It seems to me that most religions today are scorned because they are viewed as self-righteous, exclusive clubs filled with hypocrites. If we are honest with ourselves, the Catholic Church can look that way at times too. Some scholars, interestingly enough, have said that Jesus came to end religion. If you consider how He continuously provoked and criticized the Pharisees and Scribes, this begins to makes sense. Jesus tried to tell us that we need a “poverty of spirit” to experience transformation and enter His Kingdom. Jesus Himself is never upset with sinners. He is only upset with people who don’t think they’re sinners. In fact, the one time in scripture that Jesus appears angry and perhaps even violent was when he turned over the tables in the temple. His anger was not at people but at self-serving religion and its frequent alliance with power and money. As Jesus puts it, “clean first the inside of the cup, so that the outside will also be clean.” (Matthew 23:26) In many ways, Pope Francis is doing a great job of following in Jesus’ footsteps.
Soon after being elected Pope, Francis said in an interview, “As you know, there are various reasons why I choose the name of Francis of Assisi, a familiar figure far beyond the borders of Italy and Europe, even among those who do not profess the Catholic faith. One of the first reasons was Francis’ love for the poor.”
St Francis profoundly understood that we are called to go, without fear, to the furthest boundaries and outskirts of human existence to meet the poor, the marginalized and the least. Those who are materially, spiritually and humanly poor are not the focus of special attention because they are an economic, social or pastoral problem, but because an ever merciful and loving God reserved for them a privileged place in Jesus’ life and ministry. The “poor Church for the poor” of Pope Francis is a principle that defines his “Church of mercy” thus continuing the wonderful story of a loving Church that throughout the centuries has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want.
However, St Francis is also well known for his personal call to “rebuild the Church.” In this sense Pope Francis has been very clear that it is not possible to move forward toward a better world until such idols as power, money, corruption, careerism, selfishness, indifference or to sum it up, “spirit of the world,” are demolished. This is the danger that might materialize if the Church grows old and accustomed to caring only about itself rather than flinging open its doors and facing the challenges of the world. It doesn’t matter if the Church sometimes fails on the way. This is why Pope Francis keeps sending out warnings that heavy-handedness, intransigence, hypocrisy and other shortcomings need to be abolished because they undermine Christian credibility. He is determined to reform and renew the Church so that it becomes better equipped to pursue its goals, with all that that involves. In Pope Francis’ words, “When the Church is closed, she falls sick, she falls sick. Think of a room that has been closed for a year. When you go into it there is a smell of dampness, many things are wrong with it. A Church closed in on herself is the same, a sick Church. The Church must step outside herself. To go where? Towards the outskirts of existence, whatever they may be.” In other words, to where St. Francis discovered that Jesus lived and still exists: the marginalized, the poor, the outcasts of society.
Pope Francis is also quick to remind us that the institution of the Church is sometimes broken because it IS human. More importantly, he reminds us that we are the Church. Because we are the Church, Pope Francis says, “It is important not to turn in on ourselves, burying our own talent, our spiritual, intellectual, and material riches, everything that the Lord has given us, but, rather to open ourselves, to be supportive, to be attentive to others”…..and then he further reminds us, “Jesus has no house, because His house is the people, it is we who are His dwelling place, His mission is to open God’s doors to all, to be the presence of God’s love.”
In short, the life of the Church (all of us) needs to be cleansed, renewed and revitalized in the spirit of Jesus and Francis of Assisi under the guidance of our shepherd Pope Francis.