By Seán-Patrick Lovett
Unless you are a theologian, the word kenosis is not one you are likely to encounter every day. It comes from Greek and is used by St Paul in his Letter to the Philippians to describe how Jesus “emptied Himself” in order to be totally open and receptive to the will of His Father.
The Bishops of Central America are theologians. They understood exactly what the Pope was referring to. All the more so because kenosis is a word St Oscar Romero uses to describe what the Church needs to be: a humble and poor Church. Because “in the Church, Christ lives among us”.
Christ’s kenosis is young
Pope Francis is in Panama to celebrate the 34th World Youth Day. He told the Bishops it was “a unique opportunity” to encounter, and draw closer to, the experiences of young people, “so full of hope and desires, but also many hurts and scars”. With them, he said, “we can interpret our world in a new way and recognize the signs of the times”.
Young people are like a barometer, said the Pope: they tell us “where we stand as a community and as a society”. In his discourse, Pope Francis made frequent references to the recent Synod of Bishops on Young People. “The future demands that we respect the present”, he said. It’s a question of dignity, a question of “cultural self-esteem”.
The Pope then invited the Bishops to reflect on the issue of migration: “Many migrants have a young face”, he said. “They are not afraid to take risks and to leave everything behind” in their search for a better future. ”We cannot remain indifferent”, said Pope Francis. “Whereas the world discards people, Christ’s kenosis does not”.
Christ’s kenosis is priestly
Returning to the example of St Oscar Romero, the Pope described the murdered Archbishop of San Salvador as “no human resources manager”. Rather, he was “a father, a friend, and a brother”.
“He can serve as a yardstick”, said Pope Francis, “to measure our own hearts as bishops”, asking “How much does the life of my priests affect me?”. Priests, he continued are “on the front lines…they need our understanding and encouragement, our fatherhood”.
Christ’s kenosis, said the Pope, “is the supreme expression of the Father’s compassion”. A parish priest needs to encounter a father “in whom he can see a reflection of himself, not an administrator concerned about ‘reviewing the troops’”.
Christ’s kenosis is poor
Pope Francis concluded his address to the Bishops of Central America by reminding them that “thinking with the Church” means “thinking with the suffering and hope-filled people of God”.
The Pope warned about a “spiritual worldliness”, one that puts “a religious and pious veneer over the desire for power and influence, over vanity and even pride and arrogance”. The Pope confirmed how the Church is only free when “centred in the kenosis of her Lord”.
Again quoting Archbishop Romero, he said the Church “does not want her strength to be in the backing of the powerful or political leaders”. Instead, she “advances with noble detachment”. This translates into clear and practical signs, the Pope concluded: “It challenges us and calls us to examine our consciences about our decisions and priorities in the use of our resources, influence, and position.”