On May 24th, Fr Thomas Rosica delivered the Carr Lecture at St. Mark’s, UBC in Vancouver on the theme: “Preaching and Communicating in a Franciscan Era: What is the Church Learning from an Argentine Jesuit Pope?"
The lecture was given to a large audience in St. Mark’s chapel on the eve of the Convocation for St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi Colleges. During the Convocation ceremony on May 26th, Fr. Rosica received from the college an Honorary Doctorate of Sacred Letters conferred by the Chancellor, Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, President Peter Meehan, and Board Vice-Chair Michelle Chang. Below is the full text of Fr. Rosica’s address at the Carr Lecture:
Preaching and Communicating in a Franciscan Era:
What is the Church Learning from an Argentine Jesuit Pope?
St. Mark’s College at the University of British Columbia
May 24, 2018
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Your Grace, Archbishop Miller,
Dr. Peter Meehan,
Members of the Board of Directors of St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi Colleges,
I would like to express my deep gratitude to you for the privilege of delivering this year’s Carr Lecture at St. Mark’s College in Vancouver. This prestigious lecture series is named after a great Basilian priest from Ontario – Fr. Henry Carr. At the beginning of the last century, Fr. Carr played a very key role in turning a small Catholic institution focused on preparation for the priesthood into an excellent arts college, fully federated with the University of Toronto. Federation broke the long period of isolation from the mainstream of Canadian university life and made St. Michael’s College one of the earliest English-language Roman Catholic colleges in Canada to provide higher education in partnership with a secular institution.
While at St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Fr. Carr promoted excellence in Catholic higher education, bringing well-known Catholic scholars to the college and co-founding in 1929 what would become the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, a most respected, world-renowned research institute located on the campus of St. Michael’s College. A champion of the model of federation, Father Carr went on to head similar Catholic institutions at the universities of Saskatchewan and here in British Columbia. At each of these institutions, he was directly involved in their federation with the university, viewing federation as the best solution for Catholic colleges in an age of increasing secularization, and he never advocated for the stand-alone Catholic university, which was the dominant model in the United States. Fr. Carr’s initial intuition was prophetic for Catholic higher education in Canada today. He also embodied the charism of the Basilian Fathers in a remarkable way: the never-ending pursuit of goodness, discipline, and knowledge.
At the heart of Fr. Carr’s vision were two outstanding qualities so essential for our efforts in higher education: dialogue and friendship. While the Church can offer a broad theological vision that focuses on the interconnectedness of all things, it cannot pretend to have all the answers to specific concrete questions. In these circumstances, honest debate must be encouraged that respects divergent views. This means that the Church itself should be included in the dialogue, but it also means that voices currently not in the debate need to be included. Dialogue is the mark of a conversion away from selfish fragmentation and toward an openness toward others that challenges us truly to understand the plight of our fellow human beings. Such dialogue cannot take place from a position of insularity but requires radical and generous openness to the other that is both born from, and leads to, a growing awareness of the interconnectedness of all things. This dialogue is rooted in a willingness to be truly attentive to the other to such a degree that love for the other characterizes our interactions with them.
The second stellar quality of Fr. Henry Carr was his understanding of friendship. If Canadians representing different cultural and religious traditions are going to be engaged with one another through agreements and partnerships in both education, healthcare, and other endeavors, then their leaders must be men and women who are able to create relationships around a common cause. Fr. Carr was once quoted as saying about university federation: “Insist on your rights, and you will get what you deserve: nothing. But act as a friend, and be a friend among friends, and the most cumbersome legal machinery will roll smoothly on.” For Fr. Carr, friendship and personal relationships were the first and proper currency of federation, and nowhere is this more evident than in Canadian confederation itself. He understood well the meaning of dialogue and the “culture of encounter” of which Pope Francis speaks so often.
As Catholic pastoral ministers, communicators, educators, and students, if we are going to communicate the truth of our Catholic faith to those who do not share it, or even are hostile to it, on the campus of Canadian universities, we must never forget that our faith is best revealed to them, not through preaching and moralism, but through the disciplines of the humanities, including theology, and fine arts, and social sciences and empirical sciences. It is through those disciplines that we can point to the sacramental activity of God at work in our world. For it is within these disciplines that the Catholic intellectual tradition comes alive and is most accessible, even to those least disposed to it. It is through these disciplines that we lay the groundwork for authentic evangelization of culture.
