Monday, 28 September 2015

Pope's message not one often heard in the West

I just gets more and more weird. Pope Francis, I mean.

Many years ago a wise pastor told me that ministry was always a tightrope walk between law and gospel, mercy and hardness. I learned over a lifetime in ministry just how true that was. There were times when people wanted you to be literal and hard as nails. And there were other times when bending towards mercy not only was the right thing, it was the only thing possible.

Pope Francis is living the way of mercy. And it is getting him some hard knocks.

Francis call to the Roman Catholic parishes of Europe is particularly direct. He challenged every parish to welcome one refugee family. What is even more remarkable about this is that he has made it clear that such offers of sanctuary, a historic tradition and practice of the Christian Church for millennia, should be done without regard to the faith of the refugee. It is to be done openly, with welcome to all.

Francis has also called into question the unfettered capitalism of the world’s markets, attacked the idolatry of money and in his recent encyclical, “Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou should not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills."  He has also referred to the unfettered pursuit of money as the “dung of the devil”.

There are those whom this kind of plain talk offends. They are, more often then not, the privileged and the wealthy. They would rather see the church confines to the cloister and the sacristy (the room behind the alter where the priest prepares the elements for the Eucharist).

That’s not Pope Francis.

Francis, if his public record is an indication, has said, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."

This is not what the western church, and particularly the church in North America, has been used to hearing. Some of the western church is more accustomed to literal reading of scripture; of counting jots and tittles; of believing the Bible was written in the King James Version originally and has never changed.

Francis’ message is different. He reminds us all to be merciful, as God is merciful. Be kind as God is kind. Serve the people on the edges of society, not be served by them. Share what you have with the people on the margins and treat them with dignity and respect. Welcome the stranger.

If this is the message of Pope Francis to North America, then it’s time we woke up. There is much work to be done to serve God’s justice and to change the world. Are we listening?

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.