Chris McDonnell 28 October 2023

When someone is elected to high office, we often talk of their having “a honeymoon period”, a time to settle in before judgements are made on performance, a time to get to know how to exercise responsibility, a time of patience with the occasional mistake. Only later does the scrutiny become more incisive and the edges sharper in argument.

From the start of his Induction as Bishop of Rome, Francis has spoken with deliberate intent, honestly and with humble sincerity. The Editorial writer in AMERICA (November 2014}  made this point.

 “It is one of the small miracles of Pope Francis’ pontificate that he rarely makes morality seem tedious. Even when he talks bluntly about our human flaws—and the pope is nothing if not blunt—he does so in a way that engages rather than alienates his audience. Listening to Pope Francis, you want to be a better Christian, not because you feel guilty, but because you want to rise to the occasion and accept his invitation to follow the Christian path”. 

 This is what we have come to expect of the South American bishop who has travelled a long way to occupy the See of Peter. In those first few years so many things happened that have taken us out of our comfort zone. For the Bishop of Rome to be acknowledged on the front cover of Time Magazine and Rolling Stone within weeks of each other must tell us that something is stirring. It would seem that when Francis acts in a Christ-like manner, offering compassion and forgiveness, looking at the spirit of the law rather than ruthless adherence to it, seeking to build loving relationships rather than antagonistic positions, he is criticized. But then so was the Nazarene in whose place he offers guidance. Pity that, but there it is.
Some people will always find a problem with one who leads by example, someone for whom the Second Council of the Vatican was not just an historical event, but a continuing, life-enriching experience. In many ways the journey that Francis is making and at the same time is encouraging us to take with him, resembles crossing a fast moving river by way of stepping stones. The stones are slippery, and that can give rise to accidents if you are careless. There would appear to be no way of avoiding getting your feet wet before you reach the other side. Let’s hope that those attending the Synod are not adverse to water, in order that, together, we can continue being pilgrims in a Pilgrim Church, wet feet and all.