Category Archives: Pope Francis

Encountering the lowly

Do not be haughty
but associate with the lowly.
Romans 12: 16

 Today’s lectionary reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans (12: 5-16b) is full of extraordinary advice for us who seek to follow Christ. But it is the final verse that struck me, “associate with the lowly” partly because of my situation here and partly because that is what Pope Francis calls us to do.

Pope Francis has, from the start, called for a “culture of encounter” (The Joy of the Gospel [Evangelii Gaudium], ¶ 220).

Giving to the poor and even advocating for justice on their behalf are not enough. For, as Pope Francis also wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, ¶ 88:

…the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face to face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.

We are called to encounter the lowly, to associate with them, because that is what Jesus has done. He became flesh to associate with the poor and the lowly, those at the margins.

Jesus normally does not heal from a distance but touches the sick, speaks with them, and calls them to new life.

This is not easy but it is possible when we open ourselves, as Pope Francis has noted, to encounter Jesus.

But it has to be personal.

In Bolivia Pope Francis spoke to the World Meeting of Popular Movements and noted the importance of this face-to-face solidarity:

As members of popular movements, you carry out your work inspired by fraternal love, which you show in opposing social injustice. When we look into the eyes of the suffering, when we see the faces of the endangered campesino, the poor laborer, the downtrodden native, the homeless family, the persecuted migrant, the unemployed young person, the exploited child, the mother who lost her child in a shootout because the barrio was occupied by drug-dealers, the father who lost his daughter to enslavement…. when we think of all those names and faces, our hearts break because of so much sorrow and pain. And we are deeply moved…. We are moved because “we have seen and heard” not a cold statistic but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh. This is something quite different than abstract theorizing or eloquent indignation. It moves us; it makes us attentive to others in an effort to move forward together. That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone: it has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.

We can follow the example of these secular movements and join with them in real solidarity with the poor and humble, following in the footsteps of a God who became poor.

Today, fittingly, is also the feast of Saint Martin de Porres, the mixed-race Dominican lay brother who served the poor in Lima, Perú, and was known as “the father of the poor.” He is also the patron of social justice – a quite fitting reminder of the admonition of St. Paul to “associate with the lowly.”

Saint Francis, Arturo Paoli, and Pope Francis

Today in Italy Little Brother of the Gospel Arturo Paoli died at the age of 102. He spent much of his life in Latin America, living among the poor.

Last year, he had a visit in the Vatican with Pope Francis, whom he probably knew when he was living in Buenos Aires.

His book Gather Together in My Name is a response to the concerns of Pedro, a twenty year old un-churched young man who lived with him in Venezuela. Responding to one of Pedro’s many questions, Little Brother Arturo wrote:

Well, we’ve discovered that Jesus is someone we can’t resist. The other day, Pedro, you exclaimed, “We ought to have another Saint Francis!” Well, who made Saint Francis? Don’t you think God could make another one today? Certainly today’s Saint Francis wouldn’t be the same, but there are three things necessary, urgently necessary, in the world today: poverty, identification with the people, and a deep conviction that Christ Jesus loves human beings and the world. These three things — the only things the world needs — can’t be taught in the “institutes” of Bogotá, Louvain, Rome, or Madrid. Teachers and students are just wasting their time and money. These things, Pedro, my friend, only Jesus can give you.

I can’t help but think that perhaps that is what Pope Francis is trying to teach us: how to be a poor church, how to identify with the poor, how to share with people the intense love of Jesus not only for all people but for all creation.

If we begin to live these three ideals, we may be closer to revealing in our lives glimpses of the Reign of God.


Arturo Paoli’s  Gather Together in My Name was published in 1987 by Orbis Books. Regretfully, it’s out of print.

I also wrote a blog entry on Arturo Paoli with more quotes from his book here.

There is also an article on Arturo Paoli on Sojourners’ web site here.

Who am I to judge?

The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating.
Acts of the Apostles 11: 12 

 Peter is trying to explain why he baptized a Roman centurion and his household. His fellow followers of Jesus had a great problem accepting that non-Jews could embrace discipleship of Jesus.

