pope francis teaches servant leadership by example

Francis 4

“just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…” Matthew 20:28

Pope Francis has spoken out against careerism in the church. He is a living example to priests and bishops about the call to serve, not to be served. The world’s media is enthusiastically sharing images of Francis carrying his own case into the plane, or opening his own car door. And, the door is attached to a simple Ford Focus. These aren’t big gestures, but they are having a big impact.

While in Rio de Janeiro for the World Youth Day, the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen produced two interesting interviews; one with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and the other with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Both bishops are known as head-line making (and head-line seeking) culture warriors in the American church. Some view them as classic examples of clerical careerists.

When asked why there were only 40 pilgrims from his diocese attending WYD, Archbishop Chaput responded that, “There was fear that it would pose a risk to people’s health and well-being by coming to Rio de Janeiro.” He admitted that “a number of dioceses in Pennsylvania actively discouraged their young people from coming and didn’t sponsor diocesan pilgrimages on purpose.”

Contrast his fearful attitude to that of the pope who visited one of the poorest slums, or favelas, of Rio called Varginha. According to John Allen,

In his native Argentina, Francis is already known as the “pope of the villas,” the Argentine equivalent of the Brazilian favelas. Both substantively and symbolically, Francis on Thursday made himself the apostle of slum-dwellers everywhere.

Francis is a bishop who never tires of telling his priests that they must be where the people are…to take on the “smell of the sheep”.

Chaput also made a puzzling comment about the right wing of the church that, “generally have not been really happy about his election, from what I’ve been able to read and to understand. He’ll have to care for them, too, so it will be interesting to see how all this works out in the long run.” Really??? Astute commentators on the discussion boards voiced the obvious. Previous popes didn’t seem too concerned about appeasing the left wing of the church. The desire for a smaller and purer church was pushing away more Catholics than it was welcoming.

The Archbishop also believes that the most enthusiastic support for the new pope comes not from committed Catholics who are “ordinarily impressed with the pope”, but from non-Catholics and those who have been alienated from the church. He seems to believe that it is a shallow admiration rooted in a hope that Francis will be less doctrinal than John Paul II or Benedict XVI. What Chaput seems to miss is that the new pope is modeling the brilliant simplicity of the new evangelization; reaching out to all with the gospel challenge of faith, love and justice.

An enormous amount of time and energy goes into writing, translating and publishing papal encyclicals, exhortations and letters. I doubt that any of these theologically dense – and too often painfully lengthy – documents are moving as many hearts as Francis’s daily pontifical sound-bites and images. In our fast-paced, attention deficient world, his simple lessons are not only being listened to. They are being absorbed.

In the Cardinal Dolan interview, John Allen asked if Pope Francis was having a personal impact on him. Here is Dolan’s reponse,

I find myself examining my own conscience … on style, on simplicity, on lots of things.

For instance, I saw the pope open his own car door, close his own door, and carry his own carry-on bag. That says something to me. I used to do those things for myself, and it’s not that I think I’m above it now, but it’s just that as archbishop of New York people are doing it for me all the time. That’s a very down-to-earth example, but I’m beginning to say that I need to watch this guy closely because he’s a good example for me.

I also find myself thinking about living arrangements, because that’s a pretty nice house I’m living in. In some ways it’s not clear what I could do about it, because it’s the historic, traditional residence of the archbishops of New York, and it’s not like we can sell it. [Note: The residence is attached to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.]

In general, I find myself thinking about some of the perks, the cushiness, we associate with being a bishop. He’s pushing me to ask whether they’re necessary, and if they might actually be counterproductive.

No, we don’t all associate cushiness with the episcopacy. But, at least the Cardinal is being honest. And, he seems to get it. There is a new CEO in town, and the executives have to seriously consider re-working their play-books.

Pope Francis is slowly nudging the church onto a new path where the last become first; where the humble will be exalted, and the exalted humbled. If this is the case, there are many priests and bishops who will be quietly selling their black luxury vehicles and perhaps seeking newer, simpler digs.

Pope Francis decides not to spend summer at Castel Gandolfo | National Catholic Reporter

Pope Francis decides not to spend summer at Castel Gandolfo | National Catholic Reporter.

Shhhh…..don’t tell hubby this piece of news! Many years ago, when our kiddies were still young, we bought a cabin to use as a vacation home. With five children, our holiday options were limited. We found out quickly that camping was not our thing. Travel and hotels were not only costly with our crew, but it often left us exhausted. As hubby would say, we were just “taking the show on the road”!

