Pope Francis: Triumphalism Impedes the Church, Impedes Christians

Pope Francis might as well have been speaking directly to American Christians with the homily he gave a few days ago.

“Triumphalism impedes the Church,” he said. “Triumphalism impedes Christians.”

Americans play to win. We are taught from our earliest days that competition is good and that we can make anything of our lives that we want if we just work hard and smart enough.

Triumphalism, the joy in winning, is part of our national psyche. We are, in our own way, very sure of ourselves and our ability to overcome whatever difficulties lie in front of us.

This makes those of us who are Christians a bit “off” in our understanding of the Gospels. Jesus triumphed over Satan. He transcended Satan’s final ploy against humanity, which is death, in an absolute way.

If we’re not careful, we’ll focus on that victory and ignore the way it was achieved and the words Jesus said about what awaits anyone who truly follows Him. The cross did not look like a victory to those who saw Our Lord suffer and die on it. It looked like  an ignominious defeat.

We can, from our vantage point in history, connect the dots backwards and see the progression from Calvary to the resurrection. We know how the story ends. But if we try to skip over the tough parts, or limit our thinking about  them to annual passion plays, we miss the point.

The cross, which Jesus defeated with His resurrection, is still part of this world. We all have our crosses, and as He told us, if we want to be worthy of Him, we must pick them up and carry them. Not only that, but we must bear the crosses of our lives by “following after” Him. I think we need to ponder for a moment what that means.

Pick up your cross and follow after me Jesus instructs us.

I don’t think He means that we must merely endure the hardships of our lives, even though that would be more than enough for most of us. I believe that we are called to “follow after Him” in the way we endure the sufferings that come our way, which is to say we must triumph over them.

But this triumph is not triumph according to the world’s understanding. It is not an aggressive and competitive victory that elevates us in other people’s eyes and gives us status, power and money. Following after Him means that we must forgive those who hurt us, bear with those whose weakness burdens and wounds us. We must be like Him in how we treat one another and in how we view ourselves.

Triumphalism as the world understands it, which is beating the other guy and following up by basking in the satisfactions and congratulations of the winner’s circle, has nothing at all to do with the triumph of the cross. The triumph of the cross is defeat for the Kingdom’s sake. It is loving others to the point that you cast out evil with that love.

It is not easy to be a Christian. In fact, it is impossible for us to do it on our own strength and or our own understanding. This is as true of the officers of the Church as it is for those of us in the pews. Without the Holy Spirit to give us the spiritual graces necessary, we can never successfully pick up our crosses and follow after Him.

That is why we need the sacraments. The sacraments — the eucharist and confession in particular — offer a steady infusion of grace into our souls that strengthens and fits us for living life in Christ.

The video below excerpts Pope Francis’ homily about triumphalism and the Church.

YouTube Preview Image

  • Bill S

    “Americans play to win. We are taught from our earliest days that competition is good and that we can make anything of our lives that we want if we just work hard and smart enough.”

    This is very true. I wouldn’t discourage that kind of thinking. From its beginning, Christianity has appealed more to the (please excuse the word) losers than to the winners. It was the slaves and servants in Rome who converted their masters. Since we can’t win all the time, we all need the consolation that religion brings when we are down and out. And since no one can escape the final defeat, death, Christianity is there for everyone. It doesn’t matter whether any of its teachings are true, it has the appeal and the staying power to succeed in its own humble way.

    • tedseeber

      I would most certainly discourage any kind of thinking that harms society- including those that destroy the losers.

  • Teilhard

    Fantastic article! It very accurately summarizes the core tension of values between the Gospel message of service and community vs. U.S. values of individualism and consumerism. I am glad to be living here and would not want to be anywhere else, but it’s not always easy following the counter-cultural Christian message.

    Peace,
    W. Ockham
    http://www.teilhard.com

  • http://mywordwall.wordpress.com/ Imelda

    I like how you clarified what it means to be triumphant in a Christian sense. GOd seems to have sent us a good Pope – may he ever be faithful and brave. :-)


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X