Overlooked Points Pope Francis is Trying to Make

By Brian Romer Niemiec

Like many of you, I have been following Pope Francis’ visit rather closely.  Undoubtedly, his presence has impacted each of us in different ways, and I am very excited about the words and actions to come in the days ahead. As I sit here in my office with an unusual lull in activity, I am struck by two ideas our Holy Father has articulated, but are getting very little play in the news.

The first idea comes from his address to the U.S. Congress. While highlighting Abraham Lincoln, he emphasized unity, and Lincoln’s great struggle to bring union, freedom, and peace to a divided and war ravaged nation. Francis named the delicate balance of rejecting fundamentalism that threatens these great virtues that Lincoln fought for, while not sacrificing those same liberties in an effort to defeat these threats.

Within that balance, our Pope names the danger of seeing the world in non-negotiable black and white.  I am particularly caught by this because I am often far too quick to judge, especially in a political or theological situation. If people don’t think like me, I reject their ideas as closed-minded nonsense.  This line of thinking is all too common in our society. 24-hour news channels that cater to particular political views, blogs and podcasts that target niche groups, and seemingly endless gridlock in Washington reiterates to us constantly that dialogue is overrated, and if you don’t agree with me I have no time for you.

Unfortunately, there is a great danger in seeing things in black and white. When we see things in black and white we claim the moral compass; we claim to know what is righteous and what is sin.  And when we get trapped in that line of thinking, there is no more room for anyone else in our lives, not even God.  We declare our independence from what we view as wrong only to discover that we can no longer discuss and dialogue with those around us. Nothing anyone has to say is worth listening to.

Here is where the Pope’s message strikes deepest. President Lincoln in his first and primary purpose fought the Civil War to preserve the union, to keep these United States from dividing into isolation. Lincoln chose openness and dialogue, and that is where Pope Francis is calling all of us today. For too long I have looked down on those I disagree with thinking they are not as nuanced or educated as I am. Yet God speaks in history, and if I fail to speak with and be open to my sisters and brothers, how can I hear God? How can I grow? And most importantly, how can I live in union as a member of the Church and as a citizen of this country, if I fail to dialogue and work in communion to realize the Kingdom of God and build a more perfect union?

The second chord that struck me came from the address to the U.S. Bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. While watching the reflection, I was unsure what the Pope was going to say, but I was deeply moved by the compassionate urgency he had while addressing the mission of the church in the United States. He acknowledged the heavy workload, the damaging reality of the sexual abuse crisis, and the corrosiveness of secular culture. However, he made very clear that it was in this context that all of us who minister to God’s people are charged with finding some way to evangelize, to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ as his disciples.

In my new job I am struggling to engage young adults in their 20’s and 30’s.  I have a loose plan, and we are having our first event in a few weeks. However, like anything new, I am having doubts about how successful it will be in bringing young adults back to Christ. I went through all of this training and education and I don’t have a sure answer for how to lead people to discipleship.  What if no one shows up?

Through that cloud of doubt, there was the Pope speaking to a cathedral full of bishops, but yet also speaking to my fears. Evangelization is the most important work. We must keep trying. We must keep praying, and we must keep going.  Only God builds the Church, but we must keep removing barriers and facilitating encounter, so that the seeds of faith may be watered and eventually produce much fruit.

These last few days have already made for an incredible papal visit. The headlines will undoubtedly continue to be filled with the Pope’s stance on particular issues, and on his discussions at the World Meeting of Families.  Through all of that, try to listen to the words surrounding the hot buttoned issues because there Francis is not telling us what to believe, he is rather telling us how to live as human beings.  Pope Francis, in his straight talk and unassuming persona, has figured out how to remove those barriers to faith, and in his words over the last few days, I can’t help but feel that Christ has spoken directly to me.

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