Following The Way With Pope Francis

Here's a few things which have been reverberating for a while, and lingering in my draft posts, so it's as good a time as any to pull some of them together, even though I am well aware that as I write there are plenty more on the way.

The Pope has commented this October week via his general audience on catholicism and the concept of being Catholic. He explained three fundamental meanings of the idea, based on the Greek “kath'olon”, “totality”, and how these can be applied to the Church.

Firstly, “the Church is Catholic”, he said, “because she is the space, the house in which the faith in its entirety is announced, in which the salvation brought by Christ is offered to all”. … In the Church, every one of us finds what is necessary to believe, to live as Christians, to became holy, to walk this path in every place and in every age”.

“The Church is Catholic”, he continued, explaining the second meaning, “because she is universal, she spreads through every part of the world and proclaims the Gospel to every man and every woman. The Church is not an elite group, she does not concern only the few. … The Church is not closed, she is sent to all of humanity. She is the only Church present even in the seemingly least significant parts of humanity”.

With regard to the third meaning of Catholicism, the Pope reiterated how “the Church is Catholic because she is the 'House of harmony' where unity and diversity know how to come together to create richness”. The Holy Father compared this to the image of the symphony, which means harmony and accord, in which different instruments play together. Each one retains its own inimitable timbre and the characteristics of its sound, guided by a director who ensures that the instruments all play together in harmony, but that the timbre of each instrument is not cancelled; on the contrary, the special quality of each one finds its highest expression. The Church, he said, “is like a great orchestra. We are not all the same, and we should not all be the same”, he emphasised. “Each person offers what God has given him”.
There are many articles on social media still grappling with Pope Francis and his style of papacy. Both of Pope Francis’ recent interviews have caused significant waves through the Catholic Church and the secular media.  Nearly everyone has an opinion on his perspective, style, and content. 

Below are just a few links to articles that have resonated and may act as a useful interim summary for thoughtful reflections and discussion.

This one titled Pope Francis The Promise and Peril from Ross Douhat in The New York Times here, is worth a read, and another here, " The Good The Baffling and The Unclear "

Meanwhile, Michael Sean Winters in this NCR article "Stop Parsing The Pope, "here says "The effort of some of our Catholic friends on the right to question or object or contextualize to the point of gutting the obvious import or even to demean Pope Francis' happy penchant for speaking frankly continues. They rightly perceive that something different is happening in the church under the leadership of our new Holy Father. It brings to mind the words of the prophet Isaiah (43:19): "Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"

Andrew Sullivan in his article "This Revolutionary Pope " from here says "It is as if the Catholicism that has been forming and re-forming in my own mind and soul for years suddenly became clearer, calmer, simpler. This Catholicism, like Saint Francis’, is about abandoning power and all the trappings of power; it is about leaving politics alone in an independent sphere, in stark contrast to Christianism which is primarily politics and ultimately about power; it is a faith rooted in mystery and mystics; about love and mercy; about the core teachings of Jesus again – made fresh.

I would say that it is a miracle. Francis’ emergence as Francis is a miracle. Literally."


An article from the excellent Australian publication Eureka Street, on Pope Francis and his "Three Types Of Intelligence" helps to give better shape to some of those thoughts. Click here for the article written in July 2013. 

Eugene Cullen Kennedy (emeritus professor from Loyola University, Chicago gives his own take on the papacy of Pope Francis so far in this article.

In Commonweal magazine William Portier describes the Street Pope, as one who "regularly speaks in the pastoral rhetoric of invitation. As pastors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were no strangers to this mode, but Pope Francis has made it his dominant style and created a way to get it out there."

These two articles are useful to highlight some of the struggles facing Western Christians trying to live out their faith in a secular culture.This article from Pray Tell by Fr. Anthony Ruff OSB and this one from Fr. Ron Rolheiser, expands on and tackles some of the issues raised in Ruff's article. I will need another post to highlight the problems Christians are facing elsewhere in the world !

Click here for an address given by Presbyterian theologian Douglas John Hall. "For Such A Time As This- Finding Our Way Into The Future.," and particularly its final paragraphs.

I like this quote too. “Darkness entered into, darkness realized, is the point of departure for all profound expressions of Christian hope. 

 'Meaningless darkness' becomes 'revelatory darkness' when it is confronted by the courage of a thoughtfulness and hope that is born of faith's quest for truth.”  Douglas John Hall,Imaging God: Dominion as Stewardship.- You can read more on him here.


It's clear that Pope Francis is keen and able to confront the darkness of the shadows that are within the church. In a recent interview, he voiced his concern with what he calls "leprosy" in the Vatican and he is determined to change it.

Moreover, as a Jesuit, he is steeped in Ignatian spirituality, which encourages people to think deeply and often about where they are, who they are, who they belong to, where they're headed and why. At the heart of the Ignatian Examen is the process of making decisions is the reliance on discernment. and Pope Francis has this to say about discernment...

". . .discernment takes time. For example, many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment."



In an extract from CNS here "The Vatican announced Oct. 8 that an extraordinary session of the Synod of Bishops will meet Oct. 5-19, 2014, to discuss the "Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization."

 So Francis is allowing time for discernment..

