Paul and Pope Francis
Today, once again, I am preaching for mid-day prayer... so here it is:
Reading: Ephesians 3:2-12
Responsorial Psalm: You shall draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation. (Isaiah 12)
As you might know, I have been utterly captivated by the words of Pope Francis. Today’s Psalm and the reading from Paul share two of the main themes Pope Francis has focused on: to preach the gospel to everyone, and to show our joy as Christians. For Francis, we preach in everything we do, not just by explicitly offering words of the salvation of Christ to those who do not yet know him. We preach through the care we offer others, whether physical or emotional, through our actions of kindness to our families, communities, and to strangers, and through our open attitudes of joy and hope. We also preach in the more conventional sense, too, by sharing our insights with one another and teaching and learning in the classroom. To practice what we sometimes call “intellectual charity.”
Paul’s words to the Ephesians have a sense of urgency and conviction to them. He clearly sees his call as something new, something never heard of before the “now” in which he writes. Before Jesus came, the Jewish community did not seek converts to their faith, and here Paul finds himself sent to preach to all the world, to non-Jews. He even states that the Gentiles are part of the same Body of Christ as the Jewish believers—an extraordinary movement of intercultural competency.
Paul calls on the grace he has received. This message is not his own invention but was revealed to him by the Spirit. God has deemed that all of the human race is part of the saving reach of Jesus’ act of love. This is the mystery that is revealed in this time and place; this is the reason for joy.
Francis also speaks to us with an urgency. Our world 2000 years after Paul is very different, but Pope Francis reminds us that our call is much the same—to preach the gospel to those who need to hear it. Francis calls us to preach to non-Christians, of course, but also to Christians who have lost their faith or who no longer find it nourishing. We are called to listen for the wind of the Spirit and to follow it, joyfully sharing what we know, the mysteries God reveals to us every day.
If Paul were with us today, listening to the words of Francis, how would his preaching be shaped? Who would be the Gentiles he seeks out—would they be former Catholics? Would he want them to return to the fold, or would he offer comfort and hope to them whereever they are?
How would our church look to Paul? Would he feel the need to scold us as he did the Corinthians when they were divided among themselves?
Instead of making us one Body in the Church, would Paul seek to make us One Body of Humanity, through reconciling the divisions in our cities and in our country, the divisions marked by fear of those who seem different, or hatred of those who think differently?
Paul spoke of something radical and new—he was moved to newness by the Holy Spirit. Are we listening for the Holy Spirit’s cool breeze? Can we feel the refreshment that it offers us, by opening our hearts and minds to new ways of living our Christian calling?
Maybe our call in this day is to BE that cool and healing breeze in a world that is deeply wounded by war, anger, and division. Perhaps we can hear the call of God to contemplation, to love, to healing. Francis directs us to the joy of being Christian, even in the world that is broken in so many ways. He asks us to bring that joy to others, and joy, then, is the content of our preaching. We will end where he began his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium:
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”