“How good it is for us when the Lord unsettles our lukewarm and superficial lives.”
– Pope Francis, tweeting as @Pontifex, 7 April 2014
Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week. This is the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, a hero to the adoring crowds. His subsequent challenge to the authorities who were jealous of his popularity got him tortured to death in just five days. It is a day meant for this new People’s Pope, now with a full year under the simple skull cap (or yarmulke) he is usually wears in public in place of the pointy miter of authority. But this Holy Week is a special one, and not just for this pope’s anniversary.
One week after the Easter celebration of resurrection Popes John XXII and John Paul II will be canonized as saints, recognizing their work as reformers of the Church to be the hand of God himself. They make a formidable pair, one more liberal and the other more conservative. Together, along with Francis’ year of tumult, this event will probably mark the start of a major leap for reform and reinvigoration of the Church. This is a good day to question authority and the “superficial lives” that coast along in need of renewal, and Pope Francis appears to have a plan.
Francis, always one for theatrics, made the Palm Sunday Mass a terrific start to these two weeks of celebration. Appearing in John Paul’s vestments, he ditched the script for the mass and instead gave the assembled faithful something to contemplate.
“Has my life fallen asleep?” Francis asked after listening to a Gospel account of how Jesus’ disciples fell asleep shortly before he was betrayed by Judas before his crucifixion. “Am I like Pontius Pilate, who, when he sees the situation is difficult, washes my hands?” Summing it up with “The question which accompanies us” he asked, “Where is my heart?”
There can be little doubt that Francis intends to answer these questions, much as he did through twitter the week before. The Church may teach that Jesus is with his followers always, but it is in the moments that everything is unsettled that you feel the presence. Such were the lives of the two new saints that he will celebrate at the end of this cycle.
What reforms can we contemplate? Francis has already called for a greater role for women in the Church, something as yet unspecified. He has called homosexuals “brothers,” going as far as to say “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?” This comes on top of reforms at the Vatican Bank, to be formalized this summer, and the ouster of more flamboyant clery. What might come next is still unclear, given that it is still a conservative Church at heart. The ongoing sex abuse scandal with priests is crying out for more reform, too, though Francis did personally apologize for the abuse just last week.
But these critical two weeks in the life of the Church this century point to a strong foundation for something much bigger yet to come. There is a good chance that history is about to be made.
Given the reformers whose lives will be celebrated with their sainthood, anything is possible at this time. John XXIII presided over the council Vatican II, which ended the Latin Mass in favor of modern, local languages while opening up the Church dramatically. John Paul II established the role of moral leadership as a force against dictatorship with the words, “Be not afraid”.
Even non-Catholics, like myself, have a lot to celebrate in this event. The world needs strong moral leadership as it comes together. Exploitation of people at great distances is too easy even as the world converges into one economy. A morality that is clear and lacking in judgment, beatific in purpose and realization, gives this turbulent time a positive direction. Pope Francis’ words have disturbed the foundations of capitalism and highlighted how the developing global economy must serve people. That guidance is critical for us all, regardless of our particular relationship to faith.
To make this real, there must first be an “unsettling.” It is certainly coming in one form or another, though we cannot be sure how. Holy Week is the perfect time to launch that movement with a call to the lives of two saints who walked among us only recently. Their examples will no doubt guide what is to come next.
This is an exciting time for the Church, and for people hungry for moral guidance to the changes that wash over the world. Pope Francis has made it clear in his first year that he is just the man we need right now to provide that leadership – to the Church and the world, Urbi et Orbi.