I was watching Boston College play Syracuse last night in men’s basketball. It was quite the thriller for most of the game. BC played a stronger, faster, and better team, but for much of the game they went shot for shot taking a lead deep into the second half. Motivated by the crowd, their coach, and their teammates, the players’ hearts burned with the passion to do the improbable.
The recent New York Times article, Pope With the Humble Touch Is Firm in Reshaping the Vatican, reflects on the many changes Pope Frances is making in the Church: reorganizing the Curia, cleaning up the Vatican Bank, appointing new Cardinals from diocese not normally given red hats, and reframing the conversation to create a more open, humbler, and poorer Church. The question, however, is how deep does this change go? How is it affecting the lives of everyday Catholics? Is this pope reshaping the way Catholicism is lived in the world, or is he merely a media savvy executive who knows how to attract headlines with big statements and even bigger gestures?
As an assistant admissions director for the School of Theology and Ministry, I read many applications of students who want to serve the church and the world in so many powerful ways. Recently, I have noticed a change in the reasoning behind that service. More and more I am reading applications that mention Francis as a source of inspiration or motivation for their desire to study theology. Francis has struck a chord with many Catholics and non-Catholics alike. People are looking for ways to serve, and live out the challenge that has been given to each of us.
This personal impact of Francis’ papacy reveals a deeply theological and human reality within the students who wrote these applications. God constantly calls us to discipleship. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit is asking us to enter ever deeper into our relationships with God and those around us. This longing in our heart for God is always present, but can grow louder as the Word draws near. We see this in the story of the Road to Emmaus in the Gospel. The two disciples on the road reported, “Did not our hearts burn within us?” Whenever God is near, whenever his Word is spoken, our hearts burn stronger for God.
Francis’ words and actions have caused the hearts of the faithful to burn for God and for his people. The Word is being spoken, and the people are responding. In parishes, campus ministries, Catholic schools, and places around the globe, men and women of faith are being reinvigorated by the words of the pope. Like BC’s basketball team, I hope the words and actions of Pope Francis will cause the people of God to burn with the passion to do the improbable: work to realize the Kingdom of God in this world.