As we come to the end of this liturgical year and close out the Year of Faith, I am inspired by all the new spiritual life I see percolating throughout the archdiocese.
The formation of evangelization teams in parishes, the energy around the archdiocesan Synod, the buzz about pivotal books such as “Rebuilt,” “Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic” and “Forming Intentional Disciples” the Catholic Schools walk, the effort to more deeply form our Catholic school teachers and catechists, just to mention a few of the many activities currently in motion.
I sense an excitement in many people about the Catholic faith and how we can grow it and share it that I have not seen before. The Holy Spirit is stirring up the church with a new ardor and passion to live the Gospel and know Jesus more authentically and profoundly.
Some of this fruit is directly attributable to the Year of Faith, which Pope Benedict inaugurated on Oct. 11, 2012, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the issuance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Who knew a year ago that Pope Benedict would resign the papacy during this Year of Faith and that Pope Francis would emerge? God sends us the pope that we need in each historical moment. With his theological acumen and humble simplicity, Pope Benedict proved a worthy successor to the soon to be St. John Paul II. And now, Francis has brought his unique energy, passion and common touch to guide the universal church in this present time.
I have always been inspired particularly by St. Francis of Assisi, who breathed new life into medieval Catholicism by living the literal message of the Gospel with passion and purpose. His devotion to Christ crucified and to the Eucharist, his love for the poor, animals and all of creation, his joyful embrace of the marginalized and outcast kindled a fire in countless hearts by showing that faith in the Lord Jesus is truly transformative of the human person.
Every age needs a saint, someone who understands the cultural and social moment in which humanity finds itself, someone who can proclaim in contemporary form the ageless and timeless message of the Catholic faith, so that people can understand and respond to the universal call to holiness.
In many ways, Pope Francis is that figure for right now. His passion for the poor, his devotion to the Mother of God, his embrace of vast crowds and suffering individuals, his challenge to a comfortable clerical culture in the church, his constant urging for believers to take the Gospel to the streets, his reaching out to atheists, agnostics and folks alienated from the church, his disregard for personal safety and papal prestige have all contributed to a remarkable global interest in what Pope Francis both says and does.
Many dioceses in the world reports an uptick in Mass attendance since his election to the papacy last March.
I hear the Holy Father calling us to be less concerned about our internal church conflicts and problems and to be more intent on the global mission of evangelization. He wants us to be a church of the poor and for the poor in ways that are of practical help to the millions who know only hunger and want.
He is inviting us to embrace new approaches of conversation and dialogue with those who live far from the Catholic Church and do not agree with her teachings. He is calling us to always see and respond to the beautiful humanity of everyone who comes before us in a profound Christian personalism.
At times, the media has interpreted the pope’s comments as a signal of future changes in doctrine and teaching. I do not see that happening. Rather, he is calling us to a fresh enthusiasm for engaging the truth of the Gospel and the perennial hungers of the human heart. He understands well that post-modern humanity will only potentially listen to the church when the love and mercy of Jesus Christ shine forth in her preaching and her action.
Jesus loves people precisely in their sinfulness and invites them to conversion, once they have tasted the delight of his merciful Heart. The church, as the Body of Christ, is called to go and do the same. I see it happening all over the place.