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Finding The True Peripheries: Spiritual Exercise 06/13/22

Please join us Monday 06/13/22 from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm MT (8:30 pm to 10:00 pm ET).

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Opening Prayer: The Memorare

REMEMBER, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.


Finding The True Peripheries

From the beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Francis began speaking about the Church’s call to go out to the peripheries in its evangelization efforts. Even before he was elected, Cardinal Bergoglio had said, “The church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents and of all misery.” He noted: “Mercy is the first thing the Catholic Church is called to bring to those peripheries.”

One thing that seems to escape attention in the commentaries is a better definition of terms. Peripheries are defined by their center. To know the peripheries, the center has to be identified first. If, for instance, your center is well-being and prosperity, then all those farthest away from prosperity, the most impoverished and destitute, become the periphery. If your center is security, then the peripheries would be made up of those with the least security, protection, or chance of living in safety. If power is at the center, then the most powerless would make up the peripheries. 

But if we look at the work of evangelization, we see one center. And all the considerations mentioned above would flow from it. That center, of course, is Jesus Christ and the Gospel message. 

If Christ is the center, then the peripheries have to be understood somewhat differently. The fringes then become those farthest away from Christ. This means that a secular city like Seattle, which may have a higher number of affluent people and prosperous businesses, could be more on the peripheries than a similar-sized city in the Philippines where the people though poor, are living a vibrant faith, exercising a living relationship with God amid their daily struggles for survival but closer to Christ overall. This does not dismiss the call we have to exercise charity and justice in relation to the materially needy. But it is not the same as reaching to the peripheries in this sense.

When Christ is at the center, the peripheries cease to be defined geographically or socio-economically. The arena instead becomes the human person. As Pope Francis has reminded us, mission is not a foreign location. It’s the human person. “Today…every dimension of the human being is mission territory, awaiting the announcement of the Gospel.”  We see this clearly with the latest horrific tragedy in Uvalde, TX and the massacre of 19 innocent children and two teachers. There are “peripheries” in this country we are not reaching.  We will go to a foreign country more easily than reaching to the brokenness in people who live right next to us.

We see many dioceses closing Churches because of a lack of vocations. We see attendance numbers dropping significantly. The “nones” (no religious affiliation) are increasing, and the number of those who have become either agnostic or reject religion altogether is startling. “The field of mission seems to expand every day, with men and women in desperate situations…there is need of you, of your missionary courage, your willingness to take to all the Good News that liberates and consoles.” Pope Francis. Oct. 6, 2016

The literally poor and societally marginalized will never be left out. If we are genuinely linked to Christ, the poor and marginalized will be cared for as a central part of the Church’s outreach. Every day, the Catholic Church feeds, clothes, shelters, and educates more people than any other organization in the world. 

At the same time, Jesus died to save everyone, including those who may be fortunate by the world’s standards but poorest by the Lord’s standards. The measure that we use has to be Christ and the Blood He shed for all souls. In trying to reach to the “peripheries” of today, it is necessary to see oneself in a new light:

“I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing, and freeing.” (Evangelii Gaudium).

That may mean that the “peripheries” in your own life are within your own family or even within your own soul. 

1.  Pope Francis echoes a sentiment of Catherine de Houek Dougherty who said:  “today the field of mission is the broken heart of man where no one wants to go.”  What do you think is the biggest wound in the hearts of people today?

2.  What do you think your particular mission is?  Why did God set you into this time?  What do you bring to God’s people?

3.  How does knowing your own brokenness help you reveal Christ to others?

4. Why is it hard to talk about Jesus to people you know or meet? Why does it take courage today to work in the mission of Christ?

O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! Psalm 34:3

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