November 6: A Church for the dirty

The other pair of images Pope Francis uses to describe the Church, in the passage entitled “A mother with an open heart,” involves the idea of being out in the world, rather than being confined to sacristy or convent. “Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

This remarkable reminder comes right after the paragraph where the Pope speaks of the people the Church should first minister to. “But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, ‘those who cannot repay you’ (Lk 14:14).” He adds, for good measure: “We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.”

So the idea, the image, of a Church “bruised, hurting and dirty” emerges out of that “clear indication,” that “inseparable bond,” that conviction, as Benedict XVI phrased it, that “the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel.”

The opposite of the dirty Church—dirty because it has been out on the streets, among the poor—is the pale, wan Church, cooped up inside the kumbento, content with the status quo. Part of the reason Pope Francis has embraced the new evangelization is the need to end this scandal of complacency. “If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life.”

An open-door Church, a bruised and dirty Church—that is the community of faith they need.

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