Reflections on following Christ in our contemporary world and discerning ones vocation. "Don't be afraid, dear friends, to take the 'alternate' path indicated by true love: a sober and solid lifestyle, with loving, sincere and pure relations, an honest commitment to studies and work, and the profound interest in the common good."
Pope Benedict XVI to the young pilgrims gathered in Loreto, Italy
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Pope Francis and non-defensive Christianity
My friends in Rome tell me that Pope
Francis is drawing about four times as many people to the Vatican as did both Pope
Emeritus Benedict and Bl. John Paul II.Pope Francis has certainly caught the world’s attention and whether he
is being quoted correctly or not people are showing up to listen.
My own hunch is that many of the people
are ones who have not felt connected to the Church in a while.Why?I
think that the Holy Father is witnessing a non-defensive Christianity and that
people find this extremely appealing and attractive, especially younger
people.Whether through his pastoral
phone-calls, his choice not to reside in the papal apartments, forswearing
security measures and wading into crowds or sitting down with a prominent
atheist for a newspaper interview; Pope Francis is demonstrating a Christianity
secure in itself and comfortable both in its own skin and in the world.He is authentic and authenticity attracts.
The pope has himself said that he is a, “son
of the Church”.He has not changed
doctrine.He thinks with the mind of the
Church but he also demonstrates that he is not afraid to encounter the world, he
is not afraid to be creative and that he recognizes the beauty of the world and
of people while also not being naïve to sin and human weakness.
The authenticity of Pope Francis can
only be born of faith, humility and contact with the poor.When asked how he would define himself, Pope
Francis responded with, “I am a sinner … a sinner upon whom the gaze of Christ
has fallen.”What beautiful words!And words that immediately connected the pope
with every other single person on the face of the earth!We are all sinners upon whom the gaze and
mercy of God has fallen.
A telling picture I have seen of then
Cardinal Bergoglio was a random photo taken of him sitting, obviously tired and
weary, on either a bus or train.The
story has been told of how he would take public transportation whenever
possible during his time in Argentina – demonstrating both his chosen
simplicity of life and his need for being with ordinary people.If other popes have spoken of the “school of
prayer” or the “school of the family”, Pope Francis has truly learned and knows
the lessons and wisdom that can only be acquired from the “school of the poor”.Wisdom acquired from the school of the poor
cannot be faked nor pretended.It is
authentic and it speaks directly to people’s hearts.
I think that it is also of import that Pope
Francis is of an older generation and living a non-defensive Christianity.This should not be underestimated.I think Pope Emeritus Benedict also lived a
non-defensive Christianity but, honestly, too many factors and false
perceptions negated against this message getting out.I think that time and history will
demonstrate this component of Pope Benedict’s papacy.Certainly, Bl. John Paul II proclaimed the
goodness of God and the world but for most young people of today their first
memory of him is rooted not in the athletic hiker and skier pope but in the time
of his physical decline and ill health.
Pope Francis is the first pope of our
era who was not present at the Second Vatican Council.
I have spent my priesthood working with
young people and one thing I have found that truly turns young people off and
shuts their ears is when older generations speak as if theirs was the greatest
generation or when older generations (because the world may be changing in ways
they did not expect) act as if the world is coming to an end!Neither perspective being true and both
demonstrating an inherent narcissism.By
living a non-defensive Christianity, Pope Francis (a man in his later
seventies) is doing neither and I think that young people are picking up on it.
Might a fair question of why young
adults are not present in our churches be partly because these two forms of our
own narcissism leave them no room in our church pews?Honestly, why would a young person want to go
to a place where either he or she is reminded that his/her generation does not measure
up or that there is no future and that everything is coming to an end?Both are denials of the possibility of youth
and are ways of telling younger generations (in subtle and not so subtle ways),
“you don’t really matter”.
Pope Francis is not saying that.He is saying quite the opposite.He is saying, “You do matter.”By living a non-defensive Christianity, Pope
Francis is demonstrating a Christianity of hope and a faith that is certainly
aware of the beauty and gift of the past but also open to the possibility of
the future and he is demonstrating a profound recognition of the dignity and
gift of all generations.