Pope Francis’ Evangelization Strategy
In order to understand Pope Francis’ evangelization strategy, it is important to recall a particular moment during the pre-conclave meetings of the College of Cardinals in March 2013. I was working in the Holy See Press Office during those memorable and intense weeks and witnessed up close the ending of the “Benedictine” era and the first moments of the “Franciscan” era. In those intense sessions of the Cardinals that took place behind closed doors in the Vatican Synod Hall, the Pope’s “senate” discussed the situation of the Church and was not encumbered with funeral preparations as in previous meetings during interregnums. Those were decisive meetings that outlined the plan of action for whomever would be elected Pope.
In one of the “interventions” to the assembled Cardinals on Friday morning, March 7, 2013, one cardinal gave a brief yet riveting talk on “The Sweet and Comforting Joy of Evangelizing.” “Evangelization,” he said, “is the raison d'être of the Church. …It is Jesus Christ himself who impels us from within.” The Cardinal then described evangelization in four points:
“To evangelize implies apostolic zeal. To evangelize implies a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries not only in the geographic sense but also the existential peripheries: those of the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance, of doing without religion, of thought and of all misery.
When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referent and then she gets sick. The evils that over the course of time happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in a self-reference and a sort of theological narcissism. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Evidently the text refers to his knocking from outside in order to enter but I think of the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out. The self-referent Church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him come out.
When the Church is self-referent without realizing it, she believes she has her own light. She ceases to be the mysterium lunae and gives way to that very great evil which is spiritual worldliness. (According to Henri deLubac, SJ, it is the worst evil that can come upon the Church). The self-referent Church lives to give glory only to one another. In simple terms, there are two images of the Church: the evangelizing Church that comes out of herself: the Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidente proclamans, (the first words of the Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation that can be translated as “Hearing the word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith”) and the worldly Church that lives within herself, of herself, for herself. This must give light to the possible changes and reforms which must be made for the salvation of souls.
Thinking of the next Pope, he must be a man who from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to come out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother who lives from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”
The Cardinal who spoke those words in the Vatican Synod Hall that Friday morning would be elected Pope the following week on March 13, 2013. In that brief intervention (as it is called in Vatican language), the future Pope presented a Mission Statement or plan of action that we have seen actualized and realized over the past five years. One could sum up Cardinal Bergoglio’s thought that day with these words: the Church is in the business of evangelization and she is only effective when she goes outside of herself and encounters people on the geographical and existential peripheries of life.
Over the past five years, Pope Francis has been modeling for us Fr. Carr’s great qualities: friendship, dialogue, and encounter as he teaches us how to evangelize, catechize, teach, inspire, and engage the culture around us. There is certainly a time for confronting the culture with the message of the Gospel and the Church, but such “confrontation” must be done with civility, conviction, and charity. We need to show the culture and the people of our times that we're not against them, that we have a compelling story, and that the story can change their circumstances. When that happens, people will listen… as they stop and truly hear and receive the messages of this Pope who has come to us from the ends of the earth.
Pope Francis and preaching
It is encouraging to see how much of Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) Pope Francis devotes to the homily and preaching (chapter III, 135-159). The Pope warns about the homily becoming a form of entertainment, and he is hard on some TV Bible-thumping preaching of the Gospel because the TV preachers are preaching themselves rather than Jesus Christ. We preach Jesus Christ and the kerygma, and we need to remember that Jesus is the message and we the messengers, not the opposite. The Pope encourages preachers to keep their homilies brief and not have them take on the appearance of a speech or a lecture. If we preach for 20 minutes or more, the pope contends, the liturgy loses its balance and rhythm. We can judge a pastor’s closeness to his people by his relevance. The Pope insists that we need to be out in the marketplace and know the heart of our community. We need to address real life, daily issues of our flocks and be tuned in to their wavelengths.
Pope Francis is blessed with a vivid imagination and uses vivid examples like “the Church is a field hospital, not a museum,” “we need to have the smell of the sheep,” “we can become mired in mediocrity,” “frills of fashion,” “throwaway culture.”
