Sunday, February 7, 2016
A posted question:".. .what do the rank and file clergy 'think' of Pope Francis? I know there are several layers of organization between you and the leaders. But how do the clergy react to this Pope? I'm sure you have seen how lay people sometimes respond to Pope. Statements like dogs can go to heaven (love it) or you can go into the forest to worship, not only a church." The clergy with whom I primarily have contact are directly involved in pastoral ministry, which means directly involved with the critical spiritual concerns of the people of God. While I can speak only of my own thoughts about Pope Francis, I have found wide agreement among fellow priests in pastoral ministry. I can also understand the fears and concerns of 'careerist' clergy. When Pope Francis left the United States after his visit in September, someone commented that during his six days with us, the entire nation was on retreat! That seems to be the feeling he generates everywhere he goes, not only because of what he says, but because of his obvious love of all people. If only I can show his energy and compassion when I reach his age! I think he has untied the knots that have been so much a part of our religion. The word religion is rooted in the word for binding, but there are at least two ways to do so: a parent or lover binds to another person by holding his or her hand; a pirate would bind someone by tying them to a mast! Basically, it's a mater of whether the emphasis is on rules or on relationships. It has been a while since I and others have experienced a pope for whom relationship takes precedence. His two encyclicals, his speeches and challenges to the world's bishops and political leaders reaffirms this order. He wants shepherds who smell like the sheep! While he hasn't changed ant Church law or doctrine, he has put much of it in a context that both explains it and generates discussion and places emphasis on the primacy of conscience. He not giving blank checks, but he's not bouncing them either! He has declared this year to be the year of mercy. Mercy is the foundation of human life and our relationship with God and each other. So far, I have found preaching and counseling from the perspective of mercy to be exciting and very well received. I have found Pope Francis to be exciting and very well received too! I am very grateful to be living in his time. No matter his successor, what impact he has made on the Church in these past few years can hardly be undone! God's Spirit called him. We are the beneficiaries of his answer to that call.