Friday, November 29, 2013

Pope hope

Do we live in the age of a second Saint Francis?

Early days, I know, and routine as it's become to lionise the current Pope, the Luther in me wants to dissent on principle... but it really does appear that Jorge Mario Bergoglio - Pope Francis - is a true spiritual leader for our times.

I read a quoatation from his First Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” yesterday, which struck me (quite a few extracts struck me: get a flavour here):

“Sometimes we are tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord’s wounds at arm’s length. Yet Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others. He hopes that we will stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune and instead enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated and we experience intensely what it is to be a people, to be part of a people.”

Pope Francis hugs a man in his visit to a rehab
Touching suffering... wonderfully complicated... intense empathy. Having gone through a degree of ministry burn-out of late, I might have found such words repellent. But no: they refreshed. Is a mark of a saint that he or she speaks words - the same words - that from another would have a different effect?

I posted the Pope's words on Facebook and my brother, a social worker, commented, “I can draw some parallels with my profession here”. My brother works with adults with learning difficulties, work which I can imagine can be tough, long and thankless.

This may be another mark of a saint: he can speak to any and all, man or woman, western or eastern, of any religion or none, with words that will resonate.

I applaud all who “touch the suffering of others”, who embrace human solidarity and refuse the blandishments of self-centredness. I don't always want to want to walk that path myself, but as another saint (Teresa of Avila) almost said, I want to want to.

Speak on, Pope Francis. I, for one, am listening.

(A little theological postscript for those who may question my approach to 'sainthood' in this post. I, along with reformed Christians generally, believe that 'the saints' are all who are being made holy - sainted - by Christ: all His followers, not just a select few. But I maintain it's good to recognise those who have made special progress, who become able to speak to and for humanity, to reresent human potential and beckon us all higher. Call them prophets if you like; call them stars. Like the word martyr - originally a word to describe all Christians as witnesses, which came to be especially used of those who died for their testimony - the word saint can, I think, bear these two levels.)

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