Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pope Francis: Pastoral Challenges for our Spiritual Journey

By Father John W. Crossin, OSFS

Pastors, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, know that challenging the members of the Congregation is part of the job description. Issuing such “wakeup calls” is usually not the pastor’s favorite thing to do. The pastor’s popularity -- and collections -- might go down as people can initially be shaken or even angry about a challenge. Yet the pastor is charged with the spiritual well-being of the members of the Congregation.

Recently Pope Francis’ poll numbers have gone down a bit. Most everyone knows that he has been saying quite challenging things since he was elected bishop of Rome. Reading the texts first of his exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, and now his encyclical, Laudato Si', I see something to challenge almost everyone. I include myself as one who has been challenged, for example, to live more simply, among other things.

The purpose of such challenges is to create “disequilibrium.” The call to conversion upsets our comfortable balance of friends who agree with us and our ways of thinking that are well insulated from some parts of the world. The challenge affects all the things we say to ourselves when we want to avoid real issues. All of us have blind spots and sometimes we want to stay blind. So we defend ourselves--at least initially.

Of course, the call of the Gospel is to open ourselves, even reluctantly, to transformation in Christ. Our problem is not really with Pope Francis, but with following Jesus in the Church. We can shape our ways of thinking to be more like His. We can walk with some of the disparate, and sometime disreputable, people Jesus talked to and healed.

The challenges should lead us into prayer. What is God saying to me? Should I take another look at my ways of thinking or acting?

These questions might lead us to consult a spiritual friend or two. These are friends or family members who are spiritually wise, have good judgment and will be honest with us. They can help us with discerning God’s will.

Among the larger number of suggestions Pope Francis makes, we are called to discern, what is the one path I am called to follow now? Who is God calling me to be now? These are the underlying challenges when Pope Francis speaks of the poor, immigrants, environmental degradation and other issues. He invites us to take merciful action, and the challenge is always to go deeper in following Christ.

Father Crossin is an Oblate of St. Francis De Sales and executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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