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21st Sunday in Ordinary Time: 27 August

Todos! A lighthouse beams from the Church’s Rocks

 Todos! A lighthouse beams from the Church’s Rocks  ING-034
25 August 2023

Upon the rocks of Peter’s successors, the Holy Spirit alights and drills inward so that each Pope enflames the world with hope in the activity of the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. The symbolic figure of Peter bestowed by the Church on the characters of recent popes from John xxiii to Francis inclusively is a testament to the diversity in unity of those appointed to remind everyone the width of the dimensions to envisioning who the Church in fact and in the Holy Spirit is.

Popes are fallible. Below, above, or sideways from the polished words of a written text for the Church, a Pope’s favorite personal expressions will often contain a Freudian slip of love and compassion for everyone to shock undue emphasis on order and decorum. Perhaps not, but we surmise the words of Pope Francis in Portugal caused many too institutionalized intellectuals to blush. The gut has reasons a brain often misunderstands.

Does Pope Francis digress from reality when he sounds off like a pontifical maverick on an airplane? No, this Holy Spirit-elected, ecclesial bridge-builder simply exposes his gut’s mission to be a servant leader to the world to achieve realization that the Spirit of Jesus is alive and kicking in everyone’s lives yesterday, today, and forever.

In his private journals for June 1, 1963, Thomas Merton had a prophetic intuition as he meditated on Pope John xxiii ’s imminent death: “The world owes him a great debt for his simplicity. It is hard to feel that we can do without someone like him. He has done so much in four years to remind people that Christian charity is not a pure fiction. Yet, despite it all, will people ever again have confidence in love [emphasis added]? Will they not think that everyone who has spoken of love has finally betrayed them? (The Intimate Merton, p. 208).

Paraphrasing Merton’s ecclesiology elsewhere, the more the Church says “Yes to everyone,” the Church becomes more “real” as it in substance relates itself catholic to the world of individual persons who pray.* To welcome everyone is to manifest our hidden unity in Christ despite obvious diversities.

Merton, and perhaps Francis in spirit with him, identifies our union as persons bound by a “hidden ground of love.” Among his last formal presentations in Asia before his death, the monk famously announced: “The deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is beyond words and speech, beyond concept. Not that we discover a new unity. We discover an older unity. We are already one, but we imagine we are not. We must recover our original unity. What we must be is what we are (The Asian Journal, p. 308).

His Holiness in Portugal spoke to the world of all persons applying the widest dimensions of ecclesial compassion. Francis’ “todos, todos, todos!” is aspirational God-speak which resonates with the “great welcome” of Allah that the Sufi Muslim poet Rumi describes: “Come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving, it doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a hundred times. Come, come again, come.”

The gates of hell cannot be locked against the all-loving Word of God. “Come to me all you who struggle, loaded down with burden” (Mt 11:28-30).

*  See an important analysis of Merton’s ecclesial inclusiveness by Dr. David M. Odorisio in The Merton Seasonal (2021): “Yes to Everyone: Thomas Merton’s Radical Ecumenism and Inter-Monastic Mysticism of the Ground”.

By Jonathan Montaldo