FRANCIS, AND THE COMING PASSION OF THE CHURCH
by Ron DiCianni
EIGHT years ago, I had a powerful experience before the Blessed Sacrament  where I felt the Lord asked me to put my music ministry second and begin to “watch” and “speak” of the things He would show me. Under the spiritual direction of holy, faithful men, I gave my “fiat” to the Lord. It was clear to me from the very beginning that I was not to speak with my own voice, but the voice of Christ’s established authority on earth: the Magisterium of the Church. For to the twelve Apostles Jesus said,
Whoever listens to you listens to me. (Luke 10:16)
And the chief prophetic voice in the Church is that of the office of Peter, the Pope. 
The reason I mention this is because, taking into consideration everything that I have been inspired to write, everything that is happening in the world, everything that is in my heart now (and all of it I submit to the Church’s discernment and judgment) I believe the pontificate of Pope Francis is a significant signpost at this juncture in time.
In March of 2011, I wrote The Seven Seals of Revolution explaining how we appear to be on the threshold of witnessing these seals  being definitively opened in our times. It takes no theologian to recognize that the contents of the seals are appearing daily in our headlines: the murmurs of a third World War,  economic collapse and hyper-inflation,  the end of the antibiotic era and thus plagues ; the onset of famine from the damage to our food supply by poisoning, erratic weather, the eradication of honey bees, etc.  It is hard not to see that the time of the seals may be upon us.
But before the seals are opened in the Book of Revelation, Jesus dictates seven letters to “the seven churches.” In these letters, the Lord takes to task—not the pagans—but the Christian churches for their compromises, complacency, tolerance of evil, participation in immorality, lukewarmness, and hypocrisy. Perhaps it could be summarized best in the words of the letter to the church at Ephesus:
I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate the wicked; you have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and discovered that they are impostors. Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:1-5)
Here, Jesus is addressing faithful Christians! They have a good sense of what is right and wrong. They easily spot pastors who are worldly. They have suffered persecution from both within and without the Church. But… they have lost the love they had at first.
This is essentially what Pope Francis is now saying to the Church…
SEVEN LETTERS, SEVEN WOES
In Part I of Francis, and the Coming Passion of the Church, we examined Christ’s entry into Jerusalem and how it parallels the Holy Father’s reception thus far. Understand, the comparison is not so much Jesus with Pope Francis, but Jesus and the prophetic direction of the Church.
After Jesus entered the City, he cleansed the temple and then proceeded to dictate to the disciples seven woes addressed to the Pharisees and Scribes (see Matt 23:1-36). The seven letters in Revelation were likewise addressed to the “seven stars”, that is, leaders of the churches; and like the seven woes, the seven letters essentially address the same spiritual blindness.
Jesus then laments over Jerusalem; in Revelation, John weeps because there is no one worthy to open the seals.
And then what?
Jesus begins his discourse on the signs of His coming and close of the age. Likewise, John witnesses the opening of the seven seals, which are the hard labour pains that lead to the end of the age and birth of a new era. 
FIRST LOVE LOST
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city shook. Likewise, Pope Francis continues to shake up Christendom. But the most unexpected target of the Holy Father’s criticisms has been toward the “conservative” element in the Church, those who by and large “cannot tolerate the wicked; [who] have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and discovered that they are impostors. Moreover, [those who] have endurance and have suffered for [Christ’s] name, and have not grown weary.” In other words, those who cannot tolerate the slaughter of the unborn, those who defend traditional marriage, the dignity of the human person, and often that at the cost of friendships, family, even jobs. They are those who have persevered through lifeless liturgies, weak homilies, and bad theology; those who have listened to Our Lady, persevered through suffering, and remained obedient to the Magisterium.
And yet, can we not hear the words of Jesus being said to us again through the Holy Father?
…you have lost the love you had at first. (Rev 2:4)
What is our first love, or rather, what should it be? Our love to make Jesus known among the nations, at any cost. That was the fire that Pentecost lit; that was the fire that led the Apostles to their martyrdoms; that was the fire that spread throughout Europe and Asia and beyond, converting kings, transforming nations, and giving birth to saints. As Paul VI said,
There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, are not proclaimed… —POPE PAUL VI, Evangelization in the Modern World, n. 22
Where is the evangelizing heart of the Church? We see it here and there, in this rare movement or that person. But can we say, as a whole, that we have responded to John Paul II’s urgent plea when he prophetically proclaimed:
God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all people. —Redemptoris Missio, n. 3
Do we ever speak the name of Jesus to our friends and neighbours? Do we ever lead others to the truths of the Gospel? Do we ever share the life and teachings of Jesus? Do we ever convey the hopes and promises that come with a life lived and dedicated to Christ and His Kingdom? Or do we just argue about moral issues?
I too have had to search my soul on these questions. Because that is what is missing, by and large, from the work of the Church today. We have become experts at keeping the status quo in our parishes! “Don’t stir the pot! Faith is private! Keep everything neat and tidy!” Really? As the world continues to descend rapidly into moral darkness, is this not the time to take our lampstand out from beneath the bushel basket? To be the salt of the earth? To bring, not peace, but the sword of love and truth?