“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
“God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”
“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel.”
“Abortion isn't a lesser evil, it's a crime. Taking one life to save another, that's what the Mafia does. It's a crime. It's an absolute evil.”
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
His use of stories has been very powerful and at times very moving. For Francis, what counts is to use images that are practical, familiar, and close to home. They colour the canvas of our homilies and act as multi-faceted diamonds on display.
Prayer and Fervor
Pope Francis also frequently emphasizes the need to set hearts on fire. Francis encourages ministers of the Word not to preach homilies that are moralistic, doctrinaire, or full of extensive biblical exegesis. We need to have warmth in our tone of voice, joy in our gestures, and be unpretentious in our manner, which might mean not bawling out people or finger pointing. The Pope insists that we cannot offer words which have not penetrated and transformed us. That is why prayer is so important, so that we let God’s Word challenge and impel us to preach with vigor, passion, and enthusiasm. We must have a lively desire to hear the Word first and let it move us deeply until it becomes incarnate in our daily lives. We must challenge God’s people on thorny issues like racism, sexism, immigration, the death penalty, euthanasia, abortion, consumerism, and materialism.
The art of dialogue
In his masterful encyclical letter Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home of 2015, Pope Francis reminds us that human beings find themselves in a state of deep fragmentation from each other and from the created order itself. Although “we were made for love,” we find ourselves isolated from one another and from creation. Pope Francis argues that all creatures are interconnected, but we cannot even see our connection with our fellow human beings. We exist in bubbles of our own making that shield us from actual encounter with other people, having organized our lives in such a way that we keep ourselves “from direct contact with the pain, the fears, and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.”
It is this conception of human relationality that compels Pope Francis to emphasize dialogue as key to the moral and spiritual conversion of humankind. Dialogue appears to be for the Pope an orientation towards the human and non-human other that opens humanity up fully to the possibility of real transformation. In contrast to the selfish individualism that currently dominates, Pope Francis argues that an orientation of dialogue is rooted in an understanding that each person and creature has an inherent dignity and worth, that we are interconnected and interdependent, and that each person and creature has something worthwhile to say to us. Unless we go out of ourselves toward the other, the current technocratic paradigm will continue unabated with the end result being the decimation of creation and human society.
To the peripheries
Jesus asked his followers to go to the ends of the earth, not just to places where they felt comfortable. He did not sit around in Capernaum waiting for people to come to him. He spoke in a language that people understood and used media that people found accessible. Using parables, he was not afraid of being seen as undignified by talking about commonplaces like mustard seeds or sheep. The Son of God did not see that as beneath him. And if he did not consider speaking in familiar styles as undignified, then why should we?
In Pope Francis’ 2015 Message for the World Day of Communications, he reminded us that “modern media, which are an essential part of life for young people in particular, can be both a help and a hindrance to communication in and between families. The media can be a hindrance if they become a way to avoid listening to others, to evade physical contact, to fill up every moment of silence and rest, so that we forget that ‘silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.’ The media can help communication when they enable people to share their stories, to stay in contact with distant friends, to thank others or to seek their forgiveness, and to open the door to new encounters.”
Whereas he can be called many things over the past five years, Pope Francis’ blunt assessment of the epidemic of fake news reveals an elderly pastor and world leader who is sophisticated, astute, wise, and bold in naming evil for what it is. His analysis also indicated how far the Church has come in her understanding of media and communications. In his message for this year’s World Communication Day that is normally commemorated on the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Pope Francis blamed the serpent in the Garden of Eden for hissing out the first fake news to Eve! Such was the Pontifical assessment of the phenomenon of fake news. It didn’t start in newsrooms or other media agencies. It all began in the book of Genesis! Pope Francis wrote: “The strategy of this skilled ‘Father of Lies’ (Jn 8:44) is precisely mimicry, that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments.”
