I have been following through the media the events around the election of Pope Francis. Like many, I am moved by his humility and his appeal to the Church to not only serve the poor, but also be poor itself. I see in this appeal an invitation for the Church to turn its energies away from its internal debates and to focus upon the mission of Jesus, who proclaimed that he had been sent ‘to preach the good news to the poor’. Pope Francis has connected the concern for those who are poor with our need to listen to the environment. He has also called for attention to all those who are marginalized in whatever manner in our world. This is a wide net and there is plenty to do.
I do not see the mission to serve those who are poor, the marginalized, or the earth itself as detracting from the important theological and pastoral questions around sexuality, gender, abuse, clericalism, and corruption that for years have occupied many. These questions will not go away and they are important to pursue, especially as followers of Christ seek to give voice to Jesus’ message in our times. Critical to this endeavour is the need to use appropriate theological and philosophical tools. One doesn’t move ahead on any path using outdate manuals or maps.
What the refocusing on mission can do, however, is lower the temperature in some of the internal debates. As well, it can help to contextualize theological reflection. Should this happen then maybe Holy Wisdom will grant us her insights into the myriad of complex questions we face today.
I am also aware that for me, Pope Francis is my seventh pope. I have seen many changes and witness different leadership styles throughout my life so far. Each has had their gifts and limitations. At this point in my life I find myself paying more attention to my inner Vicar of Christ and my small, personal responses to the cross-climber from Galilee. Now, with Pope Francis in the outer world and Christ in my inner world, the challenge is to renew my personal efforts to serve those who are poor, to listen to those who feel marginalized, and to work harder for the earth itself.
As we come to the close of our winter season of listening, I anticipate the spring season of discerning new life. It seems to me that Pope Francis’ call to serve those who are poor creates a hopeful canvass for discerning the journey ahead. Soon it will be spring; a new season begins.