On a number of occasions during the past six plus years, Pope Francis has called his listeners to live out the Gospel with parrhesia. Parrhesia is not a word you hear every day, so why is Pope Francis using it, and what is he trying to communicate when he does?
It is impossible to get inside the mind of Pope Francis to identify why he has chosen to use this word instead of others, but there are some clues both from history and the context of when Pope Francis uses the word that shed some light on why he might be encouraging us all to adopt a posture of parrhesia as we take up the Church’s mission in the world.
In ancient Greece, to speak with parrhesia was to speak with frankness and forthrightness. To speak with parrhesia was to speak your mind in a way that neither hid your intentions nor sought to manipulate your hearer. If a person spoke with parrhesia, there was no doubt about what was being said. A person speaking this way does so openly, refusing to hide from a person he or she might be critiquing.
The Greek word parrhesia appears in the writings of the New Testament more than 30 times. There, its meaning is similar to how it was used in the writings of ancient Greece, but it takes on a distinctive Gospel character. For example, in the Gospel of St. John when Jesus speaks with parrhesia, he is not speaking figuratively. He is speaking plainly of the love of God and the demands that it makes on us as we respond to him.
When the word is applied to Jesus’ disciples in other New Testament writings, its meaning shifts. It still describes a way of speaking that is frank and not circuitous, but it also means speaking with boldness. It describes a way of living and speaking with confidence in the truth of the Gospel. To speak and live with parrhesia is to do so with courage to respond to the Holy Spirit’s invitation to transform creation toward the kingdom of God, even in the face of opposition. Similarly, when Pope Francis uses the word, he is exhorting his listeners to speak boldly, to speak with courage, and to testify to the Gospel while doing so. This is seen in two contexts where he often uses the word.
First, he often uses the word when speaking to large gatherings of Church leaders. Pope Francis has made it clear that he longs for the Church to engage in synodal practices—to discern together how the Church is called to respond to the Spirit and carry forth the Gospel as one body in mission to the world. In these settings he is calling bishops and laity alike to speak boldly and courageously, even in the face of disagreement. He is exhorting the Church to allow disagreements over the ways it is called to carry forward the Gospel to be aired openly and with charity so that, together, through dialogue and prayer, the Church might discern how to respond to the Spirit today.
Second, Pope Francis often uses the word when discussing the nature of missionary discipleship. Especially when travelling, he calls the baptized whom he encounters to act with courage and boldness, even in the face of resistance from those whose privilege or power is threatened by Jesus’ word that the kingdom of God is good news for the poor and the oppressed. In this sense, the pope is calling the Church to act in ways that are similar to St. Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke the truth of the Gospel in the face of persecution and opposition without fear.
Early in his ministry as pope, Francis reflected on the mission of Barnabas to the gentiles in a homily. He stated, “Today, let us think about the missionary nature of the Church: these disciples who took the initiative to go forth, and those who had the courage to proclaim Jesus to the Greeks, something which at that time was almost scandalous. Let us ask the Lord for this parrhesia, this apostolic fervor which impels us to move forward, as brothers and sisters, all of us: forward! Forward, bearing the name of Jesus.”
This encapsulates Pope Francis’ vision of cooperating with the Holy Spirit’s work through parrhesia. He is summoning the Church to proclaim the Gospel with boldness, as one body, journeying together in patient dialogue with one another and the Spirit, discerning how the kingdom of God might be built up in our midst.
SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
As we begin this new season, our readings remind us of a significant outcome of our Christian faith: we are called to be witnesses. John’s Gospel presents the Baptist differently from the other Gospel accounts: the prophet does not dress in an austere manner or challenge people with a rhetoric of fire and doom. Instead, the Baptist is portrayed as a witness, one of many throughout John’s Gospel, to testify to the person of Jesus. In today’s Gospel, the Baptist identifies Jesus as superior to him: “A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.” The Baptist testifies to Jesus’ baptism and the Spirit descending upon Jesus and concludes by saying: “I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
The prophet Isaiah testifies to another figure, the servant, whose task is to lead the Israelites back to God. He reminds them that they are to be witnesses to all the nations of the world: “I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This servant foreshadows Jesus’ mission of witnessing to all people God’s plan of salvation.
In greeting the community in Corinth, Paul identifies himself as an Apostle, sent to testify to the message of Jesus Christ throughout the world. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are “called to be holy” and that their lives are transformed by the person and message of Jesus Christ.
We also are called to be holy and, through our Baptism, our lives are to witness to the person of Jesus Christ.
The First Reading relates the role of the servant as a light to the nations so that salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. Christ fulfilled the role of the Suffering Servant as he followed his Father’s will to the cross. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “By his loving obedience to the Father, ‘unto death, even death on a cross’ (Phil 2:8), Jesus fulfills the atoning mission of the suffering Servant” (#623).
In her call to holiness, the Church provides guidance through social doctrine formed through reflection on the complex realities of human existence and in light of faith and Church tradition. Sollicitudo rei socialis states: “The teaching and spreading of her social doctrine are part of the Church’s evangelizing mission. And since it is a doctrine aimed at guiding people’s behavior, it consequently gives rise to a ‘commitment to justice,’ according to each individual’s role, vocation and circumstances” (#41).
