules' are not disembodied spheres of lawful opinion but succinct terms which embody the teachings of Christ and the Church. Revelation is therefore made accessible in its application at the coalface by the 'rule' which defines what something is and is not objectively and frees us from the tyranny of subjective opinion alone or worse emotivism....which is the current mode of post-modern response to 'rules'. The 'rules' shine a light of consistency on the good end to which virtue leads.

In other words to go out to the peripheries the rules guide you truly back to the center of Truth and test subjectivity and experience in the light of Revelation. Though you meet them at the peripheries where they are it is a beginning which has an end and that end to be consistent with Christ is also consistent with the theological and philosophical content which forms the 'rule'.

The problem is that pastors are setting up unnecessary juxtapositions between the 'rules' and 'the mercy of Christ'. This is a nonsense and an abuse of language for the most part. The rules may be open to more change in some ways but not in content. Without this end in view the pastor may as well stay home and let everyone work it out for themselves...happiness and following Christ requires no Revelation at all...rather like the Protestant view of salvation....Christ simply covers our sins....there is no transformation in the sinner at all.

Tue, November 11, 2014 @ 4:19 PM

3. Paul wrote:
"(...)I'd first spend time with them, trying to appreciate the good that I saw in their hearts. I'd acknowledge that, like them, I was in the process of conversion toward greater holiness. I would then invite them to follow Christ and I'd offer to accompany them as we, together, follow the Gospel invitation to turn from sin and journey along the way. Such an approach isn't in opposition to Church teachings; it's an affirmation of them."

And this is what the Church has always done, and continues to do: an invitation to follow Christ and to turn from sin - "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). Isn't it what we offer, for example, in the RCIA? Isn't this the Church's approach, which takes whoever accepts the invitation to follow Christ, and them accompanies them in the process of conversion? And isn't this procession of conversion also a process of instruction in the matters of faith - which will include doctrinal matters? If we accept this premise, then the the church is already “a place of mercy freely given.”

Our Catechumens, when asked "What do you ask of God's Church?", respond that they want to be accepted as a candidate for catechetical instruction leading to confirmation and eucharist; or: leading to reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church, if they are Christians. This process, through which the Church accompanies the Cathecumens in the process of conversion and greater holiness, often requires sacrifices. They may no longer worship where they used to; they may long for the Eucharist, and not be able to receive it; and so on. But they are certainly not going to be accepted into the Church on their own terms; they are accepted into the Church on Church's terms: mercy is freely given, but not the wholesale acceptance of their old practices of worship or lack thereof. In Sunday's Gospel, Christ expelled from the Temple those who were selling livestock for the offerings; what a show of mercy!

An outreach to society, to those in the "peripheries", has to be an invitation to turn from sin; going "out into the streets and manifest[ing] God’s love" has always to be linked to the invitation to turn from sin: not an invitation to accept it and celebrate it, but to turn from it. And it is precisely this dimension of self-sacrifice, so despised by our utilitarian and relativist society, that makes this outreach so difficult, and talking about it, so divisive.

Tue, November 11, 2014 @ 9:55 PM

4. eddie too wrote:
if we do not meet people where they are at, then we do not really meet them at all.

it does not make sense to feed everyone the same meal. we do not give mother's milk to adults any more than we give solid food to infants.

the Church's doctrines, both moral, scriptural and theological are not changing.

however, for someone outside of the Church, for whatever the reason, quoting moral principles or dwelling on scriptural interpretations or presenting the historical development of understanding the divine mysteries is not likely to impress.

all of the rules and regulations, all of the rituals and practices were developed by men for the edification and benefit of the faithful, but they are not and are not intended to be a replacement for the personal relationship Jesus desires with each of us. helping people to establish and grow this personal relationship is the paramount task of the magisterium.

leading with what someone is doing wrong rarely creates good will or open discussion.

the windows opened by john XXIII are finally beginning to draw the winds of the Holy Spirit in to the Church. the Holy Spirit has always indwelled in the Church, but His winds are growing stronger and the windows have been opened.

the Church built over the centuries by we sinful and fallible men always benefits from close self-examination and openness. francis understands this better than most. francis is the right man at the right time.

patience is recommended since its been fifty years since the windows were opened and only now do we see the wind entering.

Thu, November 13, 2014 @ 12:50 PM

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