I love the evangelistic approach of Pope Francis in presenting the Gospel message in so many unique and refreshing ways. The choosing of his name when he became Pope immediately suggested a new approach to the Papacy. This may all seem trivial or confusing to those Christians outside of the Catholic tradition, but for us Catholic Christians, the naming of our Popes gives insight to what type of leader they seek to be and how they will share the Gospel message of Christ.
THE SEASONS OF LIFE
The Christian community has just worked its way through the Lenten season in anticipation of the Paschal Mystery that awaited us on Easter morning. The ministry at St. Edward’s University was preparing students as well. Students were invited to reflect upon and grow in their faith through our “Busy Person’s Retreat”, the “Mystery of Faith” retreat, our weekly Stations of the Cross which remembers Christ’s journey to the cross, and of course, our daily liturgies (church/worship) where we celebrate the presence of Christ in our midst. The challenge is not to bring Christ to campus so that our students may encounter the risen Lord (we really have no control on the travel schedule of the risen Lord), but rather, the challenge is to help our students encounter the incarnated, ever present, risen Christ who is already in our midst. I often make my work as a minister and evangelist way too difficult (as if it were my efforts that did the trick anyway….something about….what was it?….ah, the Holy Spirit!).
ROOM FOR DOUBT?
Back to Pope Francis and his name. St. Francis of Assisi had a simple message — love God and love others (both are inseparably in concert with each other). This seems to be the basic message that Pope Francis wants to convey. This willingness to extend humanity: building showers for the homeless in the Vatican, washing the feet of the female inmate who is Muslim, and other simple acts, all seem to emulate St. Francis’s call to speak the Gospel message on all occasions and when necessary, use words. This approach seems to be drawing renewed interest and curiosity in the Christian message.
Pope Francis is already talking about the end of his ministry. I was thinking about the name that the next Pope might take. Here was the question that hit me: “Has there ever been a Pope Thomas?” My first thought was “NO.” What leader of a body of Christians would choose the name of the “doubter” to symbolize their leadership? Doubting and Christianity has never been a popular duo. No one wants the label: “back-slider!”
For me however, I think we could use a Pope Thomas in leadership. St. Francis, like Pope Francis, had a lot of questions about God and for God. I like that! I fear the day I have God figured out (as if that could happen!). I have doubts, lots of them, depending upon the day. I wouldn’t be honest with the students I am ministering to and sharing the Gospel with if I said otherwise. The Lenten season reflects the ups and downs of life, something important to remember as we share Christ in our lives and through our lives. The authenticity of Christ’s ministry was meeting people in their doubts, in their needs, in their heart’s desire. It is in an atmosphere of love and acceptance that we are able to address our doubts. Doubts are not planned or voluntary, they just are.
I pray that I may be able to share my relationship with Christ with others, both the joys and the struggles of that walk.
Dr. James Puglisi is the Associate Director of Campus Ministry at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. He received his Bachelor of Arts (1984) from Allegheny College, Meadville, PA in Anthropology of Religions. He holds a Master of Arts in Higher Education (1996) from Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA, and a Master of Arts in Applied Theology (2002) from Wheeling Jesuit University. He was awarded a Doctor of Ministry from Catholic Theological Union (2008) in the area of Practical Theology. His doctoral writing was titled “Shalom: The Role of Truth Telling in Creating Communities of Racial Reconciliation within Institutions of Christian Higher Education.” He is actively involved in interfaith and ecumenical work at St. Edward’s University and in the larger Austin Community. In addition to his work in campus ministry, he teaches courses in the cultural foundations curriculum in the area of migration, culture, and diversity. He has presented at conferences on racial reconciliation and inter-religious dialogue. He is originally from Pittsburgh, PA.