‘Quo vadis,’ Pope Francis?

| Father Timothy Cloutier | March 20, 2013 | 0 Comments

The story is that when the Apostle Peter, the first bishop of Rome, was leaving the city because of the persecutions against the early Christians, he encountered the Lord Jesus on his way into the Roman capital, and asked him: “Quo vadis, Domine?” — “Where are you going, Lord?”

Probably the most asked question that I’ve heard since the election of Pope Francis has been, “What kind of pope do you think he’ll be?”

The easy answer is, “He will shepherd us with the heart of Christ.”

But, most people — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — are looking for something a little more specific. One way of knowing will be when Pope Francis issues his first encyclical letter, in that he will most likely lay out his understanding of why he believes God chose him to guide his Church, the gifts he will put at the service of the Lord’s flock, how he intends to do that, as well as the invitation he will give us to follow and to share with him in his mission.

Clear indications

In the meantime, however, I believe he has already given us some clear indications. There are many and varied questions and issues that he will need to address, some of them not directly bearing on the greater part of the Catholic faithful, such as the reform of the Roman curia.

But he has already “walked the talk” on the preferential option of the Church for the poor of this world as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, and it seems that he wants this to be the hallmark of his papacy. It is here that his leadership of the universal Church will, and should most importantly, impact the rest of us.

We’ve all been impressed, and I think pleasantly surprised by the simplicity and spontaneity of his dealings with the people with whom he has interacted so far. We can admire and even feel good that we have a “people’s pope,” as the press has dubbed him, but it can’t stop there.

As the Lord Jesus himself said in the course of the Last Supper, “I have left you an example, that as I have done, you also should do” (John 13:15). Admiration is good, but imitation is the highest form of praise.

Will we follow?

So, where is Pope Francis going, and where does he want to lead us?

Each of us needs to look into ourselves to see, first of all, if we are willing to follow him, as St. Peter was willing to follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, back into the city of Rome.

Pope Francis asked his fellow Argentinians not to flock to Rome for his installation, but rather, as he asked when he was created a cardinal, to give that travel money to a charity that helps the poor. Would we be willing to follow his example and divert, even on a one-time proposition, what we would otherwise spend on our recreation to a charitable work of the Church or some other organization that helps the needy?

He has washed the feet of AIDS patients in Argentina, not just the symbolic washing of feet of a select few, healthy and clean parishioners on Holy Thursday. Would we be willing to follow his example and “roll up our sleeves” to serve the needy at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen, perhaps once a month?

He has forgone much of the already simplified pomp and circumstance of papal ceremonies and protocol, the symbols of his dignified status. Would we be willing to follow his example by simplifying our own lives and do with a little less “stuff” — the latest social-oriented must-haves and upgrades, the premium channels and the newest electronics, the big and expensive gas-guzzler that we really don’t need anyway? What about all the other “big kid toys” that form part of our non-stop entertainment-oriented culture?

Church of the poor

Pope Francis has shown he cares about feeding the starving of this world. Studies have shown, in fact, that the current arable land could support three to four times the actual population of the planet without reclaiming wetlands or irrigating deserts.

The world’s hunger problem has to do with distribution, not supply. Would we be willing to cut back on our junk food snacks, limit the number of times we go out to eat, and give that money to a food shelf or organization that purchases food for distribution to the impoverished around the corner and around the world?

I think we all already know what kind of Pope Francis is and what he wants the Church to be at this time: “a poor Church, and a Church of the poor,” as he has already said. The more important question is: Are we willing to follow him?

Father Cloutier is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Category: Welcome Pope Francis