He tells them about the outpouring of the Spirit on the household of Cornelius and remarks in Acts 11: 18:

“If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?”

This was a powerful moment in the early Church. Christ Jesus came not only to save Jews, but all people.

I would probably not be as attuned to these words of today’s first readings if Sister Pat Farrell was not visiting me here in Plan Grande. We are preparing a workshop on Conflict Transformation and last night she mentioned the importance of putting aside our immediate judgments when we are in the midst of a conflict. Doing this can help us see a bit of what the other person or group is trying to say.

So when I read the word “discriminating,” I was taken aback. So I checked the Greek which reads μηδὲν διακρίναντα. Sure enough, διακρίνω means not only discriminate, but can also mean evaluate or judge.

Peter was being taught by the Spirit to be open to what is different, what is other, what shakes up his worldview.

As I reflect on this I recall the remark of Pope Francis when asked about gay priests who were seeking to live faithfully, “Who am I to judge?”

In his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, ¶72, Pope Francis amplified the meaning of this oft-quoted statement:

One who accompanies others has to realize that each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without. The Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt 18:15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37).

What a different world – and church – we would have if we adopted this openness to the actions of the Spirit, this willingness to look for the good in others, and this lack of judgmentalism.

Then I think we would be better disciples.

Laying down one’s life

A good shepherd lays down his life
for the sheep.
John 10: 11

Pope Francis has spoken often of the importance of sharing the “smell of the sheep.” As he wrote in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium – the Joy of the Gospel, ¶ 24:

An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice.

Next month the world will celebrate the beatification of a Salvadoran bishop who took on the smell of the sheep and gave his life for them. As Monseñor Oscar Romero said in his July 22, 1979 homily:

 I want to repeat to you what I said once before:
the shepherd does not want security
while they give no security to his flock.

Today is the anniversary of the martyrdom  in 1998 of another shepherd, Monseñor Juan Gerardi, the Guatemalan bishop, who was killed days after the office he led had released a report – “Nunca Mas – Never Again” – on the many killings in his country.

He, like Romero, knew the risks of what he was doing. Years before he had fled his diocese because of the violence and death threats. As he said when the report was released,

We want to contribute to the building of a country different than the one we have now. For that reason we are recovering the memory of our people. This path has been and continues to be full of risks, but the construction of the Reign of God has risks and can only be built by those that have the strength to confront those risks.

How can we who serve in the Christian community share the mission and courage of martyrs like Romero and Gerardi? How do we lay down our lives for others?

It’s not merely a question of martyrdom, but a question of laying down our lives, our agendas, every day, for others, especially the poor and suffering – even when we’d rather be sitting at home writing or reading about the poor.

To do this we must not be afraid to go out and smell like the sheep.

We must listen to them, hear their joys and sorrows, and accompany them on their journey.

We can do this best, I believe, when we are deeply connected with the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who gave His life for the sheep and promises us life.

Doing this can give us life.


Preaching from the heart

Saint Anthony of Padua was a marvelous preacher. At times so many people flocked to his sermons that he had to preach outside the church.

The reading for Vigils of the feast is from one of his sermons.

For Anthony preaching had to come from the Spirit of God in one’s heart.

Happy is the man whose words issue from the Holy Spirit and not from himself!

It must come from the heart, he advises his hearers. He warns against what we’d call plagiarism: You must not steal someone else’s words and present them as your own.

For some men speak as their own character dictates, but steal the words of others and present them as their own and claim credit for them.

But for him this is much more than plagiarism; these people really do not serve God or God’s people.

How to speak?

We should speak as the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of speech. Our humble and sincere request to the Sprit for ourselves should be that we bring the day of Pentecost to fulfillment, insofar as the Holy Spirit infuses us with His grace, by using our bodily sense in a perfect manner and by keeping the commandments.

Sometimes we reduce preaching to the words spoken by a priest or public speaker. But Pope Francis thinks otherwise.

