In Gianni Valente’s recent book-length interview with Pope Francis, the Holy Father explained the Church’s mission: that per Our Lord’s command, we’re a moving church, always reaching out into the peripheries. He stated, “The Church is either on the move or she is not Church. Either she evangelizes or she is not Church. If the Church is not on the move, she decays, she becomes something else.”
This is in essence what the Church is. She moves, evangelizes, and heals just as her spouse, our Lord Jesus Christ, did. From the moment Pope Francis was introduced on the loggia in 2013, he’s made this his focus, specifically reaching out to the margins, whether it’s washing prison inmates’ feet–yes even Muslims and women–visiting migrants and refugees, and addressing long overdue issues in the Amazon and surrounding region.
Since our Church is primarily an evangelizing Church, it’s also a challenging church. Pope Francis in his wisdom challenges all of us to think outside our boxes. He challenges us to set aside our biases and even our most comfortable ideas about what being a Catholic is all about. But how do we do that?
It seems, at least to some, that the Church is primarily a fortress where she exists to preserve her culture, her history, and especially her teachings. This fortress is comfortable and safe. As long as they’re in the fortress, no one can harm them. Any challenges and problems come from the outside, because those inside are the righteous. It’s a vision of a church in abject fear of anything that looks like a threat.
In reality, the Church has been traditionally called the “Barque (Ship) of Peter.” Where do we find the Church? Is she is dry docked at a cozy harbor? Is she in a fortress? Or is she sailing the ocean, in calm seas and hurricane-force winds, tossed about as rogue waves threaten to capsize her as she casts her nets far and wide, searching for fish?
Indeed, these are dark days. There’s confusion, fear, and it’s not always easy to find the truth. Some, out of fear, have hunkered down in the fortress and–worse–have accused Pope Francis of enacting an agenda to destroy the Faith. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Holy Father understands that the Church’s mission is always to move, to sail the waves and cast the nets into the deep because he knows that even in the fiercest storms, Our Lord is with us, even if it seems he’s taking a nap just as he did in the Gospels.
Therefore, let us accept this challenge. Don’t be afraid. Leave the fortress and come aboard Peter’s ship. Cast the nets always with a heart for evangelization and healing, because that is what the Church is.