Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope, he instantly gained the whole world’s attention and easily became an object of curiosity and admiration for simply emerging on the balcony at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on the evening of Wednesday 13 March 2013. Notably he had been on nobody’s radar coming from Latin America and being a Jesuit, the first pope to be both. He was known to many already, mostly in his native Argentina. I imagine at age 76 it would be near impossible to not have a past. He may not have been as widely known as Pope Benedict when he was elected in 2005 at age 78, or Matthew McConaughey when he was voted People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in the same year at age 26. Having served previously as provincial superior of the Jesuits in Argentina for 6 years and as Archbishop of Buenos Aires for 15 years, it would be safe to say those who knew him had already made up their minds about him. Either they loved him or hated him or were somewhere in between. But on 13 March 2013 when he was introduced as Pope Francis after being elected on the second day and the fifth vote of the conclave, the rest of the world had yet to make up their minds.

In the days that followed, stories about him began to circulate; how he accepted congratulations from his fellow cardinals after his election standing instead of seated on the papal throne; how he refused to wear the ermine trimmed red velvet mozzetta, gold pectoral cross, and red shoes prepared for the new pope and instead opted for a simple white cassock, his old silver cross, and his old black shoes; how he rode the bus back to his hotel with the other cardinals instead of being driven in the papal limousine; how he returned the next day in a small economy car to pick up his luggage and pay his bill; and how he announced he would reside in three rooms at the guesthouse Casa Santa Marta instead of the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s square.

It’s been just short of 8 years since Francis was elected pope, over twice as long as Jesus’ whole public ministry. So, at least he hasn’t made as many enemies as Jesus did although he has gained the contempt and disapproval of many who do not share his views about welcoming the poor, the marginalized, the sinner, and the outcast. Instead, they cling to the status quo and the static image of a bygone church, a church that listens to and celebrates the influential and powerful while ignoring and silencing those who challenge and question what they do not understand. All over the world, bishops, priests, ordinary Catholics, politicians, and media personalities have denounced the pope because he does not measure up to their image of a real pope, regal, stern, distant, or probably just for not disliking those they dislike. He has survived so far the fate of the prophet Jeremiah who died tragically in exile and Jesus Christ himself who was betrayed by a close friend, scourged, and nailed to a cross. The pope has it easier no doubt. He is a head of state and has round-the-clock secret service protection.

Jesus similarly experienced quick popular acclaim that soon turned to violent opposition. And those who follow his example and way of life cannot go unscathed. He proclaims today that the scripture passage he read from Isaiah last week is fulfilled in the hearing of his audience. That passage announced that he has received the anointing of God’s spirit “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” At first it sounds refreshing. Who wouldn’t want glad tidings brought to the poor, liberty proclaimed to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom granted to the oppressed? What his listeners were unable to embrace as easily was his demand that God needed their help to bring it all about. If God’s kingdom were to become a reality, we cannot stand idly by. Would we welcome the poor and those on the margins? Would we help liberate those spellbound by misleading ideologies and opinionated divisive figures? Would we support the recovery of vision and voice and self-determination for those typically unseen, unheard, and ignored? Would we extend the same freedoms we hold dear to those everywhere deprived of them?

St. Paul’s discourse on love is not primarily about romantic love. Rather it is the love that is the foundation of the community of Jesus’ disciples. Just before this passage we read today, he wrote about how the body has many parts but every part functions to benefit the whole body. The love he encourages we have for one another in the church does not seek one’s selfish advantage over another. Rather, we work for the good of and in each other. This love is accommodating, sacrificial, humble, and vulnerable.

So, when Pope Francis invites the church throughout the world to join in the synod process by walking together and listening to one another, it is disheartening to hear good people say who claim to be disciples of Jesus that they would never welcome the process nor sincerely believe that they will be heard. If the Bishop of Rome is not a credible source of truth and good news, who are we listening to instead? And how are we partners with Jesus to fulfill his mission of healing and reconciliation and liberation?

Rolo B Castillo © 2022