With Franciscan Eyes

Transformation is Possible

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Conversion stories always move me mainly because they give me hope. From big sinner to little stumbler, God’s mercy floods a soul, and the soul responds, sometimes with joy and sometimes with bewilderment. But often there can be some kind of movement—eventually!

Lately, I’ve been reading Wounded Shepherd by Austen Ivereigh. This is a very honest look at the pontificate of Pope Francis as it weaves the Pope’s personal life with the many decisions he has had to make to date as Pontiff. Throughout his life, Pope Francis had many “conversion” moments, and he brought these experiences to his role as Shepherd of the Church.

I am struck by how our Mandatum is reflected in this story. No doubt, Pope Francis turns to contemplation as he walks with God through the many decisions he has to make. He is a definite champion of neighborly love and emphasis on the care of the poor. His listening presence exudes being merciful, joyous and poor.

It is his surrender to ongoing transformation that most strikes me at this moment in time. This Pope calls the Church and us to a “pastoral conversion”—one that builds bridges and opens arms of mercy and inclusion. He is a leader who listens, reflects, prays, and then makes decisions that move the Church forward. He is honest in realizing that he didn’t always do things right.

One paragraph in the book seems to sum up this “ongoing transformation” of Pope Francis:

Cardinal John Henry Newman, canonized by Francis in October 2019, famously observed that “to live is to change” and that “to be perfect is to have changed often.”  What matters in the spiritual life is ultimately this openness to be changed, which requires trust—or as Christians say, “faith.”  What blocks it is the fleeing from this openness:  trusting, rather, in ideology, structures, or an idealized sense of self.  A saint is one who has moved out from those “false” selves to become what God calls her to be.”

We don’t have to wait for huge moments of transformation. Each day we are invited to surrender in numerous ways to this ongoing transformation. In fact, it is probably the smaller moments of transformation that prepare us for the “big ones”! Thank you, Pope Francis, for being humble enough to expose your own moments of conversion and transformation!

Each day we can reflect and see where the invitation to ongoing transformation was presented to us. What did I notice?  How did I respond? Did I change? Did I surrender to this invitation to ongoing transformation? 

“Led by God, let them begin a life of penance, conscious that all of us must be continuously and totally converted.”  (TOR Rule 6)

Immaculate Conception, Redemption and Patience

I had been wondering what I wanted to write about for several days, but nothing had come to mind. I chose to write an article during Advent because it’s my favorite liturgical season (not just because of the purple), but I wasn’t getting inspired. So, I decided to look at the readings for Wednesday when this would be sent out. Not until I clicked on the USCCB daily readings did I recall that yes, it’s the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Thanks, Holy Spirit! I have more devotion for this feast after I wrote a paper on Franciscan Friar John Duns Scotus and discovered it was his explanation of how Mary, a human like the rest of us who needed redemption, could be conceived without sin that led to the Immaculate Conception becoming a dogma. I had not known about the vigorous theological debate regarding the concept that had spanned centuries. I’d seen enough Miraculous Medals in my life that I’d not given it a thought. However, in the Roman Rite, Pope Pius IX declared it a dogma in 1854. 1854! In the history of the Church, that is like yesterday. Scotus mapped out his subtle yet brilliant explanation before his death in 1308. It took centuries before the Church officially recognized his work on this idea.

Why did it take centuries of debate on something that seems so obvious? Mary was unique among all humanity. She agreed to birth Jesus, the Incarnation. Why wouldn’t she be special enough to be conceived without sin? The Church in her collective wisdom most often moves slowly and deliberately. One of the two theological questions was: If Mary were conceived without sin, why would she need a Savior? The second was: When during her conception was her sin removed? These two questions needed satisfactory answers. Scotus showed that Mary did need a Savior, a Savior who preserved her from sin entirely. For who is the better doctor, the one who cures the patient or the one who prevents the patient from becoming sick? Scotus then removed the troublesome obstacle of time and stated that her conception and preservation from sin happened simultaneously. God is beyond time.

What can we learn from this? It may take years for something we have started to come to fruition. We may not live to see it. However, knowing that should not stop us from planting seeds of hope. So much about life is waiting. Waiting is hard. Waiting for the Church to recognize Scotus’ theological genius did not lessen its importance. In fact, it enhanced it. A long-awaited victory is a sweet one. The Israelites waited for millennia for the Messiah. Advent reminds us to wait for the Second Coming but also to pay attention to the now. I wish you all peace, hope and patience in the waiting.