Posts Tagged ‘Pope Francis’
March 13, 2016, marks the third anniversary of election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Bishop of Rome. Upon his election in the Sistine Chapel three years ago, he took the name Francis and told us he did so because of his love for St. Francis of Assisi. Over the past three years, many have associated the new pope’s gestures and actions with the “Poverello” or “Little Poor One” of Assisi, perhaps the most beloved saint of the Catholic tradition. One day in the late 12th century, the young Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone (later named Francesco) heard the plea of Jesus from the crucifix in the dilapidated San Damiano chapel on Assisi’s outskirts: “Go and repair my church.” And he certainly did that in his lifetime and through the huge Franciscan family that he left behind to carry forward his dream and continue his work.
We can become easily fixated on lots of eye-catching, buzz-causing externals, great photo opportunities and now famous sound bite expressions that Pope Francis provides for us on a daily basis: A pope who abandoned the red shoes—that were never an official part of the papal wardrobe! A pope who dresses modestly, pays his own lodging bills, rides around Vatican City in a Ford Focus or in foreign cities in small cars. A pope who invites street people to his birthday breakfast. A pope who tells the driver of his vehicle to stop at the dividing wall between Jerusalem and Bethlehem so that he may pray before this glaring sign of division and pain. A pope who invites Muslims clerics to ride with him in the popemobile in the war-torn Central African Republic.
This Roman pontiff specializes in kissing babies and embracing the sick, disfigured broken bodies and the abandoned of society. He knows how to use a telephone—and uses it often. He waits in line for the coat check at the Vatican Synod Hall and delights in holding in-flight press conferences with journalists while many church leaders hold their breath at what will come forth from those now legendary encounters. He has restored Synods of Bishops to their proper place in the church: meetings and encounters of church leaders who speak with boldness, courage, freedom and openness rather than staged gatherings of pseudo-concord.
Many sit back, smile and utter: “What a sea/See change!” “What a revolution!” “What simplicity!” “Wow!” “Awesome!” “Finalmente!”
And for many who are watching all of this with differing forms of angst and shock, they ask: “What is he doing?” “How can he continue at this pace?” “Does he remember that he is the Vicar of Christ?” “Will the Francis reform succeed?” The answer is: “Yes.” Francis’ reform is inevitable because it is not emanating from Assisi, Loyola, Manresa or even from Rome, as significant as those holy places may be! It is based on a great story coming from other lands where we find Bethlehem, Nazareth, Nain, Emmaus, Mount Tabor, Galilee, Jerusalem and the Decapolis: the lands of the Bible. Pope Francis has based his Petrine Ministry on the Gospel of the fisherman of Galilee who was Son of God and Lord, Savior and Redeemer of the human family.
Pope Francis wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving as Jesus has modeled to us on every page of the New Testament. He reminds us day after day that we have a Lord and Master who shared in the joy of the spouses in Cana of Galilee and the anguish of the widow of Nain; a Lord and Master who enters into the house of Jairus, touched by death, and the house of Bethany, perfumed with nard. A Master who took upon Himself illness and suffering, to the point of giving His life in ransom.
Following Christ means going where He went; taking upon oneself, like the good Samaritan, the wounded we encounter along the road; going in search of the lost sheep. To be, like Jesus, close to the people; sharing their joys and pains, showing with our love the paternal face of God and the maternal caress of the church. Francis wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies); and, above all, not to judge others. He has spoken simply, powerfully and beautifully about returning to lost unity. He wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. He is especially conscious of the poor and those who have been marginalized—social outcasts kept on the fringes of society. He has spoken out strongly for the plight of refugees and decried the evil of abortion and euthanasia. He stands for the consistent ethic of life, from the earliest moments of conception to the final moments of natural death.
