When Pope Francis got into office early last year, few people thought the seemingly silent man would change anything in the church, leave alone in the world. Within a few days however, ripples of his humble service could be felt all over. He declined to live in the opulent papal apartments and chose to live in Spartan rooms at a Vatican guesthouse. His acts of humility are evident everyday and people are beginning to compare him with John Paul II, the man who fought communism and all forms of inequality in the society.
Almost a year after his election, it is interesting to hear analysts all over the world saying that the Pope has made many previously empty churches to be full instantly. This to me is something remarkable, although I seem to believe that many people have not understood the Pope yet - at least from what the word in the streets suggests. The Pope’s call for the church to open up is important, but I think people have read too much into it that it really is. As a priest, I can positively confirm that truly many people are now coming to the church because “there is a Pope whose philosophy is not like of his predecessors”, as one Christian told me. What many people do not know is that the Church has always been open to the people. What the Pope has done is to state the same fact in a different way, due to his charismatic qualities. It is important to admit that we are different, and different persons are gifted differently. Yet this does not mean that the Church has changed its doctrine to begin accepting things that were previously seen as profane. The church in fact cannot and should never change the truth of the gospel just to have a following. Doing so would be hypocrisy of the highest order. The church, following the example of her founder, Jesus Christ, should never do things just to have numbers.
Remember what happened when Jesus met the rich young man he told him what was necessary to get eternal life: obeying the commandments (with right motives) and doing sacrifice in the form of leaving everything (being detached) for the sake of the gospel (Mt 19:16-22). The young man could not accept Jesus terms, and therefore he decided to go away. Jesus did not reconsider his words to accommodate the fellow. He knew that some people were not meant for things like eternal life. Of course this is my exaggerated interpretation of this verse, but the point is that Jesus did not call the young man back to negotiate his terms of being his disciple.
Similarly, when Jesus spoke of himself as the bread from heaven, many of his disciples began leaving him (Jn 6:66). Jesus did not either soften or change his words to keep the ill-motivated people from going away. He knew those were the group that had been following him because of the loaves of bread he had made before (Jn 6:26). He left them to go. He being God, he respected the freedom of choice in man. He even asked his apostles if they also wanted to go away (Jn 6:67). This should be the stand of the church. It should be clear to all of us as we seek a renewed relationship with God. There is a truth to which we are called to conform. We cannot demand the truth to conform to our way of doing things in order to accept it. If the truth is to contradict itself just to have a following or to accommodate falsehood, then it is no longer the truth. This is what many of us don’t understand. In addition, many of us don’t want to accept that if we have chosen to live contrary to the truth, then it is unfair to demand to be recognized at all cost as persons living according to the truth that even nature speaks aloud. Unfortunately this is where many people are making the big mistake. Nevertheless, the Church remains a loving and caring mother and a faithful teacher of faith and morals, and therefore she continues to nurse the unfortunate mistakes of her sons as she prudently tries to re-instill the right way of thinking in them. For this reason, it is important to clarify that the Pope’s call for the church to go out and meet the people instead of waiting them to approach is a simple call to all of us to be missionary Christians. In other words, a call not to be contented of being Christians, but to be happy making another person receive the joy and hope of the gospel. It is not and will never be a legitimization of same sex unions.
It is a call to be concerned about the welfare of the people who live around us, and people with whom we work, because that is the beginning of conversion. It is an invitation to be alert about why a neighbour of ours is not going for Mass, why a member of our family is not receiving the communion, why a friend of ours is not living with his wife after the beautiful marriage and so on. Obviously this does not mean an invitation to put our noses in the lives and activities of others, it is an invitation to be aware of the needs of the people around us. In other words, the Pope is inviting us to do what Mary did at Cana. Remember that there were many women at Cana when they experienced a shortage of wine, yet only Mary noticed that shortage and took a step to solve it (Jn 2:1-10). That is exactly what we are called to do - to be alert of what our brothers and sisters need to be the better persons that God had in mind while creating them.
Having just began the new year, let us pray for the many people who are joining back the church, that the Holy Spirit may open their minds to accept the challenging truth of the gospel: the need to sacrifice for the right thing and to persevere in doing it. May the Lord give more energy to our charismatic Pope that through him more people may discover the loving forgiveness of Jesus. Amen