Following Francis’ Lead

Papa_Francisco_na_JMJ_-_24072013 (This photograph was produced by Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency. Used with attribution under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.)A while back, I noted that Cathy and I had been invited to take part in a catechist training course offered by our diocese.   We’re following the Echoes of Faith (Plus) curriculum and each week we prepare by watching a couple of videos and complete homework out of the workbook.  The real meat of the course, though, comes in the discussions we have when we meet with the other students — some from our parish and some from other parishes in the area.

The mix of people in the class is fascinating.  Some ar very young, others have been around the block a few times.  Some are cradle Catholics and others are converts.  There are representatives of various cultures and occupations and world views.  The first couple of meetings felt a bit like Junior High dances — everybody sat on the edges and didn’t seem to want to get too involved.  The last few weeks, though, the conversation has gotten much more energetic.

A couple of weeks back, the topic of discussion turned to our involvement in our various parishes and someone asked Cathy how much Evan’s process of discernment influenced our own involvement in the church.

I’ve thought a lot about that question since then.

First of all, if you’re being honest with yourself, you can’t have a child working through discernment without calling into question your own commitment to the Faith.  The same would be true if you had a good friend discerning a vocation or contemplating marriage or thinking about moving across the country to take up a new career or applying to grad school or whatever.  We live in relationship with others and, while comparing ourselves to others isn’t necessarily a healthy thing, it is useful to learn from their experiences.  So, yes, Evan’s discernment has given us pause to reflect.

There’s another influence, though.  Pope Francis is an inspiring leader.  His humility, patience and authentic Christian love are both comforting and challenging.  Most of all, his admission that he is a sinner as much as any of us, is a provocative statement that requires us to make a self-assessment of our own response to God’s call to personal holiness.

Pope Francis shows disarming honesty when he talks about how he was formed into the leader he has become.  In an article covering the incident with the child who approached him during Mass on October 26th, the author cites an incident from Francis’ past:

This kind of patience is something the pope has said he learned over time, according to his biographers Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti. As the auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio once had a train to catch to a retreat at a convent on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. After finishing his work in the diocese, he had given himself just enough time to walk to the cathedral to pray for a few minutes before getting to the train station. As he left, a young man who appeared to have mental health problems approached him and asked for a confession.

He says he felt annoyed, but tried to hide it. Bishop Bergoglio told him to find a father to confess to because he had to go – even though he knew a father wouldn’t be in right away (admitting to his biographers that because the man appeared to be medicated he probably wouldn’t notice). The auxiliary bishop walked away, but then after a few steps turned around with a “tremendous sense of shame.” He recalled later that he was “playing Tarzan,” trying to do too many things, that he had “an attitude of superiority.”

Today he uses it as a lesson to “travel through patience,” he told the two Argentine journalists. “Traveling with patience is allowing time to rule and shape our lives.”

Most of us would likely forget such a moment — perhaps intentionally. Few of us would take it as an opportunity to learn.  To his credit, Pope Francis is trying to spare us the pain of learning such lessons through unpleasant experience.  One of the constant themes in his homilies is the need for inclusion, for ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table of the Lord.

The Church is not the Church only for good people. Do we want to describe who belongs to the Church, to this feast? The sinners. All of us sinners are invited. At this point there is a community that has diverse gifts: one has the gift of prophecy, another of ministry, who teaching. . . We all have qualities and strengths. But each of us brings to the feast a common gift. Each of us is called to participate fully in the feast. Christian existence cannot be understood without this participation. ‘I go to the feast, but I don’t go beyond the antechamber, because I want to be only with the three or four people that I familiar with. . .’ You can’t do this in the Church! You either participate fully or you remain outside. You can’t pick and choose: the Church is for everyone, beginning with those I’ve already mentioned, the most marginalized. It is everyone’s Church!

And there it is.  Right in the middle of the paragraph.  Each of us is called to participate fully in the feast.

In case any of us missed it, the Pope goes on to say:

To enter into the Church is to become part of a community, the community of the Church. To enter into the Church is to participate in all the virtues, the qualities that the Lord has given us in our service of one for the other. To enter into the Church means to be responsible for those things that the Lord asks of us.

