Bishop's Column

Pope Francis leads with the Father’s Love and Mercy

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, leads with the Father’s love and mercy.

Most of us don’t understand much about leadership these days. In fact, our contemporary culture cries out for real leadership. Families suffer from the absent, vacant leadership of fathers. Communities yearn for leaders of integrity. Nations long for strong and noble political leaders. But mostly, leadership is misunderstood; today—real leadership requires authority, commitment, and, most of all, love.

Last week, Pope Francis demonstrated what leadership looks like. The Holy Father was the subject of a broad-reaching interview, which was published in America magazine and in other Jesuit-run magazines around the world. The interview gave a glimpse into Pope Francis’ mind, and into the depths of his heart.

At the center of the interview was the Holy Father’s conviction that "the most important thing," in the Church’s mission "is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you."

Of course, the Holy Father was right. Christ became man to become like us. And He became like us in all things but sin. He lived among us, He formed us, and He died, so that death would no longer have power over us. Christ has saved us: His death and resurrection open God’s own life to us. He became like us and died like us out of love for us.

Christ also gave us His Church. And Christ can never be separated from His Body, the Church.

The Church of Christ contains the fullness of faith; she authentically interprets Revelation, and is protected from doctrinal error by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When she teaches truth, she teaches definitively and authoritatively—the Church’s doctrine is an inerrant interpretation of what God has revealed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

But the Church’s doctrine is only truly relevant and compelling to those who have encountered Jesus Christ. Without Christ, the Catechism has no force. Without Christ, the Magisterium has no authority. Without Christ, nothing that Christians proclaim, or preach, or practice is truly binding.

And Christ is discovered in love. To lead to Christ is to begin with God’s love, and with his blessing—salvation. The consequences of salvation—among them the Church’s moral teachings—are important. We only develop a relationship with Christ by pursuing virtue. But Christian morality is not relevant to those who do not know the Father’s love.

To lead people to God, Pope Francis leads with the love and mercy of God the Father. "The proclamation of the saving love of God," he says, "comes before moral and religious imperatives."

The world misunderstands this. Last week, Pope Francis was said to reject, diminish, or ignore the Church’s moral teaching. Nothing could be further from the truth. The world believes that love is incompatible with difficult truths; that love is permissive and undemanding. The world believes that love does not correct, or teach, or admonish or exhort.

But real love is expressed in sacrifice. God expresses His love to us on the cross, and we express our love to God in our lives—by living in accord with truth. Pope Francis desires that we would know God’s love and mercy, and that we respond in kind.

Leading with God’s love and mercy means inviting the world to an encounter with Jesus Christ—and then inviting them to respond to that encounter. Leading with God’s love means forming disciples of Jesus Christ. Leading with God’s love means exercising authority—correcting, teaching, admonishing and exhorting—in a spirit of humility, solidarity, and compassion.

George Weigel wrote recently that Pope Francis is "a radically converted Christian disciple who has felt the mercy of God in his own life and who describes himself, without intending any dramatic effect, as ‘sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.’"

Weigel goes on to say that "having heard the call to conversion and responded to it, [Pope Francis] wants to facilitate others’ hearing of that call, which never ceases to come from God through Christ and the Church."

Pope Francis desires a world of saints. And so he reveals to all the love and mercy of God the Father.

I pray that we might do the same.

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