Francis and the signs of the times

Pope Francis (Photo credit © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk)

Pope Francis (Photo credit © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk)

Pope Francis’ words and actions are signs of some larger vision that will be revealed to us in due course, writes Garry Everett.

BY Garry Everett*

Church media has been all aflutter these last eight weeks with accounts of the new Pope, his words and actions. His simplicity has been criticised by some; his courage to do new things has been decried by others.

He has been saluted for his respect for Vatican II as “a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit” and condemned for allegedly breaching liturgical rubrics and washing the feet of women and Muslims.

How are we to read these “signs of the times”?

I am not a Vaticanologist with a deep appreciation of the inner workings of that ancient and complex organisation. Neither am I a studious observer of papal behaviours. However, it does seem to me that Pope Francis’ words and actions are signs of some larger vision that will be revealed to us in due course.

The danger of course is in getting ahead of ourselves, or worse, ahead of Pope Francis, and trying to predict the future of his papacy with some degree of infallibility.

Allow me to nominate four signs that suggest certain emphases that the Pope is underscoring in these first few weeks of his papacy.

1. He is his own man. There is plenty of evidence of this from his “buona sera” greeting when he first appeared on the balcony after his election, to his decision not to live in the relatively sumptuous papal apartments. ‘Being one’s own man’ implies a great deal of courage; it also indicates that we are in for more surprises, a potential clash of values and some disruptions of the traditional ways of ‘being Pope’. In Francis we have a man who is grounded in his spirituality, who allows his view of God to direct his actions, and a man who is not afraid to take risks for the sake of the Gospel. It is a useful exercise to reflect for a moment on all the qualities that might be associated with ‘being one’s own man’, or woman. My belief is that Francis has done this exercise, and done it well.

2. He is committed to the poor. Already he has expressed the hope that the Church will be “a Church that is poor and for the poor”. That is his hope for us, but for Francis it is about modelling the attitudes, spirituality, and behaviours in his life and actions that reveal the essence of loving the poor. He believes in the scriptural statement that “you will always have the poor with you” (unless you change your ways!). How else do we explain his choice to wash the feet of those in prison, rather than of those in church? His words and actions indicate that he believes that it is in loving service to the least in this world that we will find our own salvation. He ministered in a country whose theologians taught that God will bring down the mighty and raise up the lowly so that all might be equal. Expect to see more lessons on how the poor are a blessing to all of us.

3. He promotes shared leadership. One of his earliest actions was to appoint a Council, an advisory group of eight Cardinals, to help him with governance of the universal Church. Some observers claim that the eight are not all ‘yes men’. If this were true, then Pope Francis is to be congratulated for seeking to engage with others who in some ways will be different from him. Some saw the creation of this Council as diminishing the power of the Pope; others saw it as a more communal form of discernment, a sharing of wisdom, more effective use of power. Is this Council to be seen as a forerunner to other structures that might involve other churches, other faiths, women, laity? Once one begins to share, as the 5000 found, miraculous things begin to happen!

4. He lives in the world. This is not as trite as it may first appear to be. Francis is a student of cultures and is an advocate of enabling the Gospel to dialogue with each and all cultures. In his writings he speaks of “the mission not being opposed to learning from the city”. Clearly, the Pope wants ‘the book of the Word’ and ‘the book of life’ to be read together. He has said on many occasions that the Church must be missionary, and that mission is to engage the cultures of the world. This engagement is not to be a military style battle with victory as its outcome. Rather, the engagement is to be based on mutual respect and its outcome to be the promotion of the common good. The dialogue with cultures brings risk-taking and the need for flexibility – qualities Francis seems keen to model for all of us.

What do you think about the Pope’s words and actions and their implications for Catholics and others? Francis has many challenges that lie ahead of him, not least those in the areas of morality, human rights and political policies. We cannot presume to know what he will teach on certain problematic issues, but we can begin to see how he intends to approach the reading of “the signs of the times”.

I like what I see.

* Garry Everett has spent all his professional life, as well as much of retirement, as an educator, and mostly of adults. During that time, he has had a close connection with many Good Samaritan Sisters describing them as “old and treasured friends”. Garry’s enduring interests lie in family, Scripture, theology, and Church renewal. At a local level he is involved in social justice, ecumenism and Mercy Partners. He is also a member of his parish council and parish St Vincent de Paul Conference.

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The Good Oil, May 21, 2013. If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.

6 Responses to “Francis and the signs of the times”

  1. Jennifer says:

    The pope is entirely traditional when it comes to women. But then I see man moving in the church to further his own power primarily by excluding women, not the holy spirit – claims that the spirit is working is just self justifying propaganda.

  2. Thank you Gary. Like so many others, I enjoy reading articles like yours about Pope Francis. May all Catholics try to imitate the example of Francis….especially by these four ways: http://v2catholic.com/johnw/2013/2013-04-29imitating-pope-francis'-common-touch.htm

  3. kevin treston says:

    As expected Garry’s comments are so perceptive for hopefully a new era of what papacy means. The old imperial model of church has no place in a modern church. Not only is the imperial model of church dysfunctional but it is very defective in its understanding of the nature of church. Garry has highlighted key elements of the papacy of Francis that portend a more promising signs of future leadership. Thanks Garry, keep writing!

  4. Joe says:

    What a positive and at the same time balanced take on the early words and behaviour of Pope Francis. Of course many many things are happening in the Curia, as happens in any bureaucracy when a new leader comes into government. Secular commentators on the new Pope have been criticised for not appreciating the work of the Holy Spirit in the election of Francis and in guiding his exercising his power and authority of his office. In my view there was very few examples of in recent years of Popes behaving as The Servant of the Servants of God and I am aware of even fewer examples of Curial Prefects acting as servants of The Servant of the Servants of God. I have seen, on the other hand , more than a few examples of grandiosity, dogmatic certitude and a lack of Natural Justice. Like Mr Everett I do not want to join other commentators and get ahead of ourselves. However I would not like to be Pope Francis drawing up a list of “Must Do’s”, first in the short term and then the longer term.
    But when he does, he has a wealth of pastoral experience in a country where a few have extravagant wealth and power and a large number who eke out their daily bread in servile toil on empty bellies. I pray that his Christ-like concern for the poor, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the despised never falters. God Bless Pope Francis!

  5. Una says:

    Thank you Garry. I hope you will make further contributions to thegoodoil.
    I rejoiced to read your first article and I appreciate your clear, unbiassed observations here today. As with you first article, this one rings true to my intuition. There is Grace moving in the church and in the world at a subterranean level, both being FED by the signs of the times, and in RESPONSE to the signs of the times. Hope is everywhere abounding thank God.

  6. mary viney says:

    These words ‘Pope Francis’ words and actions are signs of some larger vision that will be revealed to us in due course’ struck a note in me. I feel my course is to join our Emeritus Benedict XVI and many others to pray with the Church so that the Holy Spirit will be revealed through Pope Francis’ vision and that the People of God overcome their fear of the transcendental and allow the Holy Spirit to work wherever they serve Jesus.

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