Direct challenge

Much has been said of Pope Francis since being elected to the papacy a year ago. But headlines, sound bites and endless “pontifications” about the pontiff tend to drown out his transformative challenge to the faithful.

Unless you read Vatican documents or in-depth Catholic news sites like Zenit.org, CatholicNewsAgency.com and CatholicNews.com, your perceptions of Pope Francis are probably formed by tiny planks of the much larger ship.

It’s a bit like getting a feel for the Bible by skimming over the Sunday bulletin. You might come across an inspirational quote or two but the beauty and challenge of the Gospel eludes those who neglect to read it.

So it is with Pope Francis. He is much more than Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.
But one may say that papal documents are too difficult to read. Granted, some are challenging, but not Pope Francis’ homilies and writings. In fact, his casual, even informal style has caught many off guard. This pope forgoes long theological terms in favor of language that the person on the street would recognize at the coffee shop.

Beyond being accessible, Pope Francis’ words have the power to inspire a deeper way of living the Gospel. The days of plodding through the faith, fulfilling minimum obligations and then getting on with life is under direct challenge by this pope.

He is urging us to become true friends with Christ, willing to live completely and even dangerously for him. He wants us to physically touch the wounded flesh of the poor, cook breakfast for the hungry, unzip our North Face jacket and hand it to someone who is shivering.
This direct challenge, to let the faith animate and guide our life, is the heart of Pope Francis’ ministry. Plus he speaks with the wit and charm of a beloved and wise grandfather of the faith.

A great way to start reading him is to download his recent letter to the world, “The Joy of the Gospel.” Read a few paragraphs each day. You will be surprised by what they reveal. Here’s the link: vatican.va/holy_father. Click “Francis” and then “Apostolic Exhortations,” and be prepared to rediscover the exciting adventure of following Christ.


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