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March 20, 2013
'Francis, go and rebuild my Church'
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

Last week, when Pope Francis addressed 5,000 secular and Catholic journalists and media, he spoke of how the role of mass media has expanded with its indispensable ability for reporting current events. He thanked all present for their efforts to present the historic and complex events of the recent election, an arcane subject that can even stump Vaticanologists. He elaborated: “The Church does not respond to an earthly logic because the nature of the Church is spiritual, not political.”

“Christ,” he continued, “is the center and reference point at the heart of the Church; the center is not the Successor of Peter. Without Christ, Peter and the Church would not exist.”

In speaking about communication, Pope Francis departed from his prepared text: “Like all other professionals, your work needs study, sensibility, experience, and a special attention to truth, goodness, and beauty – this “trinity of communication. We the Church are not called to communicate ourselves, but this trinity . . . the Church exists to communicate Truth, Goodness, and Beauty,” he intoned. These reflections, irresistibly attractive, are proposed to the entire world.

“Wherever you go, preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” This Franciscan proverb is key to rebuilding the world. There are at least two other ways of expressing this thought. ‘To be Christ ... to Christ ... for Christ as Mother Teresa of Calcutta would put it. Or, to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins:

. . . The just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eyes what in God’s eyes he is
Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places;
Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

The Discerning Joseph, Guardian and Protector of Jesus

St. Joseph’s Day was the perfect feast for the inauguration of Pope Francis. Jesus was raised by a just man, a man of faith, a faith embracing beauty, truth, and goodness – all united in love. Through a mystifying dream, Joseph found himself at the center of salvation history. With Mary, the Mother of God, he would play a pivotal role in the life of the young Christ.

The narrative is all too familiar. Joseph found himself in a position, both untenable and irreconcilable. His betrothed was expecting a child, and he was not the father. Though he would reluctantly obey the cruel Law to have his wife stoned to death, he was virtually certain that there was more to the narrative than met the eye. He believed in her innocence. But he had to be told in the most unlikely place, in a dream. Joseph had placed faith in his doubts, because he never doubted his faith. Put in another way, Joseph had grasped the virtue of discernment. His dream translated into the voice of God.

Apart from the Mother of God, Joseph soars above all saints. With Mary, he assumed responsibility in caring for and guarding the body of Christ. The Son of God would mirror his earthly father, even as Joseph was trying to please the Father of them both. This responsibility was his all. None was greater, the one thing necessary. By extension, Joseph stands as the guardian of the Body of Christ, the universal Church. He is well-named: Joseph, “he who adds to; increase.” Like the Mother of God, he too was grace-filled.

A Discerning Pope Francis

Pope Francis intends to follow the Lord’s mandate given to St. Francis of Assisi to go and rebuild his Church. Like Joseph, he undertakes a unique Office in faith. To rebuild, to repair, and to restore the beauty of the Church, this will be a slow and arduous task. If there is one virtue he will need in abundance, it is that of spiritual discernment.

Discernment  goes far beyond material concerns. It is keenly attuned to those feelings within the soul, those movements within that blow us one way or another toward good or evil. Discernment seeks to find God’s will and his glory at the center of our decisions. But there is more, a more refined discernment that seeks to distinguish between two goods equally pleasing to God. Which good will I choose? The one which I perceive will give God the greater glory.

St. John the Evangelist warns about testing the spirits that surround us and those that are within us to see of they come from God (1 Jn 4:2 ). The subterfuges of every person’s ego are countless. Discerning one’s spirit is like entering into a deep dark forestof wily creatures ready to ensnare and deceive it through what looks attractive, true, and good – for the self.

Setting the Tone through Silence

The evangelists record not one word spoken by Joseph. If Mary pondered all things in her heart, then surely he did as well. Last week, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the future Pope Francis, overtook the world by the tone he set minutes after his election. He is a man of few but essential words. Emily Dickinson captures St. Joseph’s profile and that of Pope Francis:

“I fear a man of frugal Speech –
I fear a Silent Man –
Harranguer – I can overtake –
Or Babbler – entertain –
But He who weigheth – While the Rest –
Expend their furthest pound –
Of this Man – I am wary –
I fear that He is Grand.”

“The Road Not Taken”

For Pope Francis, the task ahead is to be done with Ignatian shrewdness but in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, a man of peace, a lover of the poor, a man who loved creation. In his Canticle, didn’t he address Brother Sun, Wind, Air, and Fire as well as Sister Moon, Water, and Mother Earth?

The road to which the Church is now summoned to trod is less traveled. If we take it together, it will make all the difference:

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
. . .
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Robert Frost

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].
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