“Preaching the Gospel” is central to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel. Preaching is a central part of our mission as disciples of Jesus. In paragraph 127, the pope writes:

Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbors or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation, something along the lines of what a missionary does when visiting a home. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.

Will we bring the love of Jesus to others – or merely mouth words, plagiarizing but not speaking from the heart of God?

Being Advocates

The Father will give you another Advocate
to be with you always.
John 14: 16

At the Last Supper, Jesus promised his disciples that God the Father would send another advocate, another defender, another comforter.

God does not leave us alone. God does not leave us orphans – although it sometimes appears that we live in a world where so many people seem abandoned and alone.

The last line of Psalm 66 in the Grail translation puts this beautifully:

Blessed be God who did not reject my prayer
nor withhold his love from me.

 But so many feel abandoned.

Today a friend sent me photos of Pope Francis at the Separation Wall in Bethlehem. The writing on the wall called on the pope to be an advocate: “Welcome, Pope. We need someone to speak about justice.”


I remember my visit to a Bethlehem refugee camps almost ten years ago, probably near that spot. There were kids playing in the street – as there were kids near the pope – but we entered a house that had just been dynamited by Israel forces.

Pope Francis’s invitation to the presidents of Palestine and Israel to come and pray with him at the Vatican are words of someone who wants to advocate for the poor, for the victims of violence – on all sides.

We are called, I believe, to be advocates of all those in need. God sends us an Advocate, but we too are sent to be advocates, as Gustavo notes in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year,  p. 104

The Lord is asking us to be with our sisters and brothers. Receiving the Spirit (Acts 8: 15-17) must make us become “advocates,” defenders, people who are with those who need us. We are called to serve, not impose our ideas. This presupposes our living and sharing with the,. If Jesus does not leave us orphans (Jn 14:18), neither should we leave those who need us orphans. This is true worship, sanctifying the Lord in our hearts (1 Pet 3:15).

There are so many victims of injustice, of violence, of separation walls. How will I be an advocate?


Hindering God

 …who was I to be able to hinder God?
Acts 11: 17 

Peter is explaining to the Jerusalem church why he baptized and then ate with gentiles. They were scandalized by his actions, breaking the law. But Peter reminded them:

 If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?

When I read this, I recalled the remark of Pope Francis in his free-wheeling interview on the place returning to Rome from Brazil:

If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?

God judges the heart; God looks beyond our narrow prejudices and pre-judgments.

Does our concern for law hinder the mercy of God?

Does our concern for preserving doctrinal orthodoxy hinder the truth of God?

Does my concern for what I consider right hinder the work of God in the world?

God is greater than our minds and our hearts.

Is my heart open to God – or do I judge and separate people into “us” and “them”?

But Jesus wants one flock with one shepherd.

New golden calves

We who were freed from slavery by the power of God give up on God so easily.

When God seems absent we seek something that will give us a sense of power.

So the people of Israel in the desert seek a tangible substitute for the saving God – something that they can know and manipulate: a golden calf. It will go before them because, as they believe, it was the molten calf, a work of their hands, that brought them out of Egypt.

The story (Exodus 32) is well known, but we often forget that the people invested power in something that they made.

We usually talk about this as the worship of an idol. But it’s really a type of fetishism.

When Pope Francis spoke to ambassadors last year, he used the image of the golden calf to critique economic systems that substitute money for persons.

The adoration of the ancient golden calf has found a new and ruthless image in the fetishism of money and in the dictatorship of the faceless economy which lacks a truly human purpose. (My translation from the Spanish.)

The official translation softens the pope’s critique, talking only of an “idolatry” of money.

The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.

But the pope has spoken more than once of the “fetishism of money.” Sadly, the translators usually use the term idolatry, instead of fetishism.

But what is a fetish?

In the 25th anniversary edition of Following Christ in a Consumer Society, p. 34, Fr. John Kavanaugh put it succinctly:

A “fetish” is something that is fabricated, the product of human work; but it is also something we relate to in worshipful devotion. Even though it is something that we ourselves have made, we invest it with power over us and we refashion ourselves in its image.

