“I’m starting not to like our Pope too much.”
Before I explain why, there are a few things I believe you should know about me.
First. I am a pretty strong introvert. Now contrary to popular thinking, Introversion has little to do with not liking to be around people…in my vocation that wouldn’t even be possible. The best way to understand Introverts and Extroverts is in how and where they get their internal batteries recharged. Extroverts draw energy from others….being around other people…talking and interacting with them. With Introverts, it is the opposite…Introverts recharge by spending time alone…with their thoughts and reflections. I, being said Introvert, find renewal and energy in my alone time. I am in a good place when I have quiet time in my own head to theologize, strategize and planigize. (had to ryhyme!) It not only energizes me for the work of my ministry but it is a primary comfort zone in my life.
Secondly, and probably closely related is, I find solace in my familiar spaces: my office is indeed an Oasis, this chapel and a particular place in our home we lovingly refer to as “the Cabin.” The Cabin is pretty much just as it sounds – I renovated a 16 x 16 exterior deck off our kitchen to be a family room replete with fireplace, tongue and grove pine, big comfy chairs and a electric mechanized reclining sofa just too yummy to adequately describe here. All we need do is open our kitchen door and enter another place – a cabin…maybe up in the Adirondacks perhaps. These “places” are sacred in my mindset and again are absolutely comfort zones in my life.
Lastly, in Catholic ministry, I represent somewhat of an anomaly – or at least I’m in the minority. Most of my colleagues, both clergy and lay, hail from a distinctly liberal ideology whereas I am confidently and quite happily from a more conservative camp. Probably nowhere was this more evident than when Fr. Joe and I would chat…mostly in private but sometimes with others. Best of friends as we were, we clearly had different worldviews – politically speaking that is. He made no apologies in how he saw things…I again find my ideological comfort zone in another tent amidst this growing plurality in ministry.
There you have it…now what does any of that have to do with my opening remark, “I’m starting not to like our Pope too much.”
You might have discerned that each of the three things I shared with you about myself are each very strong COMFORT ZONES in my life. Pope Francis, with his incredible visibility whether at the Vatican, here in the States or abroad, is seemingly everywhere these days: on-line, on TV, on my phone with tweets and texts, posts and statuses. It’s almost impossible to go even a couple of hours without hearing something he has said or done, written or otherwise communicated in this globally connected world of ours. With each of these things he is challenging me out of my comfort zones….to think differently, to reflect differently, to act differently. And I don’t like it. My comfort zones are there for a purpose…to bring me comfort; to offer me protection and safe harbor; to keep me sane in an otherwise often crazy world. Here’s the problem with a comfort zone though….any comfort zone – we rarely encounter Christ there.
When I was in seminary, over the course of four years we were constantly challenged to “stretch ourselves” – to minister out of our comfort zones – and in so doing we would encounter Christ in ways we hadn’t before: in the sick, the dying, the imprisoned, the poor, the lonely, the helpless, the young, the old, the hungry, the hurting. This is exactly what Pope Francis is speaking right now:
Where as I would rather be alone in my comfort zone of Introversion finding solace in thinking about my theology, he says what good is thinking about theology if it does not lead one to action with people? He says our, “doctrine has a face, a body, flesh. He is called Jesus Christ and he is incarnate in “the questions of people, their anguish, their quarrels, their dreams, their struggles, their concerns.” And those will not be found in my places of comfort. Whereas I would rather be in my office, a chapel or a “cabin,” I won’t find the Incarnation as much in there as I will out there. I have preached it many times before, “Ite, missa est” – “the Mass is ended.” GO! Out there! There is our mission. Bringing the mercy and love and compassion of Christ to, in and amidst the questions, anguish, quarrels, dreams, struggles and concerns of those who are seeking God and may not even know it.
It’s uncomfortable…and it is our mission and our responsibility. Francis says in his first encyclical, the Joy of the Gospel, “Throughout the world, let us be in a permanent state of mission.” The joy of the Good News has not been given to us to hoard in our comfort zones but the proclaim from the rooftops. Out there.
In my last comfort zone I mentioned my political viewpoint is arguably the hardest to challenge. In our culture today, EVERYTHING is politicized. I am no different towards failing prey to it’s power. Pope Francis challenges me to think otherwise…the dignity of persons from the moment of conception to natural death is not politics, but about our faith…the welcoming of the stranger to our homes, or homeland, is not politics, but about our faith…the economy, the concern for our world, helping the poor, our role in other countries is not politics, but about our faith. From the moment Christ said, “give to Caesar what is Caesers and give to God is God’s” we have been given a command to keep our faith alive in the world. Instead we have bought into a world in which politics dominates belief – where our faith is crushed under the State.
Pope Francis reminds all of us, “Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families. Because religion itself, the religious dimension, is not a subculture; it is part of the culture of every people and every nation.” Our faith is intended to take us OUT of our comfort zones and lead us into a place of encounter. It is meant to be part of the moral dictate and fabric of our society.
I didn’t preach the readings this morning but instead the Season. Advent, like Lent, is a season of preparation…but a preparation for what? The comfortable answer is to say, Advent is a season to prepare for Christmas just as Lent is a season to prepare for Easter. But that’s not the best answer – because in both instances we are not preparing for a “WHAT” but rather a “WHO.” We are preparing to encounter Christ – the person.
In his short time in the Chair of Peter, Pope Francis has said a lot of provocative, challenging things. I’m gathering I am not alone in being rattled in my comfort zones. And I’m probably not alone in not liking it. But not liking it only means there is a greater obligation to deal with it.
Probably one of the most challenging things I have heard the Pope say happened just in the last couple of weeks when he said,
“Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, lighted Christmas trees and manger scenes… it’s all a sham,”
“The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path. There are wars today everywhere, and hate. A war can be justified, so to speak, with many, many reasons, but when all the world is at war, piecemeal though that war may be – a little here, a little there – there is no justification.” We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognize the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it. God weeps….Jesus, weeps.”
So much for our comfort zones.
The gospel, as with the Church, can and does, comfort the afflicted…but it also can and even has the responsibility to “afflicted the comfortable.” Just like John the Baptist of then, Pope Francis today has seemingly taken this task to heart. Their words not only challenge, they shock, they afflict in, I would argue, the best way possible. But we don’t have to like it…and we probably won’t for a while…but our faith is calling us to deal with it. Let’s hope we do so with mercy, love and compassion…our true “comfort zone” ultimately in heaven I believe absolutely depends on it.