May 2022 - Called to closeness with Our Lord
In the Easter season, I ponder the awesome effects of the resurrection of Jesus on the human race. From Mary Magdalene and the eleven, a very small number, have come billions of followers of Jesus. The people of God, as described in the Second Vatican Council’s The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, are found in every land and on every tongue. While we have known a decline in our diocese and nation, 16,000,000 Catholics were added in 2020. In 1900, there were 267 million of us; in 2000, there were 1.045 billion; and today, we are 1.36 billion. Easter wonder and joy continue to build new heavens and earth.
Currently, Pope Francis has invited all of us to anticipate the next synod of bishops by coming together to share our hopes and dreams for a Church that continues to carry out the mission embraced centuries ago. The pope wants us to realize anew the tremendous grace given us to appreciate that we are the people of God and that all people are meant to be one in God.
This realization comes as we deepen our awareness of the closeness of God. On February 17, Pope Francis, at a symposium on the priesthood, offered reflections on four forms of closeness fundamental to the priesthood. Shortly after I read a report on the talk, I was asked to make this contribution to Harvest. While the remarks of Pope Francis were specific to the priesthood, I thought that the four forms of closeness would apply to all of us. The forms of closeness enable us to abide in God and to manifest God to others.
The pope first spoke of “closeness to the Lord of closeness.” As branches of the vine of Jesus, we are meant to know intimacy with Him. After His baptism, He went into the desert to be one with the Father. We find intimacy with God as we make the time for prayer. This closeness sustains the priest and all of us to live Easter’s wonder.
Our Holy Father noted that a second form of closeness for the priest is with the bishop. St. Ignatius, an early second-century bishop of Antioch in Syria, is remembered for his letters to some of the early churches as he was being taken to Rome for execution. In these letters, he encouraged the people of God to be close to their bishops. He likened the local church to a chorus singing with one voice through Jesus to the Father. Attention to Ignatius is crucial to the mission of the people of God. In our time, bishops have faced great challenges. Pope Francis reminds us that we can meet those challenges as we seek closeness.
The third and fourth forms of closeness for priests are with brother priests and the other people of God. The pope stressed the importance of patience. We are a diverse group of people. We have not been spared the tensions of the pandemic. Some insisted that our diocese have stringent policies to confront disease; others disagreed. We bring to our worship political and cultural differences which too often lead to disrespect and even anger. Pope Francis reminded us of the closeness that our trust and faith should bring. Whatever our views on pandemic or politics may be, we are called to be people of compassion, courage, and prayer.
Our Easter faith is hared with 1.36 billion people. If we appreciate our closeness to God, the Church, and one another, we can be a people ready to make all things new in Jesus Christ.
Father J. Joseph Ford is a priest of the Diocese of Portland who is retired from active ministry.