Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 30, 2001
Centre pastoral work on Christ
By ARCHBISHOP ARTHÉ GUIMOND
One of the most inspiring documents I read recently was the apostolic exhortation of Pope John Paul, Ecclesia in America (The Church in America). It has the great advantage of centring all our pastoral endeavours on "the encounter with the living Christ."
This is the priority of priorities for the Church. In fact, the only reason the Church exists is to help people encounter Christ who is "the definitive answer to the question of the meaning of life, and to those fundamental questions which still trouble so many men and women on the American continent" (10).
The places of our encounter with Christ
The important thing for us, therefore, is, "where and how we can encounter Christ?" The Holy Father indicates three main places where this encounter can take place including prayer and the devotion to Mary, which he describes as the "sure path to our meeting with Christ". They are:
Sacred Scripture, read in light of tradition and the magisterium and deepened through meditation and contemplation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly states: "Different as the books which comprise it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God's plan, of which Christ Jesus is the centre and heart" (no. 112).
St. Jerome could thus say: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."
The Sacraments, and especially the Eucharist: "The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase; healing and mission to the Christian's life of faith (Catechism, no. 1210). They form an organic whole in which the Eucharist occupies a unique place as the "sacrament of sacraments" (no. 1211).
The service of the "poor", that is, all the people who are in material or spiritual need and with whom Christ has identified himself, saying: "Insofar as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:39).
Towards the poor and the outcasts of every kind the attitude of the Church in America should thus be one of "assistance, promotion, liberation, and fraternal openness" (58).
The effects of our encounter with the living Christ
Once we have encountered Christ, all the rest follows; we are permanently challenged to conversion, communion and solidarity with our brothers and sisters.
These three are in fact intimately connected: "In speaking of conversion, the New Testament uses the word metanoia, which means a change of mentality. It is not simply a matter of thinking differently in an intellectual sense, but of revising the reasons behind one's action in the light of the Gospel.
Conversion leads to fraternal communion, because it enables us to understand that Christ is the head of the Church, his mystical body; it urges solidarity, because it makes us aware that whatever we do for others, especially for the poorest, we do for Christ himself" (23).
Some implications for our Catholic educational project
The principles outlined above certainly apply to young people as well as to adults. I would, however, like to emphasize the two following points concerning education.
1. Presenting Christ to young people
One of the convictions that recurs most often in the Holy Father's speeches and homilies is that Christ is the answer to our deepest questions. This is the approach he takes in presenting Christ to young people.
"Sometimes," he writes, "when we look at the young people with the problems and weaknesses that characterize them to contemporary society, we tend to be pessimistic.
"The Jubilee of Young People, however changed that, telling us that young people, whatever their possible ambiguities, have a profound longing for those genuine values which find their fullness in Christ.
"Is not Christ the secret of true freedom and profound joy of heart? Is not Christ the supreme friend and the teacher of all genuine friendship?
"If Christ is presented to young people as he really is, they experience him as an answer that is convincing, and they can accept his message, even when it is demanding and bears the mark of the cross!" (Apostolic letter Novo Millenio Ineunte, 9).
2. Family, parish and schools as agents of education
Finally, it is worth noting that for the Holy Father, the three main agents of education remain the family, the school and the parish; provided, of course, they are what they are called to be. To realize this, one only needs to meditate on the following passages of his exhortation.
The Family: "In order to be a true 'domestic Church,' the Christian family needs to be a setting in which parents hand down the faith, since they are for their children, by word and example, the first heralds of the faith.
"Families should not fail to set time aside for prayer in which spouses are united with each other and with their children. There is a need to encourage shared spiritual moments such as participation in the Eucharist on Sundays and holy days, receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation, daily prayer in the family and practical signs of charity.
This will strengthen fidelity in marriage and unity in families" (46).
The Parish: The parish is the privileged place where the faithful concretely experience the Church.
Today in America as elsewhere in the world the parish is facing certain difficulties in fulfilling its mission.
The parish needs to be constantly renewed on the basis of the principles that "the parish must continue to be above all a Eucharistic community. This principle implies that parishes are called to be welcoming and fraternal places of Christian initiation, of education in and celebration of the faith open to the full range of charisms, services and ministries" (41).
The Catholic Schools: "A special effort should be made to strengthen the Catholic identity of schools, whose specific character is based on an educational vision having its origin in the person of Christ and its roots in the teachings of the Gospel.
"Catholic schools must seek not only to impart a quality education from the technical and professional standpoint, but also and above all provide for the integral formation of the human spirit" (71).