Love for the Roman Pontiff must be in us a delightful passion, for in him we see Christ. If we deal with the Lord in prayer, we will go forward with a clear gaze that will permit us to perceive the action of the Holy Spirit, even in the face of events we do not understand or which produce sighs or sorrow.
—St. José Escriva, In Love with the Church, n. 13
AS Catholics, our duty is not to look for perfection in our bishops, but to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd in theirs.
Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
Pope Francis is the “chief” shepherd of Christ’s Church and “…he carries out among men that task of sanctifying and governing which Jesus entrusted to Peter.” St. Escriva, The Forge, n. 134 History teaches us, beginning with Peter, that the successors to that first Apostle carry out that office with varying degrees of competence and holiness. The point is this: one can quickly get stuck on their faults and failings and soon fail to hear Jesus speaking through them, despite.
For indeed he was crucified out of weakness, but he lives by the power of God. So also we are weak in him, but toward you we shall live with him by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:4)
The “conservative” Catholic media has, for the most part, been stuck for some time now on the ambiguous or confusing aspects of Francis’ pontificate. As such, they often miss or completely omit reporting on the often powerful and anointed statements of the Pontiff—words that have deeply touched, not only me, but many of the Catholic leaders and theologians I converse with behind the scenes. The question we must each ask ourselves is this: Have I lost the capacity to hear the Voice of Christ speaking through my shepherds—despite their shortcomings?
Though this is not the main point of today’s article, it almost has to be said. Because when it comes to quoting Pope Francis these days, I sometimes have to preempt his words with such caveats as above (trust me… articles like these are almost always followed with emails telling me how blind and deceived I am). As the head of one well-known apostolate said to me recently regarding those who have taken a position to criticize Pope Francis publically:
Their tone leads a person to feel as though you are betraying Christ’s Church if you don’t disagree or even somewhat “bash” Pope Francis. At the very least, it is implied, we must receive everything he says with a grain of salt and question it. Yet I have been very nourished by his gentle spirit and call to compassion. I know the ambiguities are concerning, but it just makes me pray for him all the more. I’m afraid schism will come from all this ultra-conservatism in the Church. I don’t like playing into the hands of Satan, the Divider.
CALLING ALL PROPHETS
My spiritual director once said, “The prophets have short careers.” Yes, even in the New Testament Church, they are often “stoned” or “beheaded,” that is, silenced or sidelined (see Silencing the Prophets).
Pope Francis has not only cast the stones aside but has deliberately called the Church to step up her prophetic voice.
Prophets, true prophets: those who risk their neck for proclaiming “the truth” even if uncomfortable, even if “it is not pleasant to listen to”… “A true prophet is one who is able to cry for the people and to say strong things when needed.” —POPE FRANCIS, Homily, Santa Marta; April 17th, 2018; Vatican Insider
Here, we have a beautiful description of a “true prophet.” For many today have the idea that a prophet is someone who always begins their sentences saying, “Thus sayeth the Lord!” and then pronounces a strong warning and rebuke to their listeners. That was often the case in the Old Testament and is sometimes necessary in the New. But with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus and the revelation of God’s profound love and salvific plan, a new era of mercy was opened to humanity:
In the Old Covenant I sent prophets wielding thunderbolts to My people. Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart. I use punishment when they themselves force Me to do so; My hand is reluctant to take hold of the sword of justice. Before the Day of Justice I am sending the Day of Mercy.—Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary, n. 1588
So what is prophecy today?
Witness to Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Revelation 19:10)
And what should our witness to Jesus look like?
This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another… Your every act should be done with love. (John 13:35; 1 Corinthians 16:14)
Thus, Pope Francis goes on to say:
The prophet is not a professional “reproacher”… No, they are people of hope. A prophet reproaches when necessary and opens doors overlooking the horizon of hope. But, the real prophet, if they do their job well, risks their neck… Prophets have always been persecuted for telling the truth.
Persecution, he adds, for having said it in a “direct” and not “lukewarm” way. As such,
When the prophet preaches the truth and touches the heart, either the heart opens or it becomes stone, unleashing anger and persecution…
He concludes his homily saying:
The Church needs prophets. These kinds of prophets. “I will say more: She needs us all to be prophets.”
Yes, every one of us is called to share in Christ’s prophetic office.
…the faithful, who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ and integrated into the People of God, are made sharers in their particular way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ, and have their own part to play in the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the World. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 897
The “key” to being a faithful prophet in these times is not one’s capacity to read headlines and post links about the “signs of the times.” Neither is it a matter of publically pronouncing the faults and errors of others with a right mix of indignation and doctrinal purity. Rather, it is the ability to lay one’s head upon the breast of Christ and listen to His heartbeats… and then direct them to whom they are intended. Or as Pope Francis put it so eloquently:
The prophet is that who prays, who looks at God and at the people, and feels pain when the people are wrong; the prophet cries—they are able to cry over the people—but they are also able to “play it out well” to tell the truth.
That might get you beheaded. You might be stoned. But…
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:11-12)
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