The Church in Quebec - The challenge of asking why?

By Father John Walsh on October 1, 2017

In the recent visit of the Catholic Bishops of Quebec to Pope Francis, Bishop Lortie of Mont Laurier, vividly and honestly described the Catholic Church in Quebec.  He told Francis that the Bishops “are aware of the limits and poverty of our Church and we are looking for concrete ways to develop a missionary spirit in a Quebec that has broken its relations with the Catholic tradition and heritage and chooses to find its references elsewhere than the Gospel. In the present context being pastors of a small number, a  little flock, we ask ourselves as pastors, how can we reawaken the faith, reveal the love and mercy of God, open hearts to the Gospel, invite people to conversion, create disciples … in a secular, pluralist Quebec that is often allergic to religion?”

In these words the Bishops addressed the “what” and “how” to address the situation of the Church.   However the starting-point needs to be WHY?   “Why” do we believe what we believe?  Which brings me to Simon Sinek, the author of Start With Why - How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action, and whose Ted Talk has had over 33 million views.  The initial question is, why do we believe what we believe?  Sinek’s striking example is when 250,000 people joined Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, in 1963.  It happened without all the means of communication we now have at hand.  Sinek shows that it wasn’t MLK who brought 250,000 people to Washington, the throng of people came because they believed what Martin Luther King Jr. believed.  They knew why they were there.  Sinek says it is not a question of psychology it is a question of biology.  His Golden Circle with why at the center is parallel to the physical make of the brain where the neo cortex corresponds with the rational, analytical thought and language; while the limbic brain corresponds to the other two parts, dealing with feelings, such as trust, loyalty, decision-making and there is no language. People will be reached when they believe what you believe.  Dr. King believed there were two types of laws in this world, those made by a higher authority and those made by man, and only when the laws made by man are consistent to the laws made by the higher authority will we live in a just world.  Sinek comments:  King gave an “I have a dream” speech, not I have a plan speech. Leaders may have authority but those who lead are those who inspire us. They follow the law of diffusion and innovation.  

The Catholic Church requires leaders to inspire others to action and those who believe what inspirational leaders believe will not be doing it for the leaders, they will be doing it for themselves.  They will believe why the community of faith believes.  

The Pope’s final remark to the Bishops was, Rise up.  Go out and listen. It could get messy.  The why is to go out and listen which the bishops hint at when they speak of a “missionary church,“ with a missionary spirit, “en sortie.” “En sortie” is not a Church of “outreach” offering to give others the “what” and “how” but offering the why inspired by Francis to believe that we are a Church of the poor for the poor, a church that is hurting and dirty and out in the streets, a field hospital to heal the wounded and a Mother who teaches but who has mud on her shoes in the streets.    

Bishop Vincent Long, in Pamatta, Australia, chosen by Francis one year ago, gave a talk expressing what he believed when he said to the Church of today: 

"I believe that we are living in a watershed and a privileged moment in the history of the Church. Just as the biblical exile brought about the most transforming experience that profoundly shaped the faith of Israel, this transition time can potentially launch the Church into a new era of hope, engagement and solidarity that the Second Vatican Council beckoned us with great foresight. From where I stand, the arrival of Pope Francis and his emphasis on servant leadership have unambiguously signaled this new era."

Now we find ourselves in yet another pivotal moment in history. Just as the Berlin wall collapsed, the walls of Christendom too have been blown away by the wind of secularisation. We are forced to move out of our catacombs into the open, into the new unfamiliar world of post-modernity where nothing is taken for granted as far as faith and belief go. Like the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, we are roused by the Spirit of Jesus to launch the Barque of Peter into deeper waters.  If one can detect the direction of Pope Francis’ pontificate, it has something to do with the movement from security to boldness, from inward looking to outward looking, from preoccupation with our status quo, safeguarding our privileges to learning to be vulnerable, learning to convey God’s compassion to those who are on the edges of society and church.  

For me, one of the greatest challenges the church faces today is to be inclusive, to be a big tent church. Pope Francis urges us to be a church where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the Gospel. There can be no future for the living church without this vital sense of ecclesial inclusiveness. By that I mean there must be space for everyone, especially those who have been hurt, excluded or alienated, be they abuse victims, survivors, divorcees, gays, lesbians, women, disaffected members. The church will be less than what Christ intends it to be when issues of inclusion and equality are not fully addressed. I am committed to make the church the house for all peoples, a church where there is less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity.

The Church in Quebec has to be challenged to ask, why? Unless and until church leaders address the question, why do we believe what we believe? they will support and maintain the status quo and nothing will change.


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