The reading from Corinthians notes that Paul was called to be an Apostle through “the will of God.” Through Baptism, all Christians are to “be a light,” as Isaiah proclaims. Ad gentes states, “The members of the Church are impelled to engage in this missionary activity because of the charity with which they love God and by which they desire to share with all people the spiritual goods of both this life and the life to come” (#7).
For Your Reflection: As you pray the Our Father, do you perceive the words “thy will be done”? How do you allow God’s light to be reflected in you? What role does humility play in your life?
MEMORIAL OF ST. MARIANNE COPE
Thursday, January 23, 2020
Though leprosy scared off most people in the 19th century Hawaii, that disease sparked great generosity in the woman who came to be known as Mother Marianne of Molokai. Her courage helped tremendously to improve the lives of its victims in Hawaii, a territory annexed to the United States during her lifetime (1898).
Mother Marianne’s generosity and courage were celebrated in her May 14, 2005, beatification in Rome. She was a woman who spoke “the language of truth and love” to the world, said Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes. The Cardinal called her life “a wonderful work of divine grace.” Speaking of her special love for persons suffering from leprosy, he said, “She saw in them the suffering face of Jesus. Like the Good Samaritan, she became their mother.”
On January 23, 1838, a daughter was born to Peter and Barbara Cope of Hessen-Darmstadt, Germany. The girl was named after her mother. Two years later, the Cope family emigrated to the United States and settled in Utica, New York. Young Barbara worked in a factory until August 1862, when she went to the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis in Syracuse, New York. After profession in November of the next year, she began teaching at Assumption parish school.
Marianne held the post of superior in several places and was twice the novice mistress of her congregation. A natural leader, three different times she was superior of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, where she learned much that would be useful during her years in Hawaii.
Elected provincial in 1877, Mother Marianne was unanimously re-elected in 1881. Two years later the Hawaiian government was searching for someone to run the Kakaako Receiving Station for people suspected of having leprosy. More than 50 religious communities in the United States and Canada were asked. When the request was put to the Syracuse sisters, 35 of them volunteered immediately. On October 22, 1883, Mother Marianne and six other sisters left for Hawaii where they took charge of the Receiving Station outside Honolulu; on the island of Maui they also opened a hospital and a school for girls.
In 1888, Mother Marianne and two sisters went to Molokai to open a home for “unprotected women and girls” there. The Hawaiian government was quite hesitant to send women for this difficult assignment; they need not have worried about Mother Marianne! On Molokai she took charge of the home that Saint Damien de Veuster had established for men and boys. Mother Marianne changed life on Molokai by introducing cleanliness, pride and fun to the colony. Bright scarves and pretty dresses for the women were part of her approach.
Awarded the Royal Order of Kapiolani by the Hawaiian government and celebrated in a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, Mother Marianne continued her work faithfully. Her sisters have attracted vocations among the Hawaiian people and still work on Molokai. She was canonized a saint in 2012.
WORLDWIDE MARRIAGE ENCOUNTER
Worldwide Marriage Encounter is a weekend for married Christian couples who value their relationship and desire a richer, fuller life together. By participating in a Marriage Encounter weekend you learn the tools needed to keep your marriage strong. It’s not a retreat, nor a marriage clinic, nor group sensitivity. It’s a unique approach aimed at revitalizing Christian marriage.
This is a time for you and your spouse to be alone together and to rediscover each other and together focus on your relationship for an entire weekend. Every marriage deserves that kind of attention!
--Rediscover the spark that was there on your wedding day!
--Rediscover the best friend you had when you were first married!
--Join the millions of couples worldwide who have learned how to keep their marriage vibrant and alive!
The next Joliet Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend will take place on February 15-16, 2020 and on March 7-8, 2020. Google “Worldwide Marriage Encounter,” go to Joliet section, then to “Registration,” and you are on your way to a marvelous weekend. Don’t delay; do it now before you forget or just put off making a decision.
SECOND COLLECTION NEXT WEEKEND
Next weekend in all parishes throughout the United States we take up a second collection for the Church in Latin America. This collection supports groups like the Federacion San Jose de Guadalupe, a network of 37 monasteries of Carmelite nuns throughout 21 states in Mexico. With your support of the Collection for the Church in Latin America, you help cover the cost of food, clothing, and health care for 35 women in all stages of formation so they can eventually commit to God for life. The formation process includes annual courses on church teaching, as well as spirituality in the Carmelite tradition of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. Through the efforts of the Federacion, sisters receive religious formation not only as individuals but also in solidarity with their communities and with the other monasteries in the Federacion. The contemplative prayer of the Carmelite Order lies at the heart of the Church’s prayer of intercession for the many needs of the world and of humanity.
Religious sisters and nuns are the very heart of the Church. By supporting their material and educational needs, you help them give their gifts of selfless prayer and service to the Church and to the entire world. Your generosity ensures that their mission continues into the future.
A CHUCKLE FOR THE NEW YEAR
The following was overheard at a recent “high society” party.
“My ancestry goes back all the way to Alexander the Great,” said Christine.
She then turned to Miriam and asked, “How far back does your family go?”
“I don’t know,” replied Miriam. “All of our records were lost in the flood.”