The effectiveness of fake news is primarily due to its ability to mimic real news, to seem plausible. Secondly, this false but believable news is “captious,” inasmuch as it grasps people’s attention by appealing to stereotypes and common social prejudices and exploiting instantaneous emotions like anxiety, contempt, anger, and frustration. The ability to spread such fake news often relies on a manipulative use of the social networks and the way they function. Untrue stories can spread so quickly that even authoritative denials fail to contain the damage. The difficulty of unmasking and eliminating fake news is due also to the fact that many people interact in homogeneous digital environments impervious to differing perspectives and opinions. Disinformation thus thrives on the absence of healthy confrontation with other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue; instead, it risks turning people into unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas. The tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonizing them and fomenting conflict. Fake news is a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes and leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred. That is the end result of untruth. The capacity to twist the truth is symptomatic of our condition, both as individuals and communities. On the other hand, when we are faithful to God’s plan, communication becomes an effective expression of our responsible search for truth and our pursuit of goodness. Pope Francis has argued that the most “radical antidote” to the scourge of fake news lies in “purification by the truth.” For us Catholic Christians, this simply means living the truth through faith in Jesus Christ, who said about himself that he is the truth and “the truth will set you free.” The truth leads to dialogue and “fruitful results.”
New Horizons & Pastoral Challenges of Social Media
Speaking recently on May 1 of this year “to directors and employees of Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, Pope Francis said that the use of new digital platforms not only requires significant technological updates but also a willingness to accept that ‘the attachment to the past may prove to be a dangerous temptation.’
“Catholic journalists and news organizations must realize that ‘only by shutting down the noise of the world and our own gossip will it be possible to listen, which remains the first condition of every communication.’ Particularly in today's world where ‘the speed of information surpasses our capacity of reflection,’ he said, church members are exposed ‘to the impact and influence of a culture of haste and superficiality’ and risk reducing the church's mission to a ‘pastoral ministry of applause, to a dumbing down of thought and to a widespread disorientation of opinions that are not in agreement.’”
The Pope has spoken of the example set forth by St. Joseph, who “is a reminder for all Christians working in the field of communications to ‘recover a sense of healthy slowness, tranquility and patience.’ ...Recalling the words of Blessed Paul VI,” (soon to be canonized) “Pope Francis said that Catholic newspapers shouldn't just report news to ‘make an impression or gain clients’ but rather to educate their readers ‘to think, to judge’ for themselves.”
One of the most important contributions of the Church in the whole area of Social Media is our ability to ask significant questions of all those who live in the digital world. Does online life threaten to obliterate religious tradition and memory? What are Facebook, Twitter, and even the online version of our favorite newspapers doing to our attention spans, our ability to concentrate, the quality of our worship and reflection, our relation to the corporeal world, and our relationships with people and communities therein? What is digital citizenship and social networking doing for us? What is it doing to us? What is it doing to our sense of social boundaries? To our sense of individuality? To our friendships? We expose everything, but are we feeling anything? Digital social media are real places where people gather – like a town square or fellowship hall-and we must be present in these places just as we would be present in any of these other physical locales. If we are not there, then we are ceding the space to someone else. Our external technologies will certainly continue to advance. What is very uncertain is whether our inner technologies of consciousness will grow along with them. We need to make sure we connect to that place inside us of ease and focus, the creative mind. This is where we pastoral ministers have a critical role to play.
Pope Francis warns us: “some people… want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off.” He continues, “the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 88)
In the digital world, no matter how hasty, undigested, unreflective the responses may be from our audience, our patient listening must always triumph. Internet culture conditions us to think that quick, instant responses to complex questions are the most valuable responses. Some people work so hard to be relevant that they spin hopelessly into irrelevance. We must avoid the great danger of chasing after relevance. We run the risk of becoming choreographers of immediacy rather than midwives of a slower wisdom. Our mission it to always seek in depth that solid soil of the vital relationship with God and others, a place to really build a culture of respect, of dialogue, and of friendship.
Field Hospitals in the Digital Universe
Allow me to develop one of Pope Francis’ powerful, frequently used images: that of the “field hospital” that is drawn from the Spiritual Exercises. In Ignatius’ masterful work, God sees the world as a battlefield full of the dead and wounded. When Jorge Mario Bergoglio speaks of the Church as a “field hospital after a battle,” he appeals to Ignatius’ understanding of “the role of the Church in light of God’s gaze upon the world: ‘so many people ask us to be close, that ask us for what they were asking of Jesus: closeness, nearness.’ It is the opposite image of a fortress under siege. The image of a church as a field hospital is not just a simple, pretty poetic metaphor; from this very image we can derive an understanding of both the church’s mission and the sacraments of salvation.”
