‘You surprised me!’ is the name of a book by Joe Mannath. This poetical title becomes very relevant with the sweet and simple Francis, the pope.
We were all watching this otherwise unassuming and simple shepherd from Argentina to make a difference for the good of the sheep Jesus entrusted to Peter ensuring his irrevocable commitment to love him. Thereafter, it were days of surprise after surprises.
And on 25th Sept I received a mail from one of my friends providing me with an attachment. It was the interview Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal, had in person with Pope Francis on 20th Sept ’13. It was conducted on behalf of La Civiltà Cattolica, Thinking Faith, America and several other major Jesuit journals around the world. See and savor the outright honesty, beauty and boldness befitting an enlightened.
Spadaro starts point-blank: “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” The pope stares at him in silence. He asks him if he may ask him this question. He nods and replies: “I do not know what might be the most fitting description.... I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
This simple man is making waves already, waves of hope in a seemingly drowning/sinking church ship. May be that she has conveniently forgotten a saying attributed to the hard core atheist, Frederick Nietzsche. It is somewhat like this: ‘Christ was a crocodile. Church was built upon it. The crocodile went down and the church alone is seen.’ One of my friends in the early eighties wrote a verse exhorting to make roofs out of crosses without Christ for the poor!
Though the alarm had already been raised with the scandals of child sex abuse, corruption and incompetence, she was sitting rather complacent. May be that Pope Benedict XVI was bold and humble enough to take the lead by stepping down with a clear hint that he was no more competent to lead!
Naturally the worried and anxious faithful were expecting a new shepherd who will steer clear the ship of impending troubles and take it to the safe shores. And they were indeed praying the lord of harvests to send a man of his heart of warmth and understanding and not judging and condemning. Yes, the lord heard the prayers and gave this simple man who preferred to live in the apartment in the Casa Santa Marta, hinting at what is in store for the days to come.
How honest, humble and bold was he to suggest: ‘Who am I to judge?’ He had the heart of Jesus when he asked us not to ‘interfere spiritually’ in the lives of gays, lesbians and so on. Pastors have enough urgent business of nourishing the faithful with the ‘saving love of God’ than judging and penalizing.
The other day he was heard referring to the all encompassing church centre and was again hinting at decentralization. It is better that the local church address the local issues, if necessary only in consultation with the Vatican.
He was eloquent while speaking of greed the minority which begets poverty for the majority. He brands it as ‘idolatry of greed!’
“I did not see myself as a priest on my own. I need a community… I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.” What an awesome understanding of priesthood!
In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds…I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. God is greater than sin…The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost
Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.
Here is a real shepherd God has given to his church ‘to speak freely and say what needs to be said’ – not fearing the loss of favor with people… they are certainly not guarding their flock with the care expected of a shepherd but are acting like hirelings, because hiding behind a wall of silence is like taking flight at the approach of the wolf.’…They are likened to dumb dogs that cannot bark… The lips of a priest, adorning the office of herald, shall guard knowledge, and men shall seek instruction from his mouth…’ (Pastoral Rule of Gregory the Great, Bk 2, 4 in p.609-10 of The Divine Office, Vol. III)
Let me conclude with the first and last lines of the Hindu editorial today: ‘Pope Francis may have been an unlikely successor to Pope Benedict XVI, but he is already emerging as a remarkable pope… For Roman Catholicism, (he) may well be a truly world-historic figure.
Let us try to take clues from this great pope and mend our ways to enable God’s people realize the Kingdom of God in their midst.