The other day I was standing on the hillside on our church campus where we plan to build a new church, and I prayed that the new church would be built, but I also looked across the street to the old motel that was built in the 70s along highway 85. It, and the other hotels around us are flophouses, dens of iniquity where drug deals are done and prostitutes come and go.
I wondered what we could to to witness in the community and realized that building a church was one thing, but working with and for the poor was really the main witness in our world today. Why? Because our words of witness have been too often compromised by our lives. We say we are followers of Christ, but our neat suburban lives are no different than anyone else’s. We say we are followers of Christ, but our church is scandalized by liberal worldlings, abusive priests, hypocritical leaders and lukewarm laity.
The world will not listen to our words until our works match up. Therefore, the best thing we can do is the best thing we have always done: become again the church of the poor, the slaves, the downtrodden and the needy. This is our main witness now, and only when we have begun to live up to our words will they again be taken seriously.
This is why I am totally blown away today by the election of Pope Francis. To see him standing there in total simplicity looking at the crowd and then praying with them in honesty and open ness immediately set the stage for what is to come. With his leadership perhaps more of us will also adopt the name “Francis.” Perhaps more of us will seek to re-build the church. Perhaps more of us will become more joyful and live out again the spirit of poverty and simplicity in our lives. Perhaps more of us will be fools for Christ–preaching to birds and going on crazy missions to preach to the Sultan.
I am a Benedictine oblate and will always love St Benedict and love Benedict XVI for his amazing papacy, but I’m ready now for a Franciscan spirit in the church and look forward to the next amazing chapter in the great saga of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Go here for John Allen’s excellent pre-conclave profile on Pope Francis