Monday, September 23, 2013

A Walking Parable

A parable has a way of capturing one's imagination.  It speaks to both mind and heart; it can both confound and console its listeners.  A really good parable is also capable of provoking much reflection and discussion.

Since he became the 266th pope in the history of the Catholic Church--and the first Holy Father named Francis--, this successor of St. Peter has taught as much through his actions as through his words.  His papacy has been like a gradually unfolding parable, played out on the global stage.  And after his recent interview, there seems to be no better conversation starter than the question, "So what do you make of Pope Francis?"

As a walking parable, Pope Francis has embodied and enacted the basic proclamation of the Good News:  Jesus reveals the merciful love of God and reaches out to save each of us.  But, perhaps most helpfully for a post-modern world, Pope Francis has started his proclamation of this world-changing reality not with dogmas or doctrines but with his own personal experience of encountering Christ in and through the Church.  Indeed, the Holy Father has been "leading with mercy" in order that we might experience what he personally knows to be true:  We have a Heavenly Father who loves us more than we could ever imagine. 

Ultimately, however, a parable is designed to reveal not only deep truths such as these, but also the heart and mind of the listener.  Pope Francis is thus inviting each of us to identify where we need ongoing conversion in our own lives--that is, where we need to grow and where we need to become more merciful, more other-centered. 

So, what did you hear in the Pope Francis interview that inspired you?  What did you hear that challenged you?  What line did you like the best, and which line would you like to ask a follow-up question about?   Which section jumped out for you, or most surprised you?  (And remember, if you write him a letter regarding the interview, Pope Francis might just pick up the phone and call you with a response, since he'd reinstated "pope calls"!) 

If you haven't already seen the full text of the America interview, I strongly encourage you to dive it and soak up these most personal of comments from this most personable of pontiffs. A few of my favorite lines are: 
  • On his own identity (and his beautiful commentary on Caravaggio's "Call of Matthew"):  "I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon." 
  • On Pope Benedict (this is the one line which choked me up):  "Pope Benedict has done an act of holiness, greatness, humility.  He is a man of God."
  • On the Church's pastoral ministry: "Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essential, on the necessary things: that is also what fascinated and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus."
Many of the quotes which have been lifted out and repeated over and over again come from the two-page section entitled "The Church as Field Hospital."  The suggestion that we are all in some way "walking wounded" may rub some people the wrong way.  The reminder that the Church must be a mother and shepherdess may strike some people as quaint or in need of additional clarification.  Nonetheless, it is hard to argue with Pope Francis' reminder that in some way we are all called to take responsibility for others and "accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor."  As Pope Francis notes, "This is pure Gospel."

Will Holy Father Francis continue to unfold the specific details of his teaching over the weeks and months ahead?  Will he continue to clarify and expound upon some of the "hot-button" statements which were so often quoted from this interview?  Undoubtedly.  And will he continue to challenge all people of good will to shine a light on their own hearts?  Absolutely!

To paraphrase the Gospel which he is clearly intent on embodying, the story of Pope Francis seems scripted "so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Lk 2:34).