The Rev. Justin Hoye, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Kansas City, North: The Catholic intellectual Garry Wills writes that Pope Francis “does not see the church as … permanent … but as a thing of surprises.”
If by surprise Wills means the rejection of the church’s primary identity and role in the world for something dictated by the world, then no, that would be a mischaracterization. However, the church can be filled with surprises as she grows into her identity as the beloved body of Jesus Christ.
For those who claim fidelity to Jesus Christ, it’s important to remember that the church is not some abstract “other” that occupies an existence in our world over the centuries. Those responding to God’s call to share in his fellowship, by his grace, are the church.
The church is not something that we craft but a body into which we are welcomed and formed. We rejoice in the many men and women who have been incorporated into this body through the waters of baptism, leaving an old life behind to experience life anew in the church.
In a world that tells us we can find happiness on our own, it is a surprise for many to find that their true contentment is found in submitting to the will of God. It is God’s desire that we be one, experiencing true and lasting communion with him and with one another.
So yes, the church can be filled with surprises, but that does not negate or conflict with her permanent identity as the beloved body of Christ.
The Rev. Joe Nassal, Precious Blood Center, Liberty: The surprises surrounding Pope Francis began the night he was introduced to the world more than two years ago.
He was the first Jesuit to be elected pope, and he took the name of one of the most popular saints, Francis, to capture his desire that the church be one with the poor. His humble spirit was reflected in the simple white cassock he wore and underscored when, before extending his blessing to the world, he asked for the blessing and prayer of the people gathered.
His humility, his emphasis on God’s mercy, his passionate advocacy for the poor and marginalized, and his compassionate presence have captured the world’s imagination.
The Holy Father’s inclusive style of servant leadership — modeled very early when he washed the feet of incarcerated youth, including two women (one of whom was a Muslim), on Holy Thursday — may have surprised some, but he is simply following the example of Jesus.
Pope Francis has not changed the teachings of the church, but he has certainly changed the tone, moving away from being judgmental to being more merciful; from condemnation to compassion.
He has changed the focus from following doctrine to following the dream of Jesus: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
When he was installed as pontiff, Pope Francis said we “must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness,” challenging those who follow Christ to live as Jesus lived, to serve “the poorest, the weakest, and the least important.”
If that is a surprise, then it is a welcome one.
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