Friday, July 26, 2013

Pope Francis: A sign of contradiction

From the first moment he stepped on the Loggia at St. Peter's Square this Pope has been turning things upside down. He truly is a sign of contradiction (the title of a retreat Cardinal Wojtyla gave to Pope Paul VI before becoming Pope). Today, after a visit to the slum of Vaghina in Rio, Pope Francis addressed a large crowd and spoke about the need to respect the elderly. Today is the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus. In his remarks the Pope urged young people to be a "bridge" between themselves and the older generation. The elderly, he said, are a vital part of the human family and must be treated with the utmost respect and care. This is all the more important here in the United States where a large baby boomer population will soon be retiring and need extra care. This love has to begin at home. "Honor your Mother and your Father" is one of the key commandments. However, a culture that has so readily accepted abortion at the beginning of life may soon lose that respect for life's dignity at the end. All the more necessary for Catholics and people of all faith to treasure the image of God in the person with terminal cancer, dementia, Alzheimer's or in a Hospice situation. Certain organizations (Death with Dignity) are very actively promoting as Assisted Suicide campaign. The elderly are a monetary drain on society (so the theory goes) and if one can no longer contribute to society what is their worth? This is why Catholics need to shout from the rooftops: One's dignity comes from who one is ( a child of God ), not from what they do. Pope Francis has been teaching this with his actions. He washed the feet of men and women at a prison on Holy Thursday, he is staying in accomodations that are quite modest while in Rio. He is travelling in a Fiat, not a fancy Mercedes Benz Pope-mobile. He has met with drug and alcohol addicts encouraging them not to give up and to trust in the mercy of Christ. On every level he is teaching us that his pontificate will be one from the bottom up, not the top down. He even is the first Pope to name a lay board who will oversee every aspect of Church finances. By all means, this is a man of contradiction. When given prepared remarks he speaks extemporaneously. He is not afraid to walk into the crowds. He is a Shepard who knows his sheep. Today he spoke boldly about the injustice in the economic system in Brazil. It should be a wake up call for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. When he spoke about the ideals of power, pleasure, and greed, he was not speaking to the World Youth Day participants but all of us as well. In another address he expressed concern that parishes and churches have become charitable and social organizations without any real engagement with the culture. This is why he urged the young people to "take to the street." St. Josemaria Escriva touched upon this in a homily he gave titled "Passionately Loving the World." In this homily he notes: "This profound and consoling truth, which theologians call the eschatological significance of the Eucharist could, however, be misunderstood. And indeed it has been, whenever men have tried to present the Christian life as something exclusively spiritual, proper to pure, extraordinary people, who remain aloof from the contemptible things of this world or at most, tolerate them as something necessarily attached to the spirit, while we live on this earth. When things are seen in this way, churches become the setting par excellence of the Christian life. And being a Christian means going to church, taking part in sacred ceremonies, being taken up with ecclesiastical matters, in a kind of segregated world, which is considered to be the ante-chamber of heaven, while the ordinary world follows its own separate path. The doctrine of Christianity and the life of grace would, in this case, brush past the turbulent march of human history, without ever really meeting it. On this October morning, as we prepare to enter upon the memorial of the Lord's pasch, we flatly reject this deformed vision of Christianity." Pope Francis is showing us that he, too, rejects this deformed vision of Christianity. There is the mystical experience of St. Francis in front of the cross of St. Damiano. In this experience Francis heard the Lord say, "Francis, rebuild my church which you see, is in need of repair." Francis took the Lord literraly and began to rebuild the "little portion" of the church of San Damiano. Little did Francis know that he was to rebuild the church worldwide which was falling into disrepair. This Francis, Pope Francis is doing likewise. He is not building with stones. He is building with people, as Jesus did. He truly is A sign of Contradiction. Praise God!

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