What and where are the battlefields today? We can each name a country or land where blood, terror and violence seem to have the upper hand. But the big battlefield before humanity is the digital world: one that requires no passport and travel ticket to enter. You only need a keyboard, a screen, or a hand-held device. It is in that universe that many wars are waged each day and where many wounded souls live, walk, or troll. It is an immense battleground that needs many field hospitals set up to bind wounds and reconcile warring parties. In the heart and mind of Pope Francis, we need “a church that is again capable of restoring citizenship to so many of its children that walk as if in exodus. Christian citizenship is above all the result of God’s mercy.
Francis the “defibrillator”
Some have called the Argentine Jesuit Bishop of Rome a “tweetable” Pope made for 140 characters! We delight in his words of wisdom telling us: “Eternity will not be boring”; “Long faces cannot proclaim Jesus”; “The confessional is not a torture chamber”; “We are not part-time Christians”; and “The Church is not ‘spa therapy.’” He’s got the world and the Church talking and listening! Pope Francis is an agent of change for the Church and the world. He has reminded Curial types in Rome that it’s time for a change, that the Church does not belong to them, that the movement of the Holy Spirit cannot be managed or scripted. He is sending a message with the style, as well as the substance, of his remarks.
A French journalist referred to Francis as a “defibrillator” pope. We need defibrillators when we have serious heart problems. Defibrillation is a common treatment for life-threatening heart rhythms, blocked arteries, and problems with pulses. Defibrillation consists of delivering a therapeutic dose of electrical energy to the affected heart. This depolarizes a critical mass of the heart muscle, terminates the dysrhythmia, and allows rhythm to be reestablished by the body’s natural pacemaker. Papa Francesco is a badly-needed ecclesial defibrillator for our times!
Simply consider a few of Francis’ electroshocks over the past five years: He started changing the tune of the papacy from day one, when he returned to the Casa Paolo VI to pack his bags and pay his bills! He has made it pretty clear to us that he is not fascinated with a certain form of unhealthy traditionalism and pomp which seemed to be on the rise. He speaks out against clericalism: that of the ordained and that of the laity!
He jolted liturgists and canonists on his first Holy Thursday night as Pope, when in a Roman prison, he washed the feet of outcasts, including two women and two Muslims, in a gesture of profound service.
He has established a new form of magisterium at Domus Sanctae Marthae, by celebrating Mass with various groups of Vatican employees each morning and giving a homily which has become a staple in spiritual nourishment for millions around the world – Christian and non-Christian. The colourful, unscripted homilies he delivers have become one of the distinctive features of his pontificate. He has revitalized preaching.
He has railed against the scandal of poverty and stressed the importance of personal involvement with the poor. Money must “serve” man, not “rule” over him. The Pope’s condemnation of runaway capitalism and an exclusive focus on profit are ideologically in line with Pope Benedict, but the energy and frequency with which Francis strikes these chords are definitely new.
He has decried the “self-referential” mentality of Catholics. He has challenged the mentality of ecclesial framework managers and been critical of a Church that loses its dynamic spiritual principles.
He has challenged priests and bishops in the exercise of their ministry and their stewardship of material goods. Several years ago, in a heartfelt address to a rare meeting of the Nuncios of the world gathered in Rome, Francis told them that pastors “must know how to be ahead of the herd to point the way, in the midst of the flock to keep it united, behind the flock to prevent someone being left behind, so that the same flock… has the sense of smell to find its way.”
Christianity, for Francis, is not a “salon Christianity” where we sit around at high tea and discuss religious or theological things that do not have a direct impact on our lives. He has cried out against hypocrisy, clericalism, duplicity, narcissism, consumerism, and hedonism in all their ugly forms.
To representatives of communities and movements gathered in Rome on Pentecost weekend several years ago, Francis asked them if they were open to surprises of God. Are we brave enough to go through the new paths that the novelty of God offers us, or do we defend ourselves, trapped in obsolete structures that have lost the purpose?
