I was already writing this blog post when a blog was posted by Archbishop Coleridge of Brisbane. I want to quote him here because he states from an inside perspective what I have been noticing from an outside perspective.
I’ve noticed as I’ve been paying attention to the synod that the issue of “fear” seems to keep coming up. There is a perceived fear of change and yet like Archbishop Coleridge I don’t believe fear is of God. I’ve always preferred the translation of being in awe of the Lord. I think fear limits our ability to be in awe of what God is capable of doing in our lives and in the church. No one likes change. I certainly do not. It’s terrifying at times because we don’t know what is going to happen. Human beings prefer not to be surprised. We want to be in control of what happens and it’s not as scary if we determine what happens. I certainly know I am not a huge fan of change and yet I’ve also learned that fear, in that it doesn’t allow change, keeps me from growing. It pushes God out of my life and puts me at the center. To be afraid I think is to put myself at the center because I am unable to trust in God.
Fear causes the deterioration of right and just relationships because we become consumed by a way of thinking that puts “me” first. It was this fear I believe Pope Francis spoke to while in this country. I think it would be a grave mistake if we were to so quickly forget the visit of our holy father. I have found myself reflecting deeply on his words and his actions while he was in this country. He arrived at a time when our nation and our church are becoming more and more polarized by ideological differences driven in part by fear. No one knew for sure what Francis’ message would be. Many thought he would come wagging his finger at the oppressive nature of western ideologies and the evils of unbridled capitalism. Yet in watching and listening to his speech to congress I found myself mystified by every word he was saying and which at times moved me to tears.
His speech was nothing less than prophetic. He stood in the midst of the center of power and spoke truth and love to power. Rather than scolding this nation he used our historical memory as a people to remind us of who we have been in the past, who we are today and calling us to become an even better version of ourselves in the future. He pointed out in no uncertain terms that these issues that divide us now we have overcome together in the past. He warned us of the path division will take us down and reminded us that moving forward as a nation we have to work together.
This is I think the hallmark of his papacy. It is a papacy that at its heart is driven by a spirituality of encounter. His words during his visit were powerful and thought provoking. However, his actions and his deeds were even more powerful. Taking his namesake to heart, like Saint Francis, this pope has an uncanny ability to pick people out in the crowd and to shine the light on them; people often turned away or rejected by society. He is drawn to them and in that encounter fear is driven out and love is allowed to flourish.
I think one of the major problems at the heart of our polarized nation and even our church is a fear of encountering the other. It’s a fear of being challenged in our beliefs or values. Maybe it’s even a fear of loving the other and allowing ourselves be loved and to be transformed. Something blocks our ability to meet the other where they are. Whatever it is I think one of the reasons why Pope Francis is so popular, even in the United States, is that he reminds us of who we are. He searches out the good in us and around us and reminds us of what we are capable of. In this I think the fear breaks down and we begin to stand in awe of what God is capable of in us and through us and in and through the church.