In Pope Francis, the smile of God is back
Our world is very tired with sad stories. We grab any lifebuoy which hints at hope or possibility. It could be the media, milling around the Lindo Wing Hospital, waiting for the birth of a baby – where many journalists ended up interviewing each other or a door (Kay Burley supposedly!) It could be the Chilean miners rescued in 2010; it could be even a dog alive in Oklahoma after the tornado; it could be Mulala speaking in the UN Assembly on her sixteenth birthday; Or Donal Walsh speaking to young people on suicide and on life; or Joanne O Riordan so bubbly – with her banner of ‘no limbs – no limits.’ Or Maureen Grieves on forgiveness for Ashley and Joanathan who killed her husband Alan, on his way to Midnight Mass; Or the sunshine of Summer which has brightened all our hearts; It might even be the announcement of the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio on the 13th March.
John Paul II was 58 when he was elected. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was 76; He had handed in his resignation as Bishop and then he became Pope! Benedict was 78 when he was elected. Pope Francis has appeared at a time when he is most needed. He brings a smile to the world stage. He attracts attention. He speaks a simple language. He doesn’t bother with the accoutrements of office. From his first appearance – he showed he was different.
Those of us who work out in the parishes, sometimes find ourselves, becoming strangers and foreigners in the official Church. The language of the New Missal; the formalities of dress and Ritual were becoming more and more distant from our reality. The rigidity of thought and commentary, meant that we often felt that the HQ Church was moving away from the Church of Jesus Christ that we meet each day in our lives. And we felt we were outsiders.
The Ryan Report/the Murphy Report added to our sense of dismay. The Report on the Magdalene laundries further disheartened us. How could this happen? It felt embarrassing to belong to the official Church. The treatment of people like Sean Fagan and Tony Flannery made us wonder how could the bureaucracy of Rome suffocate the ‘spirit of Jesus Christ’? We were fearful during the debates on the ‘Protection of life during pregnancy Bill’ and what might church spokespersons say even on the ‘excommunication of our politicians’! We worried on how the ‘Establishment’ will deal with same sex marriages. We simply worried on so many fronts because we lacked confidence. Where was the Gospel or the Good News of Jesus gone? We watched people disappear from our Churches, people who now saw it as a service provider (for baptism, Communion, Confirmation, marriages, funerals). God was missing and not missed. We wondered what had we done and what could we do. The God we meet in the lives of our communities was so different from what was now being presented.
And then Francis appeared.
He smiled. He spoke. He chatted. He wasn’t guarded in his comments. He talked of the poor. He told the young people in Brazil some of the following and has made a habit of throwing little gems around as asides :
- ‘Shake up the status quo;
- Get out of the stuffy sacristies;
- Go to the margins of life;
- Don’t over intellectualise faith;
- Use a grammar of simplicity;
- Spread a message of love and forgiveness;
- Fish for God in the deep waters of his mystery;
- The Church has appeared as too weak, too distant from the needs of ordinary people even too cold and too caught up in itself;
- The Church is unfit for the new questions in life;
- Have warm hearts;
- Make a noise and a mess/a fuss;
- Don’t worry about upsetting the CDF – get on with the message and make mistakes;
- Talk about Jesus Christ;
- Make sure that Bishops are not careerists;
- Church diplomats are about Christ and the Gospel and not to become part of the Establishment.’
The stodgy language of Church (sometimes) has little or nothing to say to so many. And Francis appears. As one theologian summed up what Sacrament means – ‘ A smile on the face of God.’ (Schillebeeckz). The ‘smile’ is back. The poetry is here. The artist allows us to breathe. We have fresh air. Francis emphasises simplicity. We know he is right. We know he is sincere. Will he get everything right? He won’t . Will he tidy up everything? He won’t. Has he been surefooted so far? It appears so. Will that continue? It won’t. Many will dig into his history and drag out Yorio and Jalics (two Jesuit priests tortured by the Junta in Argentina). Some suggest that he comes across as so good because he realises his own weakness and mistakes and sins – but if that leads to humility and ‘lack of infallibility’ – how much better it is?
Did some of us like what he had to say about homosexuality (even in the priesthood) in the chat on the plane? We did. It was refreshing. Did we like what he had to say about women and priesthood? Some of us didn’t. But that too is fine. Many of us feel that the spirit of John XXIII is among us again or more truly – the Spirit of Jesus Christ has resurfaced and we are delighted. We know the wonder of God. We know the miracle of faith. We know the marvel of God in all the people around us. But we now have someone who echoes our own simple sentiments and we can feel alive again and hope has reappeared; It is good. We all smile with amazement at how the Spirit was ‘allowed’ to release to us – such a man as Jorge Mario Bergoglio? What indeed went right/or/ wrong at the Conclave? Did we really need the system to collapse so badly for the Spirit to rescue us. Thanks be to God.
— Seamus Ahearne osa, Rivermount Parish, Dublin 11