In his recent exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis wrote, "I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security" (49).
What a challenge this statement is to our overly-bureaucratized, overly-safe modus operandi! We seek to make things tidy and organized with all the correct procedures laid out in massive manuals reviewed by our best lawyers. Make sure that everyone who takes a sideways glance at someone outside the church building has had their police check and their resume checked with a magnifying glass.
Precautions are sometimes necessary. More necessary, Pope Francis says, is not to be "caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures."
The thing that should disturb us most is "the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life."
To be bruised, hurting and dirty surely means giving the human dignity of unkempt, chronic sinners a higher priority than streamlined administration. This calls for a deep conversion.
Pope Francis says forget about your "excessive centralization." Why? Because God's word is unpredictable. It will grab you in the overheard conversation of strangers when you're in the supermarket; it will come alive through the words of a four-year-old at the breakfast table. Too many procedures will squelch the Spirit.
Rather than failing to act with mercy out of a fear of going astray, we should be afraid of "remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security." We may end up hamstrung by "rules that make us harsh judges, habits which make us feel safe" when outside the world is crying.
You won't be converted if you discuss this in an air-conditioned room with other Church leaders. Open the windows and the doors, and listen to the voices of the victims.
Don't be too secure. Listen to new voices. Remember Jesus' words: "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3.8)./GWA