We should not allow our faith to be drained by too many discussions of multiple, minor details, but rather, should always keep our eyes in the first place on the greatness of Christianity.
…the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems. If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears.
I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith – a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us. …what matters above all is to tend one’s personal relationship with God, with that God who revealed himself to us in Christ.
Thus spoke Pope Benedict XVI to the Swiss Bishops Conference in 2006. You heard me right, Pope Benedict XVI!
The other day I walked into my friend Father Justin’s room and saw a picture of Pope Benedict XVI kissing a baby. I commented, “We never saw that image on all the websites and newspapers of the world!” You would have thought from the media that Benedict XVI scowled at children. There are two media constructs: Benedict the rigid conservative and Francis the fun-loving liberal–or some variation of these themes.
I know this has been said many times, but I thought I would add my own voice to the discussion. Things are never so simple as the 140-character tweets or headlines would like to make them. But there is another simplification that I would like to challenge: “Pope Francis is saying nothing new.” “He isn’t changing anything.” “This is what the Church has taught all along.”
Pope Francis said himself that the teachings of the Church are clear and that he is a son of the Church. The Pope is a servant to the deposit of faith and the teaching of the Church. He is not “lord” over the Lord’s Word, but–we could say–the first to obey. I’m not sure how anyone could think he would want to do something else.
So, in order to combat the voices that are saying “He is changing everything!”, we have the voices saying, “He is changing nothing!” And then we can go back to our camps–us vs. them–satisfied that we are right (whatever side we are on) and the others are wrong (or left as the case may be). We would then betray the newness that Francis really is bringing to the Church.
And that newness has a name…the New Evangelization.
Pope Francis is carrying out the “mandate” of the world’s bishops and cardinals to be the leader of the New Evangelization (as George Weigel’s book Evangelical Catholicism, written before the election of Francis, convincingly demonstrates). Pope John Paul II told us that the New Evangelization is new in its ardor, in its methods, and in its expressions.
This need for new ardor was evidently in Pope Benedict XVI’s mind when he “retired” as Bishop of Rome, to make way for someone with the energy to take on the Church’s task in this age.
The new methods and expressions are evident in the way Pope Francis teaches. His talk at the Peace Vigil on October 7 was so simple and beautiful and profound all at the same time, understandable in Italian even for someone like me who is just learning Italian. So many of his homilies are so accessible, that we shouldn’t be afraid to read his own words. Yes, his own words, before any media soundbites. Even more than his recent interview (much of which was in reference to internal Jesuit life, with which I am not familiar), I would recommend his letter to the founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica: http://www.repubblica.it/cultura/2013/09/11/news/the_pope_s_letter-66336961/.
This letter demonstrates the New Evangelization in action. And here is the gift of Pope Francis for the Church. He teaches eloquently with his actions, even more so I would say than with his words.
Pope Francis makes me uncomfortable! And yet, my life is changing because of it. When I am tempted to be harsh with people in the confessional–because I am grumpy, not because they have done something wrong–I think of him. It is like he is in the confessional with me!
The other day, when I gave some money to Patrizia, a homeless lady, I looked at her, I touched her hand, I asked her name and told her my name. He taught me that!
So, Pope Francis does not want us to take sides. He wants us to take Christ to those who don’t know him, with our actions and with our words. As believers, we are not trying to “win” in any way that someone else would lose. We want no losers, as St. Paul says to Timothy, “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)
Pope Francis is provocative, provoking me and you to be taken up into God’s desire for man’s salvation. If we are waiting for him to hit the other guys over the head with the truth–so that we can feel safe–we will be sorely disappointed.
Have you made personal contact with the poor because of Pope Francis? Have you become less materialistic because of Pope Francis? Have you spent more time in prayer because of Pope Francis (even if you sometimes fall asleep doing it)? Have you shared your faith with someone out of gratitude for the gift that our Catholic Faith is, because of Pope Francis? Or maybe I should say, because of Christ who has given Pope Francis to the Church at this time?
The New Evangelization is new because Christ is new. “His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22) Pope Francis does new things–just like every true Christian does new things–because Christ is not a memory or a book, but a Person who is living and active today, who says to us today: “Come, follow me.”