His recent retraction of statements about a bishop in Chile and his public admission that he was wrong in his judgement of the situation, only to be followed by the welcoming of victims of sexual abuse to the Vatican – and to be repeated again next week – was a stunning witness to the world to Pope Francis’ humility and bold leadership. He walks his talk and walks the walk.
Pope Francis’ daily mantra can be summed up in one expression: “Go out to the peripheries.” He calls us out of our cocoons to go to “the existential peripheries.” Think outside the box. Go to uncharted places on the fringes. You will be surprised who you find there! For the Pope, the Church is missionary, or she will die. Do we really want to go to these “existential peripheries”? How many times do we feel assaulted and challenged by them?
I think the Church needed to experience these aftershocks. They are never pleasant, but they often reverse death-dealing powers, unblock arteries of life, give us back our pulse, depolarize our atrophied muscles, and help us to live again and love again. They invite us into a deep conversion of mind and heart.
Benedict and Francis
My favourite biography of St. Francis of Assisi is that of the great British writer, G.K. Chesterton. I have read that work many times throughout my life, and one passage has taken on new meaning for me over the past years. Listen to Chesterton’s words:
“St. Francis must be imagined as moving swiftly through the world with a sort of impetuous politeness; almost like the movement of a man who stumbles on one knee half in haste and half in obeisance. The eager face under the brown hood was that of a man always going somewhere, as if he followed as well as watched the flight of the birds. And this sense of motion is indeed the meaning of the whole revolution that he made; for the work that has now to be described was of the nature of an earthquake or a volcano, an explosion that drove outwards with dynamic energy the forces stored up by ten centuries in the monastic fortress or arsenal and scattered all its riches recklessly to the ends of the earth.
In a better sense than the antithesis commonly conveys, it is true to say that what St. Benedict had stored St. Francis scattered; but in the world of spiritual things what had been stored into the barns like grain was scattered over the world as seed. The servants of God who had been a besieged garrison became a marching army; the ways of the world were filled as with thunder with the trampling of their feet and far ahead of that ever swelling host went a man singing; as simply he had sung that morning in the winter woods, where he walked alone.”
“What Benedict had stored, Francis scattered…” Many in both religious and secular media have been a bit too quick to interpret Francis’ gestures as a sign of discontinuity with the work of his predecessor. What we forget is that more than any of the choices made by Francis, it was Benedict XVI’s resignation that represented the greatest change of the papal office. Benedict’s decision does not in any way undermine the papacy.
Benedict, the great teacher, also taught us that the Petrine ministry is not about externals, power, prestige, and privilege. Pope Benedict brilliantly emphasized the need for intense theological life, constant prayer, and quiet contemplation which would naturally give way to good moral living, a commitment to others, and a life of charity and justice. With Francis, it seems that the perspective is the other way around – it is concrete, charitable actions and visible human affection that redefine the theological life, giving it depth and breath. And such actions attract others to Christ and the Church and serve as privileged instruments of evangelization.
What Benedict stored, Francis scatters… Francis’ striking symbolism is becoming substance. Francis seeks a simpler church, more closely identified with the poor. He is undoubtedly aware of the scandals, the corruption, the hypocrisy, the challenges, the leaks and the lobbies, and the things that need to be fixed inside the Vatican. But many around the world, inside and outside the Church, from the left, right, and centre of the Church are witnessing something new happening. Smallness of mind and meanness of spirit are slowly transformed into wideness of thought and generosity of spirit.
What Benedict stored, Francis scatters… “In the world of spiritual things what had been stored into the barns like grain was scattered over the world as seed… .” Let us never forget the deep continuity between Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome. It is manifested in their outlook on faith and their awareness that it is the Lord who leads the Church, not the Pope. Francis teaches the doctrine identical to that of his predecessors. He reminds us of the words of his predecessor Saint John over 50 years ago at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council: “The substance of the ancient doctrine of the Deposit of Faith is one thing, and the way it is presented is another.” With Francis, it’s the same Petrine brand but the packaging has changed!
I conclude my address with Pope Francis’ prayer for this year’s World Day of Communications. He was inspired by the other Francis, the one from Assisi, to formulate this prayer for all of us involved in the work of education and communications:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practise listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth. Amen.