"Those of us who would describe ourselves as 'conservative' would do well to follow Pope Francis’ model: only by taking action in the form of charity will our intentions as Christians ever be trusted, particularly in an age when those who disagree with us politically and culturally have successfully portrayed us as hate-mongers."
It’s an understatement to say that Pope Francis possesses a zeal that has galvanized observers worldwide, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. To understand the Holy Father’s points of emphasis, we must first cut through the mainstream media’s obsession with twisting his words to fit their own questionable aims. Once we do so, then we can see what a historically important figure Francis has already been. Moreover, for Roman Catholics in the United States, Pope Francis offers some particularly profound examples of how we ought to be engaged with our neighbors, our community, and our society at large. In short, one might say that in Pope Francis’ papacy, we see a fitting, four-point blueprint for how we might redeem the American Republic.
First, even though all our modern popes have embodied love and charity, Francis has made them the pillars of his public ministry. Those of us who would describe ourselves as “conservative” would do well to follow Pope Francis’ model: only by taking action in the form of charity will our intentions as Christians ever be trusted, particularly in an age when those who disagree with us politically and culturally have successfully portrayed us as hate-mongers. In short, not only do we have a moral obligation to perform acts of charity, but so doing enhances the appeal of the other aspects of our Christian, conservative message in the public square.
Second, Francis is an excellent model of how exuding supernatural joy attracts others to a conversation—and not just about those topics with which they already agree. Exuding joy is an act of opening a door, which, frankly, we as Christian conservatives in America have not always done. For too long, we have hunkered down in the trenches, awaiting the bombardment from the secular Left to cease; instead, what’s happened is that the battle line has inched closer to our trenches, causing attrition in our ranks. As Pope Francis appreciates, we must lose our defensive posture, step out of our trenches, and win over the other side with a love for Jesus Christ that no enemy can defeat. Our candidates for elected office, for example, must find ways to discuss the hard, divisive issues in a way that not only upholds our principles but also attracts new supporters. Otherwise, we will lose the war of attrition that the “culture war” has become.
Third, Francis has reminded all of us that we live in an era of triage — that is, a time when those of us given the gift of faith are “nurses” and “doctors” in a field hospital:
I can clearly see that what the Church needs today is the ability to heal wounds and warm the hearts of faithful, it needs to be by their side. I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It’s pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed. The rest we can talk about later. Now we must think about treating those wounds. And we need to start from the bottom.
For example, even for those of us who love a high, beautiful Holy Mass, we can appreciate from the Holy Father’s comment that the tendency to obsess over debates about the liturgy, for example, is akin to telling a terminally-ill patient that the most important aspect of their medical care is eating a balanced diet. We first have an obligation to attract people to a conversation so that, in time, we have many more believers who can appreciate the full beauty of what the Church offers.
Fourth, though it is impossible (and no doubt, imprudent) to reduce the Holy Father’s papacy to a single theme, when we consider all of these points, I believe his work thus far is calling us to what St. Josemaría Escrivá called the “apostolate of friendship.” Consider St. Josemaría’s words: “Those well-timed words, whispered into the ear of your wavering friend; the helpful conversation that you managed to start at the right moment; the ready professional advice that improves his university work; the discreet indiscretion by which you open up unexpected horizons for his zeal. This all forms part of the ‘apostolate of friendship’” (The Way, #973). What an easy but profound resolution for us to make at the end of Lent!
Considering that Pope Francis is a man of action, he personifies what each of us needs to do: find time in our contemplation to identify that one apostolate, that one ministry, where we can do the Church’s work in its field hospital. That may be volunteering in our parish, or in a local home or kitchen for the poor. Perhaps it’s serving underprivileged youth, in particular by assisting them with that one thing that will elevate them—education. Or perhaps we’re called to be involved in something even bigger, as on a national scale.
Regardless of the specific apostolate, each of us is called. And we need to stop waiting to do good, as if the matter were not urgent.
God bless you and yours,
Dr. Kevin Roberts
President of Wyoming Catholic College
Wyoming Catholic College
PO Box 750
Lander, WY 82520