October 18, 2020

In an interview a few years ago, Pope Francis’ reflections on the Church gave us some valuable insights into family and marriage. This makes sense, since God entrusts every family to a mother and father, just as God entrusts the Church—his family—to the care of bishops, with his priests and deacons.

Pope Francis gives us an interesting analogy for understanding how the Church should approach its mission:

“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else” (Interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J.).

Often the family may seem like a field hospital, where parents are responding endlessly to the demands and needs of their children—the doctor has no break after a battle.

But what would it really mean if we priests and parents approached our church and families as a field hospital doctor? It seems to me that it would mean that we focus on the immediate needs of those children entrusted to us. If a child is hurting, we have to find out why and apply the remedy right away. Sometimes the remedy is not pleasant to the patient; it may even be painful. But we need to heal the wounds.

With younger children this may mean a little scrape or owie. It may mean feeding them when they are hungry, or comforting them when they have been hurt by a friend or sibling. It may be more important needs, as helping a child detach from too much television, computer games, or other distractions by putting the structure in place so that the child learns balance and the proper place for recreation and entertainment.

We certainly need to have a vision of what long-term health means for our children, but we cannot afford to idealize that vision, blaming the children for not living up to our standards of “health.” Often parents (and priests) do this by insisting too much on rules—which are necessary—and failing to see the human person the rules are meant to serve. As the Pope warns:
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules… How are we treating the people of God? [How are we treating our children?] I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organizational reforms are secondary—that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.”

Good mothers and fathers learn to accompany our children in their journey, warming their hearts, cultivating the good exercise of their freewill, and staying with them when they meet difficulties—a dark night—without getting lost ourselves. This means keeping our calm, remembering that the children entrusted to us are a sweet treasure called to do great things in this world… and we have been honored to help them in living out that wonderful calling.

Yours In Christ,
Fr. John Waiss

Photo by Anak Tnk Foundation