I have a Pope-crush on Pope Francis.
His actions witness to a consuming love and zeal for the lost and forsaken. The whole world has heard about his humble, unexpected acts. He asks for the blessing before he gives it; picks up his own luggage; shies away from positions of honor. Francis not only washes feet, he kisses them.
Because of the media’s widespread coverage of these anecdotes, my Protestant friends know almost as much about our new pope’s activities as most faithful Catholics.
I can’t read enough of Francis’ homilies and reports on what he is doing. He is driven by a zeal to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ – to all people through his deeds first, as well as through his preaching. I already see a method to his ministry.
He doesn’t just want to shepherd faithful Catholics. He doesn’t just want to tend the 99. His eyes are fixed on the 1 who is lost. He is an evangelizing Pope who knows the Church’s pedagogy for evangelization.
From Pope Paul VI’s seminal Evangelii Nuntiandi,
Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live:
- Why are they like this?
- Why do they live in this way?
- What or who is it that inspires them?
- Why are they in our midst?
Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization (21).
This initial act of evangelization is essential. Through it we not only prompt questions, we establish the trust and credibility necessary to speak into the deepest parts of the lives of our friends, co-workers, neighbors, family members.
This initial evangelization – acts of understanding, acceptance, solidarity, and sharing of life with others – accomplishes something else, too, of equal importance. These acts lead us to love and truly know people.
Love does not simply hand-out apologetics tracts. It is not satisfied with merely coordinating Theology on Tap events. It will not trumpet truth from a distance. Love happens face-to-face. It seeks solidarity and understanding conversation. Needs are addressed person-to-person with compassion and the love of the Holy Spirit.
When we share in each other’s brokenness, struggles, pain, and existential needs with the solidarity that Jesus modeled and continues to empower, people cannot be our projects. We cannot be superior to them. We are ushered into the realms of true love and sacrifice.
In this realm, our verbal sharing of the Good News is not perfunctory. It is utterly genuine and spoken with a prophetic spirit and intense hope to bring comfort to the afflicted and freedom to the captives. We speak with this conviction because we have been rescued and continue to be rescued by our Lord from our own brokenness. We can say from our guts with all our being to those we love: “I know he saves in all of the areas of pain of your life because he continues to save me every day. You too can be saved by Him.” When we can proclaim the Good News with this kind of love and specificity into people’s lives – it can truly be Good News.
How hard it must be to be Pope. How can a Pope –vested in beautiful garments, often speaking from an elevated platform, necessarily approaching the world from a position of power – truly witness through understanding, shared life, and solidarity? How can he be fruitful in the first act of evangelization when he lives behind guarded walls?
We are seeing Francis try: when he moves the Holy Thursday feet-washing liturgy out of the glory of St. Peter’s into the juvenile detention center; when he pays his own hotel bill after being elected the Bishop of Rome; when as Pope he honors the dignity of his Buenos Aires newspaper delivery man by personally calling to discontinue his delivery service.
Doesn’t all of this sound a lot like our Lord Jesus? He knows the Church’s evangelical pedagogy well.
Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to continue inspiring Pope Francis, the whole Church, and each of us to new, creative ways of sharing life’s joys, hopes, griefs, and anxieties (Guadium et Spes 1) with others so that we can also share the Good News of our lives with them – in love – in the right ways – at just the right times.