I READ an article about Pope Francis that says this, “When people inside and outside the church think about Francis, words such as mercy, joy, compassion, care for the environment, a church of the poor for the poor, and possibly even reform immediately come to mind.”
Recently, there is another buzzword that he mentions just as much as these others: rigidity. This theme as an overarching narrative of his pontificate is, one of the least explored.
When Francis addresses himself to this topic to us with passion, he has told bishops, priests, seminarians, religious, young Catholics, liturgists, canon lawyers and ecumenists, among many others, to stop being rigid. While calling everyone in the Church to be faithful in the Gospels and the best of our received Catholic tradition, the pope rails against those who interpret, teach or apply that tradition “with hostile inflexibility.”
Confronting rigidity is not necessarily partisan. It attends to ideology: there are people on the liberal and traditional extremes of our Catholic community who are equally rigid. As one example: we know priests who cannot wear clerical dress under any circumstances, and others who cannot not wear it.
Almost every time Pope Francis raises the “illness of rigidity” he also speaks about freedom. He said: “One of the great consolations of the Holy Spirit was freedom from rigidity, of being able to “let go and let God.”
The present pope is fascinating because he cannot be classified by the usual socio-political categories of liberal/conservative or left/right.
He is neither and both and all of them because like the wise master of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and old, it all comes down to discerning how to live the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ in the here and now.
Francis rails against the young and the old in the church with little or no pastoral flexibility because he believes it is a symptom of a spiritual disease that leads to being defensive and hypocritical.
“A Catholic should not be afraid of the open sea nor look for shelter in safe havens. The Lord calls us to go out on mission, to go far off, and not to retire to safeguard our certainties.”
For Francis, this stuff is personal.
On another note I read in the same article about St. Ignatius, the founder of the Order of Jesuits Just, when we might like to think that Ignatius only applied this to one’s personal life, or to internal freedom, it is good to know that when he wrote his elaborate Constitution for the Society of Jesus, he littered that document with injunctions about local flexibility, subjective application and ultimately following what the Lord may require, St. Ignatius believed in institutional flexibility and freedom because he saw it opened the Church up to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. When Francis confronts rigidity, he is exhibiting his Ignatian roots.
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