The Pope had told reporters accompanying him on his plane back from Rio de Janeiro in July that the next synod would explore a "somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage," including the question of the eligibility of divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.


Pope Francis added at the time that church law governing marriage annulments also "has to be reviewed, because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this. It is complex, the problem of the pastoral care of marriage."

Such problems, he said, exemplified a general need for forgiveness in the church today.

It may seem as if this pope is moving quickly to make significant changes in the Catholic Church.  The changes so far in style and attitude, have not been marked by huge alterations to doctrine or practice. 

I suspect that this Pope has been far ahead of all us in the process of taking his time to discern the future in many matters and it is precisely because many of these matters are of key importance that they require gentle preparation and careful handling before making  significant changes.

Indeed, Pope Francis  pointed to this when he said, “But I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time. The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong.”

"The church is a mother, and she must travel this path of mercy, and find a form of mercy for all," the pope said.

The announcement of the synod came amid news that the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany, had issued new guidelines making it easier for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said that such matters were more properly dealt with at a church-wide level, "under the guidance of the pope and the bishops."


"For persons or local offices to propose particular pastoral solutions runs the risk of generating confusion," he said. "The Holy Father is placing the pastoral care of the family at the heart of a synod process that will be larger, involving the reflection of the universal church."

The October 2014 gathering will be an "extraordinary general session" of the synod, which according to the Code of Canon Law is held to "deal with matters which require a speedy solution." It will be composed for the most part of the presidents of national bishops' conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and the heads of major Vatican offices. "


Former Master of the Dominican Order,Timothy Radcliffe writes in America Magazine here, in his excellent article, " A New Way of Being Church." says that the Pope encourages us to be patient with uncertainty, but Radcliffe expresses two profound hopes. "That a way will be found to welcome divorced and remarried people back to communion. And, most important, that women will be given real authority and voice in the church. The Pope expresses his desire that this may happen, but what concrete form can it take? He believes that the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood is not possible, but decision-making in the church has become ever more closely linked to ordination in recent years. Can that bond be loosened? Let us hope that women may be ordained to the diaconate and so have a place in preaching at the Eucharist."

Francis de Bernardo in this post at New Ways Ministry also wonders "how the synod will address the topic of same-gender marriage and families headed by same-gender couples.   While it is true that Pope Francis has asked bishops not to be obsessed with the topic of marriage equality, de Barnardo says he "can’t imagine that such a current and politically charged topic will not come up in such a forum."

As an update to this, click here for more details released today 10th October from the Vatican on  thirty-five texts written by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio-Pope Francis with themes that refer to the daily evangelical and Franciscan preaching of Pope Francis: the culture of dialogue and encounter, care for others, the school as a place of welcome, and so on”. The volume includes texts on family and social solidarity, dignity and work, and also considers more controversial matters such as “euthanasia and abortion, divorce and same-sex marriages.

Two key events to look forward to later this month are on 26th and 27th October, in which 150,000 families are expected to participate. On Saturday afternoon the Pope will meet for the first time with families from 70 countries of all five continents in St. Peter's Square, and on Sunday, after the eucharistic celebration, he will bless all families throughout the world. “

Read more here:
Below is an extract taken from my 2012 post for the Second Sunday in Advent 

which resonates again as I reflect on the prophetic way that Pope Francis is urging his church to re-imagine itself for the future, on Mary as mother, on the spiritual role of women but also the church as Mother that is still growing and evolving and in the gradual process of painful change involved in re-birthing all the time.

Krista Tippett in this article on Walter Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination says 

"Prophets help us connect the dots between the world as it is and the world as it might be."

They also tend to emerge in moments and chaos and change. Walter Brueggemann helps me reclaim some important language for being a person of this historical moment of change and chaos: the healing necessity of "lamentations"; the difference between being bold and being strident; the hard, life-giving work of letting go of comfort for the sake of what is important. 


Yet even as he challenges, Brueggemann walks back and forth between challenge and mercy, another word he recovers in all its usefulness and beauty. 

Indeed, he shows how the two words are meaningfully fused. He points out that the Hebrew word for "mercy" is derived from the word for "womb." It is the ultimate image of knowing one's own well-being to be bound up -- existentially, uncomfortably, life-givingly -- with the well-being of another." 

This beautiful poem Rahma comes from the Arabic word, womb, which is also related to the word mercy. The word Rehm is Arabic for womb, it is a root word in the semantic field for both rehman and raheem, merciful and compassionate; also names of God and qualities unique to "womb-men", something all men have to endeavour to imbibe from the mother and the feminine anima. 

I see Pope Francis in the tradition of a prophet and reformer who is helping us to re-imagine the church with some of these maternal qualities that hopefully will diffuse rapidly into the Vatican curia and all of us, in the days ahead.


Her subtle beauty expands all continents,
her fragile lines, 

the symbols of mysteries unfolding,
slowly becoming...


she is nature's essence, 
carrying the burdens
of countless streams.

She kneels to touch the earth,
dust disseminates, 
enveloping her dome

  Image source

The sound of breath reverberates,
mirroring the mercy of the womb.
Within the intricate maze of a creative mind 
lies a beautiful unborn child, 
losing itself 
only to be found by the heart of its Creator.

By Mala Alam


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