Pope Francis and Destroying Discouragement

Thomas Griffin (7/8/20)

Jesus “did not command us to like one another, but to love one another. He is the one who unites us, without making us all alike. He unites us in our differences.”

On Monday, June 29th, Pope Francis preached a homily that circulated like wildfire over the internet and social media. He related the current climate the world finds itself in with the call to be like the saints the Catholic Church was celebrating that day, Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Francis focused on the need for prayer and the dire need to fight narcissism, discouragement, and pessimism. 

He highlighted the first reading because of its focus on a moment in the life of the Church that was daunting and presented challenges for the future. The leader of the church in Jerusalem, St. James, was killed in a persecution by King Herod. “Yet at that tragic moment no one ran away, no one thought about saving his own skin, no one abandoned the others, but all joined in prayer.”

The pope continued and later referenced the key message of his homily: 

“Let us notice something else: at that dramatic moment, no one complained about Herod’s evil and his persecution. No one abused Herod – and we are so accustomed to abuse by those who are in charge. It is pointless, even tedious, for Christians to waste their time complaining about the world, about society, about everything that is not right. Complaints change nothing.”

Evil is a reality for the world, but specifically for those who follow Christ. Jesus foretold that following him would lead to persecution and even death. When he gives the command to “pick up your cross,” (Mt 10:28) Jesus was saying that if we actually follow him with our entire self we will be viewed as treasonous, as thieves, and even as murderers of the culture in the eyes of the world. After all, these are the reasons why someone would be crucified by the Romans. 

Peter and the other disciples do not complain about evil because they witnessed darkness confront Jesus in the most dramatic fashion on Good Friday, but they also experienced God have the victory. Evil always has a second clause, a shift in effect when it comes to Christ. “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33) says Jesus. 

Many have already taken the pope’s words to be out of touch with reality and have berated him for speaking in such a way. When his homily was posted on several social media accounts, the comments section filled up quickly with remarks such as, “So, don’t criticize our politicians then! Good” or “We are never to call out sins in the hierarchy of the Church?” 

These comments, and others like them, misconstrue the message of the pope while also paving the way for proving his point. The current state of affairs in our nation is challenging and evil is on the rise, but we must not be consumed in complaints which only arise out of discouragement. Francis noted that discouragement is often fueled by narcissism, which makes one wrapped up in oneself. This constant looking “at yourself in the mirror” leads to the imprudent choice to become discouraged and complain about everything in the world. This discouragement leads to “pessimism, to thinking everything is dark and bleak.”

The key ingredient to drive change, for the pope, is prophecy. Prophecy is concerned with giving hope and ensuring success for the future. The pope said, “Today we need prophecy, but real prophecy: not fast talkers who promise the impossible, but testimonies that the Gospel is possible.” Prophets have their feet on the ground and are concerned with practical change, not with lofty and empty promises. However, how is one to become a prophet?

“Prophecy is born whenever we allow ourselves to be challenged by God, not when we are concerned to keep everything quiet and under control. Prophecy is not born from my thoughts, from my closed heart. It is born if we allow ourselves to be challenged by God.” 

The challenges of the present moment are clear. Our nation cannot settle for narcissism, discouragement, complaining, and pessimism. We must choose to use the evil around us as fuel which feeds the fire of true change in our world. Allowing oneself to become consumed by evil only leads to despair; allowing oneself to be challenged by the call and need for men and women to rise up in prophetic witness to God’s love only leads to the world seeing what all Christians already know to be true: the victory of good over evil is already won.

Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.

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