Today is the feast of Saint Charles Borromeo, a bishop and a pastor who brought his spirituality and wisdom to the renewal of the People of God. He did so by encouraging the Church to conform herself to the likeness of Christ so that through her Christ may be shown to the world. In Pope Francis we find another bishop and pastor who seeks to renew the Church in just the same way. His message, as I shared this weekend at Mass, is one of God's love and deep mercy. He reminds us of what Saint Paul said to the Romans in this morning's reading "The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable". Those gifts are acceptance where we are, an embrace of unquestionable love that transforms us, an invitation to repent of sin and weakness and self, and an reminder of the call to holiness that brings us to God in glory.
I guess that I should not be surprised, but I am astounded that the backlash to Pope Francis has begun to surface. His simplicity of life and the basic message of love and mercy that is the hallmark of his leadership bother some - not so much in content but rather in emphasis. I had a person recently who questioned where the Church was going and specifically some of the statements of our Holy Father. I tried to reassure the person that nothing has changed, just the approach. This past weekend throughout our readings and prayers we heard of God's mercy, of his gentle approach in love to the sinner which called them to conversion. I said that rather than rubbing our noses in our sinfulness to embarrass us to repent, rather than putting us down by pointing out that we are nothing else but sinners, saved only by the unexplained graciousness of God's grace, we are confronted by the face of Christ which accepts first, welcomes and transforms in love, grants mercy and then rejoices with the repentant sinner. We see this in the story of Zaccheus, we see this in the woman caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus. The approach is one that Jesus used to great effect. It is one that Pope Francis is reminding us is truly Christ-like. It is one that works.
It has been a busy few days: the Holy Day on Friday, All Souls Day on Saturday, confessions, All Souls Memorial Mass, three regular weekend Masses with two baptisms during the 8:30 am (Sophia Lucille and Tobias Alexander - great names) and the Young Voices Choir at 11:00 am, and then a fourth Sunday Regional Mass at a neighboring parish Sunday evening. I probably have said this before, but I have a good friend who points out that I only work on weekend anyway, so what am I concerned about. As I get older, these busy weekends get more difficult. But as Paul says in Romans this morning: "For from him and through him and for him are all things. To God be glory forever. Amen."
One extraordinary thing happened at the Sunday evening Mass: the couple who were the lectors introduced themselves to me. I recognized the name and asked if he had any relatives that had attended Saint Francis College in Loretto many moons ago. It was his older brother, Michael, whom I knew casually forty-five years ago. I also remember his dad, who was Paul Shannon, from the "Adventure Time" TV show on WTAE in Pittsburgh. Anyone remember? Remember knish? And ... it turns out this gentleman is the "boss" of one of my neighbors and parishioners. Small world.