Saturday, October 12, 2013
I have found myself following closely the words and actions of our new pope, Francis. Maybe it is because of how accessible his words and actions are with technology, and I think part of it is because what he is saying and doing really resonates with me. Truth be told, I like all three popes of my life time – Blessed John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis – they are great, yet very different. Not that I spend a lot of time on the internet, but I came across this blog post by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, who was commenting on how blessed we are to have had three wonderful popes in recent history and how each brought something important to the Church. Fr. Longenecker observed that the traits longed for by the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Cowardly Lion in the movie the Wizard of Oz, were/are possess, even exemplified by these three popes. (I believe Fr. Kavanagh also referenced this movie in his homily last weekend.) Blessed John Paul the Great was a man of courage - not a cowardly lion – who exhibited a great and fearless fortitude–whether it was his triumphant pastoral visits to Poland, his ceaseless travels around the world, his confrontation of heresy and disloyalty, his survival of an assassination attempt or his final, courageous battle with Parkinson’s–played out in public–John Paul was the pope of courage. Benedict XVI is the pope with the brain – far from the Scarecrow character – who with his precision of thought and clarity of expression articulated the fullness of Catholic teaching, liturgy and practice. And now Francis – with his Big Heart Open to God and Others, is no Tin Man, but a man filled with pastoral love and passion for Christ and his people. Fr. Longenecker goes on to write that actually each of these men possess all three of these traits, and that we need each of these traits to be the Christian men and women we are called to be. I have also been following the news report and blog posts that claim that Pope Francis’ radical love and charity for God and others are not compatible with Church teaching and he will ignore or reject what the Church has taught for the past 2000 years. I have read the full interview that many point to when making this claim, and that is not what I took from the wonderful article. Rather, I read that for Pope Francis the most important thing we need to know as Christians (and for non-Christians to know about us) is that we are called to be in a relation with a God of love and mercy. Yes, the rules, structures, and teachings of the Church are important and necessary, but if we miss the point that Jesus saved you and me, then nothing else matters, nothing else makes sense, nothing else has meaning or purpose. Our God is a God of great love and mercy, who desires more than anything to be in relationship with you and me. He is willing to become man to teach us how to love and is willing to suffer and die on the Cross to restore us in relationship with him! This is the saving love experience by Naaman in today’s first reading, who travels a far distance, goes to great effort, and risks embarrassment to be healed by God. This is the same saving love experience by the leper in today’s Gospel, who pleads with Jesus for pity. And this is the same saving love experienced by St. Paul, who in today’s second reading sings with confidence and trust even as he suffers in chains and prison. These men were treated with mercy by God and were healed physically – of their skin disease or blindness – as well as spiritually by our loving God. Going to another quote by Pope Francis – this one I found old-school in the paperback version of the Magnificat and is attributed to the Pope before he was elected pope. He said “Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord. In front of this merciful embrace…we feel a real desire to respond, to change, to correspond.” The men we read about today experienced this merciful embrace and are transformed. After being cured, Naaman proclaims “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” The leper in today’s Gospel returns glorifying God in a loud voice, falling to the feet of Jesus and thanks him. And St. Paul, sing confidently – years after his merciful embrace with our Lord – the ancient Christian hymn: “If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” And we too are transformed when we experience the merciful embrace of God – As Pope Francis describes it: the surprising, unforeseeable, “unjust” mercy…of one who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, and expects from me. Let us never be afraid or hesitate to call out like the leper in today’s Gospel: “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” Let us never be afraid or hesitate to travel far distances and risk embarrassment like Naaman in today’s first reading to experience God’s saving love. Let us never be afraid or hesitate to trust like St. Paul in God’s love, even when we are suffering. The merciful embrace of God awaits you and me. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 5:10 AM