The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle . . . with the mission to heal the wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free [people], to say that God is good, God forgives all, that God is our Father, God is tender, that God always waits for us . . .
—Pope Francis, Homily, Casa Santa Marta
It takes a great deal of courage and pastoral creativity to approach deep wounds, to open closed doors, to receive and speak rightly of God’s forgiveness and affection. As the Echo staff and I work to form Catholic leaders for service in today’s field hospital Church, I am particularly compelled by Pope Francis’ call to “open doors.”St. André Bessette, the Congregation of Holy Cross’s first saint, spent most of his life as a porter for Notre Dame College in Montreal. From his station, St. André came to know those who entered, exited, and passed by the college. He prayed with passersby to St. Joseph, to whom he had a deep devotion, and, despite his own illnesses and frail constitution, he healed hundreds of infirm people. St. André’s position as doorkeeper and the faithful disposition with which he assumed it not only gave him the nearness and proximity to others that Pope Francis is calling for but also the curiosity to get to know the needs of those whom he could have allowed to pass by day after day, as well as the courage to share with them the hope of the Gospel in ways they could receive.
St. André did not just help people pass through a doorway; he helped them cross a threshold, a threshold from anonymous passerby to someone known and loved, a threshold from fear and woundedness to trust in Christ’s healing mercy through the intercession of St. Joseph. If we, in the McGrath Institute’s Echo program, hope to form a new generation of Catholic leaders who are the kind of porters who help people cross thresholds into deeper faith in Christ and love of the world, we, too, must be thoughtful about the doors we open for the Echo students we recruit to serve the field hospital Church.
We open doors to the real Church.
We strive to form Catholic leaders who, like St. André of Montreal, are familiar with their own and others’ need for God and whose formation is situated at the crossroads of human experience and faith in Christ’s saving love. There is a danger in the academy of becoming enamored with our own ideas and sanitized versions of people and institutions. But Echo is not content with disembodied, idealized, demonized, or simplified notions of the Church. Instead, we partner with real and diverse dioceses, parish and Catholic school communities, and experienced catechetical leaders around the country whose placements and skilled mentoring invite Echo students into the complex histories, gifts, wounds, hopes, and mission of the local Church.
We open doors to encountering anew the theological foundations of the faith.
It has been quipped that many young Catholics know more about reincarnation than about the Incarnation. While lack of foundational knowledge of the faith is indeed a challenge to our work, an even greater challenge is the growing sense among people that knowing what or whom the Incarnation is will make no appreciable difference in their lives. The theological education offered to Echo students by the Department of Theology’s M.A. program must help students rediscover the truth of God’s saving love in ways that answer the question “so what?” and reveal the beauty and relevance of what we believe. The right kind of encounter with the theological foundations of our faith, through professors who not only teach the faith but also believe and strive to live it, can help heal the modern fragmented imagination. These encounters inspire in our students a love for the Church and a desire to engage the needs of God’s people with pastoral sensitivity and theological creativity. Echo’s formation does not choose between robust theological education and pastoral experience but has been designed precisely to bring pastoral concerns into constant conversation with the Church’s rich theological tradition.
We open doors to “deep down things.”
Ministry, to its peril, can sometimes be reduced to the endless pursuit of improved programming rather than a deeper relationship with the transformative and healing love of God. We underestimate our human hunger for silence, prayer, beauty, and the need to attend to our interior lives and what the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins described as “deep down things.” The deepest quality of our movements as students and professional ministers in a field hospital Church, depends in part on our ability to keep still, to learn to see and receive beauty, to develop the capacity to hear and heed the still small voice of God, and to cross thresholds into the company of deep down things within the human soul.
The Echo program not only opens doors for students to serve and learn from the real Church, encounter anew the theological foundations of the faith, and attend to one’s interior life. Echo’s distinctively integrative formation demands rigorous, honest, and simultaneous engagement of one’s service, study, prayer, values, habits and relationships—not as a veiled pursuit for self-perfection or aggrandizement but as a humble and relentless effort to conform one’s whole being to love of our Creator and in service to his beloved creation. For if it is the whole person who ministers, then it is the whole person who is the proper subject of formation.