Pope Francis’ challenges ahead
Robert Moynihan writes that Pope Francis will reform the curia and re-evangelize . . .
Pope Francis now finds himself the “Chief Executive Officer” of the largest and arguably most successful “enterprise” on the planet — no other institution can claim a 2,000-year record of such continuity, through the rise and fall of empires and civilizations. He faces a huge task.
Elected by more than two-thirds of his fellow cardinals on March 13 as the successor of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, at the age of 76, faces internal and external problems which would be daunting to the head of any organization, small or large, well-established or just beginning.
Internally, Francis faces the problems of a loss of faith. So he must “re-evangelize,” renew the faith where it has been lost, “re-convert” those who have, in effect, apostatized from “the faith once received.” This is his greatest challenge. He also faces disunity, confusion about what it means to be Catholic, and serious practical problems like the large numbers of aging clergy and religious.
Externally, Francis faces great pressure from the Church’s critics in a modern, secularized society in which laws are increasingly un-Christian and threaten the Church’s freedom. In the face of these threats and challenges, Francis must steer the Barque of Peter with prudence and courage, seeking alliances where he can with men and women of good will.
The first great problem, the enfeeblement of the faith, is not new. Benedict often spoke of this challenge, and popes back to the beginning have found it their task to “confirm their brothers in the faith.” The beginning and end of the faith — as Jesus, Peter, Paul and the apostles taught — is to believe in the Good News about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But many, in every age, have come to doubt or deny that Jesus lived, performed miracles, forgave sinners, and rose from the dead. How can the faith blaze up again in our world?
For Pope Francis, the answer lies in the encounter with the Risen Christ, present in His word, in the Eucharist, in the silence of prayer, and in acts of mercy and charity. And this is why in each sermon, each talk, each public appearance, Francis speaks about Christ, his goodness, his real presence, and the possibility of encountering, then coming to know, love and serve Him.
In preaching Christ, Francis is facing head on his greatest challenge: the rejection of the faith. And he has asked women in particular to help him in this task. “This is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is risen!” he said on March 27.
The Church is troubled by many divisions. Many traditional Catholics lament the diminishment, since the Second Vatican Council, of practices and teachings of the perennial faith. Many “progressives” think the Church has not innovated enough to keep pace with the changes in the modern world. European Catholics seem to be weary of the faith while African and Asian Catholics seem energized by the very things that weary the Europeans. Pope Francis must find a way to remind all of us what we have in common, what makes us part of one Church.
So Francis will try to do what any good CEO would do to improve a company’s operations: He will strive to return to the sources of the company’s vision, and to inspire the company’s partners, workers and supporters once again to share that vision — and commit to it. He will do this by leading. He will be the first to step out in faith, to embrace the vision, to live simply, to make his life consistent with his words, and so to inspire others to follow him.
Pope Francis has been enjoying a “honeymoon” as the world’s press has praised his simplicity and humility. But his simplicity and humility are matched by his love of Christ and his commitment to the true happiness of human beings, which comes from drawing close to God and living in accordance with the natural and divine law. This doesn’t mean that Francis doesn’t feel great compassion for human beings who are weak and fall into sin, but it does mean that he will not yield to calls to bless and approve of the sin, which he believes will only lead to greater human misery.
So when this conviction on his part becomes clearer in the months to come, Francis’ honeymoon will likely end, and the attacks on him will begin. When that happens, we will know all the more clearly that he is walking in the footsteps of Christ, the way that leads to the cross, and beyond to cross, to eternal life with the Risen Christ.
ROBERT MOYNIHAN is the founder and editor of Inside the Vatican magazine. He is the author of MoynihanLetters.com and the recently published “Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, the First Pope from the Americas.”