At the very beginning of his Petrine Ministry, he said loud and clear in St. Peter’s Square: “A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient” (Angelus, March 17, 2013). His rallying cry has been “mercy” for the past three years. Just before Lent this year, Pope Francis’ personal book, The Name of God is Mercy, was simultaneously released throughout the world. The main theme of the book is mercy, and the pope’s reasons for proclaiming a Holy Year of Mercy this year. The centrality of mercy is “Jesus’ most important message.” Mercy is essential because all people are sinners, in need of God’s forgiveness and grace, and it’s especially necessary today, at a time when “humanity is wounded,” suffering from “the many slaveries of the third millennium”—not just war and poverty and social exclusion, but also fatalism, hardheartedness and self-righteousness.
In a very provocative challenge to his newly-created brother cardinals last Feb. 15, 2015, Pope Francis recalled with them that “the church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement.” This means “welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world.”
Pope Francis is very critical of those eager to cast stones. Pride, hypocrisy and the urge to judge others in terms of “preconceived notions and ritual purity” are the targets of his ire. He has chastised church bureaucrats for their “theological narcissism,” and he says in his recent book that “we must avoid the attitude of someone who judges and condemns from the lofty heights of his own certainty, looking for the splinter in his brother’s eye while remaining unaware of the beam in his own.”
On the late afternoon of March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the call to go, rebuild, repair, renew and heal the church. What we have witnessed over the past three years is simply a disciple of Jesus—and a faithful disciple of Ignatius of Loyola and of Francis of Assisi—repairing, renewing, restoring, reconciling and healing the church. There are those who delight in describing the new pope as a bold, brazen revolutionary sent to rock the boat. Others think he has caused a massive shipwreck. But the only revolution that Pope Francis has inaugurated is a revolution of tenderness, the very words he used in his recent major letter on “The Joy of the Gospel” (No. 88).
And the second revolution he has inaugurated is the revolution of normalcy. What he is doing is normal human, Christian behavior. These are the revolutions at the heart and soul of Pope Francis’ ministry. It is his unflinching freedom that allows him to do what he does because he is unafraid and totally free to be himself at the same time of being a most faithful son of the church. It is Francis’ humanity, goodness, joy, kindness and mercy that introduce us to the tenderness of our God. No wonder why he has taken the world by storm, why so many people are paying attention to him, and others are frustrated with his exercise of freedom and his universal outreach. Everything the pope is doing now is not just an imitation of his patron saint who loved the poor, embraced lepers, charmed sultans, made peace and protected nature. It’s a reflection of the child of Bethlehem who would grow up to become the man of the cross in Jerusalem, the Risen One that no tomb could contain, the man we Christians call Savior and Lord. Pope Francis has given us a powerful glimpse into the mind and heart of God.
This Bishop of Rome demands a lot while preaching about a God of mercy, by engaging joyfully with nonbelievers, atheists, agnostics, skeptics and those sitting on the fences of life—many who thought that Christianity has nothing left to add to the equations of life. For journalists and those in media, he has made covering religion and the church interesting, exciting and enticing and rewarding once again. We need the bold, Francis revolution of tenderness, mercy and normalcy now more than ever before.
Lord our God,
We thank you for always providing shepherds to guide the church.
We thank you most especially for Francis,
the one you have chosen to be our chief shepherd
and guide at this moment in history.
Bless him with health and vision, boldness and courage,
wisdom and compassion, and boundless joy and hope.
Make him an instrument of your peace, compassion and mercy,
In your mercy you called Francis and you call each of us
to cling to Jesus, the rock of fidelity and truth.
May Pope Francis inspire us to be better Christians,
faithful Catholics and architects and citizens
of the civilization of love that your son entrusted to us.
We ask this in Jesus’ name, who lives with you forever and ever.
–Father Thomas Rosica
Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., is the CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and English language attaché, Holy See Press Office.
Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.
I was surprised and taken aback when Pope Francis honored Thomas Merton in his speech before the U.S. Congress. It is not that I wasn’t not happy about it, but considering the bad blood between Merton and the American Catholic Church hierarchy — it was quite unexpected.
Who is Thomas Merton? Why did Pope Francis honor him? Is he still relevant for our times?
