The Francis Factor, A New Departure.  (Book Review)

Edited by John Littleton & Eamon Maher.(Columba Press 978-1-78218-146-0)

The new Pope has had an astonishing appeal to people all over the world as well as to Catholics. He emphasised that he was a sinner and needed prayers. He wants a collegial Church – not a hierarchical one. He chooses to live a simple lifestyle and associates lovingly with the poor. He wants love and joy to trump doctrines and laws. He wants a Church of Jesus and the Gospel – not a Church besotted with authoritarianism and high rituals. He upholds, as ‘a true son of the Church’ her main doctrinal stances but he uses a new tone and emphasis. He urges people to take risks and look outward even though mistakes can be made. The only fears are that Francis may be opposed by conservative elements in the Curia and his health and age are against him. This excellent and timely book is a compilation of twenty-five writers from Ireland, the UK and the USA who are well versed in religious affairs and theology.

Patrick Claffey SVD is enthusiastic about Francis’s missionary stance emphasising the joyous mission of God’s word to the poor and his critique of the neoliberal economic system.

John O’ Connor, a Pallotine priest, saw Bishop Bergoglio as pastoral and caring for his priests and people. He opposed political regimes, corrupt politicians and drug barons, while promoting social justice. He was also ecumenical, especially with the Jewish and Anglican communities.

Mary T. Malone, theologian, sees Francis as one who lives and proclaims the Gospel joyfully. He keeps to orthodox doctrines but eschews reiteration of dogmas and rules. He urges a mutual evangelisation of the poor.

Michael Kelly editor of ‘The Irish Catholic’ newspaper sees a more open Church – transformative and missionary – yet orthodox.

Alfred McBride, a Norbetine, notes how Francis emphasises that all the baptised are evangelised and evangelisers. We need to put our faith into action. Shepherds need to be good communicators and pastoral. We need to preach the truth with beauty and goodness. The heart is more important than the head.

Colm Kenny, a professor of communication, sees Francis as a spiritual leader. He is neither on the left nor on the right. He wants simple living as opposed to greed and luxury. Reform of the Church is difficult and there are dangers from vested interests and his relaxed personal security.

Jim Corkery SJ sees Francis as counter cultural – ‘a sinner’ as opposed to the worldly celebrity hype. He is a warm, loving healer. He is collegial not authoritarian. He opts for the poor. He appeals to youth and women. He wants to put Christ at the heart of the world.

Brian D’Arcy, Passionist priest and communicator, sees Francis as revolutionary. After a period of retrenchment and repression, Francis offers a renewal of Vatican II and a spirit of hope and tenderness.

Louise Fuller, Irish Catholic writer, sees Francis as ‘a man with a mission’ – doctrinally conservative but pastorally sensitive and respectful of the individual conscience. He promotes a change of heart as well as reform of structures. There is a need for prophetic bishops.

Daniel O’ Leary, priest, author, and teacher [and a speaker at our 2013 Conference], sees Francis as one with a new vision and a liberator of the heart. He has love to share and is poetical and mystical. He has a sacramental vision – he sees God in everything and in everybody. God is found in the lowly human situation.

Peter McVerry SJ, working with homeless people in Dublin, sees Francis as a champion of the poor. He represents the New Kingdom over against the Old Law, compassion over condemnation, people over laws.

Brendan Leahy, Bishop of Limerick, sees Francis as a convert after his Aparecida experience. Francis put the heart of the mystic above the rational, the simple over the complex, love over prudence, creativity over sterility, the good at heart over belief systems. We all need to change like Francis to transform society.

Louise Nelstrop, lecturer in Christian Spirituality, sees Francis as a follower of Gregory the Great who emphasised the need for contemplation like Jeremiah plus action like Isaiah. Reflection leads to works of mercy – a creative tension.

Len Kofler, Mill Hill missionary, notes Francis’s simplicity, humility, love of the poor, his person-centred way, a man of prayer, his servant leadership, his joyous missionary way and thinks a combination of grace and psychology ‘untied the knots’. We need to model ourselves on Francis and become witnesses more than teachers.

Richard Clarke, Primate of the Church of Ireland, sees new hope in Europe. He thinks there will a revival of ecumenism – maybe working through the Orthodox Churches. He sees warmer relations even with people of no faith.

Fainche Ryan, theologian, sees a new joy in the dignity of all. We are all missionaries. We share God with all. Critical theology plus the truly human leads to something more than human. There is a long pilgrimage towards growth in encounter.

Richard Rohr OFM, sees healthy fruit coming from a discernment of spirits. The contemplative over the metaphysical. Beauty and love in teaching and preaching. Joy, mission and community. Style and substance together. Transformation over doctrine and morals. Authentic human being over ‘sanctuary religion’. Francis is an attractive human being.

Tina Beattie, theologian, sees a revolution of tenderness under Francis. Now the joy of the Gospel is overcoming the tomb. She welcomes mystical piety of the people plus the mystical discernment of Ignatius of Loyola. A living faith in Christ breeds freedom and beauty. Revelation is kept but science and culture create change.

Michael Collins, priest and author in Dublin, traces the origin of the Roman Curia from its origins in the Roman Empire and its development in the Catholic Church. Francis is a kind of Robin Hood who is implementing much needed radical reforms.

John Waters, author and journalist, says that the world media misrepresents both Benedict XVI and Francis. Because it favours materialism and licentiousness, it opposed Benedict and misinterprets Francis.

Aidan Troy CP at the parish for English speakers in Paris. Fr. Aidan sees Francis as a ‘pontifex’- a bridge builder  Most people welcome his way of communicating. Francis is the ‘second chance fisherman’ lifting up people’s hopes for a renewal of Vatican II.

Willie Walsh, recently retired Bishop of Killalloe, sees Francis as a person of trust in God which allows freedom in himself and others. His love of the poor is Christ-like. His growth from sinner to maturity has given him gifts of freedom, truth and honesty. He preaches by example. He can tolerate opposition because his inner peace is centred on Christ.

Sarah MacDonald, Irish journalist, sees Francis as a new broom overcoming Vatican centralism. Both wings of the Church –reform and continuity – claim Francis for themselves. She notes that women’s place in the world is changing. There is need for boldness, prudence and the spirit of the Gospel. Lay men and women could do administrative jobs.

Timothy Radcliffe OP says Francis uses dramatic gestures. Christ smiles on Matthew in Carravagio’s painting; we are ministers of the loving gaze. We are only human when reaching out to others. Clericalism and sacristy culture are stultifying. Take time and let the Spirit lead. Prayer helped Francis to trust in God and let the Spirit bring light out of the chaos. The Vatican is there to serve not rule the Church – a loving community based on the love in the Trinity.

Donald Cozzens, priest and author in the USA, emphasises the breath of fresh air that Francis has brought to the Church and the world. Shepherds replace moral policemen; God over religion; Faith over dogma. Clerics should use the ‘servants’ entrance’. Beauty will save the world. ‘Evangelium Gaudium’ is full of joy and humility. Contemplative living leads to true joy.

● James Maher

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