We are heading into the last six months of the Year of Faith initiated by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and re-invigorated by Pope Francis. Indeed, the very emergence of Pope Francis onto the internal ecclesial scene has energized people into renewing or re-starting their journey of discipleship. It almost feels like Pope Francis is trying to push us into a faith-response that we’ve forgotten—one that is active, courageous, joyful, and loving. In short, he is calling us to a life of mission. To be a Catholic is to be a missionary in today’s world, to be different, to be a witness to Jesus.
What makes it so hard to be different? When you hear that invitation what do you picture? One person I know talks about being different in these terms: “It’s like having a whole school of fish swimming right at you, while you’re trying to go the opposite direction.” What is your image? What types of feelings or fears or reactions arise in you at the call to stand out as s Christian in your world? What situations would begin to shift? What would be the cost? What would be an unexpected gift? It certainly is not easy.
I work with someone in Macedonia whose profile on Skype includes this motto: “The pursuit of excellence is less profitable than the pursuit of bigness, but it can be more satisfying.” There is a deep satisfaction, not when we pursue the excellence of the Christian life, but when we have been seized by the beauty of the life of Christ and all that he offers us. I was deeply shaken by a recent homily in which the priest asked, “If love can transform a couple at their marriage, if winning the lottery can cause a veritable explosion of happiness, why is it that the possibility of living the Christian life leaves us so unaffected?” Perhaps the first step in being different is being amazed at the gift of faith. The second step is being willing to live the “healthy spiritual craziness” of St. Paul who caused discomfort through his beliefs, his teachings, his attitudes.
Pope Francis has said repeatedly that our faith must make us uncomfortable, uncomfortable with where we are, with what we have made of ourselves, so that we can be opened more fully to the power of the Holy Spirit who knows the overwhelming possibility of living what I call the Christ-ed life.
The excitement in the news may have died down around the new Pope. That’s okay. That’s not really what it’s all about. Pope Francis is concentrating on helping us wake up to what it is
all about: “May the Holy Spirit also give us the grace to feel uncomfortable about certain aspects of the Church which are too relaxed; the grace to go forward to the existential outskirts. The Church is in great need of this! Not only in far away lands, in young Churches, to peoples who do not yet know Jesus Christ. But here in the city, right in the city, we need Jesus Christ’s message. We thus ask the Holy Spirit for this grace of apostolic zeal: Christians with apostolic zeal. And if we make others uncomfortable, blessed be the Lord. Let’s go, and like the Lord says to Paul: ‘take courage!’” (May 17, 2013www.vatican.va