Pope Francis kisses a disabled man after spotting him in the crowd and having his popemobile stop as he rode through St. Peter's Square March 19 ahead of his inaugural Mass at the Vatican.
A sign for this moment in Catholic history
Rev. John Roche, SDB
This moment in the Church and in the world of Western culture is a precarious one. In the past 10 years, theologians and spiritual authors have come together to try to understand the complexities of this time and discern just how God wants the Church, the people of God, to respond.
Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI, edited a wonderful collection of essays on the topic of "becoming missionaries to our children" in the book, "Secularity and the Gospel." I am definitely giving a plug for this collection of essays, because they challenge all of us in the roles of ministry and education to embrace the truth that "the Gospels are up to the task" of finding meaning in this messy, post-modern world.
These essays were culled from four symposia held over a two-year period in Toronto and San Antonio. The consensus was that we are, in fact, living in a "time of diminishment." The moral authority of the Church to shape the culture of our times seems to have vanished. Fewer people bring faith to bear in the major issues of their lives. Some of this, at least, is due to the public scandals and the resulting disconnect many ordinary people feel between their lives and their Church.
The directive and prophetic challenge offered from these gatherings is profound. We are not called as a Church to strengthen our postures of defense nor hide behind the institution. The theologians and spiritual authors turned to the biblical image presented in Philippians Chapter 2 and insisted that the only appropriate response to this age is to imitate the selfless love of Jesus in service. As Jesus totally emptied himself out to be with us, to show us the Father, and to die in obedience, the only response to this present moment is also to empty ourselves completely for the service and witness of love for others, no matter the cost.
I could not help but think of this central revelation contained in this collection of essays as I sat with my community and watched the announcement of the new Bishop of Rome. The new pope had a reputation in Buenos Aires as a shepherd who emptied himself of all pretense, moved into a small apartment, and used public transit to visit his diocese. Now, coming to the window as Pope Francis, he wore simply his white cassock. He asked first for the blessings and prayers of the people before he raised his hands in blessing. Choosing the name Francis also recalls the commission Francis of Assisi received in San Damiano, "Francis, rebuild my Church." Let us pray that these gestures, this name and this humble servant will signal for all of us in this moment a challenge to live the Gospel by pouring out our lives in loving and selfless service. Let us be part of the rebuilding of the Church, not by the correctness of our opinions or by any sign of status. Let us not defend. Let us not pretend. But let us attend to all Jesus calls us to be: to love as he has loved — no matter the cost. May almighty God bless our good Pope Francis with faith and courage.
(Rev. John Roche, SDB, is director of the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Hall in the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley.)
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