Wise words from Pope Francis
To set the context for what follows, I’m a Protestant, to be specific, a Pentecostal, by both birth and choice. My late parents pastored with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador. I held ministerial credentials with my faith tradition for more than three decades, fifteen years in parish work, and an equal number of years as editor and archivist.
However, I have never been hung up on denominational labels. I’d just as soon worship with an Anglican as with a Salvationist, with a member of the United Church of Canada as with a Seventh-day Adventist or a Roman Catholic, with a Mennonite as with a member of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. I’ve even visited, and subsequently chronicled my experiences in, a Mormon church and a Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall.
I read the Archbishop of Canterbury, the United Church Moderator, and the Salvation Army General. I also read atheists and agnostics. Actually, my reading has taken me far beyond the confines of Christianity, to include Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and other “isms.” My personal motto is “Receive truth wherever it may be found.”
I recently read a book by Pope Francis, The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church (2014).
Not surprisingly, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires is adored by Roman Catholics around the world. Many other people, including Protestants and those of no religious affiliation, like him, as well. The positive impression he’s making is remarkable.
Any and everyone can benefit from his collection of texts. As I read him through Protestant eyes, I looked for those moments when he presented the bigger picture, Christianity in its broader scope. I was in for a treat.
On 19 September 2013, he spoke to a conference about “concern for other Churches and for the universal Church.”
Eight days later, he addressed a congress, stating, with keen insight, what happens whenever Christians are enclosed in and confined to their own groups, movements, parishes, in short, their little worlds: “we remain closed, and the same thing happens to us that happens to anything closed: when a room is closed, it begins to get dank. If a person is closed up in that room, he or she becomes ill!”
He pled with a general audience on 25 November “to look beyond our own boundaries” for, he exclaimed, “we are ... one family in God!”
“Unfortunately,” he observed trenchantly, “we see that in the process of history, and now too, we do not always live in unity.... And if we look at the divisions that still exist among Christians” – he included Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants – “we are aware of the effort required to make this unity fully visible.”
He admitted that “we often have a lot of trouble putting [unity] into practice. It is necessary to seek to build communion, to teach communion, to get the better of misunderstandings and divisions, starting with the family, with ecclesial reality, in ecumenical dialogue too. Our world needs unity; this is an age in which we all need unity.”
Francis evidently is, in the words of Keith Fournier, “a Pope of Christian unity” who, on 19 June 2013, declared: “we Catholics must pray with each other and other Christians.”
The Pope’s reflections on unity mirror Jesus’ prayer for his followers in the Gospel of John: “that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21, NASB). I often wonder precisely what is meant by this invocation.
“The gospel message we proclaim,” Timothy George writes, “will not carry credibility apart from the oneness of its witnesses.”
Historically, the relationship between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals has been antipathic and mutually hostile, stemming from divisions fomented by the Protestant Reformation. “However,” George notes, “in recent decades Evangelicals and Catholics have made substantial progress in overcoming suspicions and mistrust from the past.”
This is good news, especially in 2016, one year before the quincentenary of the Reformation. Martin E. Marty writes about those who are using this year “to repent ... with specific focus on Christian unity and sins against it.”
Pope Francis’ thoughts on unity are but one – albeit an important – aspect of his personal convictions. In The Church of Mercy, he also discusses such practical topics as the revolution of freedom, listening to the cry of the poor, a house that welcomes all, conveying hope and joy, hospitality and service, refugees and those uprooted from life, and the commitment to peace.
The Pontiff’s voice on a variety of subjects is a breath of fresh air to Catholics and at least one Protestant.
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