"…Pope Francis is a man of discernment, and, at times, that discernment results in freeing him from the confinement of doing something in a certain way because it was ever thus.” Cardinal Sean O’Malley
As Catholics, we are steeped in a deep religious tradition that is filled with meaning and symbolism. Step inside one of the great cathedrals (even in America), and you will feel the weight of holy history. Pick up the Catechism, and be amazed at the beautiful, almost lyrical, communion of Grace and Truth. The Church, in her wisdom, gives us countless ways to encounter God.
Yet, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, among the most influential and respected of American prelates, points out that the Holy Father has consistently challenged a certain something in our tradition, devotion, and practice. This “challenge” has already made more than a few Catholics uncomfortable, perhaps even irritable. Could it be that Francis has a desire to make many, many more of us uncomfortable?
What he wants to make uncomfortable within us, I believe, are those devotions, practices and traditions that fail to move our hearts into deeper communion with God. A devotion practiced for the sake of familiarity or sentimentality, but lacking in true meaning and intimacy would seem to be what Cardinal O’Malley categorizes as “was ever thus”, something done because we’ve always done it that way.
Francis’ own words consistently call us out of the practice of routine for its own sake, and into intimacy. Said another way, Francis is calling us out of a certain complacency, a certain deadness of heart for deeper life in Jesus. In a recent homily on Jesus' return to Nazareth, Francis said of the Nazarenes, “they are so confident of their faith, their observance of the commandments, that they did not need another salvation.” The Holy Father went on to say, “This is the drama of the blind observance of the commandments…”
I believe that this pope is rebuilding the heart of a Church squarely laid on the foundation of his predecessors. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have provided an accessible theological, anthropological and philosophical foundation on which Catholicism can speak to the world, and speak to its own, in this tumultuous post-modern era. Francis is building a home on that foundation, where the human heart finds life and communion with God.
In that, though, he calls us out of our comfort, our complacency, out of inertia, and into the deep. Our observance of tradition and devotion should always take us somewhere, else we are simply practicing something because it “was ever thus”.
In striking words, the Holy Father speaks clearly,
“An authentic faith always implies a deep desire to change the world. And this is the question we should pose ourselves: do we too have great visions and zeal? Are we bold too? Do our dreams fly high? Are we consumed by zeal? Or are we mediocre and satisfied with our theoretical apostolic plans? Let us always remember that the strength of the Church does not reside in herself or in her organizational capacity, but is instead concealed in the deep waters of God. And these waters agitate our desires, and our desires expand our hearts.”
So, I invite you to ponder these questions:
Am I bold?
Do my dreams fly high?
Am I consumed by zeal?
Am I content with the “was ever thus” in my life?
What desires is God agitating within me?
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