On the fourth anniversary of his election, Pope Francis tweeted “May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word.”
Yes, I’m writing a column on a tweet — and one by someone who has a lot more power than his Twitter account — but such are our times. He tweets because he understands our attention spans and the distractions that weigh on our souls, keeping us in anxiety and darkness.
He knows, too, that there is a cult of personality about him. That people will use what he says for their own designs instead of God’s designs. He knows, too, that people are confused and sometimes his words or how they are reported add to it all. So he tends to repeat themes — about God’s mercy and our weakness and the glory of what God wants us to know and see about the beauty of humanity and all of creation. He wants to draw us into the Word of Jesus Christ and away from our worldly ways. He wants us to encounter the beauty we were born to see and live and return to.
He doesn’t seem to obsess about misunderstandings. He seems free from the self-reliance — obsessing about getting every word right — that can keep us from bold courage. He’s more concerned with love and that people see God’s love. He calls out lukewarmness and rigidity so that we might opt for radical gestures of love instead.
Conversion. Turning to Christ. Trusting the Holy Spirit. These aren’t new or new agey. Ask the Christians whose very lives and existence are imperiled in Iraq and Syria, the region where St Paul was baptized after being a persecutor of Christians. This is what their lives witness to. No one is beyond the reach of God’s Mercy. St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict and now Francis, with urgent pleas, tell us this as Christ did. And we still argue about other things and go about business as usual when souls are being lost, wounds are going untreated, and pride is taking priority.
There is so much more grace available to us.
But we make politics and personality priority. And we’re so busy we don’t get the time for the silence we need to give our lives over to Christ completely. While doing our jobs and feeding the kids and making sure our duties are attended to.
So many books lately have turned up on my desk, that is rarely free of freshly published books, are such similar prompts to live differently, to live the Christian life.
In “Strangers in a Strange Land,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput writes:
“The Christian life is a dangerous wager … worth making. Because we’ve received the love of God, because Jesus did rise from the dead and because he wants us to live with him now and forever in heaven, our hope won’t be disappointed. So it is that hope enables us to risk what we have for Jesus, even in a world that grows more hostile by the day. We don’t do this rashly or lightly, Newman says, but ‘in a noble, generous way.’ We don’t fully know what we will lose or what we will gain. Rather, we walk forward ‘uncertain about our reward, uncertain about our extent of sacrifice, in all respects leaning, waiting upon him, trusting in him to fulfill his promise, trusting in him to enable us to fulfill our own vows, and so in all respects proceeding without carefulness or anxiety about the future.’”
He emphasizes that:
“The men and women who do this glow white-hot with the Spirit. They live to the full what Richard John Neuhaus called ‘the high adventure of Christian discipleship.’ Their lives are hard. Living the Christian life requires sacrifice and self-denial. But those sacrifices lead to greater love and joy than many in the world ever know.”
In “The Benedict Option,” Rod Dreher writes that what the world needs is “the Christianity of Scripture and tradition, which teaches repentance, self-sacrificial love and purity of heart … the Way of the Cross … as the pathway to God.” Instead, we have a widespread “religion of a culture that worships the self and material comfort.” He writes that “the flood is rising to the rafters in the American church. Every single congregation in America must ask itself if it has compromised so much with the world that it has been compromised in its faithfulness. Is the Christianity we have been living out in our families, congregations, and communities a means of deeper conversion, or does it function as a vaccination against taking faith with the seriousness the Gospel demands?”
In his 2012 book “Evangelical Catholicism,” George Weigel wrote something similar: “Lukewarm Catholicism has no future; submitting to the transforming fire of the Holy Spirit is no longer optional.”
Father Thomas Berg writes in the just-released “Hurting in the Church: A Way Forward for Wounded Catholics” that we need to “whip up our own little ‘revolution of tenderness in our corner of the Church.’” We can do it, he writes, by examining our consciences. “We can listen to the Holy Spirit, who will inspire us with out-of-the box ways of loving our neighbor. It might feel odd. It might get us way out of our comfort zones. Things could get a little messy. That’s okay. That’s what happens when — lead by the Spirit — we push the outer limits of self-giving.” The Holy Spirit, Father Berg writes, “can make our charity visceral. He can lead us to commit extreme acts of agape love.”
We need to be for real as Catholic Christians. Leading with love and unmistakably so. We’ll still be human but in surrender God will use us for his merciful glorious purposes. In all his gestures that seem to make people take a second look at the Church, Pope Francis seems to be begging: Love, already! Love alone can lead us to who we’re truly made to be! Let the Lord, who is Love, guide today and every day.