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Fifteen months in, Pope Francis can still surprise us

 |  NCR Today

I just returned from a family vacation and was looking for some inspiration. I was therefore pleased -- or should I say, filled with the Holy Spirit -- to read the article by Cindy Wooden on the pope's visit with 50,000 charismatic Catholics. Seeing the picture of Pope Francis kneeling to be prayed over by this assembled group was really something extraordinary.

Note what he says to this group of charismatics: "I did not have much love for charismatics. I said of them: They seem like a samba school." So first, the pope continues to be candid about who he is as a person and what he believes. He does not feel the need to always sound like a pope. Second, the pope grows and changes over the years as he recognizes God working in the world and among his people. So sad that too many clerics have stopped growing and are stuck where they were many years ago.

Francis' words and actions provide hope that even though the challenges ahead are formidable, the future can still be a positive one. When one looks at what is already a substantial body of work -- the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, his daily homilies, and his remarks on occasions such as this one with charismatics -- one cannot doubt the difference in the approach of this pope. He has provided a veritable treasure trove for meditation and action long after he may be gone from the scene.

While some changes that Francis may seek could be thwarted in the months and years ahead, no one can wipe away his words. They now represent a part of the teaching church just as much as the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Benedict XVI changed our thinking as to the possibility of a papal resignation. Francis has changed how we understand what it means to be pope. He has provided a different template for acting, speaking and serving as leader of the church. While some may have difficulty with this new image of shepherd, it is clearly in keeping with that of the original Good Shepherd. Francis leads by listening, encouraging, and involving the entire church in a collegial fashion.

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His invitation for charismatics to celebrate their 50th anniversary with him in Rome represents a broadening of the meaning of church and is an effort to integrate this group and others more fully into the life of the church.

Finally, he makes clear his own frustration with bureaucracy that prevents growth and deeper understandings of our faith. He urges charismatics not to make rules or organize but to let the Spirit flow. He cautions them not to control the grace of God. Instead he says, "Don't do this anymore." He wants them to dispense the grace of God, but he also warns them, saying, "Don't be the Holy Spirit's customs agents." Francis has given all of us much food for thought.

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August 15-28, 2014

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