Pope Francis four years on

Pope Francis is the current pope

Pope Francis is now on his fifth year of his papacy. He replaced Benedict XVI four years ago.

Pope Francis recently celebrated the fourth anniversary of his election. What are we to make of his pontificate, which has been marked by both notable achievements and considerable controversy? I offer here a few thoughts which can help to focus our thoughts on this “pope of surprises”. It was sent recently to Catholic newspapers in answer to a question.

In the four years that Pope Francis been in office, I have heard all sorts of things about him: that he is a great pope, a liberal, a heretic or even that his election was not valid. What should I think about him and how should I react to all this?

 I too have heard all these remarks and I can understand how many people are confused over this pope, who has been described as a “pope of surprises”. How should we react?

First, we cannot question the validity of his election. Everything was handled according to the norms for papal elections, no one questioned the validity of the election at the time and we should not do so now. The Holy Spirit inspired the cardinals to give us the pope God wants for us.

Second, Pope Francis has done the world of good for the Church. From the beginning he endeared himself to the Church and the world by his smile, his outgoing manner, his simple lifestyle, his choosing to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae in the Vatican rather than in the papal apartments so that he could be closer to the people, his obvious love for the poor and marginalised, his appeal to mercy rather than the strict enforcement of rules, and so much more.

He is truly popular, not only with Catholics but also with many non-Catholics. When he became the first pope to open an Instagram account in March 2016 he broke all records, gaining over one million followers in under twelve hours. He was Time magazines man of the year in 2013 and many other publications have featured him on their front cover.

Pope Francis has given us some memorable teaching. His first encyclical, Lumen Fidei on the important virtue of faith, came out in June 2013 only a few months after his election. His Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium came in November 2013 and gave great impetus and practical indications for spreading the Gospel more effectively in today’s world, particularly through the joy of our life. Evangelisation, which is central to the mission of the Church – “the Church exists to evangelise”, wrote Pope Paul VI – is vital for the Church at the present time and Pope Francis has made it a central theme of his pontificate.

His second encyclical Laudato si’ on care for the environment, our common home, came in June 2015. It was widely acclaimed and pointed to our need to be responsible stewards of the planet God gave us. This issue too is important at the present time, but many critics seized on certain opinionable statements on which we are free to disagree with the pope in any case, and overlooked the core perennial teaching.

One of the biggest targets for the pope’s critics was his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetita on the family, which came in April 2016. The critics focussed on one particular footnote and a few other statements in Chapter 8, which seemed to open the door to giving Communion to the divorced and remarried civilly, and which have indeed given rise to great divisions among cardinals and bishops. But leaving those statements aside, Amoris Laetitia is a marvellous document on marriage, full of practical hints on how to help couples and families stay together and grow in love in these challenging times. Everyone should read it.

And what to say about the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which helped us experience God’s mercy particularly through the sacrament of Penance and to show more mercy to others?

Is the pope a liberal? You cannot apply political terms like this to any pope. They simply don’t apply. If to be a liberal is to be concerned for the poor, the sick, the elderly, the refugees, the marginalised and the environment, then yes the pope is liberal. But what could be more conservative or traditional than Pope Francis’ repeated references to the devil, to the need for confession, to devotion to St Joseph, Our Lady and the Eucharist, to upholding Catholic teaching on birth control, abortion and the impossibility of ordaining women to the priesthood?

And Pope Francis is certainly not a heretic. There is nothing to suggest that. He might be unclear at times but he is not a heretic.

What we should all do is heed his constant petition: “Pray for me”. If someone is worried about the direction the pope is taking on a particular issue, or is happy with what he is doing, we can all pray for him. That is the best way to help him.

Jesus and the Eucharist

Our Lord, Jesus Christ, depicted with the Holy Eucharist, a sacrament He founded during His Last Supper.

In the words of St Josemaria Escriva, the Eucharist should be the “centre and root” of the spiritual life. After all, the Eucharist is Jesus himself, who gives himself to us as the nourishment of our soul and who waits for us in the “prison of love”, the tabernacle. In this meditation we pray about how we can grow in love for Jesus in the Eucharist, using words that Catalina Rivas puts on his lips in her book The Passion, published by the Apostolate of the New Evangelization. We consider:

  • Why Jesus washed the feet of the apostles before instituting the Eucharist
  • The many fruits that come from receiving Jesus well in Holy Communion
  • The sorrow of Jesus when people receive him unworthily
  • The story of a Chinese girl who was killed  for her love of the Eucharist
  • How we can grow in love for Jesus by keeping him company in the tabernacle

God is my Father

god-the-father

Our loving father God watches over us.

As we go through life with its darkness as well as its light, its turbulence as well as its calm, its suffering as well as its joys,  we find great consolation in the fact that watching over us and guiding us always is our loving Father God. In this meditation we use the writings of St Josemaria Escriva, Bonaventure Perquin and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to consider how:

  • Jesus has revealed to us that God is not just a far off creator of the universe but truly a loving Father
  • God reveals himself as our Father in many ways
  • The knowledge that God is our Father should move us to strive to become more like him
  • This knowledge leads us to trust in our Father God at all times, especially in suffering and difficulties

 

Unity in the Church

St Peter's Basilica

St Peter’s Basilica

In the Last Supper Christ prayed that all might be one. He wants all in his Church to be united with the hierarchy and with one another. Sometimes this unity can be lacking. In this meditation  we make use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and writings of the Fathers of the Church, to pray about:

  • The three bonds that unite all in the Church: our common faith, worship and government
  • How we can live each of these bonds better
  • How important it is to foster unity in the Church

Rechristianising society

City street image

Christian influence in today’s society is challenged in many ways.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ sent twelve men out to change the world. They succeeded. Within some 350 years, under the Emperor Theodosius the Roman Empire, that had persecuted the Church for 250 years, declared Christianity its official religion, giving rise to the Holy Roman Empire. Now the Christian influence in society is waning and is under attack. All the baptised are called to bring Christ and his teaching back into society.

In this meditation we consider how:

  • Christ sent the apostles out to teach all nations and they were very successful
  • The Christian influence on society is now challenged in many ways
  • The Second Vatican Council called all the baptised to help rechristianise society
  • We should not be daunted by the immensity of the task
  • St John Paul II called upon the youth to improve their world
  • We begin by growing in holiness ourselves
  • There are many things each of us can do to make a difference
  • Our Lady, Help of Christians, is our advocate in this task

As a new year begins

new-calendar-year

The beginning of a new year is a good time to take stock and make plans and reslutions for the rest of the year.

 

As a new year begins it is good to stop and reflect on the past year and make resolutions for the one just beginning. In this meditation, following a custom of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, we:

  • Give thanks for the blessings of the past year, including the crosses God has sent us
  • Ask pardon for our many failings
  • Ask God to help us carry out our new year’s resolutions to grow in holiness

Lessons from the manger: detachment

Christ is born in Bethlehem

The birth of Christ is a special time in the Church’s calendar. It is a joyful event that marks the beginning of our salvation.

From the manger in Bethlehem Jesus teaches us many lessons. In this meditation we consider the lesson of detachment from material things and comforts, which abound especially at Christmas but throughout the year as well. We consider that:

  • Jesus wants us to be happy but we will not find true happiness in material things
  • We were made for God and will be truly happy when our heart rests in him
  • Jesus teaches us much about detachment in the Sermon on the Mount
  • Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si teaches us how to be happy with a simpler way of life
  • St Teresa of Calcutta shows us how detachment from goods is freedom
  • We can follow some very practical suggestions to find the happiness we seek