That’s what the people did in the desert. That’s what we do when the bottom line or our bank accounts become primary.

And that’s what happens when we let anything made by us be the criterion for our lives.

Isn’t it also fetishism when we look for praise from others as the criterion for our actions? As Jesus says in today’s Gospel (John 5: 44):

As long as you seek praise from one another, instead of seeking the glory which comes from the only God, how can you believe?

What are the fetishes in our lives?

What works of our hands (or our hearts and minds) do we let rule us?

How will we begin to turn from these fetishes and seek the glory of God?


God chose the poor

Did not God choose
those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith
and heirs of the Kingdom
that he promised to those who love him?
James 2: 5

The preferential option for the poor is central to a faith lived in the light of the Gospels.

It is an option not because we can opt out of it; it is an option because we are called to opt for the poor, to place the poor at the center of our lives, as God has.

This is not a political option, even though it has political and social ramifications. This is not an option for class warfare, although the poor often feel that the rich are fighting to keep them down.

It is above all an option for Christ – who became poor for our sake (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Pope Francis makes this very clear in paragraph 186 of his Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel:

Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members.

This is just what Gustavo Gutierrez, one of the fathers of Liberation Theology, has said, as noted in In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez.

…there are “mil maneras,” a thousand ways to practice the preferential option for the poor. Finding our own way is the task of our discernment and the goal of our spirituality. What must be clear, though, is that to follow Jesus implies priority for the poor.

I want to emphasize that the preferential option for the poor is not made because the poor are somehow better than others, more virtuous or noble. Idealizing the poor would be the wrong basis for the spirituality we are describing. Often the poor are quite generous and beautiful people, but sometimes not. Nor are our motives for aiding the poor always pure; there can be a temptation to self-congratulation and ego-boosts in this work. So in our spirituality it is supremely important that each of us refines the basis of our preferential option for the poor to say: I accompany them not because they are all good, or because I am all good, but because God is good. The on-going discernment necessary to see that this is a theocentric option— centered in God’s love and life— is particularly suited to habits of communal and personal prayer, practices so central to Christian spirituality.

So let us contemplate Jesus and see how we are called to chose the poor of this world, as God has.


The Glory of God

You are my servant, Israel,
through whom I show my glory.
Isaiah 49: 3

How do I manifest the glory of God?

How do I, in my daily life, show God’s glory?

There is a temptation to think that one can best show the glory of God by grand spectacles, by spectacular deeds, by lives that make people look on in admiration.

But, Jesus is manifested not as a Lion, but as the Lamb of God. As Jean Vanier notes, “We are called to be gentle followers of the Lamb, not people of power.”

But what is the glory of God?

St. Irenaeus put it succinctly:

The glory of God is the human person fully alive, and to be alive consists in beholding God.

Martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero added:

 Gloria Dei, vivens pauper.
The glory of God is the poor person fully alive.

When a person is fully alive God shines through. The person lives as a child of God – a person who is be loved as we love God. The human person fully alive lives with dignity.

That means that we must love and respect that person – and, better, accompany that person in the path of life and love.

In my ministry that means letting my presence, my accompaniment, be a means by which the people can see their dignity, their capabilities, their relationship with a loving God.

In speaking of catechists in Evangelii Gaudium, ¶164, Pope Francis put it well:

the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”

We are called to manifest that love of God, especially for the poor, in our lives.

Recently I finished Eloi Leclerc’s The Wisdom of the Poor One of Assisi. At the end of this fictional account, he has St. Francis say these words to Brother Tancred:

“Can’t you see, Brother, that to evangelize a person is to say to that one: ‘You─yes, you too are loved by God in the Lord Jesus.’
“And you must not only tell that person so, but you must really believe it, and not only believe it, but conduct yourself with this person in such a way that this person can feel and discover there is something within that is being redeemed, something more majestic and noble than had ever been dreamed.”

How can I show the glory of God in my life so that the poor discover that power of God, that grace of God – in their personal lives and in their lives as community – that shows forth redemption, life, and love?