Ever visit an historic church after it's been refurbished? With smoky grime washed away, colors become vibrant. Sunlight brightens once hidden corners. Mosaics shimmer and ancient statues convey a new life. You see the church as never before. It's an old church, but suddenly it seems new, even awesome.
That's appears to have happened with Pope Francis. In his simple humble way he knows the faith at its very heart and lives it. He focuses on the healing power of love. For him, love is not a dessert earned after toil and trouble; it's the initial response, not the final one.
Pope Francis mesmerizes those who watch him interact with people in the crowd. He sees individuals, he connects and a personal encounter takes place. He recognizes that inside every person is a human heart yearning to be loved.
People sense there's change, and the new tone stops them short. Pope Francis is more pastor than preacher. He applies the Gospel in homespun ways. Last month he met in Rome with engaged couples on Valentine's Day. He stressed the place for "please," "thank you" and "I'm sorry" in marriage. He warned the couples never to go to bed angry.
The pope has declared that the church must act "as a field hospital after battle." He states that "it is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. And you have to start from the ground up."
Pope Francis sees the pain of broken commitments. This is significant in the United States where it is estimated that about 23 percent of Catholic marriages end in divorce, only 15 percent of those divorced Catholics have sought an annulment, and of those who have sought one, only half have been successful. He has highlighted the issue of the pain suffered by divorced people for the forthcoming Synods on the Family slated for 2014 and 2015.
He wants Catholics to go out of themselves, not to be complacent. He declares that "Instead of being a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a Church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside of itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent."
There's a theme here. It's about how love heals the family and society. Jesus illustrated the theme with parables. There's the tale of the Good Samaritan that emphasizes the stranger is my brother or sister and worthy of my generosity.And there is the tale of the woman caught in adultery. "Has no one condemned you?" Jesus asked the women nearly stoned to death by an angry crowd. "No one, sir," she replied. Then Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on sin no more."
Pope Francis sees an environment of pain and sorrow, and his first response is to embrace that world with love. Love is not a new theme in the Church, but perhaps it got lost for a while amidst polarization in society and even, sometimes, in the Church. In a year, Pope Francis has set to work refurbishing the Church, and, much like the Italian saint whose name he bears, allowed the beauty of the Church to shine through in a way everyone can understand.
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