By guest blogger Dr. David Delaney
Thursday’s Gospel reminds me of the dangers of the fallen heart. The Pharisees, the teachers of the law, were so sure that they knew the fullness of the Law (Jn 8:51-59). However, when faced with the Law’s fullness, Jesus who is the Law, they could not recognize Him. He did not conform to their limited understanding of God. They refused to step back and ask themselves if this might be a new Prophet, even the Messiah. Their hearts were closed to a re-evaluation of their interpretation of the law; they did not consider if they understood it only partially.
I can’t help but see a parallel here to recent criticisms of our Holy Father Francis from some Catholics who are concerned about his liturgical sensibilities. I share their concern for authentic liturgy. I strongly believe that a liturgy that helps us to understand we are at once on earth and in heaven, is necessary for the new evangelization. However, a group of these “liturgically sensitive” Catholics seems to have allowed this concern to affect the openness of their hearts to our newly elected Vicar of Christ and have given themselves up to suspicion and even contempt. Like the Pharisees, some have even taken to calling him the equivalent of “possessed.”
Pope Francis is going to be full of surprises for all of us. Before Pope Francis, we had two great teaching popes who used their personal gifts to bring a new synthesis of the faith to the contemporary world. Francis will be another great teaching Pope, but he will be more sparing in his use of words. He will use words, but he will demonstrate them in action in ways that will surprise most of us, and unfortunately, his demonstrations will become a stumbling block to others who have not fully understood the teaching of his predecessors.
Blessed John Paul the Great emphasized in his writings the necessity of acting in love, in accord with the teachings of Christ through His Church. His message that we must not be afraid, gave us the hope that Christ was still faithful to His promises, the He is still alive in His Church. Benedict XVI, perhaps the greatest theological intellect to grace the papal office since St. Gregory the Great (though JPII was not far behind), emphasized the need for faith. He fought especially against the dictatorship of relativism by which the enemy seeks to undermine the reasonableness of belief. Benedict demonstrated that greatness of intellect does in fact bring one to deep faith in Christ. A most important message for our time.
By most accounts of those who know him, Pope Francis like his predecessors, is a very intelligent man of great faith, humility, love and holiness. However, his personal style is more like his name’s sake. While St. Francis was a great evangelist, we have nothing of his writings. He was a man of living out the words he preached (though there is no evidence he said “preach always and if you must, use words”). I believe that this is what we will see from Pope Francis. He will teach using few words, which will be followed by provocative acts of love and humility.
Expect to see love lived out in ways that will teach us anew what it means to be a Christian. For those of us who have read the words of the previous popes, but not yet let these words fully penetrate our hearts and convict us by how we live, expect to be a little bit uncomfortable. However, we must let our hearts be docile and trust in Christ that He is still leading His Church through Pope Francis.
I believe that this is the papacy of love; it is the necessary final step in experiencing the new springtime in the Church, the fruits of the last 30 years of preparation for this new evangelization. When as faithful Catholics we begin to allow our actions to authentically witness to Christ, the pagan empire will begin its Christian conversion once again. Let us open our hearts to Christ in His Vicar. Let us not be one of the Pharisees who begins to pick up stones…
Dr. Delaney is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, Texas. He previously wrote for the now defunct Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex blog.