Saturday, November 8, 2014

I Stand With Jesus. I Stand With the Pope.

I stand with Jesus. I stand with the Pope.

It is difficult to make this post. The only thing I can say is that my conscience will not let me rest until I do so.

I am not proposing another addition to an ongoing argument. I am not making any kind of argument here. Rather, what follows is a witness, and an examination of my own conscience. What I am trying to express here is a certainty so deeply rooted in me that it is fundamental. I pray to the Lord to strengthen me, so that I will never betray this conviction.

I stand with Jesus. I stand with the Pope.

This means that I cannot stand by while the person and motivations of our Holy Father Pope Francis are attacked, but especially when I see my brothers and sisters in Christ withdrawing their filial love from the Pope.

I am not referring simply to disagreements or questions. These are human, and can be constructive if they remain rooted in love. What pains me is to see people distancing themselves, to see them putting their relationship with the Pope "in brackets," so to speak.

This is a failure of love.

It is a subtle malaise that saps the life out of Christ's members. It is sterile. It paralyses the spread of goodness in the world. It makes hearts grow cold.

I see this happening again. Again. I've seen it many times. My life spans six papacies, and there is nothing new about this profoundly uncatholic spirit.

I accuse no one in particular, and I do not know what unutterable sufferings might afflict the lives of persons who spew vitriol in comboxes or on Facebook. Human beings are so complicated and so full of pain. I have no window into the conscience of anyone else. Indeed, I know well that the failure of love begins with me.

I have failed in love. I have looked at recent events and have been tempted to forget Christ. I have allowed fear to enter my soul. Nothing fruitful comes of any of this. Thus, first of all, I beg God to change my heart, to convert me, and to sustain me in love for Him and for His Church.

I stand with Jesus. I stand with the Pope.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ in His Catholic Church, and this discipleship is the fruit of the grace of God's ineffable love which brings forth a new, redeemed humanity. It is personal and communal, deeply interior and also sacramental, a communion of persons with various gifts. These gifts include the special vocation to the service of authority through which the presence of Jesus is rendered concrete as a reference point for all of us.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ in His Church. This means that I follow the Pope--the bishop of Rome and successor of St. Peter--and the bishops in union with him. The Pope has a unique place in the Church; he is a human being and a Christian just like the rest of us, but within this redeemed communion of persons who journey together in hope he has been given special responsibility for each and all of his brothers and sisters.

This means that Jesus has entrusted me, here and now, to Pope Francis. His authority--his fatherhood--is a gift to my life, one of the essential ways that Jesus gives Himself to me and all His people. I trust in Jesus. I know He furthers His purposes for His Church (and therefore also for my life) through the man who right now we call "the Pope," Papa, "Father."

Pope Francis is my father.

Yes, of course, I mean "spiritual father," which is to say "father in the Spirit" -- not in an absolute way, obviously (we have only one Father in heaven), but still in a concrete way and an indispensable way. I want to look to him, without illusions about his human capabilities and limitations, but with overwhelming confidence in the grace that Jesus gives him through the Holy Spirit to accomplish the service of love that has been entrusted to him.

This confidence corresponds to the witness of the New Testament, the history of the Church, and my own experience in life.

For the love of Jesus Christ, I want always to treat Pope Francis with the devotion and respect of a son. I see myself with regard to him in a relationship analogous to the one I have with my own father and mother who helped bring me into this world, who carried out their vocation to raise me, and who even now watch over me with wisdom and concern. I am grateful to them, and I am grateful to God for the gift of them. Not all people have good relationships with their human parents, but as human beings they at least desire such a relationship, or feel the great pain of its absence.

Regarding the Pope, I will not list here all the "caveats" that people like to bring up (and that are entirely valid in the right context) about the limits of infallibility, the use and levels of teaching authority, the degrees of assent, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Nor do I need to reaffirm my unshakable conviction regarding the indissolubility of Christian marriage between one man and one woman. I have learned so much about the greatness of this sacrament from many years of following Jesus under the paternal solicitude, guidance, and teaching of St. John Paul II and Blessed Paul VI.

Right now, Francis is my spiritual father on the journey of faith, as he is for all who call themselves Catholic, and who call him "Pope," Papa.

In the family of the Church, we are fully human persons, called to real relationships of love for one another. We can discuss, argue, and make our concerns known openly, and especially to Papa Francis. If I am not mistaken, that is what he has encouraged everyone to do. He has great confidence in the working of the Holy Spirit. And his confidence encourages me to remember that the grace of the Spirit through the presence of Jesus is the indestructible source of the Church's life.

Why, then, is there so much fear among us? We are listening to gossip, rumors, and "inside stories" that imply that the Pope is manipulating the bishops and the Church for his own ends. What is the point of this? Jesus and the Holy Spirit are at work in the Church. Where is our faith?

People have been hurt by members of the Church, especially by priests and bishops. Yes, these are evils that must be atoned, for which perpetrators and facilitators must be held responsible and brought to justice. There is also much need for healing. These are terrible wounds, personal to each of those who have suffered them, and we must beg Jesus to bring healing and mercy to those who need it. Indeed, we must beg Jesus to bring healing and mercy to all of us in the measure in which we need it.

There are so many people who desperately need the healing and mercy of Jesus for their sins, and for the transformation of the personal wounds they have suffered and all their infirmities. We all need healing and mercy to be enabled to embrace Jesus in response to His loving embrace which draws us to Him throughout the journey of life.

I need the healing and mercy of Jesus. I need it, desperately.

Jesus, I trust in You. Continue to pour out Your Spirit on Your servant, Pope Francis, and inspire all our hearts with the grace to stand with him, confident in Your truth and love, Your fidelity, Your goodness, Your mercy.