Sunday, 26 May 2013

Pope Francis on blessings and baptism!

Ever strike one of those modernist priests who disdain giving blessings and offering other sacramentals, and instead of giving you one, gives you a lecture on how all that stuff is old-fashioned rubbish that is no longer part of our practice?

It seems Pope Francis has, and he doesn't approve!

His latest weekday homily tackles three classic problems: a reluctance to use sacramentals and the traditional tools the Church offers to help us; reluctance to offer baptism in certain cases; and the bureaucratic instead of faith filled response to requests for pastoral support (the specific example he gives relates to marriage).

No Father, Mass is not a substitute for a blessing!

Once upon a time, blessings given by priests were an important part of our practise. Some blessings are associated with specific feast days, such as the blessing of throats on the feast of St Blaise.  Many more are provided for specific occasions such as before and after childbirth, wedding anniversaries, when you are sick; for things such as food, books, and cars; and for places, such as your home.  And there is a blessing able to be used whenever you need for one.

Outside of traditionalist communities though (and even in some of them) you will be hard pressed to find any of these being regularly used.

The Pope's commentary on blessings is salutary:

"I remember once, coming out of the city of Salta, on the patronal feast, there was a humble lady who asked for a priest's blessing. The priest said, 'All right, but you were at the Mass' and explained the whole theology of blessing in the church. You did well: 'Ah, thank you father, yes father,' said the woman. When the priest had gone, the woman turned to another priest: 'Give me your blessing!'. All these words did not register with her, because she had another necessity: the need to be touched by the Lord. That is the faith that we always look for , this is the faith that brings the Holy Spirit. We must facilitate it, make it grow, help it grow. "

Access to baptism

The Pope also made some interesting remarks on baptism.  The current Code of Canon Law is rather discouraging about access to baptism, requiring assurances that the child will be brought up as a Catholic and more.  It reflects, I suspect, the current horror of  'proselytization' and the not particularly biblical or traditional hope that almost everyone will be saved.

It is, in short, a direction that runs counter, in my view, to the Church's traditional view that baptism is necessary for the assurance of salvation and so should be freely offered when explicitly asked for, or even when not in cases where there is a danger of death.

Pope Benedict XVI made some comments suggesting that a rethink on current restrictive practice was required, and it seems that Pope Francis is also signalling a change going down this direction.

Responding pastorally

But the really key point the Pope makes is about turning occasions of encounter with the faithful into occasions to promote the faith.

The Pope gives the example of a couple seeking to get married dealing with a parish secretary.  But his comments could equally be applied to many priests in my experience, who simply don't seem to understand how to be pro-active about engaging on the faith.  The point is that instead of trying to understand what someone is really trying to say, we tend to respond to the mere words, and miss opportunities to genuinely engage with people:

"Think of the good Christians, with good will, we think about the parish secretary, a secretary of the parish ... 'Good evening, good morning, the two of us - boyfriend and girlfriend - we want to get married'. And instead of saying, 'That's great!'. They say, 'Oh, well, have a seat. If you want the Mass, it costs a lot ... '. This, instead of receiving a good welcome- It is a good thing to get married! '- But instead they get this response:' Do you have the certificate of baptism, all right ... '. And they find a closed door. When this Christian and that Christian has the ability to open a door, thanking God for this fact of a new marriage ... We are many times controllers of faith, instead of becoming facilitators of the faith of the people. "

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