Monday, March 24, 2014

Going Forth with Francis

Evangelii Gaudium
Have you been enjoying all of the commentaries about Pope Francis' first year? 

I think the most beautiful reflection came from one of his "gang of eight," Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who offered an interpretation of Francis as a faithful follower of Jesus walking in the footsteps of St. Ignatius.  (And, of course, as a young man St. Ignatius wanted to become like St. Francis of Assisi!)

Pope Francis wants each of us become missionary disciples who "go forth" from ourselves into our daily world filled with joy.  So how might we enter more fully into this journey during the second year of Francis' pontificate?  If we could give the pope one gift on the anniversary of his election to the Chair of St. Peter--besides the prayers he so humbly requested--perhaps it would be to use his "Joy of the Gospel" as a road-map for a personal examination of conscience. 

Even if we started with the first chapter, entitled "The Church's Missionary Transformation," there would be much food for thought.  Indeed, Pope Francis throws down the following challenge:  "Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the 'peripheries' in need of the light of the Gospel" (n. 20).  Here we quickly arrive at the heart of the matter:  The fundamental question is how Christ is calling each of us personally--as well as our communities--to become a more authentically missionary people. 

But what does it mean to leave my comfort zone and reach out to those on peripheries?  Pope Francis elaborates on this challenge as follows:

"The Church which 'goes forth' is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice.  An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf., 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand as the crossroads and welcome the outcast.  Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father's infinite mercy." (n. 24)

In order for each of us to answer this call to become missionary disciples--for our faith communities to embrace the fact that we are indeed a missionary Church--we need to embody these five traits:
  • Taking the first step:  Jesus "washed the feet of his disciples"--so whose feet should we be tending to today?
  • Being involved: We need to touch the suffering flesh of Christ in others and thus take on the "smell of the sheep"--so who do we know that is in need of companionship on the often rocky road of life?
  • Being supportive: We need to exercise "apostolic endurance" and stand patiently with people who are in difficult situations--so who is waiting for our attentive presence, both today and for the long haul?
  • Bearing fruit: The Lord wants us to be fruitful--so how can we "care for the grain" as it takes root in a particular situation and yet "not grumble or grow impatient with the weeds" which will inevitably be present?
  • Rejoicing: We need to celebrate "every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization"--so, Pope Francis asks, how can we see the beauty of the liturgy as the source and summit of our renewed self-giving?
This is how we respond to the reality of God's love in our lives, to the gift of God's grace, which always precedes any good we might do.  This is how we say thank you for the gift of Pope Francis, as he carries forward the new evangelization ushered in by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  This is how our missionary heart avoids "opting for rigidity and defensiveness...even if, in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street" (n. 45)!

St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!