Thomas Merton was an American writer and intellectual who became a Trappist monk, officially known as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, which is considered one of the strictest Catholic religious orders, in 1941 at the age of 26. Before that, he was a restless young man living a troubled life. But in 1938 he converted to Catholicism; he was only 23 years old. He spent the next 27 years of his life living at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.
It was not an easy decision for him to become a monk, considering his extroverted and gregarious personality. But, above all, it wasn’t easy for him to give up writing. The Trappists are known to live a simple life of prayer and manual labor. And intellectual pursuits, like writing, are not encouraged in the monastery. Fortunately, his abbot, Dom Frederic Dunne, was a man who valued and appreciated Merton’s writing abilities. Thanks to him, thousands upon thousands of people have been and are still inspired by Merton’s books.
In 1948 he wrote his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, which became a best-seller. On a personal note, I read this book when I was in my teens and it changed my life. His autobiography as well as the many books he wrote later inspired not only monks and nuns, but also ordinary people, even non Christians, to live spiritual lives. For Merton, the experience of God’s presence and love is something that is available to everyone.
Later in his life he became a social activist, who was involved in the peace and civil rights movement in the 60s. Unfortunately, this drew heavy criticism from officials of the Catholic Church. This rift between Merton and the Catholic establishment continues to this day.
10 years ago the first national catechism for adults was published in the U.S. Included in an earlier draft was Merton’s story. Sadly, though, his story was removed from the final version. It was a bad decision, because Merton’s story is significant and central to 20th-century American Catholicism.
Two influential Catholic officials considered him a lapsed Catholic, due to the fact that he was involved in dialogue with people of other faith traditions, especially Buddhists. They said he spent his last days “wandering in the East, seeking consolations, apparently, of non-Christian, Eastern spirituality… ” I find this incomprehensible. The Vatican II Council, a gathering of Catholic bishops in the 60s, came out with an official document encouraging dialogue with other faith traditions. In the document, Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, Catholics are encouraged to respect and even learn from other religions. It states:
The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men…
The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions… they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.
Cardinal Wuerl, who was often seen at the side of the Pope Francis during his visit to the U.S., was the chairman of the committee tasked to write the catechism. When the catechism was published, the then U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ president Bishop William Skylstad said they were deeply disturbed by the exclusion of Merton. He said:
Merton, has played a crucial role in the faith journeys of thousands upon thousands of Catholics (as well as other Christians and even non-Christians) both during his lifetime and since his death, and we believe his inclusion in the catechism can and should be a significant way to extend the powerful witness of his life and writings to a new audience.
Merton’s pursuit of a deeper spiritual life led him to embark on a trip to Asia in 1968. During that trip he explored Eastern spirituality and met with people of other faith traditions. One of the most significant persons that he met with was the Dalai Lama, who continues to talk about Thomas Merton as his “brother.”
He met an untimely death, at the age of 53, in Bangkok, Thailand, electrocuted by a faulty fan.
Almost 50 years after his death, Merton continues to be an inspiration to many people, especially through his books.
Pope Francis, in spite of the rejection of Merton by the official American Catholic hierarchy, honored him:
Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.
So, if you ask me: “Is Merton still relevant?” My resounding answer is “Yes!”
And here are some of the reasons why:
Merton was a genuine human being; he was no plaster saint. He didn’t like pretense and phoniness. He had his share of struggles, weaknesses and failures, and didn’t attempt to hide them. He wrote about his doubts and questions. Towards the end of his life he writes:
When I first became a monk, yes, I was more sure of ‘answers.’ But as I grow old in the monastic life and advance further in solitude, I become aware that I have only begun to seek the questions… I have been summoned to explore a desert area of man’s heart in which explanations no longer suffice, and in which one learns that only experience counts…
His Respect for People
During Merton’s Asian trip, John Stier, an American government official, hosted him during his stay at Sri Lanka. As they were discussing Buddhism, Stier asserted that Buddhism was a negative approach to life. Having studied Buddhism in-depth, Merton disagreed with him. Stier says: “He was surprisingly gentle in disagreement, he had a wonderful way about him.” Hundreds of the people that Merton related and corresponded with will agree with Stier’s observation. Merton respected and responded to people in their uniqueness; he accepted them as they are.
