The Francis Effect

On November 9th the Church celebrates the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica which is the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. Built on land owned by the Laterani family, Pope Sylvester I dedicated it on this date in 324 A.D. As the cathedral of the Pope, it serves as the mother and head of all churches in Rome and the world. Even though it was originally dedicated to the Savior, it later came to honor St John the Baptist.

In celebrating this feast the Church invites the faithful to focus their attention on the authority of the man chosen to shepherd the universal Church, and on his delicate and difficult ministry. The Pope is the visible force of unity in the Church. Although we hail from different nations and cultures, and sometimes hold different opinions and even ideologies, we rally around the Successor of St Peter. As the saying goes, “Where Peter is, there the Church is. Where the Church is, there Christ is.” 

Over the last nineteen months, Pope Francis has occupied the Chair of Peter. Whereas much of the secular society and many Catholics have embraced him enthusiastically, certain dissenting voices can be heard murmuring in the pews. No one can point to any radical changes that he has made in doctrine or faith. People seem to object to his style and emphasis. His pastoral approach has been profoundly shaped by compassion – the same compassion plainly evident in Good Pope John XXIII and in Pope John Paul I. It is the same compassion that filled the heart of Christ, the Son of God, who sat down to eat with tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners. Again and again we read in the gospels that the heart of Jesus went out to the crowds because “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Pope Francis’s non-judgmental approach has caught some “good Catholics” off-guard. In this he is only imitating the Savior who told the woman caught in adultery, “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go in peace and sin no more!”

In the short time that he has been at the helm of the Boat of Peter he has made a tremendous impact both on the Church and on the world. Career ecclesiastics have been put on notice. His appointment of the new Archbishop of Chicago circumvented the usual bureaucratic process and certainly disappointed some hopeful archbishops around the country. His insistence on gospel simplicity both in his own personal life and in his teaching echoes the famous sermon preached by the poor man of Assisi to the royal court of Pope Innocent III challenging the Church to embrace the poverty of the Gospel. His repeated calls to Catholics to dedicate themselves to the mission of Jesus Christ, especially to the poor, have already won enthusiastic response from the faithful. He has shown himself to be the people’s Pope who leads by example.

Behind the scenes he has had an even more dramatic effect on Church power structures that sorely needed reform. For decades the finances of the Vatican have been in bad shape. Scandals surrounded the Vatican Bank. In a few short months he has cleaned up the Aegean Stables and in the process has increased the credibility of the Church. Writing in the September issue of Fortune, Shawn Tully makes the following positive appraisal of the Pontiff:

What has been less appreciated by outsiders until now is the pope’s elite managerial skill set. Like a great CEO, he has the ability to set a strategic vision, then choose and motivate the right people to make it work. His rapid overhaul of the Vatican’s finances is both one of the most unusual case studies in the annals of business and one of the more instructive.

There is absolutely no doubt that his pontificate will leave an indelible mark on the history of the Church. Personally I am intrigued and at the same time energized by his personality, pastoral approach and leadership. He has been a special gift of the Holy Spirit Who knows the type of pastor the Church needs at this particular moment in her history. 

Much has been written about him in the secular press. If you are a little bit curious or even intrigued by our Holy Father, the parish is offering a unique opportunity to get some insight into this new Vicar of Christ. Recently Salt and Light Videos from Canada produced a documentary on the new Pope, entitled, “The Francis Effect.” I would like to invite everyone to attend one of the two screenings of this documentary in the Holy Family Chapel on Monday, November 10. You will certainly get an inside look at what makes the man and what moves him.

As we celebrate the dedication of our Mother Church, let us raise up Pope Francis in prayer. May our awesome God keep him strong in health and fill him with wisdom and grace!

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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