Pope Francis’ Good Intentions

Christ in the Neighborhood
by Georges Rouault

This week saw the announcement that Pope Francis’ celebration of Sunday’s Feast of Corpus Christi will include Eucharistic adoration—but of a particular sort.  In what a Vatican spokesperson called an historic event, Francis’ hour of prayer will be timed to coincide with adoration in cathedrals around the world (check your local listings).

Synchronized prayer is an interesting idea, and for Francis it seems to parallel Kevin Ahern’s thoughts on public displays of solidarity as well as ideas explored in our recent Theological Shark Week.  Francis stated two prayer intentions that provide me with reason to think that for the pope “solidarity” is an essential aspect of “holiness.”  Here is Francis’ first intention:

 “For the Church spread throughout the world and united today in the adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist as a sign of unity. May the Lord make her ever more obedient to hearing his Word in order to stand before the world ‘ever more beautiful, without stain or blemish, but holy and blameless.’ That through her faithful announcement, the Word that saves may still resonate as the bearer of mercy and may increase love to give full meaning to pain and suffering, giving back joy and serenity.”

Aspects of this intention are clear to me—I understand the need to grow both more attentive and responsive to Christ in order to share our hope with the world.  To truly hear the Word is to be transformed by God in such a way that our witness becomes a sign of God’s salvation.  To be honest, however, while the last sentence had lots of words that I like about mercy, love, meaning, joy, and serenity, I got stuck on the phrase “give full meaning to pain and suffering.”  The experience of pain and suffering makes the world absurd, a chaos.  What does it mean to give meaning to pain and suffering—and what has that got to do with standing before the world “without stain or blemish . . . holy and blameless”?

I moved on to the pope’s second intention:

“For those around the world who still suffer slavery and who are victims of war, human trafficking, drug running, and slave labour. For the children and women who are suffering from every type of violence. May their silent scream for help be heard by a vigilant Church so that, gazing upon the crucified Christ, she may not forget the many brothers and sisters who are left at the mercy of violence. Also, for all those who find themselves in economically precarious situations, above all for the unemployed, the elderly, migrants, the homeless, prisoners, and those who experience marginalization. That the Church’s prayer and its active nearness give them comfort and assistance in hope and strength and courage in defending human dignity.”

After reading this intention I was moved that the poor, victimized, and marginalized were named with such specificity and compassion.  Yet it was the phrase “prayer and active nearness” that changed my understanding of Francis’ first intention.

In Matthew’s gospel when Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment, he replies:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mt. 22: 37-39).

Francis’ intentions may be read in much the same way as these two commandments—the second is like the first.  If through our participation in the paschal mystery in baptism and the Eucharist we become the body of Christ, then “unblemished” holiness cannot mean “out of touch.”  Holiness means wearing a baptismal robe marked by signs of solidarity with victims and vulnerable persons.  Holiness means receiving Christ’s body, which remains marked by violence even after the resurrection.  We neither fully adore nor completely become the body of Christ if those who are crucified today are kept out of sight, at arm’s length, or under heel.

Our holiness ought to be shaped by solidarity because that is how God’s holiness is expressed, as Emmanuel, “God with us.”  God’s merciful, “active nearness” can provide meaning in the midst of suffering.  In Christ, God does not by justify or explain suffering away; rather, in union with the Holy Spirit from the incarnation to the resurrection Christ affirms and acts for human dignity.

On the Feast of Corpus Christi, Francis challenges us to grow in holiness through solidarity by recalling that to be obedient to the Word is to hear the cry of the poor.