Merton is known to have cultivated many interests; he also related with people of diverse cultures, races, and religions. He was capable of communicating with people who had a different background and tradition than his own. He wrote about William Blake, James Joyce, Boris Pasternak, William Faulkner, Louis Zukofsky, Flannery O’Connor. His correspondence was voluminous, having written to a great number of people. Here are few of the names: Jacques Maritain, Erich Fromm, Ernesto Cardenal, Dorothy Day, Catherine Doherty, Aldous Huxley, Bernard Haring, Henry Miller, Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Paul Tillich, Rosemary Radford Ruether, D.T. Suzuki, Rachel Carson, Louis Massignon, Mark Van Doren. This gave him a great insight into the human condition that enabled him to articulate our deepest longings; his insights transcended that of his own life and his own generation.
His Deep Spirituality
Once Merton stated that he didn’t want to have any disciples. He urged people not to follow him but to follow Christ. But in spite of his protestations he has become the spiritual director of many people. He wrote about the spiritual life in a fresh and attractive way; he articulated the depths and riches of the spiritual life in a way that can relate to the modern person. Whether he liked it or not, he guided the spiritual journey of many people, even those who didn’t have any link with any institutional religion. For these people, his writings will continue to be a continual source of inspiration and guidance.
Tomorrow afternoon, Pope Francis will arrive in our country, the Philippines, for a five-day visit (Jan. 15-19). And we’re all excited!
In a country where 80% of the population (80 million) are Catholics, the Pope is expected to be welcomed with a rock-star intensity.
Josephine Graza, a retired government employee, sums it all up:
Filipinos are excited about the visit because people have a lot of problems and have been through a lot of calamities.
Although our country is rich in natural resources, it has always been plagued by a vast inequality in the distribution of wealth and widespread poverty. It is for this reason that one-tenth of the population is working abroad to support their families.
To compound this, our country is hit by 20+ typhoons every year, causing loss of lives and destruction of property among a populace that, for the most part, are saddled with poverty.
Two years ago our country was hit by Typhoon Haiyan, considered as the strongest typhoon in recorded history. Entire villages were destroyed and thousands were killed.
We’re not surprised that Pope Francis opted to spend a significant amount of time in Leyte, the province that was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.
But even before Pope Francis’s arrival pope mania has swept our country. You can see his face in tarpaulins, posters, shirts, dolls, coffee mugs and all sorts of mementos. Someone even wrote a musical entitled Pope Francis, the Musical in his honor.
Rev. Enrique Luzung, a theologian who plays the young Argentinian pope when he was still then known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, admits that reading about Pope Francis’s life and playing him in the musical has been a life-changing experience for him. He adds:
Through him we see the presence of God.
The Pope’s humility, compassion for the poor, and message of God’s mercy has touched not only Rev. Luzung, but also countless numbers of individuals — I and my wife included.
In the words of Marina Bringas, a retired doctor:
You always feel that he cares.
One thing that I and Fr. James Martin have in common is our love for Thomas Merton.
Armed with a prestigious Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from one of the best business and Ivy League schools, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, he was on his way to corporate success.
One day, however, after having a bad day at the office, he decided to watch TV. After flipping channels, his attention was grabbed by a PBS documentary on the life of Thomas Merton. It was a turning point in his life.
The documentary spoke to him in a way that made him decide to be a Jesuit priest.
He’s been a Jesuit priest for 26 years and has become one of the most popular spiritual writers today.
On a personal note, Fr. James Martin is one of my and Jojang’s favorite authors. He writes most of the time about his personal experiences; that’s probably why most people could relate to him.
His simple, direct, and practical way of presenting spiritual truths is what makes his books relevant for our time.
