Pope Francis is proving himself to be an evangelical catholic, desiring the fulness of Christ to be lived out and proclaimed in the lives of every baptized catholic. Is his message sufficient or does it lack the evangelical substance that will accomplish this very task?
Christians of a calvinist ilk will be interested to know that in a recent homily on April 18th, Pope Francis cited John 6:44 to support the idea that knowing Christ is “a gift” that can only be given by the Father:
“In the Gospel passage, Jesus also says that no one can come to him “unless drawn by the Father who sent me”…to go to Jesus, to find Jesus, to know Jesus, is a gift that God bestows on us… Those who have faith have eternal life, they have life. But faith is a gift, it is the Father who gifts it.”
Now I doubt that Francis meant this in a reformed sense, in fact I’m pretty sure of it, but I don’t complain when popes expound on texts in this manner. Francis’s supposed “evangelical” pedigree, and by this I mean his desire for the Gospel to be proclaimed and advanced by the church, has been reinforced in a recent address which the vatican summarized as such:
“Pope Francis said that the Church typically suffers from being self-referential, of only looking to and relying on itself. He spoke of a “narcissism that leads to a routine spirituality and convoluted clericalism” and prevents people from experiencing the sweet and comforting joy of evangelization.”
His exhortation to catholics everywhere is to be proactive in proclaiming Christ, not only in Word but also with the whole of their lives, as he put it in a recent tweet: “Let us not forget: if we are to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, our lives must bear witness to what we preach.”
All this will be for naught, and will fall on deaf and blinded ears, however, if there is not a re appropriation of true evangelical substance in the preaching, teaching, and life of the catholic church. As Francis put it, “our lives must bear witness to what we preach”. And yet, I fear that this will not be so for many catholics because an overinflated system of sacramentalism and obscuring of the gospel of Christ is so prevalent within many catholic churches.
Reform starts at the core: it will not be sufficient to exhort people to be more sold out for Christ if there is not motivation to be sold out for Christ in the first place. When there is a widespread awareness of the desperation that we, and I mean this as a plea for all christians, face apart from the work of Christ and his person, and our utter inability yet insatiable desire to be our own Lord and saviors, then we will see Christ in his splendor and want to live lives that are increasingly more devoted to him. Christ himself will become our treasure and then it will be possible to realize the vision that Francis commends us to: “Worshipping God means learning to be with him, stripping away our hidden idols and placing him at the centre of our lives.” When we see Christ as having dealt with our own idolatry on that gruesome road to Calvary–and rising from the dead not to secure a 50% solution to our greatest need, but having gone all the way, then we will be able to turn around and by the power of the Holy Spirit, strip away hidden idols.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit! Amen.