The cabin became our second home. It surrounded us with familiarity while getting away from it all.

In recent years, hubby has pushed to sell the cabin. He believes that having a second home is excessive. (No arguing there….it is a luxury that I don’t take for granted.) I claim that it is now becoming even more valuable as a vacation retreat for our growing family; a place where we can gather for fun in the sun with the clan.

I used to argue that even the pope had a “cabin” for the summer. Granted, Castel Candolfo was a far cry from our get-away. And, the Vatican kept up the expenses basically for the use of one person and his entourage. We were sharing our place with many, making it all the more practical and viable.

Pope Francis continues to impress us with his simple and humble life-style. It thrills my heart to see him refuse the trappings and pomp of previous papacies. But, I am a firm believer in the need for holy leisure. Francis will be curtailing many of his normal duties during the summer months in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. But, we all need time to rejuvenate. We all need time to get away.

Perhaps a few weeks in the brutal heat of a Roman summer might change his mind.

 

Pope Francis and the LCWR

Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reported that Pope Francis has re-affirmed the need for a reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (the organization representing 70% of US women religious) and approved the critical “evaluation” that was published last year by the CDF, including the demand that the Sisters cooperate with individual bishops and the US Episcopal Conference.

The initial assessment and subsequent demands issued to the LCWR resulted in a massive outpouring of support for the social justice work done by American women religious. Many believed that the assessment was another example of heavy-handed control by the hierarchy. The nuns were being treated more harshly than child abusing clergy and the bishops who actively covered their tracks. The more skeptical believed that the bishops, whose dioceses face financial ruin due to the sexual crises, were trying to get their hands on the property owned by some of these religious congregations.

Critics of the LCWR were happy with the crack-down, believing that the women had become too progressive and should embrace the growing trend of more traditional orders back to convents, habits and strict obedience.

Support or critique for the LCWR is clearly divided along the usual ideological camps.

The initial response from more progressive Catholics to the papacy of Pope Francis has been almost unanimously positive. His calls for a more simple church with a preferential option for the poor has resonated with all who have been discouraged with the increased focus on liturgical and doctrinal purity and clericalism of recent years. His words and actions gave reason to hope that change will come.

The news that Francis is supporting the LCWR crack-down has shattered this hope for many. It has been likened to post-honeymoon blues; that it was all too good to be true. This pope will be like the one before him. Nothing has changed.

Others are encouraging a more optimistic, cautious approach. I put myself squarely in this camp.

These are the early days of a new papacy. It is impossible for Francis to know the intricacies of each issue that he has inherited. It is impossible to fix each mess overnight. Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into Müller’s words. Saying the pope has allowed the work of the LCWR assessment to continue is not the same as giving the content of the work his stamp of approval.

Pope Francis has granted only provisional approval to all the Congregational heads. None of the prefects are guaranteed their positions at this point. Francis needs time to catch up on all the issues he inherited, to discern where the weaknesses lie and their root causes. He needs to identify and vet persons who have the gifts and back-bone to move forward with all that is good, and reform all that isn’t. With all that is on his plate, it is probable that he has not had enough time to study the nuances of the LCWR issue, or to dialogue with the parties involved.

As with politics and life, many in the church have a personal issue that becomes a focal point of their energies and passion. This is good and needed. The value of lobby groups is that they invest time and energy into researching and keeping on top of developments with a specific issue. They also ensure that an important issue is not forgotten or swept aside.

The dark side of becoming too focused on an issue is that we expect everyone to share our passion, and give it prioritized attention. We judge the effectiveness of a political party, ruling government, or leader by how they have responded to our demands. Their general success or failure depends on their success or failure in promoting and defending our agenda.

Of course, the future of the LCWR is more than an “agenda” for the religious women involved. At the core of the issue is one of heavy handed power and a deep lack of respect given to women who have given their lives for the service of God and God’s people. Justice is demanded for them, and hopefully it will come.

I am not ready to write Pope Francis off yet based on this one news story. Swift judgments are easy to make. I, and many others have made many swift judgments about our new pope based on the integrity of his words; words that are reflected in many simple gestures.

I’m going to hold on to those first, swift and positive judgments. I’m still enjoying the newness of the feeling; a feeling of hope for our church. I’m not ready to let go of the honeymoon yet.