“One of the ministries most urgently needed in the church and the world today is the ministry of building bridges; bridges that can reach across the barriers that divide and separate us. All in the church, from its highest leaders to its newest members, must become engaged in this ministry so that, as Jesus said, “all may be one, as you and I are one”. . . That all the many gifts and charisms that are a part of our great diversity may be united in service to our primary mission of evangelization. This calls for the involvement of the entire people of God and requires a new fervor, new methods and a new expression for announcing and witnessing of the Gospel. This demands a new style of pastoral life marked by profound communion and fruitful cooperation, always respecting and fostering the different roles, charisms and ministries present among us. So that we can accomplish God’s wonderful work of reuniting the whole human race.”
Lofty thoughts? I wish I could claim what I just said, but I am simply quoting—Pope John Paul II’s “Apostolic Exhortation” Pastores Dabo Vobis. Between you and me, I think he lifted this from our founder, Father Jordan’s “Apostolic Exhortations”. . . I’m just sayin’!
Speaking of a pope, one of his major titles is “Supreme Pontiff,” from the word Pontifex: “pons + facere.” This Latin etymology means “bridge builder.” You can’t make this stuff up. Go ahead and Google it (not now, please . . . I am not finished yet).
I did Google the definition of a bridge: “It is an arrangement made to cross over an obstacle without closing the way beneath.” We too are called to be pontiffs, bridge builders, to build bridges that cross over obstacles and connect us, without closing the way beneath us, without burying what lies deep within us. Sadly, we are becoming more and more divided and less unified as a people of God. We are finding it harder and harder to bridge gaps between us. Honestly, look at who we are: conservatives, liberals, traditionalists, progressives, essentialists, neo-essentialists, liberationists, feminists, socialists, existentialists, behaviorists, professionals and even a mix of all of the above. That is why building bridges requires a hard hat. It can cause serious brain damage. And even more so, damage to our spirit. This work is not for sissies.
We are to build suspension bridges, which can suspend judgment before reacting with arrogance and disrespect; be it on a school bus or in our own communities. We are to build drawbridges that can be opened, to welcome bigger concerns than just our own agendas and sense of righteousness. We are to build composite bridges of civil conversations that try to understand, instead of trying to blame. And it is not a question of always having to be on the same side of the bridge. We can agree to disagree. Extremes are just not helpful. Not now. Polarizing stances, divisive attitudes, explosive reactions, be it in politics, media, or the church, these create obstacles and close what’s beneath and within us. . . . our very souls. These destroy, they do not build, be it in religion, politics or media. Are we so caught up in believing that one of us holds the corner on the trestle of truth that we are willing to topple our connection as one family of God into a sea of pride and chaos?
There is a necessary tension in building bridges . . . there is a toll to be paid . . . a price we are called to pay . . . a tension. There is always a natural tension in the creative process, and that is when the Holy Spirit intercedes. That tension can lead to creativity or destruction. It is our choice, as we trust in Divine Providence to guide and engineer our construction.
Christ declared “that they may be one, as we are one.” We as Salvatorians express the uniqueness of our charism of being one family, religious and laity, men and women alike, together in mission. Now it is time to stand up and give witness to this dream of our founder and, dare I say, our God. Let us be courageous enough to continue to build this dream. As Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Archbishop Romero adds: “We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”
Thank you, my committed workers, for the foundation you have blessed us with, as we continue construction in the years ahead! Let us join together, like a bridge, yes, “over troubled water,” laying down our very selves to build bridges of hope for the church and world! God bless you, and let us be pontiffs for our times.
Editor Note: This is the Reflection given by Father Joseph Rodrigues at the Installation of the new Leadership of the Society of the Divine Savior, Salvatorians.