Go against the current, against this civilization that is doing us so much harm. Understand? Go against the current: and this means making noise… I want a mess… I want trouble in the dioceses! I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!… Go forward, remaining true to the values of beauty, goodness, and truth. —POPE FRANCIS, philly.com, Jul. 27th, 2013; Vatican Insider, Aug. 28th, 2013
A Church that doesn’t go out and preach simply becomes a civic or humanitarian group, he said. It is a Church that has lost its first love.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
Of course, we should have nothing but high praise for those who volunteer at Catholic pregnancy centers and in front of abortion clinics, or who engage politicians and the democratic process fighting for traditional marriage, respect for human dignity, and a more just and civilized society. But what Pope Francis is saying now to the Church, and sometimes in the most blunt of terms, is that we cannot forget the kerygma, the “first proclamation” of the Gospel, our first love.
And so he begins by calling Christians, as did John Paul II, to open wide their hearts to Jesus:
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ… —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 3
Isn’t this exactly what Jesus said in one of the seven letters, again, addressed to Christians:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me. (Rev 3:20)
We can’t give what we don’t have. Other reasons we need to begin with ourselves, says Francis, are because there are “Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter”  and because of worldliness.
Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being. It is what the Lord reprimanded the Pharisees for: “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (Jn 5:44). It is a subtle way of seeking one’s “own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:21). —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 93
Thus, he reminds us that evangelization is “the first task of the Church,”  and that we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings.”  Or as Pope Benedict said, “We cannot calmly accept the rest of humanity falling back again into paganism.” 
…all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel. —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 20
This means that the Church must shift gears, he says, into a “pastoral ministry in a missionary style”  that is not…
… obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing. —Evangelii Gaudium, n. 35
This is the kerygma that Pope Francis feels is missing and needs to be urgently restored:
…the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment. —Evangelii Gaudium, n. 164
THROWING THE POPE OVERBOARD
But many Catholics today are upset because the Holy Father isn’t emphasizing the culture war as much, or has reached out to atheists and gays, the poor and disenfranchised, the divorced and re-married Catholic. But he has done so “while losing none” of the “depth and truth” of our Catholic Tradition, which he has time and again affirmed must be preserved in whole.  In truth, some are beginning to sound an awful lot like the Pharisees who wanted the law stressed; who have distilled Catholicism to a “collection of prohibitions”  and rehearsed apologetics; who feel it is scandalous for the Pope to reach out to the peripheries in such a way that has diminished the dignity of his office (such as washing the feet of a Muslim woman!). I am amazed at how quickly some Catholics are ready to throw the Holy Father overboard the Barque of Peter.
If we aren’t careful, Jesus will weep over us as He did Jerusalem.
Let us ask the Lord that… [we not] be pure legalists, hypocrites, like the scribes and Pharisees … Let us not be corrupt… nor be lukewarm… but be like Jesus, with that zeal to seek people, heal people, to love people. —POPE FRANCIS, ncregister.com, Jan. 14th, 2014
That is not to say that there aren’t some just criticisms on the way the Holy Father has phrased some things, particularly in his off-the-cuff remarks. Some of these I have dealt with in Misunderstanding Francis.
But we cannot miss the underlying prophetic message. The seven churches to whom Jesus addressed His letters are no longer Christian nations. The Lord came and removed their lampstand because they failed to heed the prophetic word. Christ has likewise been sending us prophets too, such as St. Faustina, Blessed John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are all saying much the same thing as Pope Francis, and that is the need to repent, trust in God’s mercy again, and spread the message to everyone around us. Are we listening, or are we responding like the Pharisees and Scribes, burying our talents in the ground, turning a deaf ear to authentic “private” and “public” revelation, and refusing to hear those who challenge our comfort zone?
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you. (Matt 23:37)
I ask, because the definitive opening of the seals draws ever closer to this hard-hearted generation as we complacently and calmly let our neighbours descend into paganism—in part, because we told them all about the rights of the unborn and traditional marriage, but failed to bring them into an encounter with the love and mercy of Jesus.
…the threat of judgment also concerns us, the Church in Europe, Europe and the West in general… the Lord is also crying out to our ears the words that in the Book of Revelation he addresses to the Church of Ephesus: “If you do not repent I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” Light can also be taken away from us and we do well to let this warning ring out with its full seriousness in our hearts, while crying to the Lord: “Help us to repent! Give all of us the grace of true renewal! Do not allow your light in our midst to blow out! Strengthen our faith, our hope and our love, so that we can bear good fruit!” —BENEDICT XVI, Opening Homily, Synod of Bishops, October 2nd, 2005, Rome.
Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me… For it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God. (Luke 10:16, 1 Pt 4:17)
To receive The Now Word, Mark’s daily Mass reflections,
click on the banner below to subscribe.
Your email will not be shared with anyone.
Spiritual Food for Thought is a full-time apostolate.
Will you help me this year with your prayers and tithes?
- cf. About Mark
- cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1581; cf. Matt 16:18; Jn 21:17
- cf. Rev 6:1-17, 8:1
- cf. 2014 and the Rise of the Beast
- cf. sciencedirect.com
- cf. wnd.com; iceagenow.info; cf. Snow in Cairo
- cf. Dear Holy Father… He is Coming!
- Evangelii Gaudium, n. 6
- Evangelii Gaudium, n. 15
- Cardinal Ratzinger (POPE BENEDICT XVI), The New Evangelization, Building the Civilization of Love; Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers, December 12, 2000
- Evangelii Gaudium, n. 35
- cf. Part I
- BENEDICT XVI; cf. Objective Judgment