Vatican Dec. 11. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis' Missionary Church | Fr. James V. Schall, SJ | CWR
The Pontiff's focus (and impatience) is “this-worldly,” but it is not “utopian” or modernist
“Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.”
— Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, #20.
“The kingdom is here, it remains; it struggles to flourish anew. Christ’s resurrection everywhere calls for the seeds for that new world, even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain. May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope?”
— Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, #278.
When I finished Pope Francis’ first encyclical, The Light of Faith, I concluded that Francis’ pontificate would concentrate on the parish, on local communities and dioceses as centers of worship, belief, and charity. The Church would be less in the public eye. This example of a vibrant local life would be the basis of the attraction of Christianity to the Gentiles.
On finishing Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, however, I have to conclude differently. Francis is concerned with an active, “missionary” Church that is very much involved with everything else through its attention to and delight in its own communal life. Time Magazine’s making Francis the “Person of the Year” is enough to tell us that Pope Francis’ short pontificate so far has not been a quiet affair to which few have paid attention. From the moment of his election, Francis came on not so much as a tiny seed but as a full grown mustard tree, to adapt a famous parable.
Since the day of his election, Francis has often, sometimes daily, made headlines of one sort or another throughout the world. Most everyone has an opinion about him. No one can ignore him, not even those who would like to. He is obviously likeable. He appreciates community life. One of the Renaissance popes (Leo X, d. 1521) quipped to his brother: “God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” I have the impression that, in the best sense, Francis has enjoyed being pope. He seeks to know everyone. He drives his security forces crazy. But he has an exuberance that is catching. And he has something to say and he says it; let the chips fall where they may. He tells everyone he loves them. He tells us that he is a “sinner.” He does not think he is always right. He thanked Archbishop Marchetto for correcting him on the issue of the continuity of the Church before and after Vatican II.
Aside from The Light of Faith, which had Benedict XVI in its background, we have seen very little of Francis’ overall thought. He has a sparse paper-trail. He gives short, familiar homilies in Santa Marta’s chapel, each with three points. His Wednesday audiences and talks in L’Osservatore Romano are generally short and homey. He affirms every settled doctrine of the Church, but wants to present it gently, in a new context. What he says is always full of personal comment. We know much of his experiences in Argentina. They loved him in Rio at World Youth Day. Several of his interviews have gained worldwide attention and sharp controversy.
The Pope clearly wants to shift the attention of the Church to a missionary, outgoing mode. He does not want anyone to stay at home.
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