Sunday, January 26, 2014

Unity and Humility: Rebuilding Church Through Rebuilding Hearts

The other day Pope Francis delivered a homily wherein he reflected on the animosity that existed between Saul and David.  The scripture passage recounted how David--although he had opportunity to kill Saul--instead showed restraint, humility, and mercy.  Remember, Saul was intent upon killing David, so this was David's opportunity not only to kill his enemy, but also to secure his own safety.  Pope Francis went on to say that in life there are many times when in our life situation, the plates and pans might let loose, but that eventually we have to build bridges.  Otherwise, he says, great walls are built within our hearts, walls that lead to rancor and hatred.  Instead, he says though not easy to do, the path to peace is through acts of humiliation.  David could have won.  Instead, he made peace through restraint and humility.

So often when Pope Francis is spoken about, people talk about "where he is leading the Church."  People talk about how--whether they like what he says or not--he is "changing the Church."  These words always seem too remote for me, too distant from my life.  Such commentaries often sound like the "Church" that Pope Francis is trying to change exists apart from the individual commentator.  In other words, the commentators seem to position themselves simply as observers standing outside of "the Church," that needs to be changed.

For me, I read Pope Francis and his words make me uncomfortable.  When I listen to him, what most strikes me is that his words are challenging me to change.  For my life, while changes in Vatican Dicasteries, the limiting of making monsignors, or the overhaul of the Vatican Bank, might be of some interest, those changes do not affect my life greatly.  But, the preaching of the Gospel does change my life.  For me, the most significant change that Pope Francis has called for is not taking place in some bureaucratic structure.  The most significant change is in my heart.  This is the power of the Gospel.  The transformation of my heart is what is needed.  

I don't want to be an objective observer of ecclesiastical overhauls.  I need to be a subjective participant in my own conversion.  As a preacher, I've always cringed when somebody coming out of Mass has said, "Father, you really told those people what they needed to hear."  To me, that sounds like an objective observer.  It says that I didn't touch that individual heart. Similarly what an amazing joy it is when somebody tells you after a homily, "Father, that is exactly what I needed to hear today."  

Today, on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Gospel recounts the calling of Peter and Andrew and James and John.  They were called in pairs.  In some way, does this not show a solidarity in their callings?  In other words, though each man had to respond personally to the Lord's invitation, each man's vocation was intimately connected to that of the other.  They were not mere observers of the other.  They were bound together in a mysterious and awesome communion.  

Today, St. Paul warns the Corinthians not to have rivalries or divisions among them.  In Paul's day, the divisions were: "I belong to Paul," "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to "Apollos."  Today's divisions might be, "I belong to Benedict XVI" or "I belong to Francis."  These divisions might also be on a far more local level.  Disagreements in parishes, dioceses and presbyterates will always be a reality.  But, disagreements ought not to become walls that divide.  

We are all like Peter and Andrew and James and John.  Our life in Christ is intensely personal.  But, it is also intimately linked to the lives of our brothers and sisters.  In Christ, we are one.  This unity is something given by Christ and originates in Christ's own unity in the Blessed Trinity.  Our unity with the Trinity was won through the humiliation of the Cross.

A newspaper once asked various authors to write essays on the topic, "What is wrong with the world?"  Among those chosen to write an essay was G.K. Chesterton.  His essay was the briefest of all those submitted. To the question, "What is wrong with the world?" Chesterton replied, "Dear Sirs, I am."

Similarly, perhaps instead of focusing on how Pope Francis is "trying to change the Church," we ought to remember that the Word he preaches is meant to penetrate my heart and change it.  Of course, this requires humility on our part.  It requires us to remember that even those with whom we disagree were also called by Christ.  It requires us to seek unity in the Church by an unlikely path.  Our first inclination is seeking unity through making the others change (and the others probably do need to change).  But, Jesus shows us another way.  When our unity with God was lost through our disobedience, Jesus led us back to God through the path of humility.  He led us back to God by humbling himself and taking on our disfigurement.  

To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton: "What is the most important thing that Pope Francis is trying to change in the Church?  My heart."

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Love your blog! I'm with a ministry called UniteBoston, and we are working to put together an ongoing news feed on our homepage of all Boston's Christian leaders who are blogging. Can we post a feed to your blog on You can email me at kelly at uniteboston dot com Thanks!