March 17, 2013

Pope Francis: To follow, To Edify and To Confess

On March 14, following the conclave, Pope Francis gathered with the Cardinals to pray for the Church.   He exhorted his brothers with words that encourage me to pray, "After these days of grace I would like us all to have the courage, simply the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord, to build up the Church in the Blood of the Lord, the blood shed on the Cross, and to confess the glory of Christ crucified."  (Click here to for his very first words as Pope to those gathered at St. Peter's square - via Sr. Lisa at Nunspeak.)

The tender but challenging truth suggested in these three simple ideas fills my soul: to prayerfully walk in Christ's presence whereever it leads, to build up the Church with the Blood of Christ no matter the price, to confess the glory of Christ crucified with every fiber of strength God has given us - this is life to the full!  There is so much more to say, but for now, this close to Easter, it is good to think about the essence of His message, his invitation to have courage together before the mystery of the Cross by the blood of Jesus.  This is the way forward for the Church and for each one of us personally.

The blood of Jesus - fountain of our salvation!  My heart goes here because it helps me realize how much the Lord has loved us and the power of the life He gives us.  Because Christ has loved us with a love that is stronger than death - we have hope even in the face of our failures.

But there is an implied challenge in these words - to the degree that our hearts remain hard, that we will not repent, that our lives are unconverted by the love revealed by Christ Jesus, we have not fully welcomed the gift of our redemption - and only those who welcome this gift can enter deep into its saving mystery.  As the Holy Father preached today, God is so merciful that the problem is not that He will ever stop extending His forgiveness to us - but we might stop asking if we allow our hearts to be hard to his Word.

 If we want to be disciples of the Son of God, those who hear the word and keep it, we must deny ourselves and pick up our cross and follow our Crucified master. In order to be the disciple of the Lord, in order to listen to the Word in our heart, we must make space - a movement of self-denial, not only a denial of sin but a denial also of those things that dispose us to sin.

We can only be filled with the riches of Christ if we are empty of ourselves.  Filled with ourselves, drunk on materialism, caught up our cleverness, tied down to our need for control or riches or security or reputation - there is no space for God to give us His Word or freedom to welcome this gift of love.  And His Word laid open on the Cross is the true life of our hearts and only hope of this dying world. 

With the Word of the Father, the Word made flesh, we have everything. Without this Word of Hope living in our hearts and in our actions, we live without the meaning or purpose the Father created us to know.  Indeed, without the Word who was from the beginning, all else is loss and can only end poorly.

Our lives must begin and end in the Word entrusted to us by the Father, the Word who proceeds from His Heart, the Word who knows the way into our hearts, the Word who knows the only pathway into the Heart of the Trinity.  To live by the Word of the Father, to live by the Truth Himself, means, in addition to self-denial, the acceptance of suffering for the sake of love - this is a life covered and filled with the blood of Christ.  Love suffers the hardships of others - our spouse, our children, our parents, our neighbors, even our enemies - because love cannot stand for the beloved to suffer alone.   Love raised up by the blood of Christ suffers rejection and being misunderstood because it is more powerful than persecution.

Love never gives up hope because the blood of Christ is its strength.  But for a Christian to try to love without Christ, for a Christian to try to live without the Cross- love unsurrendered to God leads to disaster. As Pope Francis explained in his first mass with the Cardinals who elected Him:  "When we walk without the Cross, when one builds without the Cross, and when we confess Christ without the Cross, we are not the disciples of the Lord by the servants of the world."