Words spoken by the new Roman Catholic leader, Pope Francis 1, in an informal homily delivered to the College of Cardinals today, thrilled me. (Thrilled is not one of my usual verbs. But that's exactly how I felt.) From The Los Angeles Times account of the Mass at which Francis preached:
Stressing the power of prayer, Francis told the cardinals, "He who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil. When we don't proclaim Jesus Christ, we proclaim the worldliness of the devil, the worldliness of the demon."Wow! This is exactly the message that not only Roman Catholic Christians need to hear, but we Lutheran and other Christians need as well.
"When we walk without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we proclaim Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly."
He added, "We may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, all of this, but we are not disciples of the Lord."
Francis issued a strong warning to the cardinals, telling them the Catholic Church risks becoming a compassionate nongovernment organization unless it sticks to its spiritual path.
Building a solid Church, he added, was vital to stop it from crumbling like a "sand castle" built by children.
There is no point to the Church's existence if we don't keep on the mission given to us by Christ Himself:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)We Christians, as part of the larger Church (the Body of Christ, in Biblical terms), each have our missions. In fact, Peter, the man Roman Catholics say was the first pope, that Christ has saved us from sin and death not only as a gift for us to enjoy, but as a gift to share with others:
...you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)Peter also tells Christians this:
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)It displays a profound lack of faith in Christ when church bodies or congregations give up on fulfilling the mission Christ commands and the Holy Spirit empowers us to do to, instead pursue political or social agendas. In these pursuits, they impatiently attempt to coerce others into living under their versions of the kingdom of God, rather than sharing the Gospel as Christ commands and letting Him reign, do His will, and build His Church.
Christ has said that new life comes only to those who turn from sin and believe in Him and the Good News, the Gospel, that His death and resurrection have unleashed in the world. Sharing this Good News is our mission and it is not of Christ for us to get sidetracked for human agendas. Whenever the Church forgets to keep the main thing the main thing--sharing the Gospel through Word and Sacrament--you can be sure that the devil cackles with delight. There's nothing he likes more than the Church going off-target!
Many of his fellow Christians won't agree with Francis on everything. For example, I have profound disagreements with the Roman Church on relying on the intervention of dead saints, such as Mary, when we are privileged to approach God directly through Jesus Christ, God in the flesh.
But I am excited that leading the largest Christian body in the world is a person who is challenging His flock to focus on the mission Christ commands all His people to pursue and trust that, as we do so, the lives of those who receive Christ by faith will be so transformed that they spend their doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with their God (Malachi 6:8).
My prayer is that God will help me to live such a life: a life of repentance for my sin, of gratitude that Christ died and rose for a sinner like me, of the purpose that belongs to those live life in the company of Christ, and of hope for eternity with God.