A Church throbbing with compassion | Inquirer Opinion

A Church throbbing with compassion

12:00 AM November 16, 2015

THERE ARE two nationwide struggles underway. They concern everyone in the country, and the task of solving them entails everyone’s involvement.

The first of the two is, of course, the political campaign for victory in May 2016, which is now being fought out in every town and

village. The other is unfolding right within the Catholic Church, between those who want a more full-hearted support for Pope Francis’ message of justice, equality and compassion, and those who don’t appear to believe such support is needed or useful.


The focus here is on the Catholic Church, but I believe there is need for a similar decision to be made in every Christian group and, indeed, in every religion. All religions recognize they cannot “serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:12) and try to do better.


In the Catholic Church in the Philippines, it is hard to find bishops who have made changes in their lifestyle in imitation of the Holy Father, or bishops who have made strong statements of support for the Pope’s dramatic message.

The same could be said of most priests and of our religious orders of men and women. Have the orders grown too big to change?


The ordinary people clearly love the Pope, especially because of his obvious concern for them. They remember him on the altar at the Tacloban Airport in that too-small yellow raincoat he wore, with the wind and rain lashing against his face, talking of compassion and God’s mysteries. Ordinary people second the Pope’s description of the Church as “of and for the poor.” They want a Church that throbs with compassion and joyous song.

If asked, the poor and near-poor, the ordinary people of the Church, will most likely declare they prefer the Philippine Church to be more of a faithful follower of Pope Francis. They most probably want the clergy to preach more on topics the Pope is interested in and to explain the Pope’s message and its roots in the Gospel. They probably will ask for more involvement of the clergy in their social struggles. What can be done to realize these hopes of the poor? What must be done (Lenin’s question)?

Change comes usually from the top, but there is one way lay people can make their voices heard—that is, through a new appearance in our age of what theology calls the sensus fidei (sense of the faith) and sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful).

This is a very complicated doctrine, but as a theologian at a recent theological conference in the United States, Fr. John Burkhard, OFM, said: “We do not have to give a final answer to questions that are often beyond our ability to master, but we must have the courage to pose questions and make observations about issues that continue to motivate or disturb us.”

The second paragraph of a document of the International Theological Commission explains as well as any source what this sense of the faith is. The document is called “Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church.”

“… The faithful have an instinct for the truth of the Gospel, which enables them to recognize and endorse authentic Christian doctrine and practice, and to reject what is false. That supernatural instinct, intrinsically linked to the gift of faith received in the communion of the Church, is called the sensus fidei, and it enables Christians to fulfill their prophetic calling. In his first Angelus address, Pope Francis quoted the words of a humble, elderly woman he once met: ‘If the Lord did not forgive everything, the world would not exist’; and he commented with admiration: ‘that is the wisdom which the Holy Spirit gives’. The woman’s insight is a striking manifestation of the sensus fidei, which, as well as enabling a certain discernment with regard to the things of faith, fosters true wisdom and gives rise, as here, to the proclamation of the truth. It is clear, therefore, that the sensus fidei is a vital resource for the new evangelization to which the Church is strongly committed in our time.” (#2)

The document recalls later times when the laity, the people of the Church, spoke with a greater grasp of orthodoxy than the bishops.

“The most striking example was in the famous controversy in the fourth century with the Arians, who were condemned at the Council of Nicaea (325 AD), where the divinity of Jesus Christ was defined. From then until the Council of Constantinople (381 AD), however, there continued to be uncertainty among the bishops. During that period, the divine tradition committed to the infallible Church was proclaimed and maintained far more by the faithful than by the Episcopate. There was a temporary suspense of the functions of the ‘Ecclesia docens’ [the teaching Church]. The body of bishops failed in their confession of the faith. They spoke variously, one against another; there was nothing, after Nicaea, of firm, unvarying, consistent testimony, for nearly sixty years.” (#26)

There are no easy methods of determining what the laity believes today. Especially since we are not looking for public opinion, but for something more penetrating and heartfelt.

Bishops and priests can invite lay people to join their pastoral councils. This may be a partial answer, if the priest or bishop searches for the lay person’s deepest reflections.

We can hope that the Church’s clerics, sisters and lay leaders will take it upon themselves to gather people, begin prayerful discussions and search for the will of the people. Do the people want more of Pope Francis?

Let’s begin before it’s too late. The Pope is not a young man. If tremendous storms come only once every 100 years, outstanding popes may be even rarer.

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Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (urbanpoorassociates@ymail.com).

TAGS: Catholic Church, FAITH, nation, news

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