An Encouraging Word — Pope Francis has an authentic voice

He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. Matthew 7:29

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

One of the hardest, and most valuable, lessons I learned as a pastor was one I learned from one of my associate pastors. It’s embarrassing to talk about.

When I arrived at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville to be its pastor in 1983, I had already been pastor of three small churches — so small in fact that I could remember what I was supposed to do without even looking at a calendar or doing much planning. I could wing it most of the time and get by.

At Cathedral staff meetings, I would enter the meeting with an empty yellow pad and my associate would enter with hand-outs. I was disorganized and he was super-prepared. I was getting madder by the week until, one day, it hit me. I had power and he had authority. I was pastor in name and he was pastor in fact.

I realized at that point that I had two choices. I could either kill him or get my act together and become pastor, not only in name, but also in fact. It became painfully obvious that the problem was not his strength, but my weakness.

Jesus was a teacher in fact, while the scribes were teachers in name. When Jesus taught, people listened because he was believable. What he said rang true with them. When the scribes taught, people did not listen because what they said seemed so cold and impersonal and abstract. It did not ring true with the people.

This contrast between Jesus and the scribes reminds me of our wonderful new pope, Francis. When he teaches, his words have “authority.”

What makes Pope Francis so popular with ordinary people (even non-Catholics), and so threatening to those overly invested in the status quo, is that people find what he says rings true!

Like Jesus, who moved among the common folk rather than hiding behind titles, positions, robes and rules like the scribes, he asks us to become who we say we are, he calls us to leave our comfort zones and get out among the people on the margins of society.

He asks us to leave our self-righteous certainty and radically trust God. If we don’t, he says, we become “abstract ideologists,” “fundamentalists,” “little monsters that give him goose-bumps,” “rigorists locked up in small things,” “bureaucrats and government officials” and “people who connect the proclamation of the Gospel with inquisitorial blows of condemnation.”

Pope Francis is calling us to be authentic priests, deacons, sisters and faithful lay people — not some caricature of those high callings. He teaches as one having authority and not as the scribes.

I am worried about Pope Francis. If I remember correctly, the scribes were part of an establishment coalition who had a lot to lose, committed to having Jesus killed.

Prophets are not killed because they lie. They are killed because they dare tell the truth. May Pope Francis live long!

Father J. Ronald Knott

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