By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK
The 20th century is both the most and the least comfortable in history. The bloodiest century for Christians is also the same in which most of the modern conveniences that smooth our lives were invented and mass produced. Air conditioning, refrigeration, automobiles, and many other creature “comforts” have enabled greater prosperity, increasing access to the middle-class lifestyle which is the boast of America and for which most of the world’s population still yearns.
At the same time that our lives have become more materially comfortable, however, many have fallen into the trap of thinking that the spiritual life must be the same. The “logic” goes like this: If we get better spiritually than spiritual things should become easier. This way of thinking could not be further from the truth.
Pope Francis has not played favorites: He has demanded reform of priests and families, clergy and laity. He equally decries both comfort-loving priests and married couples who “pour love on their pets and choose not to have children.” His reforming ardor has left everyone in the Church, from cardinals and bishops down to the laity in the pews, feeling uncomfortable. When comfort has long been accepted as a sign that all is well, the result of discomforting critique by a reforming Pope can be resentment.
Is Pope Francis truly the source of our collective discomfort in the Church? Or is it in fact the Gospel preached in its purity with a simplicity that makes it more accessible that is the real “culprit”? As an outsider to the Vatican culture, Francis has brought an outsider’s objectivity to the “papal lens” through which the Church and the world are viewed. As a Jesuit priest, archbishop, and cardinal who embraced a simple lifestyle, preferring as he did a simple apartment and public transportation, Francis embodies an evangelical lifestyle.
Just as the rich young man of the Gospel walked away from Jesus’ invitation to follow Him in sadness, so today there are also those who encounter Christ without the readiness to follow Him. Pope Francis presents the world with this image of the poor Christ in solidarity with the poor. Because of his style, the Pope has the same effect on those who prefer their riches and comfort to discipleship with the One who “has nowhere to lay His head,” as did the Lord upon the rich young man. The sadness of those who walk away is the price of rejecting the only true source of joy in love of Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis is comfortable with the fact that some who hear him react with discomfort. He reminds us that lives open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be characterized by the discomfort that comes from knowing Christ more intimately. Personal sinfulness is always seen with greater clarity by the light of Love’s divine fire. As the Church moves through time and toward Eternity many will follow but some choose not to do so. The truth is never preached with less vigor because some reject it. Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” for the sake of redemption from the sin which marks every human life but that of His own Mother.
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wisely warned, a “do-it-yourself” faith will not serve us in a crisis. So also it is true of a faith perceived as bringing comfort. The most important battle every person faces is the final one. Whether one’s end is brought on by the foreknowledge made possible by disease or comes as a surprise through an accident, one’s final disposition before God determines one’s final judgment.
There is no “fundamental option” when it comes to the life of grace: One is either in a state of grace or not. When we meet God our state of grace will tell Him that we kept His Commandments. All of our begging and pleading in His presence will not change the facts of our lives which He sees in omniscience.
Pope Francis’ call to reform is the call of the Gospel. His love is sincere, shorn of a deceit which promises comfort where there is none. The Lord has promised only the cross in this world to those who are faithful just as He has promised life and love eternal to those who carry the cross with Him. This is the Gospel that Pope Francis, our earthly Father, teaches in faithfulness to His Divine Master and ours. It is this which invites our trust and strengthens us for the journey.
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(Follow Fr. Cusick on Facebook at Reverendo Padre-Kevin Michael Cusick and on Twitter @MCITLFrAphorism. Email Fr. Cusick at firstname.lastname@example.org.)