Just recently he was interviewed in a podcast entitled Finding God in All Things. Krista Tippett, the host of the podcast, introduces him with these words:
Before Pope Francis, Fr. James Martin was perhaps the best known and loved Jesuit writing in American life. He’s followed the calling of the founder of the Jesuit order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, to “find God in all things” – and in 21st century forms, as editor of America magazine, but also as a wise and witty presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Stephen Colbert has proclaimed him the chaplain of “the Colbert Nation.” To delve into Fr. Martin’s way of being in the world is to discover the spiritual exercises St. Ignatius designed to be accessible to everyone more than six centuries ago. These underpinned the Jesuit way of “contemplation in action” and are now shaping the Vatican in a new age.
To listen to the podcast, click on the link below:
Last year when Stella Soma answered the phone, he never expected the man at the end of the line. (Stella Soma is the personal assistant to the editor of La Repubblica, Italy’s main center-left newspaper).
Stella: “Who’s speaking?”
Pope Francis: “Papa Francesco.”
The Pope wanted to speak to Eugenio Scalfari, the 90-year-old atheist and founder of the paper.
At first Scalfari thought that it was a joke. But Stella insisted it wasn’t.
He told Scalfari: “No, it’s not a joke, I can’t make the Pope wait, so let me put you through.”
Pope Francis:”Good morning, this is Pope Francis… you asked me for a meeting, and I wanted to do that. Let’s fix a date… Wednesday I can’t . Maybe Monday? Is that OK with you?”
Scalfari: “Any day is fine with me. Monday is fine.”
It wasn’t the first time somebody received a call from Pope Francis. By this time he has made quite a number of personal phone calls. And most of the time the recipients of his telephone calls are ordinary people. That’s why in Italy he’s called the “cold-call Pope.”
After a series of phone calls and private meetings with Pope Francis, Scalfari was impressed. His conclusion: “He is a revolutionary Pope.”
This may be a too generous assessment of Pope Francis.
John Allen, a journalist who has been covering the Vatican for a long time, says: “Pope Francis is not a doctrinal radical. This is not Che Guevara in a cassock.”
Revolutionary or not, Pope Francis is definitely making radical changes in the Catholic Church.
As an astute observer of Pope Benedict’s papacy, he is aware how his predecessor was immobilized by the Vatican’s cumbersome bureaucracy. He also knows the damage done by the many cases of pedophilia among priests. The widespread corruption in the Vatican is certainly uppermost in his mind.
He is beginning to put in place reforms to address these issues. The cardinals who elected him are probably surprised by his moves. They got more than what they bargained for.
It’s no longer business as usual, and the status quo in the Vatican is shaken.
Although Pope Francis admits that he’s not a revolutionary, many Catholics like me are happy with the changes he’s implementing in the Catholic Church. He’s definitely on the right track.
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.
I’m a Catholic, and I just love Pope Francis! He’s now expressing what, all along, I really felt about certain things.
I believe in God, not a Catholic God.
— Pope Francis
Exactly! For me. at the end of the day, religion is really simple. It’s about the love of God. In Christian and Trinitarian terms: it’s simply experiencing the love of God through Christ in the power of the Spirit. After cutting through the maze of theological concepts, legalistic rules, and complex rituals, God is simply a loving God. And His love is not confined to any specific race, nationality, or creed. He is the God and Father of all persons – whether Jew or Greek, Christian or Non-Christian, Believer or Unbeliever. And a person who experiences the love of God shows compassion towards all individuals regardless of their religious beliefs or lack of it.
The church has sometimes locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.
— Pope Francis
Sad to say, this is what religion is all about for many people. Religion is something that is used to browbeat people to submission, and to perpetrate the power of so-called spiritual leaders through the use of legalistic rules and threats. Religion is no longer a venue to love God and serve others but is a means to maintain the status quo, sometimes with very harmful consequences (for example, the financial scandal in the Vatican as well as the sexual abuses committed by some church leaders).
To read the entire article click this link: Pope Francis: “I Believe in God, Not In A Catholic God.”