When the smallness of the Church is not insignificant
On Saturday, Pope Francis spoke to the Church of Greece about the value of smallness, because being a small Church - as in the case of the Catholic flock of this country - makes it an eloquent sign of the Gospel. The God announced by Jesus chooses the little ones and the poor, He reveals Himself in the desert and not in the palaces of power. The Church, not only the Greek one, is being asked not to boast and pursue big numbers, but to abandon the wordly desire of wanting to be important and a relevant global player.
Howevwer, Pope Francis also explained that being small is not the same as being insignificant. Being a yeast that ferments silently hidden “within the dough of the world” is indeed the opposite of resigning to a quiet life moved by inertia. As a way forward, the Pope indicates the path of openness to the others, of service, accompaniment, listening, and of concrete witness of closeness to everyone: this is the opposite of a withdrawn Church that does not come out of her shell and is complacent with her own smallness.
Faced with secularization and the difficulties Christians are confronted with today in transmitting their faith, we might be tempted to close up, trying to create perfect communities that withdraw from the world to preserve their small, or very small, flock, waiting for the storm to pass, looking with nostalgia to a past that no longer exists.
On the other hand, another real risk today is that of hyperactivity: we might be tempted to invest all our energies in missionary strategies, thinking that proclamation, witness, and even conversion are not fruits of the Spirit we should give space to, but the result of our skills and protagonism. As a consequence – and, unfortunately, this happens more and more often in our digital age – the risk is that the evangelizer and his ruses rather than the Gospel and its Protagonist become the focus evangelization. Indeed, we need to leave space to the Protagonist: this is the real meaning of conversion as a metanoia, a change of mentality in light of the Gospel.
The smallness Pope Francis refers to is therefore a gift. It is being aware that without the Lord we can do nothing and that it is God who precedes us, converts, supports, changes. And this awareness is also precious for the Churches that are still numerically significant: the opportunity offered by the synodal path that has just begun can help the Christian communities to free themselves from the snares of bureaucracy, clericalism, institutionalism, to build, or rebuild, a fabric of human relationships, in which witness flourishes.