Like I said, challenging.  The natural human reaction when called to serve is, “Gee, I’d like to help, but I don’t have the time.”  If that’s your go-to move for getting out of service, Pope Francis has your number.

Open up your heart and listen to what God is saying to you. Allow your life to “written” by God”. Just as the Good Samaritan did when he stopped to help the stranger, we must all listen to God’s voice and sometimes put our own projects on hold to do his will.

Another common objection is, “I’m not really good at that sort of thing.  You don’t want me to mess it up.”  Um…hate to be the one to tell you, but Pope Francis anticipated that little dodge, too.

“The future of a people is right here…in the elderly and in the children,” he said. “A people who does not take care of the elderly and children has no future because it will have no memory and it will have no promise! The elderly and children are the future of a people!”

Pope Francis warned that it is all too easy to shoo a child away or make them calm down with a candy or a game – or to tune out the elderly and ignore their advice with the excuse that “they’re old, poor people.”

“The disciples wanted efficacy; they wanted the Church to go forward without problems and this can become a temptation for the Church: the Church of functionalism! The well-organized Church! Everything in its place, but without memory and without promise! This Church, in this way, cannot move ahead. It will be the Church of the fight for power; it will be the Church of jealousies between the baptized and many other things that occur when there is no memory and no promise.”

So…God doesn’t want our perfection, he wants our service.

And, by the way, am I the only one who thinks it’s kind of cool that the Pope talked about it being “too easy to shoo a child away” in a homily about a month before he was faced with that very situation during a Mass in St. Peter’s square?  Not that it was prophetic, but that he laid out exactly how he thought it should be handled and then handled it exactly as he had laid it out?  There, again, is the authenticity which makes him so inspiring as a leader and such an example of the lives we are to lead.

So, in our own way, following the lead of Pope Francis and acknowledging the call of our pastor, Cathy and I try to find ways to be open and accepting and to put ourselves in service of others.

— Dad

Catechesis

Catechism Lesson - Jules-Alexis MuenierThe Pope says that Cathy and I are special.

Well, not really.  What he said was that catechists are “pillars” for education in the faith.  This came in the context of his remarks to the participants in the International Conference on Catechesis.

This was a neat article for Cathy and I as we are both catechists.  Cathy is in her second year teaching a fifth grade formation class for our parish.  She does sword drills with them (an idea we borrowed from our Protestant friends), has crafts, lets the journal privately and works to help them understand the sacraments.  It’s been a great experience for her.

I’ve been asked to take on a special class for a group of young people who have never had any of the sacraments.  I’ll be meeting them soon to set a schedule and get started.  They range in age (I think) from about eight to about fourteen, so it should be an interesting challenge.  I’m looking forward to it.

Cathy and I have also been invited to take formal catechist training through the Salt Lake Diocese.

So, the article resonated with us.  As is his way, Pope Francis also dropped a challenge in along with the praise.

“This is a beautiful experience, and a bit paradoxical…Why? Because the person who puts Christ at the centre of his life is off-centre. The more you unite with Jesus and make Him the centre of your life, the more He makes you abandon yourself, decentralize yourself, and open yourself to others…In the heart of the catechist, there always lives this ‘systolic- diastolic’ movement: union with Jesus; encounter with the other…If at one of these two movements is no longer beating, then you do not live.”

This reminds me a bit of a story that Fr. Rolheiser shared in a recent column.

A priest friend of mine who teaches at a secular university was once asked by one of his students: “Father, have you met Jesus Christ?” His answer, no doubt, reflected some fatigue: “Yes,” he replied, “I have met Jesus Christ, and it messed-up my whole life! There are days when I wish I hadn’t met him!” What his answer, in its irreverence, correctly highlights is that meeting Jesus implies a lot more than a private, romantic, affective, and safe encounter with him and that meeting Jesus is more than having a private feeling in the soul that we are loved by and secure with God.

Like that tired priest, Pope Francis is reminding us that following Jesus is deeply countercultural and challenging and we cannot expect it to be easy.  As catechists, we have to accept that challenge and expect that we will have moments of doubt and difficulty.  At the same time, Pope Francis reminds us in his gentle, pastoral tone:

This is our beauty and our strength: If we go, if we go out to bring his Gospel with love, with true apostolic spirit , with frankness , He walks with us , before us always [preceding] us.

— Dad