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Electing the Pope and Crises of Faith

March 14, 2013

What does electing a new pope have to do with anyone’s faith?

Probably nothing for most people, even most Catholics. But for others, perhaps a lot.

English: Cardinal Jorge M. Bergoglio SJ, Archb...

English: Cardinal Jorge M. Bergoglio SJ, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, celebrating mass at the XX Exposición del Libro Católico (20th Catholic Book Fair), in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Español: Cardenal Jorge M. Bergoglio SJ, Arzobispo de Buenos Aires, celebrando misa en la XX Exposición del Libro Católico, en Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In listening to some of the extensive radio reporting and commentary on the new pope yesterday, I heard that the Catholic Church had recently taken on renewed efforts at “evangelizing” in Latin America in particular.  Well, at least toward their former members.  I don’t know the details but I was aware that in much of the region they have lost many members to Protestant churches and particularly those of Pentecostal or charismatic style, especially in Brazil.  They also have lost to “secularization” or people merely not attending anywhere.

So it’s a whole different picture with Catholicism in the United States, and some peoples’ “crises of faith”.  The forefront issues are mostly different here.  That being said, let me open one important issue that is likely in play around the globe.  Let’s look a moment at what it may have to do with a person’s faith, with an invitation for you to comment on how it impacts you or how you see this issue.

The Gospel as Treatment of the Poor

The issue is sometimes put, in Protestant circles, as a contrast of the Gospel of Jesus with the Gospel about Jesus.  Not that the two need be exclusive of one another.  But they often are at least separated and not always present together in anything close to balance. 

I’m purposely oversimplifying now, but the Gospel of Jesus is to reach out to, help, support, “empower” the poor (and others who struggle with daily life).  

The Gospel about Jesus is belief that he was and is the unique Son of God, the long-promised Messiah and that this belief (usually plus a few other things) will save you personally from the wrath of God because Jesus died in your place, providing you forgiveness.  

Returning to the new pope and the Catholic situation, it is being said that this Pope Francis has spent much of his life under a personal vow of poverty, living like as well as ministering to the poor.  He has had supervisory duties typical of an Archbishop (of Buenos Aires, in his case) as well, but continued to live and move about mostly in the ways working class and poor Argentinians have to.  So is he presenting more the Gospel of Jesus or the Gospel about Jesus?

Maybe in his case the two are in balance… he is a Jesuit and highly educated in both science and theology, so certainly has learned and can teach about Jesus.  My larger point is that I suspect people from not only Latin America but everywhere will be bolstered in faith by his living out of the Gospel of Jesus.  And more so than what he may have to say on the Gospel (about Jesus), and the orthodox understanding of Jesus that it presents.

What is the nature of this faith? I mean that inspired by Jesus originally and often taught by Catholic as well as Protestant and Orthodox clergy — the call to acts of love across all social boundaries, but directed particularly at those in most earthly need? 

Is it Christian exclusively? Or is it “Jesist”? Or, yet, is it universal, with Jesus being merely one of its best-known promoters?

I will now speak as one not generally paying much attention to things Roman Catholic: If the new “Papa Francisco” (has a nice ring, huh?) can inspire us all, Catholic or not, to greater dedication to the Gospel of Jesus he will have bolstered our faith (in God and/or humanity) and created a better world.  (In this I think the non-religious can be included as well, if they are willing…. I’m not at all far from them myself.)

What do you see in either the new pope or the issues I’ve raised about the focus of one’s faith and what sustains it?

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