Pope Francis leads Benediction as he celebrates Mass marking the feast of Corpus Christi in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this June 14, 2020, file photo. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Follow, now, the Lord’s way

  • July 13, 2023

In Pope Francis’ June 29 homily at the Mass bestowing the liturgical vestment called a pallium on Toronto’s Archbishop Leo and his fellow new metropolitans, he emphasized the primacy of immediacy, evangelization and followship in Catholic life.

Yet those who read the abridged version of Francis’ text reprinted in our Verbatim column this issue, or the slightly longer full version on the Vatican or Archdiocese of Toronto websites, might keep their eyes peeled for another imperative deployed with inimitable Franciscan subtlety.

His message is overt that our assent to Christ’s call today needs to be as immediate as Peter’s was at the beginning of the Christian moment when he left his nets and immediately fell into step with our Lord. There was no time then, and there is none now, for dithering, procrastinating or excuse making in Our Lord’s presence, the Holy Father exhorts us.

Likewise, he preaches, St. Paul did not retreat from the blinding encounter on the Damascus road by stumbling around in the fog of “a privatized piety” that makes faith exclusively self-referential to ensure it feels safe and secure. Rather, “the Apostle teaches us that we grow in faith and in knowledge of the mystery of Christ when we preach and bear witness to Him before others.”

Both decisiveness of response and diffusion of the Word are rooted, Francis says, in discipleship: the inward, axiomatic assent to “follow,” that is to walk with and behind Christ à la St. Peter, yet simultaneously run ahead and tell the world in the model of St. Paul.

The timing of the pontiff’s words was noteworthy as a welcome and an encouragement to Archbishop Leo at the outset of his pastoral mission in Canada’s largest Roman Catholic metropolitan see — and also as a reminder that it is already a full year since the Holy Father himself was preparing for his historic journey of penance and progress in Canada.

Setting his recent homily in the context of that extraordinary week in summer 2022 when Francis encountered Indigenous peoples across this country, illuminates an aspect of his June 29 homily that might otherwise be overlooked. It is the essentiality of fraternity and friendship alongside the Catholic necessities of followship, evangelization and immediacy of assent to Christ.

“It is only by following the Lord that we come to know Him each day, only by becoming His disciples and listening to His words that we become His friends and experience His transforming love (emphasis added),” Francis says.

Committing to knowing Christ, following Him, proclaiming Him are primary steps to the real objective, as the Holy Father expresses it, of friendship with Him — friendship that transforms through love as authentic human friendships naturally do, and Christ’s does supernaturally. Francis himself exemplified this seeking after transformative friendship by making it the raison d’être of his evangelizing mission here. In friendship, he bowed his head and humbly kissed Indigenous hands, seeking forgiveness so reconciliation and renewal might begin. 

Paramount as that process is with the Indigenous population, it is equally crucial in renewing the Church’s relation to Canadian society as a whole. Friendship, it has to be stressed, does not demand merely acquiescing in the increasingly bizarre neuroses of an obviously unmoored secularism. Our Catholic desire, after all, is to make knowledge of Christ the bridge to transforming love. But it does mean putting a hold on the temptation to hectoring, and the kibosh on seeing others as enemies rather than as friends we don’t yet know.

Or as Francis put it in concluding his homily: “May we advance together; advance together in following and in preaching the Word, as we grow in fraternity.”

That is an evangelizing direction we can all take positive steps to follow immediately, if not sooner.

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