“Pope Francis looks ahead and calls for a Church that sets out, because “God’s word constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him ‘to go forth’” (EG20). Those who only look back and want to preserve it, will lose the future. That is why our Holy Father urges us “to move from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry”.” Archbishop Emeritus Robert Zollitsch from Freiburg, and Head of the German Bishops’ Conference up until 2013, chose “Evangelii Gaudium” as the theme for the conference he gave in Würzburg, Germany to commemorate Schoenstatt’s hundred years on November 19, 2014 in collaboration with the Wurzburg Cathedral School. In this conference, he spoke about the vision of the church, given and entrusted to Schoenstatt, based on the image of the church developed by Vatican II, and which is becoming clearer in the light of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis’ roadmap for the renewal of the church. Schoenstatt.org gladly presents this conference to the entire Schoenstatt Family. It will be published – chapter by chapter – over the next four weeks. This week we publish part II: The Church who allows herself to be led by God’s Spirit.
II. The Church who allows herself to be led by God’s Spirit
On 15 October eighty young men arrived in Freiburg. They were running with a burning torch from Valle di Pompeii in Naples to the celebration of the jubilee in Schoenstatt. The shrine of Mary in Valle di Pompeii had been the impulse for Schoenstatt’s founder to ask Mary to choose Schoenstatt to be a place of pilgrimage, as in Valle di Pompeii, where people are given a home and the strength to bear witness to Jesus Christ. These eighty young men wanted to re-ignite the fire that had led to the foundation of the Schoenstatt Movement. No apparition of Mary was to be found at the beginning, nor was a miracle. Feeling his way as he looked at the God-given signs of the times, Fr Kentenich founded and built up his Movement. He proceeded on the assumption that God acts in history, and in this way shows us his will, helping us to recognise his incentives through faith. Together with the Apostle Paul, Schoenstatt’s founder was convinced that it is God who leads us and opens the doors (cf. 1 Cor 16,9; 2 Cor 2,12; Col 4,3), and that what matters is to discover the open gap, instead of remaining standing beside it, and desperately wanting to run our head against a wall.
Those of us who are invited to join the pilgrim road to the promised city must be prepared to allow themselves to be led. Theology tells us clearly that God leads his Church through the Holy Spirit. In the process we have to be prepared for surprises. We all feel how much we like to remain in what we know, and how difficult it is for us to embark on something new and unusual. Those of us who want to allow God and the Holy Spirit to guide them, need great spiritual sensitivity in order not to mistake our own oddities for the Holy Spirit. If we are pilgrims who are on the way together, we have to listen carefully, sensitively and actively, we have to listen to one another and observe others attentively, and what is alive in them. Above all we have to be on the look out together for God, and listen to him humbly. In order to do this, we need ears that are ready to hear, a sensitive heart, and to be on the alert for the message of the Gospel, for the signs of the times, and the questions and hopes of the people. Bernhard Welte, a philosopher of religion in Freiburg, made the profound and still valid observation, “It is a grace to meet someone who is able to employ the art of really listening. Indeed, one gradually comes to the conclusion that the ability to listen well is a greater art than to be able to speak well”.
Sensitivity for God likewise requires sensitivity for people. Indeed, I think that by listening to people we can practice listening to God and living it day after day. Pope Francis’ option for people, and with him the Church, is a clear option to listen to them. We then perceive that they are seeking their salvation; how they come up against their limits – their physical, spiritual and moral limits. We will then hear how they hope that they will not come to grief on those limits; how they long to escape their narrow confines. We will get to know about their longing for a life that God wants to give from the next world in his light.
Pope Francis demands that after the example of Jesus, who became one of us, evangelisers identify to such an extent with the people to whom they are addressing their message, that they even take on the “smell of the sheep” (EG 24). So the Bishop must not only go ahead of his sheep to show them the way, he will at times be in their midst in order that they can experience God’s merciful presence, and on some occasions he will “follow behind the flock”, “allowing the flock to strike out on new paths” (EG 31). He wants us to take the ancient experience “vox populi vox Dei” seriously. ““His mission of fostering a dynamic, open and missionary communion” requires “pastoral dialogue” (EG 31). According to Pope Francis, “Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God” (EG 272). What matters is “to keep [our] ear to the people” “to discover what it is that the faithful need to hear” (EG 154). A “culture of encounter” about which Pope Francis speaks, requires the Church to change from a purely teaching Church to a listening Church. Thus in its Relatio Nr. 3, the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on “the pastoral challenges of the family” spoke about an “obligation to listen in two ways: To listen to the signs of God and to listen to the history of humankind”. While listening to God we have to look outwards, and with this attitude to turn to the people – this is the way of the Church who takes her bearings from Mary, who as handmaid of the Lord listened not only with her ears, but also with her heart, and who was thus all hearing. The Evangelist Luke notes on two occasions that “Mary kept all that had happened in her heart and pondered on it” (cf. Lk 1,19.51). “Mary is able”, Pope Francis continues, “to recognize the traces of God’s Spirit in events great and small. She constantly contemplates the mystery of God in our world, in human history and in our daily lives. … This interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization (EG 288). For “with the Holy Spirit, Mary is always present in the midst of the people” (EG 284).
She encourages us to listen and helps us to do so. We live in a noisy era full of sounds and many words. Walkman and mobile threaten to take complete possession of us. As a result we have all practiced talking (a lot), turning off inwardly and ignoring what we don’t want to hear. An Arabic idiom goes: “There are ten commandments of wisdom. Nine times: Be silent! And for the tenth time: speak little!” In silence and recollection we can practice being able to keep silent, of listening with the heart, and so also to guess what is not expressed in words. In one of his Tales of the Hasidim Martin Buber related how two men were on the road together. The one talked constantly while the other walked silently along until he suddenly interrupted the talker with the question: Do you know what hurts me? The first replied: How am I to know it if you say nothing? To this the second answered: Love means knowing what hurts the other.
Many were surprised that in his Apostolic Exhortation Pope Francis talked a number of times about tenderness. According to him it is part of the “Marian style to the Church’s work of evangelization. Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness” (EG 288). People who love do not need many words. They feel what moves the other, what he or she needs, for what they are longing.
 Bernhard Welte, Vom rechten Hören, in, Fragestellungen einer Akademie” (On listening correctly, in, Questions of an academy), Freiburg 1981.
 Cf. EG 88; 270; 274; 279; 286; 288.
Original: German. Translation: Mary Cole, Manchester, UK