Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, made comments last week to a group of Swiss Bishops which I found especially insightful and profound. The Pontiff essentially stated, and I am paraphrasing, that the Roman Catholic Church should be about Christ and spreading the Good News rather than operating like just another NGO. The Pope continued by adding that the Church should not bend “to the whims of men”.
These comments should not be taken as a slight to the important work done by NGO (Non-Governmental Organizations) throughout the world. On the contrary, the comments serve as a reminder that the work of the Church in feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and providing health services to the sick is important work but the ultimate mission of the Catholic Church is to spread the message of Christ to the world. It is in this way, by knowing Christ’s message, that the rest of the world will truly understand the importance of serving others, especially the poor, to the overall benefit of mankind.
In addition, the reminder that the spreading of the Good News is of paramount importance is central to the future outlook of the Church as well. The messages that Jesus left to us came with an added responsibility that we represent Him and spread His teachings throughout the world. It is incumbent upon the clergy and the members of the body of the Church to represent Christ to the world, but not in a confrontational manner or a judgmental way. It is important that we represent the core values of Christ’s teachings by being humble and loving one another in spite of any differences between us.
The last component of this message serves as a reinforcement that too often the Church, similar to other institutions, gets caught up in conforming to the ways of society instead of the ways of God. Each one of us, myself included, can be prone to the same patterns in our own lives. It is representative of a constant struggle between the messages of what society says is important versus what the Bible and the teachings of Christ teaches as being truly important. It requires a great deal of self-discipline for us to conform to the ways of the Bible, even the Bishops and others in religious life apparently struggle with it, based on the Pope’s comments.
The Pope is stressing the imperative focus of helping the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the disenfranchised with humility and with grace. The Advent season serves as a preparation period for the coming of the Messiah to save the world. The Church teaches us to spend time quietly with that purpose in mind as well as thinking of others ahead of yourself.
The central issue that arises when we “bend to the whims of men” is that we all tend to think of ourselves ahead of everyone else. We start to prioritize what society feels is important, and not what our faith tells us is truly important. In that scenario, if we bend to the pressures of society, we will be selfish and reserved instead of selfless and open to the needs of others.
Pope Francis had a separate message delivered around that same time to a different audience which I thought was interesting. He was speaking about the season of Advent and the preparation for Catholics for the coming of the Lord at Christmas. In this message, the Holy Father describes theology degrees and knowledge of the faith or sacred Scripture as essentially being meaningless.
The Pontiff’s message was that the only way to truly know God is through humble prayer like a child. We see that referenced in the Bible when Jesus basically tells us to humble ourselves and to become like children when we pray. In fact, it was Jesus who preached such a radical concept of calling God the Almighty by the name “Abba” which translates to “Daddy”. That was a radical concept in that time period, and still is for people of other faiths to comprehend. Jesus described the relationship between God and all of us in humanity as that type of closeness that the love of God is like the love of your Daddy. What wonderful news indeed!
The concept of humble prayer can become a challenge, and the Pope has discussed that in past homilies and addresses as well. The ways of society and the world can relentlessly beat us down in our adult lives. Some of us also may approach prayer in a very intellectual manner. It is important for us to heed the message of the Pope and from Our Lord in the Gospels, and to embrace that child-like humility in our prayer time.
It is also refreshing to know that advanced theological degrees and intensive Biblical study is not necessarily the best way to know God. I would imagine that those elements still certainly play a role in understanding our faith and informing our prayer life through “Lectio Divina”. However the Pope is saying that it is more important to grow your relationship with God through humble and contrite prayer.
Advent Call to Action
Pope Francis addressed all Catholics with what amounted to an Advent call to action by saying that during this time of waiting and preparation we should: “call to the Lord to ask him to fulfill His plan though us”. This is an intense message and one in which serves as reinforcement for the fact that God has a plan for each one of us. The Pope is reminding us that it is important for us to consistently reach out to the Lord to ensure that we are still on the right path toward the fulfillment of that plan He has for our lives.
I think it is human nature that we tend to look for bold, dynamic signs from God, but God acts humbly and usually provides very discreet signs that are smaller in scale. It is critical to remain open to those signs, and that is a definite part of our Advent journey with God. The Pope reminds us that we have all been chosen by God to live a life of holiness and devotion, free of sin.
Pope Francis, in his homily at the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, spoke about the tendency that many of us possess that compels us to try to do it all, to do too much. Instead, the Holy Father points us in the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and not try to do it all, but “simply be loved by God and transformed by His love” as Our Holy Mother lived.
He continued in that same homily to implore us all as we wait and prepare this Advent season to allow ourselves to be receptive to the “embrace of Jesus which gives us faith, hope, and peace”.
Now as we approach the last week of Advent and the days before Christmas are quickly dwindling away, the compulsion to “bend to the whims of men” will be very powerful. Our society will prioritize the shopping, gift wrapping, and decorating of trees as being critically important. However, I hope and pray that we all, myself included, take time to prioritize the messages that Pope Francis provided during Advent; that we listen for the call of the Lord. It is my hope that we can hear that call and have the courage and faith to accept His plan for our lives whatever it may hold for us today and in the future.
(Frank J. Maduri is a freelance writer with numerous publishing credits across a variety of websites and news organizations. He has previously published articles on the Catholic faith and doctrine. He currently has poetry on the Divine Mercy published in the Advent edition of a national Catholic newsletter.)