A few items of interest today. The first is that I was quoted in a Washington Post article yesterday by Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli about the continuing opposition to Pope Francis from within the Church. Published under the headline “Opposition to Pope Francis spills into view in wake of Benedict’s death,” I talked to reporter Chico Harlan about the ongoing resistance to the pope from within the Church and hierarchy. I don’t think Pope Benedict’s death will have any effect on the intensity of the attacks on the pope, although his death will likely change the way Benedict’s legacy will be exploited by Francis’s critics.
It’s always interesting to see which of my words a reporter will use after a long conversation. In this case, he quoted from my prediction that these attacks on the pope will intensify over the next 2 years through the October 2023 and 2024 synodal assemblies. I also said that these critics were driven (at least in part) by fear that the synod is being used in an attempt to reverse the Church’s moral doctrines:
“Based on what we’ve seen in the first half of January, my impression is that this resistance to Pope Francis is only going to escalate,” said Mike Lewis, a founder of Where Peter Is, a website that aims to help conservatives understand Francis’s pontificate. “I think there is a fear that everything is going to fall apart at the [assembly] in terms of Catholic moral theology.”
I also want to highlight Pope Francis’s new Wednesday catechesis series, under the theme “The passion for evangelization: The believer’s apostolic zeal.” He recently completed his catechesis on discernment and has moved on to the topic — evangelization — that first drew me to his message.
Here’s an excerpt from his first address, “The call to the apostolate,” delivered last week:
We can ask ourselves: how do we look upon others? How often do we see their faults and not their needs; how often do we label people according to what they do or what they think! Even as Christians we say to ourselves: is he one of us or not? This is not the gaze of Jesus: He always looks at each person with mercy and indeed with predilection. And Christians are called to do as Christ did, looking, like him, especially at the so-called “distant ones”. Indeed, Matthew’s account of the call ends with Jesus saying, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 13). And if any one of us considers themselves righteous, Jesus is far away. He draws near to our limitations, to our miseries, in order to heal us.
It all starts, then, with the gaze of Jesus. “He saw a man”, Matthew. This is followed — second step — by a movement. First the gaze: Jesus saw. Then the second step, movement. Matthew was sitting at the tax office; Jesus said to him: “Follow me”. And “he rose and followed him” (v. 9). We note that the text emphasizes that “he rose”. Why is this detail so important? Because in those days he who was seated had authority over the others who stood before him to listen to him or, as in that case, to pay taxes. He who sat, in short, had power. The first thing Jesus does is to detach Matthew from power: from sitting to receive others, He sets him in motion towards others, not receiving, no: he goes out to others. He makes him leave a position of supremacy in order to put him on an equal footing with his brothers and sisters, and open to him the horizons of service. This is what he does, and this is fundamental for Christians. Do we, disciples of Jesus, we, Church, sit around waiting for people to come, or do we know how to get up, to set out with others, to seek others? Saying, “But let them come to me, I am here, let them come”, is a non-Christian position. No, you go to seek them out, you take the first step.
Here’s an excerpt from his second address, “Jesus, model of evangelization,” delivered yesterday:
I wonder – we, do we have similar sentiments? Perhaps we see those who have left the flock as adversaries or enemies. “And this person? Hasn’t he gone to the other side? She lost her faith…. They are going to hell…” and we are serene. When we meet them at school, at work, on the streets of our city, why don’t we think instead that we have a beautiful opportunity to witness to them the joy of a Father who loves them and has never forgotten them? Not to proselytize, no! But that the Word of the Father might reach them so we can walk together. To evangelize is not to proselytize. To proselytize is something pagan, it is neither religious nor evangelical. There is a good word for those who have left the flock and we have the honour and the burden of being the ones to speak that word. Because the Word, Jesus, asks this of us – to always draw near to everyone with an open heart because he is like that. Perhaps we have been following and loving Jesus for some time and have never wondered if we share his feelings, if we suffer and we take risks in harmony with Jesus’s heart, with this pastoral heart, close to Jesus’s pastoral heart! This is not about proselytism, as I said, so that others become “one of us” – no, this is not Christian. It is about loving so that they might be happy children of God. In prayer, let us ask the grace of a pastoral heart, an open heart that draws near to everyone, so as to bear the Lord’s message as well as to feel Christ’s longing for them. For without this love that suffers and takes risks, our lives do not go well. If we Christians do not have this love that suffers and takes risks, we risk pasturing only ourselves. Shepherds who are shepherds of themselves, instead of being shepherds of the flock, are people who comb “exquisite” sheep. We do not need to be shepherds of ourselves, but shepherds for everyone.
Image: Vatican Media.
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.